Fewer Norwegians have faith

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It’s high season for church weddings and confirmations in Norway, but new studies suggest that fewer Norwegians are keeping the faith. Church attendance continues to dwindle and more adults and youth alike are openly saying they don’t believe in a god.

There’s no separation of church and state in Norway, where baptism certificates can serve as birth certificates. Most people born in Norway almost automatically become a member of the state church (evangelical Lutheran) unless their parents declare another religion for the newborn.

Nearly 80 percent of Norwegians are therefore listed as members of the state church, but only a small percentage attend church regularly. A recent survey conducted for a national church research foundation (Stiftelsen Kirkeforskning, KIFO) found that 68 percent of those questioned said they believed in a god, down from 78 percent in 1991.

The survey, called ISSP Religion 2008, also found that 18 percent now call themselves non-believers (“ikke troende”), up from 10 percent in 1991. Fully 23 percent of all men questioned fell into that category, and 13 percent of the women. The number among those aged 18 to 34 was higher, at 24 percent.

“There’s so much in the Bible that’s just not probable,” 15-year-old Tobias Torstensen told newspaper Aftenposten recently. He falls into an age group that’s ripe for traditional church confirmation ceremonies, but also one in which a majority of those questioned say they are not religious and don’t think religion is important.

The trend in Norway is similar to that elsewhere in Europe. A recent EU-backed project interviewed youth between age 14 and 16 in seven countries about their views on religion and religious instruction in the schools. Around 800 youth in Stavanger, Oslo, Haugesund, Bergen and Sandnes in Norway were also interviewed, with 44 percent responding that religion was either “unimportant” or “absolutely unimportant.”

“For me, it’s absurd to think that there’s something more up there,” 15-year-old Thanny Thileepan told Aftenposten , with support from her friend Helene Kristiansen.

Increasing numbers of Norwegian youth are now opting for so-called “civilian confirmations,” where they go through a year of instruction on issues tied to adulthood and enjoy a “rite of passage” ceremony, but with no religion involved. The ceremonies are generally held in city halls or other non-religious buildings around Norway.

Church officials claim they don’t feel threatened by the waning faith among Norwegians, and rather see it as a challenge. “We have to take it seriously, and be better at trying to send out the Christian message,” said Nils-Tore Andersen of the state church organization Kirkerådet.