Zuism, a new religion, steadily gains more followers in Iceland

The new religious organization of Zuism has been gaining attention recently in Iceland. However, Zuism is not like many other religious groups. In just a little over two weeks, the movement has gained over 3,000 followers, making it the eighth-largest religion in Iceland. But is this quickly growing movement religious or political?

The modern Zuism is based on ancient Sumerian texts and has some connections with pro-free speech and anti-authoritarian political parties. But the organization also has many atheist members, which is one factor that leads to questions as to whether this is a religious movement or one political in nature.

The primary reason for the increase in popularity of the religious movement is to protest current law and state funding of religious groups. The group’s website bluntly states their primary goal of political reform:

“Zuists fully support freedom of religion, and from religion, for everyone. 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 be abolished.

The organization redistributes the government’s annual financial support equally to all members of the congregation. The religious organization of Zuism will cease to exist when its objectives have been met.”

Icelanders over the age of 16 pay an annual “parish tax” of about 40 euros, even atheists and agnostics. They are required to register their religion with the state, with almost three-quarters of the population affiliated with the established Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland. There are also more than 40 other registered religious bodies that qualify for “parish fees” paid through the taxation system. A main concern for Icelanders is that this system has no opt-out option, so those who have a different religious affiliation effectively just pay higher taxes.

Some politicians claim that Zuism should be de-registered because it is not a true religion. A member of Zuism, Sveinn Thorhallsson, describes himself as agnostic and responds to these politicians by questioning, “What is a true religious organization and how do you measure belief? In a modern society the state should not keep a register of people’s religious beliefs.” Perhaps surprising to many Icelanders, some newly registered Zuists were also showing an interest in Sumerian worship, Thorhallsson added. “We had a service, with a reading of ancient Sumerian poetry. We’re planning another.”

As this organization gains popularity and media coverage, they’ve also received criticisms from the media coverage. An Icelandic broadcasting service reported that the religious organization has been registered with the authorities by two brothers, Agust Arnar Agustsson and Einar Agustsson. The brothers are suspected of having defrauded investors of more than $350,000 through the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. This could be unsettling for members of a group who joined for financial and political reasons. However, the current head priest, Isak Andri, assures that the two are no longer members of the Zuist organization. He also says that the followers do not need to worry about any future financial fraud as the organization is open and transparent with the public, and parish fees will be returned to them in full.