Religion has long been a very influential force in the lives of many people around the world. In one form or another, the belief in a higher being has given comfort and rationale to generations of humans since the dawn of recorded history. However, atheism is also on the rise among those who find it harder and harder to believe in the teachings of organized religion.
Which nations have populations that are currently the least to turn to religion? A Gallup international study in 2012 named these countries based on attitudes toward religion and the number of atheists in that country.
Only 37% of Australians said they were practicing worshipers, 48% said they belonged to a religious denomination but are not active while the rest said they have no religion. Experts say religious roots may not be as strong in Australia as in other nations since it was colonized by the English also at a time when religious turmoil was rife in their lands. The official state religion of England was in question and during the age of discovery the sharing of faith was the farthest from the minds of intrepid adventurers.
The country has a tumultuous religious past, with King Christian III imposing Lutheranism on his subjects and executing practicing Catholics in the 15th century. Today the Church of Iceland is the official state religion and it is still based on Lutheran principles. The system is not as rigid as Catholicism and while 57% say they are practicing, 31% say they aren’t, while the remaining claim no religious affiliations.
At the end of the 20th century as much as a third of Austrians were active Roman Catholics and Protestants. However, since the 1950’s this number has been constantly on the decline, from 6.1 million in 1951 to 5.9 million in 2001 and 5.4 million in 2011. As of now only 42% of Austrians consider themselves religious, 43% say they are non-practicing and the rest said they have no religious associations at all.
7. The Netherlands
Dutch views are among the most liberal people in the world, this includes their take on drugs, prostitution, gay rights, euthanasia and abortion. When it comes to religion the Dutch Reformed Church was the official state religion until the early 19th century when Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism and other such religions were welcomed. While only 10% of the Dutch consider themselves atheists, the number between deeply religious and non-practicing Dutch is almost equal at 43% and 42%, respectively.
The Germans are known for their practicality, they never do anything without a reason or planning. They like to approach everything from the logical angle and make sure everything is done efficiently. Perhaps this is why only 51% of them find any meaning in religion while 15% said they do not believe in any religion at all. With that, it should also be mentioned that Germany is tolerant of faith in general; Catholics make up the most of worshiping Germans with 29% while Islam comes in second, followed by other various faiths. Many credit the current religious views of Germans as the chance to break from its wartime associations with religious and racial intolerance.
5. South Korea
While the predominant religions are Buddhism and Catholicism, 15% of Koreans considered themselves as atheists. Attitudes toward religion have not improved over the years with a lot of Koreans associating themselves with irreligious beliefs. As or present only 52% of Koreans consider themselves religious while 31% are non-practicing. There are Catholic churches in South Korea but experts say religion failed to take a solid root in Korean past, given the turmoil they experienced in the early 20th century, including the Korean war, the shifting between a totalitarian regime to democracy, and then its swift rise to become an economic powerhouse in Asia.
France has been a bastion of Catholicism since the Middle Ages, but in 1905 it passed a law mandating the separation of Church and State and since then religion has no longer been as potent as it was. According to the study 27% said they do not believe in a god, 34% said they were actively religious while the rest said they were non-practicing worshipers. The government has gone on to legislate more religious restrictions like to ban proselytizing, or the sharing of faith or religious values in schools and to prohibit Muslim women from wearing face veils while in France.
3. Czech Republic
After the fall of the USSR many of the former socialist republics eagerly returned to their former faiths, but this was not so with the Czech Republic, then part of Czechoslovakia. To base on history, the Czech had always been indifferent towards religion and did not see the need to rush to embrace any faith when it separated from Slovakia in 1993. According to a recent census 34.2% of the population said they had no religion, 10.3% were Roman Catholic, 0.8% was Protestant and 9.4% followed other forms of religion. Adherence to Roman Catholicism in that country has decreased steadily. Studies conducted in 1991 showed 39.0%, in 2001 it was 26.8% and in 2011 it was 10.3%. The Czech Republic currently has the highest rate of non-believers compared to any other European country.
In Japan, a country so steeped in tradition, religion has become just that. Most Japanese associated with religions practice it for the sake of honoring their past and do not consider it a moral anchor in their lives. According to a study only 25% of Japanese believe religion is relevant outside of tradition and ceremony. Another 31% believe there is no such thing as a higher being. Japanese are, however, tolerant towards religion in general. As their main religion Buddhism, preaches not to castigate other faiths. The structure of their religious system is also not as rigid as compared to the old faiths in Europe and the east.
China has been influenced by many religions over its long existence, these included traditional folk religion, Taoism, Buddhism and most recently Christianity. Religion suffered greatly during the start of the Communist regime which encouraged hard work and national fervor in place of prayer and meditation. To the communists, religion was the “opium of the people.” However, with the socialist nations becoming lesser and lesser, rules regarding freedom of religion are also loosening, but this does not mean people are turning to religion for solace. A good 47% of Chinese are atheists or agnostics. Thirty percent said they were non-practicing while the remaining said they were religious.
According to analysts, after Deng Xiaoping opened China to the west in 1985, it was the Capitalist mentality that took strong root, rather than the religious. When China was opened to the West it was the acquisition of vast wealth its citizens chose to prioritize over choosing which god to worship.