Alexis Tsipras, who was sworn in earlier this week as the new Prime Minister of Greece, has become his country’s first openly atheist leader. A survey noted that atheist leaders in Europe are becoming more prominent, with France and Croatia also being led by non-religious figures.
Tsipras was sworn in on Monday after his Syriza party won the elections in Greece, but he chose not to take a religious oath at the ceremony. Reuters noted that Tsipras, whose left-wing party has opposed austerity measures, broke from tradition when he decided to take a civil, rather than a biblical oath.
Quartz analyzed public statements from European leaders and identified at least two others who have also said that they are atheists — French President Francois Hollande and Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanović.
Hollande, who was raised a Roman Catholic but left the religion, said in 2002: “I have reached a point where what is clear to me is the conviction that God doesn’t exist, rather than the contrary.” He separately added that he respects all faith, but chooses not to have one.
Quartz noted that it’s rare for a nation’s leaders to openly announce that they have no religious belief, with the majority in Europe adhering to Christianity.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example, has said: “I believe in God and religion is also my constant companion, and has been for the whole of my life.” British Prime Minister David Cameron has also often referred to his Christian faith in speeches.
The analysis found that other European leaders have expressed conflicting views about faith, with Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico refusing to discuss the issue in public after first calling himself an atheist, and then a Catholic. Switzerland’s president Simonetta Sommaruga on the other hand said that she has left the Catholic Church and is “searching” for her religious path.
A 2010 Eurobarometer Poll found significant differences in faith across the various countries in the European Union. When asked to choose from three options — faith in God, faith in some sort of spirit or life force, or no faith in any God or life force, 79 percent of Greeks affirmed that they believe in God.
Only 27 percent of French citizens agreed, however, and 40 percent of them — the highest in the poll — said that they do not believe in God or any life force. The nation with the least amount of faith in God was the Czech Republic with only 16 percent of faith, while Malta was the highest, where 94 percent of respondents said that they believe in God.
The EU average showed that 51 percent of people believe in God, 26 percent believe in some spirit or life force, while 20 percent have no faith at all.