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Internet Deconstructing State Church in Finland 808

Posted by timothy
from the why-does-finland-have-a-state-church dept.
Agnostic writes "Freethinkers of the city of Tampere, who advocate separation of state and church in Finland, created a Web site in 2003 to assist people in resigning from the church. The Web site soon became a big success in Finland. 39% of all resignations in 2004 went through the web site and 69% of all resignations in 2005. In the same process 22% more people resigned from the church in 2005 than in 2004. The most common reason cited for resigning from the church has been saving church income tax (1.3% on average)."
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Internet Deconstructing State Church in Finland

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  • Church? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Irashtar (836973) <Irashtar@gmailCOW.com minus herbivore> on Thursday June 29, 2006 @12:04PM (#15628366)
    Nothing for you to see here. Please move along..
    I resigned from the church ages ago, where's the site to help people resign from the state?
    • Re:Church? (Score:5, Funny)

      by gl4ss (559668) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @12:14PM (#15628437) Homepage Journal
    • Re:Church? (Score:3, Funny)

      by monoqlith (610041)
      Only kernel developers can access that site.
    • Re:Church? (Score:3, Informative)

      by nelsonal (549144)
      http://travel.state.gov/law/citizenship/citizenshi p_776.html [state.gov] It's not just a quick form though you have to sign an oath in front of a diplomat.
  • church income tax? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rubycodez (864176) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @12:06PM (#15628377)
    Could someone from over there please explain how this Church Income Tax works? sounds scary. Of course, over here in the U.S. the old traditional Baptist churchs do their best to get everyone to tithe (10% of income), but it's not a line item on our form 1040
    • by gl4ss (559668) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @12:12PM (#15628424) Homepage Journal
      it's just on top of the normal tax, built in to the system so you don't pay them seperately... so you don't think about it even usually unless someone mentions it to you and tells you that there is a website where you can resign.

      in medieval or something times it was 1/10th of income(or potates/wheat/etc you produced.. I'm not exactly sure how it went, been a while since I was in history class).
    • Over here in olde yurp' a lot of countries are old monarchies and as such, when christianity became popular, kings would mandate by law or edict that everyone else adopt this new God.

      So when democracy came about, the laws about christianity and the "state church" just kinda stayed on the books :)

      To be fair, it's fairly simple to opt-out of, and one does get something in return for the tax (christenings, weddings, funerals etc. are all free of charge).
    • by hpa (7948) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @12:15PM (#15628442) Homepage
      In Finland, if you're a member of the State Church (which you are by birth, but you can withdraw), they get to add a fixed percentage to your income tax bill. Sweden had the same system until 2000 when they abolished the State Church (the Church itself still exists, of course, but it's no longer a Government institution.) There, the system has been modified so that any religious organization which a defined membership that meets certain criteria can apply to tax their members. I think the rate is still set by the Government, though.
      • by WWWWolf (2428) <wwwwolf@iki.fi> on Thursday June 29, 2006 @12:28PM (#15628533) Homepage
        if you're a member of the State Church (which you are by birth, but you can withdraw),

        <nitpick> ...which you are by birth, if you've been baptised, and thus member of the church and thus furthermore listed in the Church's census registry... </nitpick>

        As a rule, people born in Lutheran or Orthodox (even in name only) families get their kids baptised and thus to the church's books. Hardcore atheist families can always get their kids named in the boring red-tape way, and I think there's no law against church-goers doing that, aside of getting more than a few weird looks... =)

        Besides, it's not like the kid is going to pay the taxes in question until they can actually get a job, anyway =)

        • by xao gypsie (641755) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @01:15PM (#15628873)
          As a rule, people born in Lutheran or Orthodox (even in name only) families get their kids baptised and thus to the church's books.>

          I am a Lutheran Seminarian (US). While this has been the case in the past and some nominally Lutheran communities still do this, there is a sense in which those training to be pastors (ie, seminarians) are taught to not baptize a child if the parents specifically declare that they do not intend to bring their children to church. While this is a bit different in the US than Finland, there is a very distinct difference in how this subject has been treated over the course of Lutheran history (which is really interesting for the first 100 or so years, and then boring as hell from then on). It is also interesting to note that the practise of not baptizing a child under those circumstances is an indirect result of the separation of church and state. There are too few of us (we are boring and culturally irelevant) to bring in people that aren't serious about being a part of our community. And yes, i realize that that is an extremely simplified way of saying that...but that doesn't mean its wrong.
      • It's companies, too (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Sulka (4250)
        You're failing to mention that every company operating in Finland also has to pay to the church. Part of the "communal tax" that's mandatory to all companies is paid to the Lutheran Church, no matter who works in the company. Effectively this causes everyone spending money in the country contributing to the Church. Last year they got 86 million euros this way, or about 17 euros per capita. I'd rather have that in my pocket and have a couple more pints. ;)
    • by WWWWolf (2428) <wwwwolf@iki.fi> on Thursday June 29, 2006 @12:17PM (#15628455) Homepage

      Church income tax (Kirkollisvero) is only paid by members of Finnish Evangelic Lutheran Church and the Finnish Orthodox Church. It's just what it seems like: Part of the income tax (exactly how much depends on the city you live in) goes to the church. No other churches are currently entitled to this stuff, but other churches are, like all other organisations, free to collect membership fees as they see necessary.

      It's an old, old, OLD taxation relic, and due to the size of these churches, the system makes sense for their operations.

      Apparently, it's also possible to apply for exemption of the church income tax, partially or wholly.

      (Thanks to fi.wikipedia...)

    • I think that's pretty much how it works -- since the Church is affiliated with the government (or the other way around if you prefer), it gets paid out of income taxes that are collected by whatever their equivalent of the IRS is.

      This is one of these things that they decided was a bad idea when they were designing this country, and so there's really no parallel to it. Any church that you'd tithe to in the U.S. would be voluntary (ok, we can argue about whether the Scientologists really make it 'voluntary' b
    • by br00tus (528477)
      I guess you haven't heard of the White House office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives [whitehouse.gov]. Praise the Lord (the Lord is a magic man who lives in the clouds who controls everything, in case you don't know)!
    • no it's not part of our form 1040, instead they just hide the money they take from you by getting politicians to pass laws only for their religious agenda and getting money given to them by the Department of Faith Based Initiatives
    • by JediLow (831100) * on Thursday June 29, 2006 @12:48PM (#15628670)
      America in the post-revolution period was actually set up with taxes that went to different churches. The Founders advocated no national one (along with national religion) because they felt it was the responsiblity for the states (which had taxes for churches and an official church). Without looking it up I think the last state to get rid of its official church was ~1830-1840
      • by HighOrbit (631451) * on Thursday June 29, 2006 @02:10PM (#15629483)
        Massachusetts was the last US State in to disestablish its state church in 1833 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Established_church [wikipedia.org]). The state church in MA was Congregationalism (which I think is now part of the very liberal "United Church of Christ"). When MA abolished state religion, they did it as a matter of public policy, not because the US constitution forced them. The idea that the several states are forbidden by the Federal constitutions to have a state religion is fairly modern and was only expressed by the Supreme Court in the 1940s. Up until then, established religion by the individual states and local communities was considered compatible with the federal constitution because the Bill of Rights was usually interpreted to only apply at the Federal level. However, as a practical matter, AFAIK every state has had a prohibition on offically established religion as a part of their state constitutions for a very long time.
        • The 14th Amendment is what extends the limitations of the federal government to the state and local governments and was passed in the wake of the Civil War to prevent Confederate states from discriminating against the newly freed slaves.

          In 1833, it was still generally permissable for state governments to establish state religions, restrict free speech, restrict free press, forbid the bearing of arms, quarter solidiers in homes, etc., etc., though most state constitutions banned some or all of these acts. T
  • by s-gen (890660) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @12:06PM (#15628378)
    for "resigning" from AOL
    • AOL would ignore it anyway! ;)

      (For those that don't get: AOL will just keep charging your credit card, no matter how many times you try to "cancel." I've seen this happen to a LOT of people.)
    • by Hogwash McFly (678207) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @12:35PM (#15628575)
      Church Service Representative: Hi, this is John at the Finland State Church . How may I help you today?

      Vincent: I want to quit the church.

      CSR: Sorry to hear that. Let's pull your file up here real quick. Can I have your name, please?

      Vincent: Vincent Ferrari

      CSR: 'K, Vincent . . . All right, thank you very much. Okay. You've been with the church for a long time.

      Vincent: I just don't use it anymore.

      CSR: Okay. Well actually, I'm showing a lot of usage on this church file.

      Vincent: Yeah, a long time ago. Not recently.

      (Here the service rep asks about another file that belongs to Ferrari's dad.)

      CSR: Well, what's causing you to want to resign from the church today? I mean obviously, I mean . . .

      Vincent: I don't use it and he doesn't use it, so we're quitting the church. . . . I don't need it. I don't want it. I just don't need it anymore.

      CSR: Well, on June 2nd, you went to church. You were there for 72 hours. On June 2nd.

      Vincent: I don't know how to make it any clearer . . .

      CSR: Last month was 545 hours of church usage.

      Vincent: I don't know how to make this any clearer, so I'm just going to say it one last time. Resign me. Please.

      CSR: Well explain to me what's, wha, why . . .

      Vincent: I'm not explaining anything to you. Resign. Me.

      CSR: Wha, what's the matter, Vincent? We're just . . . I'm just trying to help here.

      Vincent: You're not helping me. Helping me would be . . .

      CSR: I am trying to help . . .

      Vincent: Listen! I called to resign from the church. Helping me would be resigning me from the church. Please help me and resign me from the church.

      CSR: No, it wouldn't actually . . .

      Vincent: Resign me!

      CSR: Resigning you . . .

      Vincent: Resign. Me. From. The. Church. Resign. Me. From. The. Church...
      • LOL. (Score:5, Informative)

        by antdude (79039) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @02:06PM (#15629427) Homepage Journal
        Just in case, here is the original video [youtube.com] of this. Nice spoof!
      • Hah! When I asked my college's priest (of my parents' religion) to remove me from his mailing list, the dialog was just like what you describe! He looked into his records and found that we went to the same (religous) high school, and asked me what was wrong with their brainwashing. (Brainwashing is my word; by the time I attended the religous high school, they primarily regulated religous education to be objective views on world religions and classes about ethics.)
    • by pla (258480) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @12:57PM (#15628739) Journal
      Someone should make something like this... for "resigning" from AOL

      Sorry, but that requires a serious act of contrition.

      Much like how baby rapists can't just say "oops, sorry, won't do it again", the same applies to AOL users. They need to prove they've learned their lesson, and truly repented of their old ways.
  • by maubp (303462) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @12:07PM (#15628383)
    The most common reasons cited for resigning from the church have been saving church income tax (1.3% on average)
    In medieval England, wasn't the church tithe 10%? They're lucky its only about one percent!
  • Consider Europe:

    In the Middle Ages, the states in Europe were relatively weak next to the Catholic Church; the Vatican maintained the Empire Rome had left behind. As individual states became more powerful and less subservient to the Vatican, the idea of a "law higher than the state" remained; this was used to justify England's Magna Carta, the USA's Declaration of Independence, and the French Revolution. In the case of Vatican City, the idea of church as an independent state remains.

    Consider Asia:

    Marx and Lenin would never approve of the superstitions that continue to dominate Chinese culture after the Communist revolution; yet any religion that dares to become popular is immediately cracked down upon. Why? It's competition to the official state religion, Communism. Even today, China is no more Communist than, say, the United States of America, yet the Church of Mao remains as active as ever -- and remains the state religion.

    Every state has its official religion, and every church represents a government with its own laws and enforcement.

    Even in the USA, getting back to said Declaration of Independence, the principles behind it need not be defended so much as practiced; as an exercise, walk through the individual grievances against the King listed therein and count how many could apply to the current government of the United States.

    Organized religion is either co-opted by a government or competing with it. All governments are theocracies, and all religions are independent states.

    The state is a church, and the church is a state.

    Given that, what does "Separation of church and state" really mean, anyway?
    • by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @12:32PM (#15628554) Journal
      The state is a church, and the church is a state.
      All squares are rectangles and all rectangles are squares?

      Adherence to the rules of a state is compulsory; adherence to the rules of a religion is not. This is in the modern, Western, context. The historical role of the RC church as state-builder and kingmaker cannot be denied, but it also cannot be used when discussing the role of religion in re: statehood today, and it especially cannot be extrapolated to other religions.
    • Organized religion is either co-opted by a government or competing with it. All governments are theocracies, and all religions are independent states. The state is a church, and the church is a state. Given that, what does "Separation of church and state" really mean, anyway?

      The difference is the source by which they claim to derive their authority. Religions claim to derive their authority from god(s) while governments claim to derive their authority from the people.

      That's about the only difference, th

    • Errata (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kahei (466208) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @12:50PM (#15628680) Homepage
      In the Middle Ages, the states in Europe were relatively weak next to the Catholic Church;

      Well, it varied; Henry of England managed to start his own competing church just in order to remarry and Philip of France plundered the Church whenever he needed a buck.

      the Vatican maintained the Empire Rome had left behind.

      If you mean the actual roman empire, it was of course Greek Orthodox and maintained (spiritually at least) by the Patriarchate until being overrun by Islamic forces. If you mean the Holy Roman Empire, it was an implacable enemy of the Vatican and fought innumerable wars against the Popes.

      As individual states became more powerful and less subservient to the Vatican, the idea of a "law higher than the state" remained; this was used to justify England's Magna Carta,

      Partly, yeah.

      the USA's Declaration of Independence,

      This was justified in Deist or Humanist terms, not Christian and certainly not Catholic ones.

      and the French Revolution.

      You mean the well-known atheist humanist movement which wiped out a good chunk of France's Christian clergy?!?!

      In the case of Vatican City, the idea of church as an independent state remains.

      No. A state directly controlled by the church remains. There used to be several such states, now there's only one. I don't think anybody goes from this to considering the remaining state and the church to be the same; it's just that one is based in, and forms the government of, the other.

      Anyway, you get the idea...

    • Consider Mexico (Score:5, Informative)

      by Spy der Mann (805235) <spydermann.slash ... Hl.com minus cat> on Thursday June 29, 2006 @01:08PM (#15628803) Homepage Journal
      Given that, what does "Separation of church and state" really mean, anyway?

      It means that there should be no official religion for a country - since a religion is chosen by the people (or by their parents), and can't be enforced. Clergy should not occupy state offices (i.e. governor, senator, etc). Religion should be excempt from taxes.

      I live in Mexico, and we have this distinction very clear. There's also been an "anticatholicism" idea in the government, because for more than 70 years (until 2000), it was the freemasons who were presidents and ruled the country. So more than a separation between Church and State, we have a Church persecuted by the State. The most agressive attack against the Catholic Church was when Plutarco Elias Calles became president and declared religion illegal in 1926, and temples were destroyed or taken by the state to become public libraries. This led to the famous "cristero war" [wikipedia.org]. Not surprisingly, all references of the cristero war taught in official history books portrayed the movement as some kind of anarchy - and the people who fought this war in favor of the Church, were portrayed as "savage indians" controlled by the catholic hierarchy. The official books did not mention how many innocent people were slaughtered, and how many priests and religious people were persecuted.

      Since then, religion is forbidden to do public acts of worship outside churches (except when permitted explicitly by the State), and priests are forbidden from wearing religious outfits in the street. Even Pope John Paul II could not use his tiara when he visited Mexico for the first time in 1979.

      All this changed when president Carlos Salinas [wikipedia.org] (independently from the corruption of his regime followed by an economic crisis [wikipedia.org]) modified the freedom of religion laws.

      As you can see, religion is a touchy subject, and so is politics. But it becomes much worse when these two are mixed together. For example, the traditionally opposing party in Mexico (PAN), which was founded by compromised catholics, is labelled as "the right-wing" by the freemasonry-founded party (PRI), and they use that name, "the right-wing" to portray PAN as some kind of religious fundamentalists who are intolerant of anything. Insert rumours of secret catholic societies [wikipedia.org], murders of famous members of the clergy [wikipedia.org], and it all becomes more and more blurry.
  • The exit interview (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 29, 2006 @12:18PM (#15628469)
    When I went through this process, it was not yet possible to resign through Internet. I had to visit the church office and the priest wanted to have a serious discussion with me. I was a bit rude and cut it short...
    • by LarsWestergren (9033) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @03:08PM (#15630116) Homepage Journal
      When I went through this process, it was not yet possible to resign through Internet. I had to visit the church office and the priest wanted to have a serious discussion with me. I was a bit rude and cut it short...

      Wow, that's hardcore. When I did the same in Sweden, all I had to do was print and sign a letter and send to my church and BAM! Straight to hell!
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @12:19PM (#15628472) Homepage Journal
    Internet used to get people out of sending money to the church? Splits voluntary religious power from mandatory state power?

    I see a new threat to Freedom lurking on the horizon, ready to enter the Republican Party platform as "them" in the "us vs them" Terror War just in time for 2006 Campaign Season.

    Didn't I hear about some "Cathedral vs Bazaar" terrorist manifesto praising the Finnish cyberterrorists attacking America's beloved Microsoft?

    We've got to rip these Internets out by the roots!
    • Moderation 0
          50% Flamebait
          50% Funny

      TrollMod Cathedral vs freethinker Bazaar.
  • by amightywind (691887) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @12:19PM (#15628473) Journal

    The exodus from the Church of Finland is just another example of the desire of citizens to opt out of certain government services that do not serve them. As an American I would like to opt out of Social Security, farm subsidies, K-12 public schools, and public television.

    • Uh, the church is not a government service. It is subsidized by the government. There is a difference. Same in many European countries--I ditched my Swiss catholic church membership; they're even more expensive than in Finland. Guess when I buy the farm they'll just put me in the Soylent Green blenders. :-)

      Farm subsidies also don't fit here; that's just waste, not something you "opt out" of.

      And while I agree about European-style "public" television, paid for by involuntary license fees if you have a TV,
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I would like to opt out of Social Security, farm subsidies, K-12 public schools, and public television.

      Feel free to move to someplace that doesn't have any of these services then.

      There's a rather large number of African countries that don't, as well as some remaining in Central Asia. I'm sure you'll find a country with no social safety net far more pleasurable and enjoyable to live in.

      Note -- do not move to Western Europe, Australia, or increasingly large areas of Eastern Europe, Asia, or South America. All

    • by metamatic (202216) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @01:20PM (#15628914) Homepage Journal
      As an American I would like to opt out of Social Security, farm subsidies, K-12 public schools, and public television.

      Apart from Social Security, that's all chump change.

      Take public television. The total budget there is $380m for 2006, and there are 122,721,000. If we pretend that PBS is funded only by individual taxes and not corporate tax, that still makes your share of the funding a piddling $3.10. Hardly worth your time to whine about it, I'd think.

      Me, I'd rather opt out of the stupid Iraq and Afghanistan wars and get back $3500.

    • The exodus from the Church of Finland is just another example of the desire of citizens to opt out of certain government services that do not serve them. As an American I would like to opt out of Social Security, farm subsidies, K-12 public schools, and public television.

      Bzzzzt! Wrong! Public education serves everyone, most especially the ones who are upper class and/or business owners. At low cost to themselves they get an educated workforce that is mroe productive, or an educated workforce for the co

  • Looking Deeper (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 29, 2006 @12:44PM (#15628638)
    Everyone's knee-jerk reaction is to say 'good for you' but I wonder how much of a part their church instidution plays in providing support and services we now associate with government. Are these taxes simply lining the coffers or going to things such as a version of welfare and social services?
  • by boomgopher (627124) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @12:56PM (#15628721) Journal
    I think this whole concept of a "state church" is what the founding fathers were against, and the motivation for separation of church and state, not petty crap like what is going on in San Diego [washingtonpost.com].

    I mean seriously, I think all the folks who rant against the US being a theocracy and hot-bed of fundementalism, etc, etc. need to travel around a little bit more, I think they'd be in for some surprises... even in Europe!

    • The cross in San Diego was quite offensive. It made me feel unwelcome because I am not Christian. It was on government property and could be seen by a lot of the city. Although it was an obvious violation of the separation of church and state, a judge had to order it removed many times before it was taken down. Religion is quite a bad thing IMO. Believing in a god is harmless for the most part. However, many wars have been started over religion (eg. the crusades). The real problem with religion is co
  • by October_30th (531777) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @01:08PM (#15628810) Homepage Journal
    ...yet I am a member of the state church. Furthermore, I'm happy to pay the small church tax. Why?

    Political reasons. A functioning state church attracts religiously inspired people into one flock and under one "official" Lutheran doctrine that's very, very stable - and dare I say pseudo-secular in its tolerance towards minorities and other religions - in the long run.

    This marginalizes the influence of the more miltant lunatic (evangelical) fringe and enhances the stability of our society. I would go as far as atttributing the complete absence of a credible religious right in Finland to the existence state church.

    Those who seek the destruction of the one, monolithic state church should think about what they're wishing for.

  • by wandm (969392) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @01:10PM (#15628819)
    It may not sound like big news if 41000 people use a web service in some small country somewhere. But it is actually a huge effect. In a country of 5 million, nearly 1% of all people - including kids and pensioners - have resigned from a powerful institution with few clicks in the last couple of years. In US that would correspond to almost 3 million people!

    And the Church is terrified. Thay are losing income at an increasing pace. They have already announced a need to shrink the number of priests and church workers in the future.

    The Lutheran Church of Finland is still trying to defend it's bastion as a major institution on par with government, army and universities. The lutheran church in Sweden has already been kicked out from government protection and the process is beginning in Norway.

    The Chuch is still powerful - almost evil - consider this:

    - Most don't even notice that 1.3% of their income is sucked out

    - At the age of 14, kids have to go to religious camps where they are forced to attest their faith. When they graduate, they are rewarded with presents and told that "now they are adults". You might have thought state-churches are tame, but this a Brainwashing, and nothing else. Bloody sickening.

    - Even today there is just one (or two?) graveyards for non-religious people - and the church loves it's monopoly - if you are as an atheist buried to church graveyard, you'll have to pay hefty extra.

    - Religion is thought in school, and the 85% who are members, MUST attend and pass. Otherwise no diplomas are coming your way. Could we possibly use this time better? Maths, languages, anyone?

    - Due to all this brainwashing, is it no wonder that many people in Finland are completely unable to critizise or question the church or religion. Even though nobody talks about it, it is somehow accepted as a part of "culture".

    In this perspective the phenomenon that is reported here is perhaps THE best internet movement that has ever taken place in Finland. Lot's of money and people are involved, and I hope, some cleansing of thinking as well.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      "- At the age of 14, kids have to go to religious camps where they are forced to attest their faith. When they graduate, they are rewarded with presents and told that "now they are adults". You might have thought state-churches are tame, but this a Brainwashing, and nothing else. Bloody sickening."

      Its voluntary.

  • by 955301 (209856) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @02:35PM (#15629786) Journal

    In the US a church is a tax-exempt entity, a charitable organization. If they don't pay taxes for the revenue they bring in, and their members can write off the contributions to the church, doesn't that in effect mean the rest of us are paying money that people paying the church don't?

    So if I take a vacation with my family I don't get to write it off. But if I donate the same amount of money to my church, who then sponsors an trip to Europe that we participate in, that money is deducted from my gross income. And I directly benefit from money I "donate" to my church.

    If you move a few signs around the equation, isn't that the same as taxing people who don't go to church? Double-time? Because if I donate to Oxfam they don't take me on a field trip to another country. They use the money to help someone else.

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