Religion in Finland
Most people in Finland are at least nominally members of a Christian church. There are presently two national churches (as opposed to state churches): the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, which is the primary state religion and has a membership of about three quarters of the population, and the Finnish Orthodox Church, to which about one percent of the population belongs. Those who officially belong to one of the two state churches have part of their taxes turned over to their church. People can also belong to one or more registered religious communities (there were 96 in 2013). Other religions practiced in Finland include Islam (about 60,000 in 2013) and Judaism. Prior to Christianisation beginning the 11th century, Finnish paganism was the primary religion.
Most Finns are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (73.0%). With approximately 4.1 million members out of a total population of 5.5 million, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is one of the largest Lutheran churches in the world, although its membership has been on the decline recently. The number of church members leaving the Church saw a rapidly increase in the fall of 2010. This was at least partly due to uproar caused by statements regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage - perceived to be intolerant towards LGBT people - made by a conservative bishop and a politician representing Christian Democrats in a TV debate on the subject. The second largest group - and a rather quickly growing one - of 24.3% by the end of 2015 of the population is non-religious. A small minority belong to the Finnish Orthodox Church (1.1%) and to the Roman Catholic Church (12,434 people or 0.2% of the population).
The main Lutheran and Orthodox churches are constitutional national churches of Finland with special roles in ceremonies and often in school morning prayers. Delegates to Lutheran Church assemblies are selected in church elections every four years.
The majority of Lutherans attend church only for special occasions like Christmas, Easter, weddings and funerals. The Lutheran Church estimates that approximately 2 percent of its members attend church services weekly. The average number of church visits per year by church members is approximately two.
According to the most recent Eurobarometer Poll (2010),
- 33% of Finnish citizens "believe there is a God". (In 2005, the figure was 41%)
- 42% "believe there is some sort of spirit or life force". (In 2005, the figure was 41%)
- 22% "do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force". (In 2005, the figure was 16%)
The Evangelical Lutheran Church
In 2013, the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland had about 4.1 million members, which is 75.3% of the population, registered with a parish. The Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland is an episcopal church, that is governed by bishops, with a very strong tradition of parish autonomy. It comprises nine dioceses with ten bishops and 408 independent parishes. The average parish has 7,000 members, with the smallest parishes comprising only a few hundred members and the largest tens of thousands. In recent years many parishes have united in order to safeguard their viability. In addition, municipal mergers have prompted parochial mergers as there may be only one parish, or cluster of parishes, in a given municipality.
Traditionally, the church has played a very important role in maintaining a population register in Finland. The vicars have maintained a church record of persons born, married and deceased in their parishes since at least the 1660s, constituting one of the oldest population records in Europe. This system was in place for over 300 years. It was only replaced by a computerised central population database in 1971, while the two state churches continued to maintain population registers in co-operation with the government's local register offices until 1999, when the churches' task was limited to only maintaining a membership register.
Between 1919 and 1970, a separate Civil Register was maintained of those who had no affiliation with neither of the state churches. Currently, the centralised Population Information System records the person's affiliation with a legally recognised religious community, if any. In 2003, the new Freedom of Religion Act made it possible to resign from religious communities in writing. That is, by letter, or any written form acceptable to authorities. This is also extended to email by the 2003 electronic communications in the public sector act. Resignation by email became possible in 2005 in most magistrates. Eroakirkosta.fi, an Internet campaign promoting resignation from religious communities, challenged the rest of the magistrates through a letter to the parliamentary ombudsman. In November 2006, the ombudsman recommended that all magistrates should accept resignations from religious communities via email. Despite the recommendation by the ombudsman, the magistrates of Helsinki and Hämeenlinna do not accept church membership resignations sent via the Eroakirkosta.fi service.
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- "Zuckerman, Phil. 'Atheism: Contemporary Rates and Patterns', chapter in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, ed. by Michael Martin, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK (2005)". Retrieved 2008-03-11.
- "Seurakuntaliitokset" [Parish mergers]. evl.fi (in Finnish). Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. 2016. Retrieved 23 July 2016.
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- Eroakirkosta.fi - Helsingin maistraatti jarruttaa kirkosta eroamista