At this very moment, people all over Helsinki are having religious revelations.

Some are waiting at a pedestrian crossing when it occurs, others are riding the tram to work or sitting on a sunny terrace enjoying a cup of coffee.

Regardless of what they are doing, they are all having the same startling vision. It is one that questions the very existence of God.

One might expect that only the horrors of war or natural disaster would precipitate such collective epiphanies.

Thankfully, in Helsinki this is not the case.

Instead, the visions are the work of the now global Atheist Bus Campaign to stimulate debate on the existence of God.

In Finland, the campaign - supported by a local humanist group and a free-thinking organisation - has raised money to have stickers with the message "There's probably no God so stop worrying and enjoy life," emblazoned in Finnish across buses around the city.

While most people do not have a problem with this unconventional advertising, a number of bus drivers and commuters are boycotting these particular buses in protest.

Some of the stickers have even been torn off.

For those offended, it might seem like Finland has been moving to the dark side for some time.

Although 82 per cent of the Finnish population belong to the Evangelic-Lutheran church - and pay the obligatory 1.2 per cent of their income for the privilege - some sources say as few as one in ten people regularly attend services.

But more startling than empty churches are the vast forces aligned with a darker force, especially prevalent in summer. No church is large enough to fit the thousands of Finns who attend these services.

Instead, these gatherings take place in wide open spaces.

There, in their thousands, the devoted stand dressed in black, before an altar they call a stage, worshipping the gods of the religion called heavy metal.

Although the calendar in Finland is full of such festivals, the Tuska Festival (meaning "pain" in Finnish), is perhaps the most famous.

Even outside festival season, traces of heavy metal are widespread throughout Helsinki.

In the city centre men with long jet-black hair in knee-length black leather jackets are commonplace.

From my apartment I am within five minutes walk of three shops specialising in electric guitars and drums, a few shops that sell hard rock fashion apparel, a heavy metal karaoke bar and a church converted into a heavy metal club, called Dante's Highlights.

If heavy metal is the Devil's music, then the capital of Finland is appropriately named.

While this kind of music is something of a niche in most of the world, in Finland it is mainstream.

This heavy metal culture was exposed to the world in 2006 at the Eurovision song contest.

Dressed as monsters, Finish rock band Lordi won over European voters with the grinding guitars, rumbling bass and crashing cymbals of Hard Rock Hallelujah.

For a world accustomed to the tacky euro-pop of Eurovision, the mere presence of Lordi was a shock, let alone its popular victory.

Like the Atheist Bus Campaign, some probably see Lordi's success as confirmation of the world's slide into a dark abyss.

Ironically, the Lutheran Church does not share this view.

In an effort to encourage young people to come to church, it has recently invited heavy metal bands to play during services.

Since last year a special "Metal Mass" has even been touring around the country.

Of course not everyone in the church or metal community is happy with this perceived unholy alliance, but it seems for now - like those opposed to the atheist buses - they are in a minority.

The church appears to have realised that if it wants to show Finnish kids the stairway to heaven, it needs to let Lordi in the door.

Check out YouTube video of crowd at Tuska below.

You can see why they call it the Pain Festival.







- Matt Kennedy-Good
Pictured above: People outside Dante's Highlights, the Helsinki church that was converted into a heavy metal club. Photo / Matt Kennedy-Good