Norway Abolishes National Church May 22, 2012

Norway Abolishes National Church

In an unprecedented move this week, the Norwegian Parliament voted unanimously to abolish the national Church. Considering that 72% of the population (3.6 million people) are non-believers, it may not be a very surprising move, but it’s still noteworthy.


Before the parade starts, though, it turns out that this isn’t a complete separation of the two entities as was initially reported.

The country used to financially support the church and participated in selecting certain church officials — this new step will remove the government from that process while retaining some funding to the church.

According to the Norwegian Humanist Association’s website, this is only the first step in complete church and state separation. Up until now, all citizens who were baptized in Norway were automatically members of the Church of Norway despite a staggeringly low regular church attendance rate of 2%.

This amendment  will start with the following steps:

  • The Lutheran Church of Norway will be renamed The People’s Church
  • Norway will no longer have an official national religion
  • The government will no longer participate in the appointment of bishops and deans
  • There will no longer be a requirement for parliamentary officials to be members of the Lutheran Church

The following things will not be changed:

  • The church tax will remain in place (although a small portion will be going to humanist organizations)
  • A church office will remain in the government, headed up by a minister

After reading through (the former Church of Norway’s official site) it sounds like it was an amiable split. The fact that the state is still funding the church is justified as follows:

“… The Committee notes that the constitutional changes resulting from the settlement the church intends to clarify the Norwegian churches free position as religious communities. This means that the religious activities of the church will no longer be the state’s task. However, it is government’s task to support the church as a religious community, and to support other religious and philosophical alike. The Committee endorses the understanding that the changes represent a new basis for the development of the Norwegian Church as an independent religious communities. The Committee would also emphasize the importance of establishing security for the changes contribute to the preservation of the Norwegian Church’s mission to be an open, inclusive and democratic national church.”

So there is still some intermingling, but it sounds like they are off to a better start to a beautiful, secular future.

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  • teressa81

    It’s been a long day, and this comment won’t be the grand one that this story deserves but….I really want to live in that house.

  • I thought the same thing 😀

  • Beautiful church (I think it’s a chuch)

  • church lol

  • Well, it’s important to note that church/state separation operates VERY differently in other countries.  The US is fairly unique in the way we have things set up.  It sound like Norway has become much more like Germany, which also collects a “church tax,” but which goes to all sorts of officially sanctioned religious bodies.

    Side note: Germany is an interesting case, because of it’s position directly on the fault-line between Protestant and Catholic Europe.

  • fett101

    Those who can’t make it to Norway to see a stave church can see a nice version at EPCOT near Orlando.

  • So if I’m reading this correctly, the government, and thereby the people, still have to pay tax money to support the church, but the government, and thereby the people, won’t have have any say about choosing church officials.

    Still pay for it, but no control of it. Taxation without representation. I don’t see how this is an improvement.  What am I missing?

  • Sailor

    “There will no longer be a requirement for parliamentary officials to be members of the Lutheran Church” That was a pretty scary requirement!

  • Stev84

    People can opt out of paying church tax by resigning their membership in the church.

  • Linalv

    yeah!! I loved that at Epcot!! Soooo beautiful!!

  • ErickaMJohnson

    Wow. If we ever do build atheist temples, can they look like that??

  • Unless it’s like here in Denmark where you can indeed opt out of the church tax, but the government still gives money to the church besides what’s taxed directly as a “church tax.”
    And some of that money isn’t just for upkeep of the historical buildings, some of it goes to salaries of priests, bishops etc.
    So even if you’ve opted out, which I naturally have, I’m still paying to the church through my regular taxes.

  • One right-wing Danish party would like this to be the rule in Denmark too, that you have to be a member of the Church of Denmark or Danish National Church (or the Danish People’s Church if you translate it directly).
    This party is, however, bordering on being racist in their politics, so it’s obviously a way to try and instill “good Christian values” in everyone and to keep those “others” out (not just of politics).

  • It is indeed a church, called a Stave Church. 

  • This illustrates why Constitution Day should be one of our major secular holidays. Regardless of the document’s original problems (the endorsement of slavery for one) it still provided a blueprint for a separation of church and state via the Establishment Clause as well as having no religious tests for officials. 

  • bobo

    I agree. The buildings are really cool-looking.  I wonder what they look like on the inside.  I wonder if there’s a bell at the top.  Looks like there might be one.

  • Stev84

    In theory, yes. In practice, separation of church and state is precisely what has allowed America-style Christianity to become such a destructive and corrosive force. It’s very much one-way, with churches being allowed to do almost anything with complete immunity.
    Almost every European country is more secular and has less church involvement in politics than the US. Even the ones with state religions.

  • I think America’s religiousity is based on the fact that we have a crappy social safety net. “Instead popular religion is usually a superficial and flexible psychological mechanism for coping with the highlevels of stress and anxiety produced by sufficiently dysfunctional social and especiallyeconomic environments. Popular nontheism is a similarly casual response to superior conditions.” – fromThe Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon DysfunctionalPsychosociological Conditions Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon DysfunctionalPsychosociological Conditions

  • Coyotenose

     That church is. So. COOL.

  • Coyotenose

     While that church is amazingly designed, I think our temples should look exactly like libraries.

  • ErickaMJohnson

    Why not have them look like both? 🙂

  • smrnda

    agreed totally. i think of it this way – if we were living in a primitive culture and didn’t understand medicine, we’d be relying on religion for healing, and we would all stay sick. in the US we haven’t yet figured out that social welfare and economic behavior obey similar physical laws, so we’re relying on religion where reason would actually do us some good. once people figure out that the universe obeys laws that can be investigated systematically so that problems can be actually solved, there’s less room for magic thinking overall. 

  • Ibis3

    abolish != disestablish

    Don’t want anyone to get their boxers in a twist thinking that those ebil secular Europeans are stamping out churches.

  • TheAnalogKid

    So what do I have to do to emigrate?

  • bobo
  •  You and me both! That is one awesome building!

  • THIS!

  • Onamission5

    So I am not the only one who read the whole post and all I could think was, “Holy shit, that building is fecking awesome!”  Because it is.

  • Now we need a picture of that “Why not both?” girl from that taco commercial.

  • Erp

     Apparently the requirement was that 50% had to be Lutheran, not all.   Given that 79% of Norwegians are officially members, 50% was probably never close to being violated but even that is gone now. 

  • Derrik Pates

    Actually there are stave church replicas in various places in the United States, mostly in the Midwest. There’s one in Moorhead, Minnesota that my great-uncle built. They’re neat architecturally, and beautiful buildings.

  • TheAnalogKid

    Thank you.

  •  This is even creepier! Who of the elected officials cannot enter parliament because there’s too many OTHER elected non-believers?

    Also, the system is exactly the same in Sweden as well. The government brings in the church tax on the tax declaration (a free service for the church worth millions of dollars!). The humanist organization in Sweden cannot get the same service even though they’ve asked several times.

  • EivindKjorstad

    Has never happened, and would never happen. If the situation got even close to being relevant, the law would just have been changed earlier. It’s been tolerated for so long only because it’s not been close to relevant. (it doesn’t matter in practice that half must be members when in reality there’s always been 75%+ who are members)

    It’s an example of a stupid law that’s been obsolete for many decades, but has lived on because it’s actual real-life impact has been zero.

  • EivindKjorstad

    Where’d you get the 72% figure from ? I’ve seen the figure before, but always without a source.

    There’s no “church tax” in Norway. There is only tax. But the church does get money from the state. For that not to violate freedom of religion, what they do is they give the same amount pro member to every other religion, including humanist-organizations and others for non-believers.

    In practice this still benefits the protestant church, because they have a huge set of people who are “members but not active”, and get support for all of those. They’ve got ~75% as members, but only 2% go to church on an average sunday.

    In contrast, (for example) around 2.5% of the population is a member of a muslim church, and thus the muslim-church gets 1/30th the government-support of the protestant-church. But their members are a LOT more active, I don’t know what percentage participates on a weekly basis, but at a guess they’re more than ten times as active (i.e. 20%+ participates weekly)

    If “member” would be defined as: “either paid us atleast $1, or showed up at atleast 4 of our meetings over the last year” then the protestant church would lose 80% of it’s funding. (or alternatively, all other groups would have their funding multiplied by 5)

    The remnants that exist in law will go away, it’s just that they’re ironing out the details.

  • Former Thumper

    We have atheist temples. I went o the museum he other day and as my mind was being blown by the exhibits I thought “this is my temple”

  • Pisk_A_Dausen

    According to SSB (Statistics Norway), these are the numbers of members of the Lutheran Church of Norway per diocese in 2010:

    Oslo – 468 690
    Borg – 500 023
    Hamar – 325 904
    Tunsberg – 383 743
    Agder og Telemark – 343 557
    Stavanger – 342 504
    Bjørgvin – 489 044
    Møre – 219 011
    Nidaros – 361 532
    Sør-Hålogaland – 204 961
    Nord-Hålogaland – 196 508

    That’s about 3.8 million in total. The population reached 5 million this year, it wouldn’t have been that much lower in 2010, and 3.8 million is 76 % of 5 million, so 72% seems reasonable even if I can’t point to a statistic that gives that exact number.

  •  I was just thinking how much I really wanted to know more about it. Had to remind myself to red the article.

  •  Libraries, museums… all wonderful “temples”.

    My favorite “temple” is Nature Herself.

  • Glasofruix

    The separation of church and state is quite absolute in France and Belgium for example i don’t see the uniqueness of the U.S. system where ministers of cult can be politicians….

  • EivindKjorstad

    The claim was that 72% are non-believers.

    Not that they’re members of the protestant church. It’s easy to find numbers for the latter, and indeed they are in the range of 75% or so.

    Take care: you’d think with 75% in protestant church, non-believers are certainly under 25%, but that’s not the case: a substantial amount of people are members, but not believers.

    Anyways, my question was: what is the source for the claim that 72% of norwegians are non-believers ?

  • Pisk_A_Dausen

    Doh, sorry, the number was so familiar (I’ve read a lot of debates on this case lately) that I automatically thought you meant membership.

    The only numbers I can find is this article from SSB, although I can’t find the pure statistics:

    “Hvis vi lister opp
    prosenttallene i rekkefølgen: «Religiøs person», «ikke religiøs person» og
    «overbevist ateist», er fordelingene: for 1982: 48, 49 og 3, for 1990: 48, 50
    og 3 og for 1996: 47, 49 og 4.”

    I.e. in 1996 we had respectively 47%, 49% and 4% who described themselves as religious, non-religious and atheist. (Norwegians prefer the term “agnostic” in my experience, whether or not they have any in-depth knowledge of the term, so I imagine the agnostics would rather pick non-religious.) So that puts the “nones” at just barely over 50%. Of course, the numbers are 16 years old, I’d like to see something newer. A lot of people have quit the Lutheran Church of Norway over the last decade. (How often do we have that nation-wide Census of Everything anyway?)

  • Corey

    Andrew: “I think America’s religiousity is based on the fact that we have a crappy social safety net.”

    I think its because America was created by violence and theocracy until the founding fathers arrived. So, when they say “I want my country back”…they really mean, when Puritans had the power to burn witches and lynch Quakers.

  • EivindKjorstad

     I’ve found some numbers, but not “72%” anywhere, more than half, yes. For example bt (newspaper from Bergen) in 2008 wrote that 56% doubt the existence of God, or feel sure that he doesn’t exist.

    Meanwhile only 34% believed in a life after death, and only 30% believed Jesus rose from the dead. When you correlate these numbers with 75% being members of church, it becomes obvious that the majority of church-members are non-believers.

    That is so astonishing that it’s worth repeating:

    The majority of members in the protestant church of Norway, do not believe in God, do not believe in an afterlife, and do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

    Infact, most of them basically believe that the church is a fine place for weddings and funerals, and that’s about it.

  • Stev84

    In France, a politician waving around a Bible in parliament will also provoke outrage

  • Stev84

    In Germany, I think the government would fund Muslims if they got their act together and created one organization to represent all of them. No idea about Humanists

  •  Me too. That is such an amazing building. For all their other faults, many churches have the most beautiful architecture.

  • rufus_t

    Sounds like the UK, where the Church of England is more a combination of a historic buildings trust (in the village that I grew up in the church was the oldest building by about 4-500 years) and a social club (admittedly with antisocial meeting times and a very limited choice for community singing).

  • LDP

    Well, The Norwegians aren’t realy religious but almost everybody goes to a church for confirmation, weddings and the like so in a way hat makes sense to keep on funding the church to some extent. Just like in some other places in Europe, the chuch is more appreciated for its role in the comunity an its history (remember that Norway has been formally independant for just  hunred years)  than for its religious stance.

    Just to coninue a bit with he beautiful norwegian churches, here are a couple situated in the region i live in (Nord-Norge)

  • Pisk_A_Dausen

    Well, they tend to have buildings with good acoustics… Insert echo chamber joke here. 😉

    It’s not all that astonishing that there are a lot of non-believers who are members of the church though. If your parents aren’t members of some other religious society, you used to get written in by default. A lot of non-religious or not-all-that-religious parents in my parents’ generation Christened their children on the insistence of their own parents, meaning that by now, when my generation has children almost in their teens, you can have three generations of people in the non-religious/atheist/meh category of which at least two are likely to be members anyway. The numbers are likely to drop fast in a generation or two.

    And getting out isn’t easy, or so rumour has it. Plus, most people just don’t care enough to try to get out in the first place. The youngest generations are most gung-ho about this, much like how you’ll find more younger people who want Norway to stop being a monarchy. Out with the old, in with the new. (This paragraph might have made me sound older than I am…)

  • You should read Society Without God by Phil Zuckerman. It’s about Sweden and Denmark, but the author observed similar levels of Christian identification, yet low levels of actual belief in the supernatural.

  • nic

    Volkskirche!  Scary.

  • EivindKjorstad

     It was worse than that until recently actually. They didn’t use to -have- any kind of member-list at all. Then, once the need for one became obvious, what did they do ? Did they start with those they -know- to be members and add from there ? Did they require members to send in a card or something ?

    Not at all ! They started with the sum total of norways population at the time, then subtracted those people who where known to be in a different religion, and those who where known to have stepped out of the protestant church, then they assumed the rest to be members.

    You’re right, membership goes only one way: down. And it  goes down faster the more they talk of what they actually believe in. (aslong as they stick with pleasant-sounding generalities like “it’s good to be good to eachothers” they don’t tend to provoke anyone into actually bothering to send them a letter and be removed from their register.)

    It’s thus lose-lose: either they can refrain from talking about the content of their actual religion, which means not a lot of religious nonsense in the public sphere, or they can talk more about it – but that’ll result in less members and thus less money for them.

  • EivindKjorstad

     Thank you, I’ll try that.

    It’s true that some of the people who believe neither in the resurrection, nor in an afterlife or a god, will nevertheless say ‘yes’ if you ask: “are you a christian”.

    What exactly it means to be christian, if one doesn’t believe in any of those 3 things, is a puzzle.

  • Thanks, I appreciate it. I was in the middle of doing dad stuff when I was writing the reply.

  • Glasofruix

     And a real big one because bible waving idiots have nothing to do in a parliament.

  • waitinforit

     Shortly, governments will turn on the churches completely. Events like those in Norway and Ireland are just paving the way…

  • Olly Wright

    Good for Norway – what a sensible state.  A pity that the religious bigots still hold sway in Britain

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