But do Icelanders really loathe religion? Why is it, then, that the island adopted Christianity without making a big fuss unlike any other “Christianised” nation? Why then is the President of Iceland simultaneously the head of the state church? And why do 290,000 Icelanders today belong and pay taxes to religious institutions?
An explanation many Icelanders readily give is that they simply want to make sure that they will not end up in an eternal hotpot, in case there really is a God.
Another explanation is that the traditional Icelandic folk beliefs regard human beings as equals to any other animate or inanimate form of nature, be it animals, plants or stones.
In opposition to this, in Christian and other world religions, the human being has a central position, stands in the spotlight and thus enjoys a much greater attention, which might be the final salvation Icelanders are looking for, having been isolated from worldwide matters topographically and politically for many centuries.
However, there are also non-religious groups (in Iceland as well as in other countries) that celebrate an alternative confirmation for teenagers that is not in the least reminiscent of the original idea of confirming a belief. But while in many countries this celebration has turned into an official acceptance of the teenager into the adult world, Icelandic confirmees are not even allowed to sip the symbolic glass of wine that usually goes with this tradition.
Another particularity is that in Iceland, all the family is congratulating each other on the day of confirmation. Grandpa congratulates the confirmee’s sister for the confirmation of her brother, the sister congratulates grandpa in return for the confirmation of his grandson and so on. Quite confusing, but, as a first-hand witness explained to me, “they probably want to clarify who is related to whom in what way, and to be simply consequent in a society where everyone is a winner and constantly achieves great things.”
So why do roughly 9 out of 10 thirteen to fourteen year-olds get confirmed each year? Is it because children of that age are reasonable enough to decide on the values of religious belief and commitment? When asked how many people she knew believed in God, my Icelandic friend said: “one.” When asked how many of her family members did NOT have a confirmation, the answer was the same.
The great amount of TV spots advertising party services for confirmations and numerous brochures and newspaper adverts the banks publish are definitely doing their best to turn this time of year into… a second Christmastime, the other holiday this country of nonreligious consumerists adores.