a bonobo humanity?

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

the trend away from religiosity, or not – various countries, part 1

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who says they don't have a soul?

who says they don’t have a soul?

I wrote a piece a while back on what the Australian census tells us about religiosity in this country, and in that piece I talked also about trends, comparing the censuses of the past. I also wrote more recently on the overall trend away from religiosity in the west, quoting some interesting recent figures out of the USA.

So, as I find this quite an exciting and encouraging topic, I’ve decided to look at more countries to get a broader and deeper perspective on religiosity and how it’s faring, particularly in the west.


This is a country I’ve long wanted to find out more about, because it’s so often cited as a non-religious country, or the least religious country in the world, and so forth. The traditional religions of Japan have been Shinto and Buddhism, and more often than not a combination of the two, but these entwined religions have faded from the landscape over the last century, and especially since the war. Wikipedia tells us that about 70% of Japanese ‘profess no religious membership’, and it cites 2 sources for this claim, the first being a newspaper article in the Seattle Times (which itself doesn’t cite any source), the second being a rather more interesting meditation on religion and spirituality in Japan, from 2008, in an online mag called Japan Society. It contains the statement, ‘polls tell us that two thirds of Japanese profess no religion’.  A number of other figures are mentioned from censuses and surveys, and obviously the figures vary depending on the wording of the questions, sample sizes and so forth, but it’s equally obvious that the trend is towards secularization., and it’s safe to say that more than half of the Japanese population are not religious.  Apparently religion is measured in the Japanese census, as Wikipedia tells us ‘In census questionnaires, less than 15% reported any formal religious affiliation by 2000’. However, I can find no Japanese census figures online. As to Christianity, only 1% to 2% of Japanese have succumbed to that peculiar persuasion.

To get a clear trend, you need to keep the sample stable, and the question stable, over time. A stable sample, for example , would be the entire adult population of a nation, as in a typical census. I can’t access these censuses, so I can’t find out whether the same question has been asked over time, and the other surveys mentioned are all over the place in terms of sample sizes and questions asked. All I have to go on is the quote above – 15% with no religious affiliation by 2000, which, if reliable, proves a clear trend away from religiosity in one of the world’s least religious countries.


In May of last year, the Norwegian government voted almost unanimously to disestablish its state religion, the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  The Vikings of Norway had become Christianized by 1050. In the sixteenth century, the nation moved firmly away from Catholicism, and has since, it seems, moved firmly away from Christianity. A 2005 Gallop poll conducted in 65 countries found that ‘Norway was the least religious country in Western Europe, with 29% counting themselves as believing in a church or deity, 26% as being atheists, and 45% not being entirely certain’, which is quite an interesting finding (I mean the uncertainty factor). Interestingly Norway has phased out questionnaire-based censuses, conducting its last in 2001, and I haven’t even been able to find out if religion was part of the census. A Eurobarometer poll of 2010 has different results, though, with 22% of Norwegians believing in God, compared to 18% in Sweden and Estonia, and 16% in the Czech Republic. The same poll finds that 94% of Turks and Maltese and 92% of Romanians believe in God. Islam is now the second most practised religion in Norway, though still at very low numbers. However, this is definitely a cause of dissension, as it is in neighbouring countries.


France is typical of the European, or at least western and northern European trend towards reduced observance of religion. Again, a wide array of polls is mentioned in Wikipedia, with some funny findings. For example, a 2006 Le Monde poll found that 51% of French people claimed to be Catholic, but only half of these said that they believed in God! I mean, wtf!!! Seriously, though, a number of other polls probing Catholic beliefs in France raise questions about Catholicism everywhere, as clearly many of them are wedded to the religion for non-religious reasons, if that makes sense. There has been a lot of violent religious conflict, leading governments from the early 1800s to move to a more secularised political system. In 1905 a law was passed separating church and state, which clarified and regularised ideas first put forward in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Nevertheless the law caused Catholic riots, as it profoundly affected Catholic prestige and funding. The government does not maintain any official figures on religious belief. The most recent private poll, from 2011, finds 45% to be Christian, 35% to be ‘irreligious, atheist or agnostic’, 10% not answering the question, and the remaining 10% dispersed among various other religions. Most French Christians are Catholic, but a recent poll amongst Catholics found that only 4.5% of them attended mass once a week or more in 2006, compared with 27% in the early fifties.


Germany brought in new constitutions in 1919 and 1949, guaranteeing freedom of faith and religion. It has never had a state religion, being in any case a newish country, growing out of nineteenth century Prussia and the complex Germanic and middle European principalities of earlier centuries.  The most recent poll in 2011 (the same poll that I referred to in the France section) has 50% of Germans identifying as Christian, 38% identifying as non-religious, and 6% not stating, but again other polls give different figures, though always with Christianity trending downwards in recent times. The Christian population is divided more or less equally between Catholics and Protestants, with more Protestants in the north and more Catholics in the south. The west is more Christian than the east, probably due to the influence of communism in the former East Germany. As an amusing aside, the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, Martin Luther’s birthplace, is now the most non-religious state in Germany.

Written by stewart henderson

April 5, 2013 at 9:22 am

One Response

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  1. Yours is a most interesting article. Thank you for that.

    I posted an essay 4 days ago (Miss Edna’s Heartifacts) that suggests the true nature of religion is voluntary blindness to everything it teaches. The sooner it is abolished as a government mandate in all nations the better it will be for all people.


    April 5, 2013 at 9:52 am

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