The status of religion and religious life in Iceland today Sigurdur Holm Gunnarsson Vice President of Sidmennt
Topics covered • Status of religion in Iceland • Religious freedom policies of Sidmennt, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association. • Religious life of Icelanders compared to that of Americans
Status of religion in Iceland • Iceland has a so-called state church arrangement. • This means that one denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, receives special protection and support from the government over and above other religions in the country. • Around 84% of Icelanders are members of the state church which is the largest religious organization in the land.
The Icelandic constitution • The Icelandic constitution specifies that the state church must be protected. • Article 62: The Evangelical Lutheran Church shall be the State Church in Iceland and, as such, it shall be supported and protected by the State. • Article 65: Everyone shall be equal under the law and enjoy human rights irrespective of gender, religion, opinion, national origin, race, colour, property, birth, or other status.
The state / church connection • The state church, because of its position, receives more financial support than other religions. • All religious organizations in Iceland receive government funding but the state church gets considerably more money than all the others. • Special Christianity education takes place in Icelandic public schools. • The result is sometimes direct indoctrination
Blasphemy still illegal in Iceland • Iceland also has a blasphemy law which states that: • “Whoever publicly ridicules or belittles religious teachings or the worship of God of any legal religions in the country shall be fined or imprisoned for as long as 3 months. The charges cannot be filed by anyone but a district attorney.” • PLEASE be careful of what you say while you are in Iceland.
A short history of blasphemy • 1997 • Several popular Icelandic comedians who did a satire of The Last Supper were interrogated by the police. The matter was dropped. • 1983 • Editor of a controversial publication found guilty of blasphemy. He was charged with having published a critique of religious confirmation.
Religious freedom policies of Sidmennt. • Siðmennt has played a leading role in the struggle for complete religious freedom in Iceland. • Siðmennt has published a detailed policy statement on religious freedom and distributed it to governmental authorities, for instance every Member of Parliament.
Policy statement on religious freedom • The introduction in this booklet states the following: • “The board of Siðmennt considers that the aim of government is to guarantee freedom to individuals and protect their right to live according to the life stance that they choose for themselves. Government should be neutral, independent of religion, and should not give preferential treatment to one life stance over any others. That is why separation of church and state is necessary. Separation of church and state consists of, among other things, equalizing the legal, financial, and social status of groups which embrace different life stances. Otherwise, freedom of religion and therefore individual freedom, is not guaranteed.”
Siðmennt’s main goals • Regarding religious freedom are to work for: • Separation of church and state • To guarantee that all religious and life stance organizations receive comparable treatment by public authorities. • To guarantee that religious indoctrination is not practiced in public schools and other public agencies. • To abolish the blasphemy law since it contradicts freedom of expression. • In short, we work for equal rights and governmental neutrality.
Most Icelanders on our side • Around 65% of the nation is in favor of separation of church and state. • Most agree that Humanist life stance organizations such as Siðmennt should receive the same public support as religious organizations. • Most Icelanders today seem to understand the necessity of having a clear line between religious and secular authority.
Icelanders are well educated, broad-minded, and tolerant • General support among Icelanders for gay rights • Great tolerance for various forms of cohabitation. • Very few people doubt a woman’s right to abortion. • Almost no one wants creationism taught in schools as science. • Public officials and other civil servants almost never discuss their religious views openly or make decisions based on their religious views.
Religious life of Icelanders compared to that of Americans • Icelanders are generally disinterested in religious matters and there is very little religious fervor in Iceland. • Despite 95% of the population being in Christian congregations, a new survey commissioned by the state church showed that only around 50% call themselves Christian.
Religious life of Icelanders • 95% are members of Christian congregations. • 84% are in the state church. • 69% consider themselves religious. • 53% call themselves Christian. • 17% say they subscribe to a private, personal belief.
Does God exist? • 39.4% --- “There is a loving God to whom we can pray”. • 26.2% --- ”There is no other God than the one that human beings have created”. (Atheists?) • 19.7% --- “We have no certainty that God exists”. (Agnostics) • 19.2% --- “God must exist, otherwise life would have no purpose. • 9.4% --- “God created the world and runs it.” (Christian idea) • 9.7% say they can’t answer the question.
Religious life of Icelanders • 10-30% of Icelanders accept the basic dogma of the church unconditionally. • About one third of the nation considers Jesus Christ to be their savior. • One quarter of the population, believe in the existence of elves and the hidden people. • More than half of all Icelanders are convinced that it is possible to communicate with dead people during séances. • 80% believe in some kind of life after death • 14% think that after death a person rises up to heaven to dwell with God. • 8% of Icelanders believe in the existence of the devil and even fewer, or 6%, believe in the existence of hell.
Piety of Icelanders • 43% never go to church. • 15.9% say they go once a year. • 17.4% go 2-3 times a year. • 13.8% go between 4 and 11 times a year. • 10% of Icelanders go to church once a month. • 2% go once a week.
Church attendance joke • Icelanders go to church 4 times in their lives and they have to be carried in on 2 of those occasions.
Bible reading in Iceland • 58% of Icelanders never read the Bible. • 5% browse through the Bible once a month. • 1% read the Bible daily. • Those who take it upon themselves to read the Bible say they do it for pleasure and information. • Far fewer say they read the holy book for directly religious purposes. • Considerably more Icelanders read mystical material such as books about spiritualism and New Age matters than the Bible.
Conclusion • In other words, most Icelanders have a personal, private religion and deny all the major tenets of Christianity but consider themselves Christian anyway. • Most Icelanders are probably Deists. • There are few fundamentalists in Iceland. • They have little influence although they sometimes make a lot of noise in the media. • Religious practice in Iceland is primarily linked with spiritualism, reincarnation, psychics, astrology, healing, alternative medicine and other New Age practices.
Thank you • Thank you for listening! • Questions, if any, will be answered during the panel discussions. Sigurður Hólm Gunnarsson (Feel free to call me Siggi )