Denmark: The Search for Meaning in Astrology

The Copenhagen Post recently ran a story entitled Horoscopes bigger than Jesus that I found rather interesting because of some underlying implications in the article. The article reads:

Astrology sites on the internet [sic] are more popular in Denmark than traditional religious websites

Over 13,000 Danes check their horoscopes every day on the internet [sic], according to the nation’s largest search engine,

That number makes astrology more popular than any other religion - at least on the internet [sic]. And considering the figure does not include those who use the traditional method of checking their horoscopes in the daily newspaper, the true number of 'church of astrology' members could be far greater.

'Denmark is following the international trend that shows astrology is the most popular religion on the internet,' Kirstine Munk, religion researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, told MetroXpress newspaper. 'Christianity comes in second place.'

Jubii's World of Wisdom astrology site indicated its horoscope readers are a loyal flock and that the number of users has remained fairly steady over the past three years. And Munk says astrology can certainly be regarded as a viable religion because it claims that there is an order in the universe and also seeks to find a deeper meaning in life.

'It's a common thread for many people,' said Munk. 'It's personal and you don't have to be part of a congregation.'

The majority of horoscope readers are also surprisingly well-educated, according to World of Wisdom's head astrologer, Adrian Ross Duncan.

'Around 80 percent of our users are women and every third has an advanced university degree.'

Munk said, however, that many of those same well-educated people who read their horoscopes do not necessarily believe in it.

JydskeVestkysten newspaper estimated last week that there are around 100 astrologers nationwide and that Danes spend over DKK 1 million (€134,000) yearly for personal horoscope readings.

The fact that Christianity websites are not particularly popular in Denmark is hardly surprising. According to Atheism: Contemporary Rates and Patterns, from a chapter in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, ed. by Michael Martin, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK (2005), somewhere between 43 and 80 percent of all people living in Denmark are atheists, agnostics or non-believers in God. This is among the highest percentages of any country in the world. As such, no one should expect the Danish people to be flocking to, or even our own fine site in large numbers.

But more to the point, there is an underlying current in atheist commentary that suggests that Christians are less intelligent or less educated than atheists. This belief usually comes across with a suggestion or implication that if Christians were simply more educated, there would be less Christians. Usually, statistics are cited that scientists are a largely secular, atheistic or agnostic group. A typical example of this type of reasoning is found here. (Lest anyone think that such claims are undisputed, I have earlier responded to such thinking in a blog post here and certainly others have done so in a varietly of other sites.) But this article about Horoscopes in Denmark certainly challenges the type of thinking that equates religious belief with lower intelligence or lower education.

I don't think that there can be much doubt that Denmark is considered to be well-educated. According to The Clearinghouse on International Developments in Child, Youth and Family Policies at Columbia University, Eurostat education statistics demonstrate that Denmark has a "(comparatively) excellent record in the percent of the population with more than a lower secondary education. As a result, 'the country now has the most educated workforce in the EU.'" Certainly, the fact that between 43 and 80 percent of the population of the well-educated population of Denmark are atheists, agnostics or non-believers in God fits right in with the argument being presented by atheists.

But then, how do they explain the fact that so many well-educated people are turning to horoscopes? Astrology has been recognized by virtually everyone to be bunk. According to the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (a resource cited by the Skeptical Inquirer on the topic of astrology), "astrology is also the field in which the largest number of scientific tests have been performed and the evidence clearly demonstrates that astrological connections are no more than wishful thinking." Yet here, in the midst of this highly-educated atheistic country there is a turning to the pseudo-science/pseudo-religion of astrology. How can this be explained?

Kirstine Munk, religion researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, attempts in the article to dismiss this problem. Note that she says, "many of those same well-educated people who read their horoscopes do not necessarily believe in it." I certainly can agree that some people read horoscopes for fun, but that doesn't add up to the seriousness with which she speaks of astrology earlier in the article. Note that Munk says, "astrology can certainly be regarded as a viable religion because it claims that there is an order in the universe and also seeks to find a deeper meaning in life." Moreover, the article concludes that "Danes spend over DKK 1 million (€134,000) yearly for personal horoscope readings." If what Munk suggests is true for the majority of people in Denmark, I cannot fathom why they would be spending that much money on personal horoscopes.

It seems apparent that there has to be something deeper here. I suggest that there is something deeper and that something was voiced by St. Augustine 1700 years ago: "Our hearts were made for You, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you."

The fact that atheists, agnostics and non-believers in God seem to be flocking to astrology sites is evidence confirming what many Christians have been contending for ages: man instinctively rejects the idea of a meaningless universe. Francis Schaeffer wrote, most notably in How Shall We Then Live?, that much of the philosophical history of mankind has been the effort to find meaning and value in life starting from a humanist standpoint. In this search, man has sought many different ways to develop meaning starting only with man, and (according to Schaeffer) has failed in every such effort. Existentialism and the existential methodology were simply the result of the pessimism that followed the failure to find meaning and value in that humanist framework. Existentialism and many related philosophies are, in reality, anti-philosophies that do not provide a rational basis for meaning, but seek to provide meaning based on a leap from the rational to the irrational. People follow these types of anti-philosophies because they are seeking to find meaning and value where none can be found to exist in a world without a personal-infinite God.

In Denmark, people are largely atheistic, agnostic or non-believers in God. They are also highly educated. Yet, they have to find some basis for meaning because they know intuitively that the answers provided by atheism, agnosticism and non-belief are inconsistent with their own experience. We are not part of a meaningless machine of a cause-and-effect universe. There is such a thing as value. These people will seek out value wherever they can find it -- even in the pseudo-science/pseudo-religion of astrology. They do it because they have been taught that Christianity isn't true -- maybe they weren't taught it directly, but the teaching is reinforced in the entire course of humanistic teaching that pervades our Western democracies' educational systems. Having rejected Christianity -- in fact, having rejected all forms of theism because they find it irrational in some way -- means that they must turn to something outside of Christianity to find value and meaning. They must turn to this something even if it is more obviously irrational than Christianity because they intuitively recognize that there must be some type of meaning and value out there.

Of course, Christians believe that value and meaning derives from the infinite-personal God of the Bible who has made us in His image. The creation of man by this infinite-personal God means that we have value. Moreover, God has created us for a purpose and so we have meaning in our lives. There is nowhere else outside of God that we can find this value and meaning. Hence, St. Augustine was correct in his assessment that man, apart from God, is restless. People cannot find true value and true meaning outside of Him.

I am sorry that the people in Denmark are turning to the false teachings of astrology (as agreed upon by both Christians and skeptics) for their value and meaning. They will ultimately conclude that their daily horoscope does not and cannot providing the fulfillment they seek. But it's important to note that Christianity understands why these highly-educated atheists, agnostics and non-believers are turning to astrology. I doubt that atheism can explain it.


Steven Carr said…
'Over 13,000 Danes check their horoscopes every day on the internet'

The population of Denmark is about 5.5 million meaning that this represents about 0.3 percent of the population.

Even in well educated Denmark, I'm sure you could find 3 people in every thousand who are as thick as two short planks.
Steven Carr said…
83% of Danes are members of the national church.
Jason Pratt said…
{{83% of Danes are members of the national church.}}

So you're saying Michael Martin is wrong with his stats, then? Because otherwise that observation would be irrelevant to Bill's article: membership in a 'national church', or any other kind of church, doesn't necessarily mean there will be an inversely proportionate number of atheists, agnostics or non-believers.

Which not-incidentally would correlate with Munk's observation that "many of those same well-educated people who read the horoscopes do not necessarily believe in it." Actually it might correlate better, since if the proportion reported by Duncan holds water across the board, that would be only 4335ish advanced-degree-holding Danes a day checking internet horoscopes; whereas (combinging your stats with Martin's, unless you disagree with his stats) the number of atheists, agnostics or non-believers in Denmark must constitute a significantly large percentage of the members of the 'national church' (not to say other churches), and might be as high as actual church membership in the population.

Still, I grant the observation that the actual stats involved (including DKK$1mill/year spent on personal readings, which is really not all that much across a whole year within the Danish population) would in fact match Bill's own lack of expectation that the Danish people would be flocking to internet Christian sites. In point of fact, they aren't flocking to horoscope sites either, even though moreso than to Christian sites (despite vast majorities belonging by membership to a Christian church of one kind or another.) Martin's reported statistic most likely explains that.

BK said…
Even in well educated Denmark, I'm sure you could find 3 people in every thousand who are as thick as two short planks.

So, you're saying that those people are out of the mainstream of atheism and a little bit off-kilter . . . sort of like Jesus Mythers? Hmmmmmmm. You may be right.

But I think that you are ignoring the fact that the amount of money being spent on horoscopes coupled with 13,000 hits a day (no one says it's the same 13,000 people each day) and the fact that the article points to the fact that many of these people check their horoscopes through the paper and other non-Internet sources argues strongly that the number of people in the atheist dominated country is stronger than the 0.3% you are arguing for.

Oh, and are you admitting that Smith's book is wrong?

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