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What percentage of the world is atheist?

There are numerous takes on this. Some will say there are more atheists than we imagine because in strongly Muslim and Catholic countries, atheists are ostracized and won’t publicly announce their views. On the other hand, over one-third of the world was raised under atheistic communism in the past century. Religion was discouraged and believers were persecuted. All things being equal, the common survey number of 2 to 3 percent seems about right.

It also depends on how you define the term. An atheist believes there is no God. But many people who are not traditionally religious believe in a higher power or a spiritual force of some type. If we extend the definition to those who have no opinion, who lack belief, or who have no religion, the number is obviously much higher.

A 2005 survey published in the Encyclopædia Britannica found that the non-religious made up about 11.9 percent of the world’s population, and atheists about 2.3 percent. It’s reasonable to suppose that there is a gray area between these two groups with some non-religious people claiming to be atheists and vice versa.

Further, in some cultures, such as in Russia and Scandinavia, it is considered impolite to be “aggressive” in sharing your inner thoughts, beliefs and emotions. Those surveyed might tend to shun the question by simply claiming no religion.

Atheists often like to point out that in these countries, which they consider to be much more civilized and advanced than the rest of the world, the number of atheists is thought by some to be more than half of the population. These are mainly northern European countries, such as Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, France, Estonia and Germany.

A few Asian countries such as South Korea and Japan are cited too, however, the religions of Buddhism and Shintoism do not worship God or gods, so those surveyed cannot be compared culturally to the atheists in the west. The same is true with communist countries such as Russia and Vietnam where atheism was enforced even to the point of imprisonment and death. So it’s even more surprising that Cuba and China, which are among the worst offenders in persecuting believers, have only a 7 and 8 percent atheist population respectively.

Europe is an anomaly though with its high atheist population. I’ve often wondered why northern Europe is so Godless. I suspect there is a factor that most people don’t realize: government enforced tithing.

In many European countries, there is a national church and the tithe is essentially another tax. There is a clause in the law that allows people who are not members of the national church to opt out. If you were born in the country, whether you were baptized or not, the government counts you as a national church member. Unless you declare yourself to be a member of another religious group not supported by the government or a non-member, this is another socialist tax levied on your income. Lutheran Church members in Germany, for instance, have the ability to opt out by literally declaring themselves to be apostate.

So in fact, the world atheist population numbers are skewed as the result of a tax dodge.

If we look at Sweden for example, there are surveys stating that atheists make-up 85 percent of the population. I’ve found that unbelievable, and perhaps there is one reason to think it’s not really true. According to the Wikipedia entry on the tithe:

Until the year 2000, Sweden had a mandatory church tax to be paid if one did belong to the Church of Sweden which had been funneling about $500 million annually to the church. Because of change in legislation, the tax was withdrawn in year 2000. However, the Swedish government has agreed to continue collecting from individual taxpayers the annual payment that has always gone to the church. But now the tax will be an optional checkoff box on the tax return.

In most of these European countries with a high atheist population, there is a state Church and tithing is compulsory. Anyone who wants to stop paying tithes has to declare in writing, in a local court or registry, that they are leaving the Church. They are then crossed off the Church registers and can no longer receive the sacraments. The tithe is less than the biblical ten percent in each of these countries varying between 1 to 9 percent.

When we contrast that with the United States, we see that there has never been a compulsory tithe. In contrast, churches here thrive in comparison to Europe. In addition, the tithe is tax-exempt and income tax deductible. It could be argued that socialism and civil government enforced tithing weakens the people’s faith; while voluntary giving strengthens it.

Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.

- Luke 6:28

Comments

Your comments are welcome!

AWESOME theory! I see a parallel in our current health-care debate and in our past welfare debates.

Charity should be the result of an individual decision, when Charity is mandated by government and implemented through taxes then people are no longer "Charitable."

So hospitals, which were originally invented as Christian Charities (I think) DEPEND upon charitable contributions to do the work of the Lord by caring for the sick. Once government steps into the void and mandates people be charitable towards hospitals by taxing people to pay for it....whoa! People are suddenly looking for a similar "atheist" loophole to avoid the taxes.

Posted by  Anonymous on 04/09/2009 09:47 AM #

Jay,

I'm interested in your response.

Posted by  Anonymous on 04/09/2009 09:47 AM #

What would need to happen first is that the church would need to begin teaching the importance of tithing. Then a larger number of church members would need to obey tithing to some church-related organization. It's a given that if we were that obedient and that motivated, we'd be able to vote to close the IRS, the federal income tax and drasticvally reduce the size of the federal civil government.

Then each Church would need to begin providing health care and numerous other social programs to families living in the neighborhood. This is called Revival. It's when the Church starts doing what it is supposed to do.

(True "revival" is in contrast with "revivalism" that depends on high pressure salesmanship evangelism, anointed meetings with a lot of whiz-bang prophecies, miraculous healings and sundry weird manifestations of the spirit.)

Then we have spiritual awakening when the surrounding community and communities throughout the nation were touched by compassion and many turned to Christ as a result of the demonstration of the Gospel with power.

To get there, we are asking each Christian to double tithe. Once to the government (or twice or thrice depending on your bracket) and once to the church.

It's very tough to reverse socialism for this reason.

1. When the individual, family or church spheres of government abdicate their responsibility, the civil powers step in and take over a big piece of the pie.

2. Within a generation people become dependent on the government for a certain service and assume that is how it has always been. When politicians talk about cutting taxes, a few of a minority wring their hands and cry that the needy will lose their entitlements and services. We will starve school children, deny the elderly their social security, etc.

What we don't realize is that we all pay for this anyway. The ones who can afford it will still get what they need with money left over, because the free market drives down prices and the feds always intrude with lots of fraud, theft and waste in the process once he responsibility for a service is centralized.

It is true that we'd need churches to step up to the plate. W. Bush was trying to build a bridge to that with his faith-based initiatives, which were still flawed in principle, but could lead to private charities and local responsibility if we began to cut welfare services as this initiative grew.

I am not optimistic that this can be reversed without a collapse of some type. But Obama might be helping us in a perverse way.

The hopeful sign is that there is a Christian counter-culture of resistance that will emerge when it inevitably collapses.

It's like what my new Internet friend Thomas wrote:

What inevitably happens with a pervasive anti-Christian influence is that "an oppressive, totalitarian, murderous ideology emerges from collectivism and explicitly states anyone who does not convert is either killed or subjugated."

It then collapses on itself in one or two generations. Christians (and confederates sharing a reasonable moral consensus) are left to pick up the pieces and rebuild.

This is what is happening in Russia and the former USSR right now. And that is the reason why you can go to the schools and universities and present the Bible as a basis for learning morality and history, including I/.D. and Creationism and they will listen. Even if they don't believe themselves, they know we've been building -- sometimes unsuccessfully -- but mostly successfully for almost 80 generations.

Posted by Jay Rogers on 04/09/2009 05:01 PM #

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Foundations in Biblical Eschatology

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