Sweden, the most secular country in the world, gives the highest proportion of its gross domestic product in aid. Of the top 10 aid donors, only the United States is a strongly religious country.
Well, yeah, but no, but yeah but.
As to Sweden being the most secular country in the world:
At the end of 2008, 72.9% of Swedes belonged to the Church of Sweden
The majority of Americans (76%) identify themselves as Christians, mostly within Protestant and Catholic denominations, accounting for 51% and 25% of the population respectively. Non-Christian religions (including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism), collectively make up about 4% to 5% of the adult population.
The numbers aren\’t wildly different, are they? Especially if we remember that the Swedish number is only the registered members of one church alone.
But of course this is playing games with numbers and definitions: no one but the entirely insane would try to claim that Sweden was as religious, or even anywhere close to being as religious, as the United States.
But similarly, no one but the entirely insane would try to insist that Overseas Development Aid as a portion of gross domestic product is the definition of what a society gives.
For what it is is purely what the government gives, officially, in the name of that society. It does not include any private charitable giving at all (for example, all those chuggers for Action Aid, War on Want, Cafod, Oxfam, do not count against the UK ODA numbers).
If you add private US giving to American ODA you get a rather different number, just as one example. as I recall it (the essay is now lost in the mists of the internet) you can quite easily construct a figure showing US overseas aid to be over 1% of GDP. And Swedish to be almost nothing other than ODA.
Or we could look to other reports:
considerable international variation in charitable giving as a
proportion (%) of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with the amount
individuals give to charity varying from 0.14% of GDP in France to
1.7% in the US, followed by the UK at 0.73%*
? giving tends to represent a lower proportion of GDP in countries
with higher levels of personal taxation, particularly social
insurance; if social insurance payments were to rise in the future
because of the needs of an ageing population, this could represent
a threat to voluntary income
Not really a surprise….and we do see that in the Swedish figures. Using a slightly different measure (including volunteering etc) from the World Giving Index we find that the US is 5th (yes, this is adjusted for the size of a country) and Sweden 45th.
So what we\’re really seeing is that a high tax secular country has a political system which prioritises official overseas development aid and that same country having a rather low total charitable impulse.
We also have a less secular, a more religious, society with much greater chartiable giving and activity, even if less ODA proportionately.
So Nick Cohen\’s main point, that the irreligious are nicer more charitable people doesn\’t really seem to stand.