Cemetery sites are sacred ground riddled with many traditional religious symbols. For the growing number of atheists in Sweden, it is a source of contention. One man desired to make a change that would be unprecedented. Josef Erdem is a teacher from Borlänge, Sweden and proposed that there needs to be a burial place free of religious symbolism for nonbelievers. He shared with The Local, that the local Church of Sweden approved the proposal and will be maintaining the site.
Erdem said that the community should be able to decide for themselves on what their gravestones should look like. He also wanted people of faith to be welcomed to the burial site, but the stipulation was they can’t have any religious marks on their stones. “People can decide for themselves what their graves should look like, but the cemetery will be free of all religious and nationalist symbols,” said Erdem. There will still be the opportunity for the families to choose whatever they want. It cannot be religious but it is up to them how they want to decorate their plot. People will have a choice and that suits other atheists who now feel less worried about being buried in a religious environment. The decision will help many of those is Sweden who do not have a religion. Stora Tuna is the church where the burial site is located. The news is drawing interest by other atheists. The reaction has been positive by both religious and non-religious groups.
Some people also oppose the move. “With all of the recent immigration, Sweden will likely be slipping down the non-believer list. Soon the religious will be in the majority again, but it won't be Christianity,” one reader commented. The majority of people are definitely not supporting Christianity in Sweden, and this could be the reason the approval for the cemetery did not have much push-back. Hemant Mehta is the editor of the Friendly Atheist at Patheos.com, he concurred that having a secular cemetery makes sense for families who do not want to go through the emotions and the process of a religious burial. “It makes perfect sense to offer a purely secular cemetery where anyone (including religious people) can be buried without having to go through an unnecessary faith-filled process that the deceased would never have participated in when they were alive," he offered. In Sweden, citizens are turning their backs overall on religion.
Lutheran Christianity is the largest religion in Sweden with 6.2 million members and the Church of Sweden reported that only 8 percent attend church services. The second-largest religion in the country is Islam due to the influx of immigrants. This has already sparked the building of 5 mosques in the country. Muslims are expected to make up 10 percent of the population in Europe during the next decade. Sweden has the second highest number of non-religious people. They are not alone. Sweden is second to China in being the least religious, while the Czech Republic ranked third in the world, according to WIN International. The least religious country was China with 61 percent of people claiming to be atheists followed by Hong Kong and Japan.
Atheism is growing worldwide, Pew reported. By 2050, only 13 percent of the world's population may not be religiously affiliated, as opposed to over 16 percent in 2010. Then there are the “nones,” who do not identify with any religious group. This group is the second largest group in Europe and in North America. It is quite startling how fast atheism and the "nones" are increasing outside of Sweden. Atheism has a seen a spurt of growth and presence in Australia, Netherlands and in New Zealand. “Religion is rapidly becoming less important than it’s ever been, even to people who live in countries where faith has affected everything from rulers to borders to architecture,” Pew cited.
What are some of the best countries to live in if you are an atheist? According to Salon magazine there are many. Lutheranism was removed from being the official church of Norway and became a secular nation after their Parliament voted in 2016. They said in a statement that the “Norwegian Church will continue to have a special basis in the constitution and the state will be built upon ‘our Christian and humanistic heritage.” Since the collapse of communism, the Czech Republic, has seen a rise in secularism, with only 21 percent of the population believing that religion was an important aspect of their lives. Australia has moved away from religion. An estimated 10 to 19 percent of Australians admit they are atheists. Icelanders and the Danish also considered themselves as "convinced atheists." In Japan there are 39 percent of people who are not interested in religion.
Sweden could open up the dialog for atheists in finding a burial place of their own, but until then, many humanist funerals are becoming more common for them. Atheists are adapting the same techniques used in humanist funerals by focusing on the burial. This includes remembering their relative’s lives by sharing memories and avoiding religious words like “Heaven” or the “Afterlife.” The event is centered on affection for the deceased and their family members. It is a service that can involve those who are religious as it encompasses the celebration of life, something we all agree on. Instead of traditional hymns, the funerals may play music that was a favorite of the loved one. This works for Erdem, who explained that his worldview has been shaped by people of all walks of life and faiths. Ultimately, people should be able to decide for themselves how they want to be buried.
Religious beliefs are very personal and we should not judge people, who follow their own hearts and beliefs. You might not agree with the decision that people make, but you can respect their right to be heard and to have access to what they deem as needed. Perhaps if we were more tolerant there would be an increased harmony among those who are religious and those who are not. There might even be less people who reject religion, because of hypocrisy.