Iceland is home to 332,002 people and the world’s newest religion. According to the BBC, thousands of Icelanders have registered as Zuist in recent weeks and they don’t appear to be motivated by the faith’s Sumerian roots.
Organizers claim the religion is practiced by singing ancient Sumerian poetry. But Zuism isn’t just about the mystic union of An and Ki: It’s also a demand for greater separation of church and state in Iceland.
“The organization’s primary objective is that the government repeal any law that grants religious organizations privilege, financial or otherwise, above other organizations. Furthermore Zuists demand that the government’s registry of its citizens’ religion will be abolished,” its website states.
Iceland has an official church – the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland – and according to its Constitution, that church is to be “protected and supported by the State.” The country isn’t exactly a theocracy. Icelanders are free to join whatever religion they choose or to become non-religious, but the state does directly subsidize its official church and other religious organizations through the collection of parish fees. These fees are included in income taxes, which means that everyone pays a parish fee whether they’re religious or not.
That irks the founders of Zuism.
They’ve promised new members that the faith will refund their parish fees; organizers also publish a guide on how to establish a new religion. They may not be able to deliver much on that refund; the Icelandic government says that Zuists would have to pay income taxes on any money they receive from their “faith.” But this hasn’t deterred new converts.
Zuism, of course, is more a political movement than a religion and as a result it has a few critics. The Progressive Party’s Stefán Bogi Sveinsson has urged newly-minted Zuists to deregister.
“I would go so far as to say that no one has registered in the organization to practice Zuism itself,” he wrote for Austurfrétt, an Icelandic news site. “Their reasons for registering are rather twofold: to get money in their pockets, or to protest against current legislation about religious organizations.”
It’s reminiscent of another recent religious development: The Church of Jediism. (Yes, like Yoda.) Originally conceived as a joke to confuse British census takers, Jediism quickly spread. The BBC reported last year that it boasts roughly some 200,000 adherents worldwide and some have become true believers.
Zuism could evolve into something more spiritual, but its founders don’t seem to be interested in becoming true religious figures. They’ve informed members that the “organization” will shut down once they’ve achieved their legislative goals.
In this, they’re more like the U.S.-based Satanic Temple. Temple members don’t worship a literal Satan any more than Zuists believe in the spiritual power of ancient poetry. Satanism, to them, is equal parts metaphor and political statement. They, like Zuists, want church and state to be strictly separate. Members fought to erect a holiday display in the Florida Capitol last year and built a statue of Baphomet to accompany a Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma Capitol. (The Decalogue monument has since been moved to comply with a judge’s order.)
It’s clear that many Icelanders are displeased with the state’s subsidization of religion. Their demands – and tactics – don’t seem too outlandish for a country with a Pirate Party and numerous elf gardens. Perhaps it’s time for the Althing, Iceland’s parliament, to listen to them.