Last weekend, myself and four others from the Human-Etisk Forbund manned a stand in Bærum's Sandvika Storsenter, the biggest mall in Norway, as part of Humanistisk Uke, a humanism awareness week for the Arkershus area.
As well as lots of brochures on HEF's ceremony services (births, confirmations, weddings and funerals - usually in that order, I guess), we had lots to give away including pencils, sweets, balloons, badges, HEF-branded packs of plasters and reflector bands (handy, now that the nights are drawing in).
I had made little happy human cupcakes, which went down a storm and served as a tasty incentive for people to enter our two book competitions (although there was mention of it being a little cannibalistic for humanists to be eating the happy human!).
We also had two lovely brides, advertising HEF's wedding ceremony services, who really helped draw people in. Quite a few people made passing quips about them being married to each other, which isn't actually far off the message we wanted to give actually, as HEF campaigned for years for a change in the law to allow gay couples to marry, something that finally came to pass in 2009.
One incident captured exactly why humanism is great and why having stands like these is worthwhile. Shortly after we'd set up, we were approached by a young couple and their super-cute young baby. As a Christian mother and a Muslim father, they were in a bit of a pickle as to how to celebrate their little baby's birth and naming; neither a baptism nor aqiqa was likely to go down well with the other half the of family. Enter humanism as the solution to this, as it is with just about every other, religious conundrum. It was great to be able to give them information about HEF's naming ceremony, which is open to everyone, with no rules or regulations as to beliefs and religions of the parents. Both parents looked very relieved to find a way to celebrate the entry of their little baby into the world, without having to either symbolically drown him or kill two sheep which resemble each other (just the one sheep if it's a girl, you know, because) and keep the in-laws happy.
For a chance to win their choice from one of several books published by HEF's published house, we asked the younger folk to try and scribble down an answer to the question 'what is healthy skepticism?', parents and older folk were tasked with trying to answer the rather more intractable 'what gives life meaning?'.
We ended up opening up both questions to everyone, and as it happened, it was mostly the teenagers that were interested in entering the competition - I guess they were the only ones just milling about with time on their hands; most parents were frantically ticking things off to-do lists and skittering after their runaway toddlers.
The answers ranged from three words to mini-essays and I am impressed with each and every one of them - I'm not sure I could have come up with anything better if I was just randomly accosted in the street and asked to define scepticism or what gave my life meaning. I've put the answers up in Norwegian to best keep their meaning and put the (Google) translation underneath. They were so good that we've decided to send a book to all the entrants!
Hva er sunn skepsis? (What is healthy skepticism?)
"Det er nok at man kan se skeptisk tvil ulike thing i verden, som for eksempl religioner,. Noen mener at det å tro på Gud er riktig. Men andre some ikke tror på noe er nok mer skeptisk til det de kristne mener!"
"It is enough that one can see the skeptical doubt different thing in the world, for example religions. Some believe that faith in God is correct. But others some do not believe in something are probably more wary of what Christians believe!"
"Å være skeptisk til noe som man virke mistenkelig og usant."
Being skeptical of something that one is suspicious and false
"Sunn skepsis? Det er sunt og være skepsis til ting some bli sagt i verden vi lever i."
"Healthy skepticism? It is healthy to be skeptical some things to be said in the world we live in"
Hva gir levet mening? (What gives life meaning?)
"Det som gir mening i livet mitt er veldig mye. Venner, familie or andre ting jeg ikke kunne klart meg uten. For det finnes ting i livet som gjør livet til det det er. Selv om venner og familie er viktig så er det også mennesker som jeg ikke kjenner som gjør at livet mitt gir mening. Så hva gir lievet mening? Jo alt gir livet mening."
"What gives meaning to my life very much. Friends, family or other things I could not do without. For there are things in life that make life what it is. Although friends and family is important as there are also people that I know that makes my life meaningful. So what gives life meaning? The total gives life meaning."
"Venner, familie, kjærlighet."
"Friends, family, love."
And my favourite:
"Mening med livet er å leve"
"Meaning of life is to live"
We did pretty well getting a bunch of young people to spend the time to think about these important questions and that after all was our main task for the day. Unlike many of the other people manning stands in the mall that day, we weren't selling stuff; we were just there to sell ideas and free-thinking.
All told, the stand was a great success and plans are already afoot to make it bigger and better for next year!
You can also read an alternative short report about the day on
, on HEF's webpage.