Record numbers leave Church of Denmark after atheist adverts

'We’re pleased that Danes have taken the opportunity to express what they actually want,' says chairman of the Danish Atheist Society

Matt Payton
Thursday 08 September 2016 20:02
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Christiansborg Palace Church in Copenhagen in this 2005
Christiansborg Palace Church in Copenhagen in this 2005

Thousands of people have left the Church of Denmark following a nationwide advertising campaign by the country's atheist society.

Between April and June, 10,000 people left the church - the highest number of registered withdrawals since 2007.

A campaign by the Danish Atheist Society is being held responsible for the number of leavers – double that recorded between January and March.

The campaign's banner advert includes phrases such as "Why believe in a god?", "Why should faith cost something?" and "Did Jesus and Mohammed speak with a god?"

Chairman of the society Anders Stjernholm told Politiken: "We’re pleased that Danes have taken the opportunity to express what they actually want.

“We have long seen in surveys that there aren’t that many Danes who are devout Christians.

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"So I view [the withdrawals] as an expression of the fact that people can’t really see why we should have an institution like the Church of Denmark that has such incredible influence and that takes one’s money."

All Danish citizens automatically become members of the Church of Denmark when they are baptised and can withdraw by written application to their parish office or by joining another faith.

The church is partially funded by a tax automatically drawn from the normal contributions of its members. This accounts for 0.5 to 1.5 per cent of members' tax payments depending on the municipality.

According to the campaign, leaving will save 133,000 kroner (£15,000) in church taxes over their lifetime.

Church leaders have agreed the drop in membership is down to the atheist adverts, but asserted the effects would be short-lived.

In support of their opinion, the number of baptisms by the Church of Denmark are on the rise, the Local reports.

The dean of Copenhagen’s Church of Our Lady, Anders Gadegaard said: “I think the number is a reflection of a very special situation created by the atheists’ campaign.

"We’re not talking about a whole new trend that will continue.

"It’s obvious that when millions [of kroner] are spent on increasing visibility and advertising for withdrawals, it will have an effect but at the same time we are seeing an increase in the number of enrolments [and] a rising interest in belonging to the Church of Denmark."

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