In Finland, the two most venerable churches — the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (82% of population) and the Finnish Orthodox Church (little over 1%) — get tax money (kirkollisvero) from their adherents. It’s a hidden tax, though, hidden among all the others things the government skims from people’s earnings, so few actually notice the loss of one to two percent of their income. The government then pays the churches, and the churches build churches, pay pastors, and groom cemeteries.
Note that this tax is taken only from the Lutherans and the Orthodox fellows, and given only to those two churches. The religiously unaffiliated 15% don’t pay this. The rather inconsequential religious rest have to take the open way and charge a membership fee.
“Now! The Re-reformed Neo-Lutheran Church! Services 10 e per person, children under 8 for free. Just for today: Front pews where Jesus can see you better only plus 2 euros! Extra offer! Two wafers for the price of one!”
Well, maybe they are a bit more discreet than that.
And of course all corporations pay a little amount that ends up in the pockets of the churches, too, this amount hidden away among their other taxes. It doesn’t matter whether the corporation is Rubberwear Unlimited or the Godless Memorabilia Corp — they still pay, no matter their opinion, or the affiliations of their employees.
According to the Lutheran Church, an average member pays out something like 200 euros every year — not much, but it adds up to 750 million per year.
Out of that 200 euros per year per person, only 12 euros are spent in a way that I can (grudgingly) accept: on the upkeep of the cemeteries. The reason I have to accept this is that the law forces them to bury the carcasses of any and all comers (or goners, rather), whether religious in the right way or not, or not religious at all.
Though they may put you next to the trashcan behind the cemetery lawnmower shed, but the dead don’t mind, do they?
Still, I’d like to see some neutral agency in charge of the graveyards — though I shudder at the thought of what the government might do, given such a task.
“To save land, we’ve decided to build up, not around!”
“A ten-level cemetery complex, with grass and headstones at every level, and superhydraulic lifts! Estimated capacity half a million units!”
(At times I agree with George Carlin, who once commented that saving all the dead people in one part of the town is another idea whose time has passed — just more medieval superstitious thinking. If we’re going to recycle, let’s get serious!)
The other uses of the money the church gets aren’t better — paying the pastors and building the churches gets no sympathy from me, and architectural treasures would be better off in the hands of some museum, and the youth work (14%) and foreign aid (3%) would be better handled by someone that doesn’t have a Bible to push. I’m all for feeding the starving and helping the youth, but having a recruiting agenda soils the goodness of such deeds.
But the taxes, the dues, the fees… I wonder about those payments, hidden in the repulsive tax forms. I wonder, and I chuckle.
If the churches really have members that care, why not donations instead of taxes? Surely real believers could easily and gladly spare more than 200 euros per head per year? And if there aren’t enough believers to feed a priest, an organist and a gravedigger and keep the church in good repair — why, what does that say of the importance of religion in the lives of people today?
“Adopt a gravedigger today — you’ll get weekly video insights into his charming life among the dead!”
“Um, the Feed-a-Pastor fund? Here’s an euro; now buzz off!”
Am I so far from mark if I respectfully suggest that to most Finnish people today the church is a bother, a meaningless social necessity, just a fly they can’t be bothered to flick their ears for? Isn’t it just an old tradition, surviving on the inertia of its former prominence, just another millstone from our fathers?
Still, I usually smile when I think about these things. What’s the most commonly cited cause for leaving the church?
“Um, I don’t wants to pays them my money, no!”
And that’s a good reason — why pay for a pastor you never see, a service you never attend, and a dogma you don’t believe in? Isn’t two hundred euros a little too steep for one visit every Christmas? Imagine how many more presents you could buy with that!
During Christmastime, you see elves and Clauses and humble words on giving gifts, families gathering and candles being lit, pictures of flying reindeer and also much stress. Few remember the birth of a famous Jewish zombie (“I liiii-ve again!”) two thousand years ago, and that’s fine by me. I much rather have a mythology that’s consciously made up, and real love of real people instead of mindless adulation for a lord that doesn’t answer, appear or exist.
In 2006, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, currently having around 82.4% of the population under its hood, lost some 0.8% of its members. If that goes on at the same rate, in a hundred years we’ll have no church, and once that indoctrination ceases, we’ll soon have no religion, either. Just freedom, at last.
Well, except for the easily deluded, who will always be found by a lie to believe in, and the desperate, who will always grasp at any straw. But the rest of us, the sensible ones, will be finally free to act sensibly.
It might happen even quicker than that. The members of the church are not some static group: new ones are baptised every day, and old ones pass away. And those that pass away are the old ones, the ones with unquestioned faith, the ones that were born in the times when you were a Christian, or else automatically judged an immoral creep. On the other hand, the young ones don’t like the hymns, they cringe at the mere mention of sermons, they reject the message of universal slavery and eternal unworthiness, and once they leave the church, their children won’t be baptised into it either.
And my position is that, unless you brainwash a child from birth, tell her that there is a God, no question about that, our God, no questions, hallelujah! and all religion is good, and belief without thought is a virtue, life without religion is immortal and bad-bad-bad — unless you pour that propaganda into a child too young to doubt or think logically, you won’t get many new members.
I smile when I think about the future.
“Dad, what’s that thing over there?”
“Oh, that? Let me see… Urm, hmrm… ‘exhibit 216: an altar cross from the Christian temple of’ — hurm, it’s a symbol from some religion, boy.”
“Relitsoon? What’s that?”
“Just a fever dream, beloved son.”