Religiosity is on the decline in most parts of the world. Reasons for this may be the stuff of discussions among sociologists and religious leaders, but that the hold of religion is weakening worldwide is only too evident in popular culture and social practices. Barring some fundamentalist societies and countries with state religions, most places in the world are moving to a secular way of living. But what about societies where people reject any form of religion? Here is a list of ten countries which are estimated to have the highest percentage of atheists, according to the WIN-Gallup International ‘Religiosity and Atheism Index’ released in August 2012 which measured global self-perceptions on beliefs based on interviews with more than 50,000 men and women selected from 57 countries across the globe in five continents. The survey also provides trend data for shifts in attitudes since 2005.
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China tops the list of countries with the highest percentage of atheists on the basis of a whopping 47 percent who describe themselves as convinced atheist, 30 percent as non-religious and only 14 percent as religious. China’s position on the atheism spectrum is understandable in light of the country’s communist identity since the particular political doctrine eschews all religious beliefs. However China’s ranking also shows how far the country has come from its past since as one of the oldest civilizations, it was the cradle of many Oriental religions, like Confucianism and Taoism.
Yet another ancient Oriental culture to have one of the highest percentages of atheist population is Japan which has long had large numbers of Buddhist and Shinto followers. Currently though as high as 31 percent of the population describes itself as convinced atheists while an equal percentage identifies itself as non-religious. Only 16 percent of the population claims to follow any kind of religion.
- Czech Republic
Another country with a history of communist philosophy which scores high on the atheism index is the former communist country Czech Republic. Here only 20 percent are avowedly religious while a much higher 30 percent of the people are confirmed atheists. Interestingly enough a far higher percentage and almost half the population – 48 percent – identifies itself as non-religious – a figure which is perhaps symbolic of the country’s break from the communist, atheistic past but as yet, far from whole-hearted adoption of its ancient Catholic tradition.
The dominance of atheists and agnostics in the population of the above countries gives way to the religious in France where a majority 37 percent of the population is avowedly religions while a far lower 29% of the population is confirmed atheist. A slightly higher 34% of the population describes itself as non-religious. France owes its position among the top ten atheist countries in the world to a long history of Enlightenment and political revolution; the French Revolution especially struck at symbols of conventional power like royalty, aristocracy and even the Church. Since the nineteenth century, France has also been at the center of avante garde philosophies in science, psychology and arts and even now there is a definite socialist strain in French politics.
- South Korea
South Korea is another country to debunk the myth of Oriental societies being deeply traditional and religious since here a healthy 15 percent of the people are confirmed atheists. While a still higher 31 percent identify themselves as non-religious, more than half the country’s population – 52 percent – claim to be believers.
Despite being the driving force behind Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, religion no longer holds a central place in German society. Here too 15 percent of the population is explicitly atheist while 33 percent of the people claim to be non-religious. However a majority of the people 51 percent are still religious and follow some faith or other. Among the reasons why Germany figures on the list of most atheist countries of the world could be because of the culture of high rationality and the value accorded to scientific temperament in the society. Other causes could be the hangover of atheist policies of the communist regime which ruled over the former East Germany as well as the legacy of the secular movements during the Weimar Republic which were strongest in the states of Thuringia and Saxony. In modern Germany, there is a majority of atheist population in Hamburg.
Europe continues to maintain its dominance on the world map of atheism with another of its countries, Netherlands. While a relatively lower 14 percent of the people are confirmed atheists, a far higher 42 percent of them are identified as non-religious. This is in almost equal proportion to the believers since only a marginally higher 43 percent describe themselves as religious.
Despite being a socially and racially conservative society on the whole, Austria does not embody religious conservatism. This is proved by its presence in the top ten atheist countries of the world since around 10 percent of its people are confirmed atheists. Though 42 percent of its population still follow some religion or other, a marginally higher percentage 43 describes itself as non-religious. Traditionally Austria has been a predominantly Roman Catholic country and was once the seat of the Hapsburg dynasty.
This Norse country on the northern fringe of the European continent also has 10 percent of people as confirmed atheists while 31 percentages describe themselves as non-religious. Believers in some religion or other make up for 57 percent of the population – traditionally Iceland has followed the Lutheran Christianity and even today a majority of its religious people are of the same denomination.
As the embodiment of a young society and multi-cultural society, it is only natural that Australia make space for people of widely differing religious affiliations and even for ones who do not believe in the existence of God at all. Here even though 10 percent of the people are confirmed atheist, almost half the population – 48 percent – describes itself as non-religious. A far lower percentage – 37 - of the people claim to follow any religion at all.