What is Sidmennt?

The following is a new, brief English description of Sidmennt – the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, written primarily for English speaking foreigners in Iceland. It is a rough translation of one of Sidmennt’s new booklets published in the spring of 2008 about the organization and its full range of secular and Humanist ceremonies.

Human Values Take Precedence – Ethics, Knowledge, and the Family

Siðmennt – the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association is a life stance organization which was founded in 1990 by a small group of people who had organized the first civil (secular) confirmation program in Iceland which took place during the winter of 1988-1989. The word life stance organization is an internationally accepted name which applies equally to organizations which are based on religious or secular convictions and does not differentiate between them. Such organizations are concerned with people’s views, values, and philosophy of life which are very important personally to each individual in his or her search for meaning and happiness in life.

Siðmennt is an internationally recognized Humanist association and is a member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. IHEU is the worldwide umbrella organization of over 100 humanist, atheist, rationalist, secularist, skeptic, laïque, ethical cultural, freethought, and similar organizations in more than 40 countries. Its goal is a world in which human rights are respected and all can live a life of dignity. (www.iheu.org) Siðmennt is also a member of the European Humanist Federation and the Icelandic Human Rights Center.

Siðmennt supports an open, broad-minded diverse society and considers democracy to be the best way of protecting human rights among nations. Freedom of conviction and freedom of speech are basic rights which should be extended to everyone and not be restricted under any circumstances. Respect for human life, freedom, and cooperative responsibility are the ethical cornerstones of Humanism. The primary focus of Siðmennt’s activities is on ethics, epistemology (the theory of knowledge) and family rites of passage. Siðmennt supports the scientific method in mankind’s search for knowledge about the world, the universe, and life. We believe that scientific discoveries can lead to a better life. Ethics must work hand-in-hand with science for constructive purposes and not destruction. Humanism considers that reliable knowledge about ourselves and the world can only come from continual research and re-evaluation. Humanism as a growing life stance which is continually re-examined and developed in order to offer the best guidelines which human reason can offer at any time.

Humanism as a philosophy of life developed during 3 historical periods: 1) ancient Greek civilization, 2) the Reformation, and 3) the Enlightenment. We are living now in the 4th period of Humanist development which started after World War II with the establishment of the United Nations and the issuing of the International Declaration of Human Rights (1948). IHEU was founded in 1952 by some of the people who established the United Nations.

Siðmennt offers the full range of secular and Humanist services and ceremonies to families: baby-naming, coming-of-age educational program and ceremony, weddings, and funerals. We have 11 professionally trained celebrants who conduct these various ceremonies.

Siðmennt works for separation of church and state in Iceland and does not seek any special privileges from the government. We believe that the state should remain neutral in matters of religion/life stance and that no public institutions should be influenced by one particular religion in a multicultural society. All religions and life stances should be equal with no special privileges to any. We believe parents have the right to raise their children according to their life stance and convictions and that public schools should never indoctrinate children but rather educate them about the variety of human life stances.

Membership in Siðmennt is open to anyone over the age of 16 who considers him or herself to share its life stance and convictions as listed in its mission statement (see www.sidmennt.is). The membership fee for 2011 is kr. 4400 per year, or kr. 2200 for students, disabled, and pensioners. Members get a discount on the price of various ceremonies. People can join using the membership application on our website.

Siðmennt runs an annual 12 week course for 13-14 year olds in preparation for its civil confirmation ceremony as an alternative to religious confirmation. It is called Borgaraleg Ferming (BF) in Icelandic. This program has been in existence for 20 years. The course is taught by a philosophy teacher and the topics covered are ethics, critical thinking, human relations, taking responsibility, emotions, death and grieving, skepticism, life style, violence and bullying, relations between the sexes, human rights, respecting oneself and one’s environment, what gives life meaning, what is happiness, and teenagers in a consumer society. There are 2 rules in this course: 1) It is all right to be different, whether it applies to one’s ideas, looks or behavior and 2) It is important to be honest. At the end of the course there is a beautiful and festive graduation ceremony with music, poetry, and speeches in which some of the teenagers perform and some well-known members of Icelandic society make speeches. More than 1000 Icelandic teenagers have participated in the Siðmennt civil confirmation since 1989 and approximately 15.000 guests have attended the ceremonies.

Siðmennt maintains a comprehensive website and produces several newsletters to members throughout the year. We bring foreign experts in ethics and life stance issues to give public lectures. We participate in seminars about these issues and in 2006 we hosted a 2 day international atheist conference in Iceland called “A Positive Voice for Atheism” with an exciting line-up of prominent speakers in the Humanist/atheist community such as the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. Our annual meeting is held in the first quarter of every year. Every autumn Siðmennt presents its annual Humanist Award to a deserving individual or organization.

Within Siðmennt is an informal atheist brunch discussion group called SAMT (Samfélag trúlausra) which meets once a month on a Saturday and members eat together and talk and exchange ideas about philosophy of life, separation of church and state, and separation of church and school. Members of SAMT also exchange ideas on a very active e-mail list. Siðmennt members write many articles and send press releases to the media about these same life stance issues. The Icelandic Parliament asks for Siðmennt’s opinions on all proposed laws that relate to ethics, human rights, education, religion, and other life stance matters.

We have produced several informative booklets about all of Siðmennt’s programs and ceremonies and they are available on request.

Hope Knútsson

Founder and president of Siðmennt