Governments have imposed their own rules against religion throughout history. Religion around the world is on the decline.
For the first time ever, Norway now has more people who do not believe in God than do – with 39 per cent of atheists versus 37 per cent of believers.
In the US, meanwhile, a nation whose dollar bill signs states “In God We Trust”, belief in the Christian deity is also at an all time low.
Research found that nearly twice as many Americans in 2014 said they did not believe in God as in 1980 – and that five times as many in 2014 said they never prayed, with millenials in particular accounting for the change in public opinion.
Now a map has shown degrees of religion around the world according to the countries with the most people saying they are “convinced atheists”.
Yet despite a trend towards fewer people believing in God around the world, it appears only a few countries have more than 20 per cent of citizens who are comfortable about rejecting the notion of a diety entirely.
Here are six of the most atheist countries in the world, not including Norway:
China has by far the highest percentage – and even then not quite half – of convinced atheists out of all the world’s countries.
According to Win/Gallup, between 40 and 49.9 per cent of Chinese people identify as having no agnostic tendency when it comes to believing in a higher deity.
Communism, in which name the ruling party of China has governed since 1949, regards religion as a means of oppressing the proletariat, with religious movements suppressed under Mao Zedong throughout his 27 year reign until 1976.
One of the country’s oldest philosophical worldviews, Confucianism, is also noteable for its lack of a belief in a supernatural deity.
China’s neighbour is another of eastern nations with many people committed to a worldview without God in it.
Between 30 and 39 per cent of the people on the Japanese islands say they are “convinced atheists”.
Religion in Japan has historically been centred around Shintoism, which is based on ritual and a mythology surrounding the ancient past of Japan, rather than an all-seeing god.
However, it remains spiritual in nature and could not be called atheistic. Yet Shintoism, like Buddhism in Japan, has seen a decline in followers in recent years.
3. Czech Republic
A perhaps surprise third contender for least religious countries in the world, the Czech Republic has some 30 to 39 per cent of citizens who classify as atheists.
The weak support for traditional church religion could be the legacy of strong Czech nationalism throughout the 19th and 20th century.
Catholicism was seen as an Austrian import and was discouraged by the state, with Protestantism never really managing to fill the gap, according to historians.
The country’s communist past also suppressed the revival of any religion, spanning from 1948 to 1989.
The land of romance stands out from many of its European neighbours with at least one fifth of citizens saying they are “convinced atheists”.
Similarly to China, France has a history of the state seeking to reduce the power of religious institutions within its borders.
The French Revolution in 1789 overthrew Roman Catholicism as the state religion and a law was brought in in 1905 to formally separate the church and the state.
In the UK, by contrast, the head of state is also the head of the Church – the Queen.
Some 10 to 19 per cent of Australians say they are “convinced atheists”, perhaps unsurprisingly for a country with a strong tradition of secular government.
A legal framework guaranteed religious equality within a few decades of colonialists first arriving in 1788, deposing the privilege of the Church of England.
Many other religious peoples joined the trade opportunities in Australia, including both Muslims and Jewish people.
Today, however, the majority belief in Christianity is in steady decline and more citizens identify as having no god.
Catholicism was outlawed in the northern European island in 1550, and religious freedom became a legal right in 1874.
Although many Icelanders consider themselves Lutheran, a small proportion follow folk religions, and the rest consider themselves “convinced atheists”.
This is only some 10 to 19 per cent of the population, but it places Iceland among some of the most atheist countries in the world.