Life stances and religious views of Icelanders

Hallgrímskirkja

Siðmennt, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association commissioned the Icelandic polling firm Maskína to conduct a survey in November 2015 about the life stances and religious views of Icelanders. Respondents were asked 18 questions. The questionnaire was posted on Maskína’s National Portal online and the survey was done from November 13th through 25th. Icelanders ranging in age from 18-75 years from across the country participated. There were 821 respondents and the data were weighed with respect to gender, age, and place of residence in accordance with information from the National Registry.

The survey results indicate that secular philosophies of life are rapidly gaining ground in Iceland. The status of the Icelandic Evangelical Lutheran state church has probably never been weaker and fewer and fewer Icelanders are in favor of government involvement in religion or belief. The complete results of the survey are posted (in Icelandic) at the bottom of this page.

The main conclusions are as follows:

Faith, the existence of God, and the state church
In recent years it has often been stated that Iceland is a Christian nation. It has also been argued that because of a clause about the state church in the Icelandic constitution, the government should support, protect, and fund the state church above and beyond other religious or secular life stance organizations. The same argument is used to justify religious activities in public schools.

The statement that Iceland is a Christian nation is not in accordance with the position of the majority of Icelanders, based this survey. According to the survey only 46% of Icelanders claim to be religious, which is the lowest level seen in any survey so far. Nearly 30% say they are not religious, and 23.7% say they cannot say whether they are religious or not. Although 46% of people say they are believers only 36% of them believe the basic doctrines of the church about God, eternal life, and the resurrection. The youngest age group stands out; among them 80.5% believe there is no certainty about the existence of God, are agnostic or atheist. A quarter of the respondents say they have a lot in common with the Evangelical Lutheran Church but 46-47% claim they have little or nothing in common with the church.

Religious freedom and a secular society
The survey confirms overall support for separation of church and state. Over 72% of those who say they either favor or oppose the separation of church and state are in favor of separation. When people are asked whether the state should fund religious organizations, 29% said they are satisfied with the current arrangement, which is that the government funds the state church proportionally more than any other religious or secular life stance organizations. Meanwhile, 25% think the state should fund all religions and secular groups proportionally equally. By far the largest group or 46% think that government should not fund any religious or secular organizations.

The state church is the largest religious organization in the country. Until 2013, newborn babies were automatically registered in the religion of the mother but as a result of legislative changes that year, both parents now need to belong to the same denomination in order for a child to be registered automatically. The survey showed that the majority, or 60% do not favor the current procedure. Of that 60%, 29% want the state to not keep any records of people’s religious affiliations and 29.6% want parents to register their children in the religion of their choice rather than the state doing it automatically. A whopping 90% of the youngest group are in favor of changing the current system.

When asked if the clause about the state church belongs in the Icelandic Constitution 61% of those who took a position are opposed to it. Great effort was made to word this question in a clearer and more objective way than was done in a national referendum in 2012, when 57% felt that such a provision should be in the Constitution.

Loud controversy over the participation of school children in visits to churches have become a regular part of the Advent season. Some people insist that schools should be doing this and that the trips should take place during school hours. The survey asked whether schools should be religiously neutral places and a decisive majority of 69% were in favor.

Palliative death/Euthanasia
Finally participants were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement that an individual can get help to end his life if he is suffering from an incurable disease (palliative death). The result was decisive and was surprising. Three out of four were in favor of allowing palliative death and only 7% were opposed to it. The rest were neutral. When only counting those who were in favor or opposed, 91-92% were in favor of palliative death and only 8-9% disapproved. This is a very important result. In surveys done abroad, nowhere has there been this much support for legalizing palliative death.

Reykjavik January 21, 2016