A new graveyard free of any religious symbols has been opened in Sweden to cater to the country’s growing number of atheists.
Swedes are known for their penchant for neutrality, tolerance and acceptance of other cultures. Recently, Sweden opened its first neutral graveyard in Borlänge that is completely devoid of any religious and nationalist symbolism.
The idea was the brainchild of local teacher Josef Erdem, who wanted people to “decide for themselves what their graves should look like”.
According to the Local, the town of Borlänge in Dalarna County became the first in the country to pioneer a neutral cemetery,
“There’s a place on this earth for everybody and we shouldn’t be limited in how we choose to live or how we choose to be buried,” he told the Swedish newspaper.
He said he had grown up in Kurdistan 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.
Erdem 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.
“Among both ethnic Swedes and immigrants, there are people who do not belong to any religion. There is a need for a neutral cemetery and we thought it was important,” Joseph Erdem told Swedish newspaper Dalarnas Tidningar.
The cemetery, which is close to the local church, is currently empty but several locals have expressed an interest in being buried there.
According to Erdem, Sweden can ultimately become a model for other countries, since many people today are neutral and don’t belong to “mainstream” religions, such as Christianity, Islam or Judaism. Sweden, traditionally a Lutheran nation, 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, and so religion plays an extremely small role in everyday life.
“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 great,” researcher Gunnar Lindgren told broadcaster SVT.
According to researcher Karin Kittelmann, atheism is today perceived as “default religion,” whereas religious people are commonly regarded as “unintelligent” or “mentally ill,” Swedish national broadcaster SVT reported earlier this year.
As for the future residents of the neutral graveyard, they may rest assured that they will be in good company. Swedish tenor Jussi Björling, arguably one of the best in the 20th century and a Borlänge native, is buried at Stora Tuna Cemetery in Borlänge.
First Cemetery Free of Religious Symbols in Sweden, source: The Local. Adapted by Tor Kjolberg