If you happen to have the chance to talk to young Icelanders about their religious beliefs, be prepared for a surprise. Exactly zero percent of respondents in a recent survey said they believe that God created the Earth.
Only 20 years ago, nearly 90 percent of all Icelanders were religious believers. Today, less than 50 percent are.
With its growing number of non-believers, Iceland is distinct from much of the rest of the world, as a recent Gallup International and WI Network of Market Research poll found. In fact, internationally, those younger than 34 tended to be more religious than older citizens — especially in Africa and the Middle East, where eight out of 10 people consider themselves to be religious.
In the United States, a 2014 Gallup poll found that 28 percent of Americans between 18 and 29 said they believed that God created “humans in present form within the last 10,000 years.” The numbers might not be directly comparable because some Christians believe both in the Big Bang theory and God’s role. But even as the number of young believers in the United States declines, Christianity has maintained a strong influence there.
So, why are young Icelanders so different from much of the rest of the world?
“Secularization [in Iceland] has occurred very quickly, especially among younger people,” said Bjarni Jonsson, the managing director of the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, an atheist nongovernmental organization. “With increased education and broad-mindedness, change can occur quickly.”
Despite the trend, the Evangelical Lutheran Church is still the country’s declared state church. Solveig Anna Boasdottir, a professor at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Iceland, agreed that scientific progress had changed religious attitudes in the country. But she said that about 40 percent of the country’s younger generation still consider themselves Christian — but none of them believe that God created the Earth. “Theories of science are broadly accepted among both young and old. That does not necessarily affect people’s faith in God,” she said.
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