In recent years, Finland has seen a sharp decline in baptism numbers. This year alone, about three-fifths of the newborns were baptised, statistics from the Population Register Centre and the Church of Finland showed.
This is a marked drop compared with the late 20th century, when the percentage of baptised babies still exceeded 90 percent.
“In the early 2000s, the percentage dropped so much that about ten years ago, four-fifths of children were baptised. After that, there was an acceleration in the decline of baptisms. Last year, just less than 65 percent of all babies born in Finland were baptised,” Church Research Institute director Hanna Salomäki explained to national broadcaster Yle.
This year, the decline has been particularly sharp, as only 60.4 percent of babies were baptised from January to July.
“According to the baptism survey conducted earlier this year, an important reason for not baptising children is that parents don't want to make the decision for the child. The idea being that the child can make their own decision themselves once they get older. This reinforces the child’s own decisions about religion,” Church Research Institute director Hanna Salomäki explained.
According to a fresh baptism survey, there are two key reasons for this drop. First, there has been a steady decrease in church membership in Finland for some time and non-religious Finns have forsaken the Christian tradition of their forebears. Second, even the current church no longer considers baptism the only available option.
“The difference in the prevalence of these two reasons is currently insignificant. Children making their own choices about baptism and parents not belonging to the church are almost equally responsible for the child not being baptised,” Salomäki commented.
Furthermore, the survey highlighted major differences between the regions: the percentage of babies receiving the sacrament in northern Finland is almost double that of the capital city (80 percent compared with merely 40 percent).
“Generally, the number of baptisms is higher in rural parishes than in cities”, Salomäki said.
According to statistician Aki Niemi, the low baptism rate in Helsinki reflects the “detachment” people feel toward the church.
By contrast, Veijo Koivula of the Oulu regional parish registry stressed that their high rate of baptism reflects the role that religion plays in the lives of northerners.
“Christianity's very strong status in the Oulu diocese naturally has a big impact on the number of baptisms. Baptisms are considered perfectly normal here,” Koivula said, stressing the role of extended family members, as well as public opinion. Still, he admitted, the number of baptism has decreased somewhat even up north, just as leaving the church has become more common.
As of 2018, 69.8 percent of Finns were members in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, whereas 27.5 percent had no religious affiliation. In 1950, the figures were 95.7 and 2.7 percent respectively. Avoidance of the church tax is a common reason for “resigning” from the church using an online option.
At the same time, Finland's fertility rate has dropped to a record low of 1.49 births per woman.