Auður Sturludóttir is the Vice-Chairperson of Siðmennt – Félag siðrænna húmanista á Íslandi. Here we discuss her background and some of the community.
Scott Jacobsen: Let’s start with some background, either family or personal, what are some important details and stories?
Auður Sturludóttir: I grew up in a small village in the North of Iceland. I was not christened as a baby, as was the tradition with almost everyone, and I was probably the only child in the village who was not. My father was against this because he was not religious. But it was the village priest’s job to register my name in the official records. He and my father had an argument about this, because the priest denied registering my name unless he would get to christen me. My father did not give in and after he complained to the authorities, the priest had to fill out the papers without having the pleasure of welcoming me to his congregation. That was my first encounter with the public system which was so traditionally contaminated with Christianism, that you couldn’t even have a name without having a religious ceremony, or at least that was the misunderstanding of many. Things have evolved a lot since then, thanks to people like my father.
Jacobsen: How did you become intrigued and involved in secular issues?
Auður: First I must say that I ended up doing the Christian confirmation because of peer pressure and the Siðmennt alternative was not an option yet. My parents had divorced, I had moved to a different town with my mother and I was too shy to be different. My brother did not do the confirmation and I looked up to him, but I did not dare to go in his footsteps. But my disbelief in God and other myths was still there and as a teenager I was appalled by my schoolmates who were often telling ghost stories and talking about life after death. I never believed in this, because that’s the way I was brought up. The other kids were offended when I told them I simply did not believe in those stories about messages from dreams or mediums, signs from the supposed other side of life and other supernatural stuff. In my twenties I read a lot of debunking articles from an association called Vantrú, where religion and other non-scientific affirmations were debunked, and people were encouraged to seek and understand the truth in a scientific manner instead of jumping to the most wishful explanation of the world. It wasn’t until later that I joined Siðmennt, which for me was a nice discovery, because atheism is one thing, but Humanism is another thing. Atheism just tells you what I don’t believe in, but Humanism tells you what I do believe in.
Jacobsen: How did the Siðmennt – Félag siðrænna húmanista á Íslandi start?
Auður: I’ve seen Hope Knútsson explaining it here on this site, it was her and a few other parents who started this around the civil confirmation ceremonies they wanted to offer as an alternative to the Christian confirmation.
Jacobsen: What are the demographics of the community now?
Auður: I don’t know. We don’t have access to the list of people who are signed up in Siðmennt through the state. My guess would be that our members are of all ages.
Jacobsen: What are your tasks and responsibilities in the Siðmennt – Félag siðrænna húmanista á Íslandi?
Auður: I’m the vice-chairperson. I have been on the board in different positions since 2015, first as an alternate member and then as a main member. We have always worked as a team and spread the responsibilities as we don’t like hierarchy. To make this voluntary work as efficient and pleasant as possible, we split the tasks evenly between us and we have now set up more organized focus groups, councils or committees with both board members and common members to carry out our plans. The idea now is that I lead the council of internal functioning of the organization, which will find methods to strengthen the work of Siðmennt around the country and map ways of interacting with our members, including them and activating in our work. We want to channel the energy of all the people out there, who are so grateful for our work and want to give back, to some projects that will be fruitful for others. Having the choice between belonging to a Christian society or a secular society is extremely important. More active members can contribute to strengthening the secular society.
Jacobsen: What have been important social and political activities of the Siðmennt – Félag siðrænna húmanista á Íslandi?
Auður: The important social activities that are constant and do matter a lot in the context of having a secular alternative is the ceremonies. Weddings, funerals, name-giving ceremonies and finally, the confirmation ceremonies. This is probably where we play the biggest role for the society. In Iceland, most 14-year-olds do a confirmation, and at this very sensitive point in their life they must answer whether they want to take part in the Christian tradition or not. I think it gives them freedom to have an alternative like we offer. This is also a time in people’s life where they start to be genuinely interested in big ethical questions and can easily be influenced by others. It’s not good to be forced to adhere to a life stance at this point, but rather to have more education and then decide your life stance later in life. This is what Siðmennt offers, you don’t have to commit yourself to Humanism or any other life stance when going through the philosophical course which ends in a graduation ceremony – which we call the the “civil confirmation”.
Our political agenda is constantly the same: we want to see the full separation of church and state. I don’t know exactly what the form of it will be or how long it will take, but I can see that the society is evolving this way. We want the tax money to be used wisely and fairly. We demand equal service for people of all life stances at the important moments in their lives. When you are in the hospital and need a mental support, you should be offered a talk with psychologist or a social worker – not a priest as the system is now. When a family member dies, you should not have to see angel statues and crosses displayed around the body in the hospital as I experienced with my father. I know they want to be nice, but this kind of details can be disturbing. The best way is the neutral way. And when you have to organize a funeral for your loved one or a wedding, you shouldn’t have to rent an expensive housing for the ceremony when all the churches stand there empty and ready to be used – if it wasn’t for the ban to use those tax-paid buildings for everything but Christian ceremonies. This ban was implemented by the church council only a few years ago but it sounds like something from the Middle-Ages. One way to face the evolution in the society, i.e. the decreasing number of members in the National Church, would be to open the buildings for others to use. I think this would be economical and environmentally friendly. We must share more in today’s world. The church’s ownership of those buildings is a bit outdated in my opinion. And knowing that a big sum of money is spent on priests’ salaries instead of subsidizing professional psychological assistances in our society seems to be a waste of money. But the church is so entangled in our tax system that it will take some courageous but wise politicians to land this separation in an acceptable way.
Jacobsen: What are some new projects for the Siðmennt – Félag siðrænna húmanista á Íslandi?
Auður: We have to work on our internal matters, build ourselves up and prepare for the continuing growth of our organization. Soon we will be able to expand our office and hire a new person. We will have even more teenagers attending our courses next winter and probably more of the other ceremonies as well, and we have to strengthen our infrastructure. As mentioned before, we will have to harness the power of our members and prepare events, like symposiums, pub talks and other exciting things.
Jacobsen: Who is an important person for secular work in your locale?
Auður: I do not want to drop names. Everyone is important and I think it’s dangerous to pinpoint the ideology to a person. It’s the idea of equal human rights that is important. And the people to tackle the challenges of equal rights are the people whom we have assigned the power to, that is our MP’s. The lawmakers are the ones who will make the country secular and we have to support them and encourage them to take the right decisions. And children’s teachers of course. They are the people who lay the foundations of knowledge in our society and we have to start taking their jobs more seriously and pay them better.
Jacobsen: What are other important organizations in the area?
Auður: The Icelandic Human rights Centre is a very important organization. They fight for the right of all humans regardless of their background or religion and are doing a very good job, considering that it’s not a government foundation and has to ask for grants every year.
Jacobsen: How can people become involved with the Siðmennt – Félag siðrænna húmanista á Íslandi?
Auður: Easy, look us up on the internet and sign up! We also have a closed Facebook chat for members where all kinds of things are discussed. Then we advertise meetings and events regularly.
Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts in conclusion?
Auður: The world surely is a complicated and a magnificent place. We should all focus on saving it, so consume less, fight less and travel wisely.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Auður.
Auður: Likewise, Scott.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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