In Finland, Atheists May Jump Into Counseling Void Left by Cash-Poor Churches December 19, 2013

In Finland, Atheists May Jump Into Counseling Void Left by Cash-Poor Churches

In Finland, members of established religions are taxed about one percent of their income to support faith programs. However, for the past ten years, secularization has been on an unprecedented rise.

Since 2003 people have been able to leave the church online, and the number of resignations has risen dramatically. Before that, those doubting their faith had to speak to a priest before they were permitted to leave the church.

So, with believers dwindling and churches getting poorer, this happened:

The Lutheran parish of Rauma [a city of 40,000 in Southwest Finland] is to start charging families for crisis counseling unless they are members of the church. Senior figures in the Finnish church have criticised the move as a break from the organisation’s traditional social role. … Seppo Sattilainen of the parish says that the responsibility for provision of family counselling rests with the municipality, and that the church has every right to collect fees from non-members. …

[Prices will be] 70 euros per session for a non-Lutheran individual, 100 euros for a couple, and 120 euros for families. If one partner is in the church and the other is not, the non-member will pay a proportion of the fee.

For their part, however,

Atheist organizations have welcomed the challenge to provide their own services.

The [Freethinkers] Association’s chair Petri Karisma [said] that his organization was indeed keen to start taking on some of the social obligations previously met by the church. “The church’s advantage is that they have funding in place, whereas we need to secure it,” said Karisma. “We need outside support to set up our operations. The idea is to start organising our own social support network.”

Karisma was also critical of the municipality’s torpidity in reacting to Finland’s rapid secularization. “The city of Rauma has apparently up to now imagined that “Finn” and “Lutheran” are synonyms and that services can be provided with the parish’s help,” said the critic. “This is regrettable.”

Finland has a population of 5,400,000. The number of religiously unaffiliated Fins, currently at one million or more, has easily doubled in the past 20 years.


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  • i am 50% Finnish. all my relatives, including the ones who live there still, are atheists and nonbelievers. from what i understand, there are still some benefits to listing yourself as a member of an established church which make such a public or govt designation worth it for some people. but mostly, no. Finland is not steeped in religious insanity and i’m not at all surprised to see these figures relating to growing officially declared unbelief. Finland is a hotbed of the tech revolution also, and we here all know what the internet is doing to religious belief.

    i am proud to know that Finnish people were the very last to surrender to Christianity in Europe. not that the native superstitions were any better, but it’s a point of pride for us. in my family, we’re all socialists and radicals who completely reject anything more “spiritual” than yoga. and not the religious kind.

  • smrnda

    I’m kind of confused and hope someone can help me. Wouldn’t Finland, as a nation with some kind of national health care plan, have crisis counseling as part of that package along with other psychiatric care? I can’t see why anyone not attending a church would, when a crisis hits, decide to get counseling from one.

  • DavidMHart

    Can you tell us if Petri Karisma’s surname is as … um … charismatic in Finnish as it sounds in English?

  • Taneli Huuskonen

    Yes, it does.
    ETA: I mean, “karisma” is Finnish for charisma, so the surname sounds perfectly charismatic indeed. I don’t know of its origin.

  • guest

    If they use evidence-based methods then this could end up better for everyone.