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For the first time in its history, Norway is now a majority godless nation.

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Panoramic view of Hopperstad stavkirke (church), Norway. (Peresanz, Adobe Stock)

But the handwriting’s been on the wall for quite a while. According to a newly released survey, the percentage of Norwegians who say they believe in God has dropped four points since the last two years and a whopping 23 points since 1985.

In the first of a continuing series of Norsk Monitor surveys on Norwegian religiosity, conducted in 1985, a majority of the populace then, 53 percent, said they believed in God, but only 30 percent professed belief in the latest survey, published this year.

The new poll, which queried 4,000 Norwegians, revealed that outright atheists now comprise 39 percent of the population, compared to 37 percent of believers and a remaining 23 percent who are uncertain, the conservative news website Breitbart reported.

“Norway’s decline in religiosity has been constant. A year ago the number of Norwegian atheists equaled the number of believers for the first time, setting a new record for atheism in the country. Now they have attained clear numerical superiority,” the Breitbart article reported.

“The figures show a dramatic decline,” John Spilling, project manager at Norsk Monitor, told the The Norwegian Standard news bureau.

And, as elsewhere in the West, Norwegian religiosity is more pronounced in rural areas, less in more worldly urban centers.

“In the country’s capital, Oslo, only 29 per cent said they were believers [in the Norsk Monitor survey], while the sparsely-populated county of Vest-Agder in the north-west had the most believers at 44 per cent,” the U.K.’s Independent online news site reported.

The survey is conducted bi-annually to map “change in values, attitudes, and behaviors over time in Norwegian society,” the Standard reported.

As is the case in the United States, Norway’s least God-believing demographic is young people, ages 25-39, with a scant 19 percent professing belief in a supreme deity.

An interesting quirk of the Norwegian data is that, while fewer than a third of Norwegians currently believe in God, 61 percent report that they remain affiliated with the Christian faith. The survey reported that the proportion of Christians over time “has remained stable and is now at the mid-1980s levels.”

Norwegian nonbelievers, as others in mostly secular Western European countries, seem reluctant to yield the rituals if not the faith of their former religion, which, as in the United States is generally Christianity. So-called “atheist churches,” such as this one in the United Kingdom, still communally gather on Sundays for inspirational secular recitations, music and fellowship, with hymns replaced by Stevie Wonder and Queen songs and “a PowerPoint presentation by a particle physicist” supplanting a sermon.

“It’s a nice excuse to get together and have a bit of a community spirit but without the religion aspect,” says Jess Bonham, a photographer attending a nontheist Sunday Assembly gathering in North London. “It’s not a church, it’s a congregation of unreligious people.”

Thomas D. Williams, Ph.D., who wrote the Breitbart piece, seemed startled by modern Norway’s retreat from grace, writing:

“You’d never know it today, but Norway was once a remarkably religious country. The Danish-Norwegian Nobel laureate, Sigrid Undset, won a Nobel prize for literature in 1928 for her extraordinary trilogy of historical novels, titled “Kristin Lavransdatter.” According to the Nobel committee, the award was conferred on her “principally for her powerful descriptions of Northern life during the Middle Ages” and what strikes modern readers most is the pervasive religious component in the day-to-day life of pre-Reformation Scandinavia.”

Norway’s parliament in 2012 eliminated Lutheranism as the state’s official religion, which relegated the faith to receiving public funding “on par with other religious and belief-based” organizations.

Breitbart’s Williams writes that Salon magazine has characterized Norway as one of the “eight best countries to be an atheist,” along with Sweden, Denmark, Japan and the Czech Republic, suggesting that its “socially just government” has “effectively” replaced God for many citizens.

No, what’s happened in Norway, and we should be glad if it were to happen in America and elsewhere, reason has replaced superstition.

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“Erudite yet readable … very illuminating”

— Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion,” in praise of “Holy Smoke”

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Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...

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