SAMT, the Atheist Society, was founded in October 1998 by several members of Siðmennt, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association. SAMT is a very informal organization insofar as its meetings take place in people’s homes or cozy coffeehouses and are completely free of bureaucracy and formal meeting rules. There are no dues in SAMT. SAMT’s activities are supported entirely by contributions.
In SAMT we have stimulating discussions and share brunch one Saturday each month. We laugh a lot but also discuss serious issues such as the importance of equality among the various life stances, and ethics which are free from religious ideas. It is our view that human beings rather than invisible higher powers are responsible for their own welfare. We also discuss how to celebrate the various transitions in life in festive, meaningful, and personal ways without religious intervention.
Autumn 2011: It was decided that SAMT the Atheist Society would discontinue its activity and existence since its role of bringing together people mainly for the sake of atheism and helping people to come out and share their atheistic views was not needed that much any more. Sidmennt is able to fulfill that role and instead of the monthly SAMT meetings there will be meetings in Sidmennt’s name and some ethical issue will be discussed in each of them.
What is atheism?
In brief, atheism is being free from belief in a god or gods. Atheists do not necessarily have anything else in common other than being free of religion. Atheists may have widely differing ideas on other issues such as their political views. They have different tastes and lead different kinds of lives from one another. Atheists are just as different from one another as believers are from one another.
A common misconception about atheists is that they are immoral. A common reaction we encounter is “So you are an atheist? Oh, so then you don’t think one should treat your neighbor as you would have him/her to treat you?” Indeed we do subscribe to the golden rule but we see no need to connect ethical behavior with a belief in supernatural beings. The fact is that atheists are neither more nor less ethical than the average religious person. One’s ethics are completely independent of their religion. Religions and religious leaders did not invent ethics although various ethical ideas are a part of most of the world’s religions.
The Aims of the Atheist Society
Aside from their atheism SAMT members share the following objectives for the group:
1) To be a forum for non-believers or those who need support in dealing with their skepticism in a relatively religious world.
2) To educate the public about the atheist stance and thus reduce the prejudice which many atheists experience.
3) To fight against every kind of injustice which people suffer at the hands of the government because of their religious views or life stance.
4) To encourage people to think critically and independently about life and existence.
SAMT members are very prolific writers, producing many articles not only on our own web site but also in the printed and web versions of newspapers in Iceland. All SAMT members are on-line and there is intensive e-mail communication among us between our monthly meetings. We point out public meetings on subjects related to freedom of religion and a number of us show up and speak up at such forums. SAMT has contributed to there now much more open debate in Icelandic society regarding the rights of non-believers and separation of church and state.
In the year 2000 the Icelandic government spent billions of kronur on a year’s worth of anniversary celebrations of 1000 years of Christianity in Iceland. They prepared an outdoor weekend Christianity festival that they estimated 75,000 people would come to and re-routed traffic for that part of the country. Only 8000 people showed up in addition to the staff, performers, and foreign dignitaries. It was called the flop of the century but government and church leaders tried to justify the wasted money for more than a year afterward to the disgruntled public which viewed it as a total waste of taxpayers’ money. That farcical event provoked a spate of critical articles for the next half year about the anachronism of having a state church in a nation that calls itself a democracy. The result was a ground swell of voices calling for separation of church and state. There are now bills in the Icelandic parliament proposing a gradual separation over a 10 year period. Since Sweden has led the way, the other Nordic countries are sure to follow. We think it is only a matter of time until there is true religious freedom in Iceland.
Our atheist group held an outdoor festival for ourselves at the same time as the state church’s flop of the century. We had a great time and never expected more than the 15-20 in our own group.
It was announced in the media that the Icelandic Parliament had spent 60 million kronur on producing a book about the History of Christianity in Iceland and was further subsidizing the price of the book to the public. So we sent a press release to the media announcing that the Atheist Society, after careful deliberation, had decided NOT to apply to Parliament for a grant to publish a History of Atheism in Iceland, even though many noteworthy atheists have existed here.
We said the reason we were NOT asking for money for this project was because we felt the money could be better spent on more important matters like education and health care. We said that we maintain a web site and support our own activities. We got loads of coverage, one of us was interviewed on the news on TV, and the separate web site of the Atheist Society got hundreds of hits in within a few hours. We are always brainstorming clever moves like this, which is why we spend so much time laughing at our Saturday brunches!
SAMT is a member of Atheist Alliance International.
Written by Hope Knutsson, president of Sidmennt, July 2004