A significant sliver of Iceland’s population has suddenly found a new religion -- and the promise of a tax rebate. More than 3,100 Icelanders, or about 1 percent of the country’s population of 323,000, have converted recently to a newly established religion called Zuism, which is based on the worship of ancient Sumerian gods. But that’s not really why the religion was founded. On its website, the mission of Zuism is for “the government [to] 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.”
The government of Iceland requires all citizens to register their religion with the state -- almost three quarters are affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland -- and pay a congregation tax to the religious organization to which they belong. If they’re not religious, that payment, which comes out to about $80 per taxpayer, goes to the state.
The Zuism religious organization, however, will actually return the congregation tax it will receive from the state to its members. Hundreds of new adherents have converted in recent weeks.
“There is no opt-out. Those who are unaffiliated or belong to unregistered religions effectively just pay higher taxes,” Sveinn Thorhallsson, a Zuist spokesperson, told the Guardian.
Some critics have charged that the organization should be de-registered as a religion because it’s not a real faith. “But the real question is, what is a true religious organisation and how do you measure belief?” said Thorhallsson, who added that the church, which was established in 2013, held a service with the reading of ancient Sumerian poetry.
Those services, however, may not be around for long, if the church is successful in its goals: “The religious organization of Zuism will cease to exist when its objectives have been met,” the religion's official website states.