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Is Iceland the atheist paradise?

January 22, 2016


I saw this meme shared by a couple of atheist Facebook pages today including Atheist Alliance International and Anti-Theist Propaganda.

As you can see it proposes Iceland as some kind of paradise. Iceland has no army, they clamp down on corruption, a strong economy and low crime – a paradise indeed, built on atheism.

Yet a little bit of research demonstrates that these claims seem to fall apart.

1. Iceland has no army. 

I’m a little unsure how this makes Iceland being a better place to live. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I’m not sure how having no army makes a country secure and safe from any foreign threats? If anything it would make a country more of a target for any potential rogue state.

2. Iceland’s economy is booming.

Iceland’s economy may be growing at the moment, but this growth has been somewhat precarious. This article from Fortune magazine shows that Iceland’s economy suffered a ‘spectacular collapse’ in 2008, which precipitated the European Debt Crisis. Before this collapse the Icelandic economy was in the grip of a property bubble of ‘unmitigated proportion’. The high growth of Iceland is somewhat artificial as it’s harder to buy imported goods which give an ‘artificial boost’ to the local economy and restricting what locals can buy.

More recently the Icelandic economy has recovered but the OECD describes its recovery as ‘solid’, not quite the optimistic ‘booming’ that the meme implies. Real GDP has only just recently passed the peak pre-GFC.

So I would suggest that it’s a bit misleading to say that the economy has been ‘booming’

3. Iceland has an atheist majority.

This is the most contentious of claims. The official statistics of Iceland indicate nearly 23,000 people or about 12.5% of the population identify as “Other and not specified” and “No religious organisation”. This contrasts with the number of people identifying with The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland – 73.76% of the population.

It’s certainly possible that most of the people identifying with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland are atheist, but that would seem to be a strange conclusion to draw.

There is no question that Iceland has a large convinced atheist population, but to suggest that it’s a majority seems to be misleading at best and without justification.


There is nothing wrong with creating memes which convey simple truths in pithy and memorable ways. But I think it’s more important to create memes which actually reflect truthful statements.


From → Comment

  1. Reblogged this on Dave DuBay.

  2. Reblogged this on Spiritual Meanderings and commented:
    A reblog from Atheist Forum.

  3. Iceland does have an army. It is basically a reservist army, but active enough to deploy to Iraq.

  4. Iceland’s very small military is probably a function of its very small population, relative remoteness and the protection afforded by being part of NATO rather than the religiosity of its inhabitants. So that one does seem like a complete red herring, as well as being less than the whole story.

  5. Matt permalink

    One word. Atheist China (yes there are a lot of religious folk too but the government itself is an atheist organisation) – hardly the paragon of virtue.

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