Religion in Finland

There are two official churches of Finland: the Lutheran Church and the Orthodox Church. They still collect taxes and register births. Nine out of ten Finns belong to the national Lutheran Church. This Church has about 4.5 million members in 600 communities, and is the third largest in the world. Christianity came to Finland in the 12th century from both the east and the west. Hence Finland has an Orthodox Church of which there are around 55,000 members (about 1 per cent of the population).

Helsinki cathedral

The sparkling white Helsinki Cathedral stands on a hill and is clearly visible even from far out at sea.

There are less than 4,000 Catholics and some 13,000 Jehovah Witnesses. Judaism arrived during the 19th century with Jewish merchants and men working for the Imperial Russian Army. Today, there are around 1,300 living in the Helsinki and Turku areas (south and south-west Finland). Muslims were introduced into Finland with the Russian army at the end of the 19th century. The number of Muslims has increased from 1,000 in 1990 (the long-established Tartar Muslims) to about 15,000 at cross-century (brought about by Somali refugees). The emergence of the immigrant religions in the 1990s is one of the most striking changes in the Finnish religious field since the spread of new religious movements to this country in the 1970s. The number of foreign citizens, including refugees, has rapidly risen since the late 1980s. Consequently, numerous new religious immigrant communities have taken root in Finland, most of which, however, profess Islam. Around 10 per cent of the population have no religious calling, and therefore belong to the civil register.

Religion in Finland

The Reformation of Martin Luther gradually displaced the Catholic Church encouraged by the conversion of the Swedish king to Lutheranism. The first complete Bible in the Finnish language was written in 1642. Nowadays, there are women Lutheran Priests, and the Church is seen to be quite progressive and building for the future. The Church has become very much more popular in recent years and plays an important role in baptisms, funerals and confirmations. Over 90 per cent of Finnish youth attend confirmation camp. The church employs its own social, youth and daycare workers. They help the aged, the disabled, drugs addicts, alcoholics, and counselling is given to those families with financial and social problems. As such, the church is an active participant in the community and plays an important role. The Finns do not necessarily consider themselves religious, but they feel comfortable belonging to an organised church. Although only a few Finns attend church on a weekly basis, it is appropriate to comment that nearly everyone will attend church several times in a year. They are privately reverent and do not suffer a need to attend regularly.

In the town of Nokia, every Thursday evening the church is so full you cannot get more people in it. People are turning to the Church for security and as a way to help them cope with the enormous changes that are taking place in their lives. There are three well-known fashion models who tour the country giving speeches and the Church is especially giving its attention to young people.

Foreign Culture and Religion

“It has been argued, both by researchers and by Muslims themselves, that Muslims are discriminated, for instance in Britain and France, not only because of their skin colour or ethnicity, but because of their religion. A similar kind of atmosphere was apparent in Finland in the beginning of 1990s when there was an influx of Somali refugees. It has been said that their arrival in this country constituted a shock for Finns. Certainly, these new arrivals kindled a heated discussion in respect of foreigners in Finland and, in particular, about the different cultural habits that they brought with them to this country. Very often these habits were (and are) associated with women and, at times falsely, with Islam. In this regard, one need only mention women’s veiling and the circumcision of girls. Interestingly enough, it was only with the arrival of these recent Islamic immigrants that such customs as the circumcision of baby boys and particular ways of slaughtering animals became issues for dispute, even though similar customs had prevailed in Finland for over a century among Jews and the long-established Tatar Muslims.”

It wouldn’t be right to finish the chapter on religion without mentioning the rich tradition of folklore and the mention of the old Finnish gods. The ancient Finns had their own indigenous religious traditions. Their gods included: Ukko, god of growth, rain and thunderstorms was the supreme god, married to Rauni; Ilmarinen, god of winds and storms; Ahti, god of waters and fish; Tapio, god of forests. There were also: Kratti, guardian of wealth; Tonttu, guardian of the home; Kekri, the god of celebrating.

Resources for Other Religions

The website of the Islamic Society of Finland» provides information such as prayer timetables for the year, contact information and numerous other resources. The website is available in Finnish, English and Arabic.

The website can be viewed at: rabita.fi.

For a list of Buddhist groups in Finland, see: buddha-dharma.info/ihmisia.htm