Despite the ceremony being officiated by an archbishop, Alexis Tsipras this week became the first Greek prime minister to be sworn in without taking a religious oath (pictured above). You see, Tsipras is an avowed atheist.
The leader of the Syriza party—which shocked many by taking power in Greece this week—becomes one of a rare breed: A world leader who has reached the highest office despite not believing in God. According to Quartz’s analysis of news reports and public statements made by heads of government, there are at least three atheist leaders in Europe:
Despite being raised a Catholic, French president Francois Hollande is also an atheist. “I have reached a point where what is clear to me is the conviction that God doesn’t exist, rather than the contrary,” he told a journalist in 2002 (link in French), as well as telling a Catholic weekly that doesn’t practice religion “but I respect all faiths. Mine is not to have one.”
Perhaps a more surprising non-believer is Croatian prime minister Zoran Milanović, who managed to reach the highest levels of power despite the fact that his country is 90% Catholic. Religious leaders in Croatia are outraged that Milanović doesn’t want to attend church on religious holidays.
With belief in God fairly low across Europe, it might suggest more atheist leaders are forthcoming. But in general Europe’s leaders remain a religious bunch.
They range from Germany’s Angela Merkel, who has declared “I believe in God and religion is also my constant companion, and has been for the whole of my life,” to Norway, where 17 out of 18 ministers in government said they belonged to the Lutheran church.
There are also a fair few heads of government that seem to be waiting for their road to Damascus moment. Slovakian prime minister Robert Fico previously declared himself an atheist, then a Catholic, and most recently refused to discuss the issue as a private matter (link in Slovak). Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko has described himself as an “Orthodox atheist.” Denmark’s Helle Thorning-Schmidt is baptized but not confirmed, occasionally goes to church, and does not believe in eternal life, salvation, heaven, and hell (link in Danish).
The UK’s potential next prime minister, Ed Miliband of the Labour Party, is on the record saying he doesn’t believe in God. (Alastair Campbell, Labour’s former top spin doctor, once declared “we don’t do God.”) The incumbent, David Cameron, has a more complicated relationship with religion. Church “really matters” to the Conservative prime minister, he has said, but he’s “a bit vague on some of the more difficult parts of that faith.”
Update: Courtesy of several Quartz readers, Switzerland’s current president Simonetta Sommaruga has left the Catholic church and describes herself as “searching” in matters of religion (link in German).
Even if the non-believers start to win more votes—and that’s a big if—there’s always one country in Europe where you can be sure there will be a religious person in charge: Vatican City.