Sweden opens first atheist cemetery for growing non-religious population

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Founder insists believers are welcome as well as long as they don’t have religious symbols on their headstones


A graveyard free of any religious symbols has been opened in Sweden to cater to the country’s growing number of atheists.

Josef Erdem, a teacher from Borlänge in central Sweden, first proposed the idea because he wanted people to “decide for themselves what their graves should look like”.

He said he had grown up in South Eastern Turkey and as a result his worldview had been shaped by having friends from all walks of life.

He sent in the formal application for the ground after negotiating with local representatives of the Church of Sweden.

The church will maintain the graveyard but that will be the extent of their involvement with the cemetery.

Mr Erdem told The Local: “People can decide for themselves what their graves should look like, but the cemetery will be free of all religious and nationalist symbols.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of people about this, many of them religious, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said.

“In fact the reaction has been positive from religious and non-religious people alike across the country.”

He stressed that people of faith were welcome to be buried there as well so long as they accepted that they could not have the marks of their religion on their headstone.

The cemetery, which is close to the local church, is currently empty but several locals have expressed an interest in being buried there.

Local teacher Gunnar Lindgren told broadcaster SVT: “I don’t want a burial place with a stone that needs to be cared for. I also don’t want a church burial because I’m not a believer so this suits me”.

Sweden has the second-highest number of non-religious people as a percentage of its population of any country in the world, according to a 2015 survey by Gallup International and the WI Network of Market Research.

The study found that 76 percent of Swedish respondents said they were either “not religious” or a “convinced atheists”.

The only country to score higher was Communist-controlled China, where religion is officially frowned upon. – Independent

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Josef Erdem and Gunnar Lindgren

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