What Is the Most "Godless" City on Earth?

Surveys reveal the least religious, most atheistic population centers in the world.


Whether you fervently believe in a deity or flat our reject any religious teachings, opting for an atheist mindset, chances are you would rather be surrounded by like-minded people. Outside of the extreme religious control exercised by ISIS or the state-mandated atheism of countries like North Korea, most places are somewhere in between on the religiosity scale. But if you wanted to know what is the most "godless" place you can live, where would you go?

This place is most likely a city, at least according to how some scientists have described atheists. 

“Those with no religious affiliation have been found to be younger, mostly male, with higher levels of education and income, more liberal, but also more unhappy and more alienated from wider society,” said Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, professor of psychology at the University of Haifa, about atheists in a psychological profile.

To biopsychologist and author Nigel Barber, these people are more likely to be in a major population center, and not a rural area, because cities tend to be more prosperous, and as such their inhabitants will feel less need for religion. In fact, he thinks that by 2038 most countries will have less than 50% of their populace thinking that religion is important to them, crossing what he calls “the atheist threshold”. 

What are some places that have already passed this point?

In a WIN/GALLUP survey from 2015, China was declared the world's least religious country, with twice the amount of “convinced atheists” (at 61%) than any other country. Following it was Japan at 31% and the Czech Republic at 30%. In general, Western Europe was the least religious area according to the survey, with 51% of the population either not religious or decidedly atheist. Scandinavia, in particular, often leads the way in such polls, as Sweden, Denmark and Norway have large populations of non-believers. 

What about specific cities?

Berlin has been called the “atheist capital of Europe” since 60% of Berliners do not associate with any religion. 

As far as the U.K. is concerned, according to a 2011 Census, Norwich had the most people (42.5%) marking “no religion”. This is compared with 25.1% for the whole of England and Wales.

In the U.S., the American Bible Society’s rankings for 2016 point to Albany/Schenectady/Troy area in New York State as being the least “Bible-minded,” which means only 10% of the respondents there read the Bible in the last week and lead their lives accordingly. Boston was the least Bible-minded city in the survey, with just 11% of its population having the book as a part of their lives.  

The most Bible-friendly city? Chattanooga, Tennessee. Not surprisingly, the South leads the U.S in religiosity, with cities in Tennessee, Alabama, Virginia and Louisiana topping the chart. 

In a separate survey, the 2016 Public Religion Research Institute identified Portland, Seattle and San Francisco as the least religious cities in America, with 37% of the people there practicing no religion. Boston was number 8 in their findings. 

So what is the least religious city in the world? While the numbers could surely vary based on how you define religiosity, the largest city in China, the least religious country in the world, would likely be the most atheist population center in the world. And that would be Shanghai, a city of 24 million people of whom 86.9% say they are not affiliated with any religion. That could amount to about 21 million atheists

Cover photo: A man flies kite at The Bund on December 5, 2013 in Shanghai, China. Heavy smog hit northern and eastern parts of China, disturbing the traffic, worsening air pollution and forcing the closure of schools. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

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