Updated Friday, 04 November 2005 by Erkki Hartikainen


Finland is not a part of Scandinavia. Finland is between Scandinavia and Russia. Finland has been a colony of Sweden between about 1200-1809 and a part of Russia 1809-1917. After 1917 Finland has been independent.


The first association to discuss a philosophy of enlightenment was the Valhalla Association (1781-86). At that time, with Finland a part of Sweden, there was no freedom of belief. Monrepo estate had books of Julien Offray de la Mettrie, Paul-Henri Thiry (Baron) d'Holbachd’Holbach and Claude Adrien. Helvetius. Fagervik estate had books of Denis Diderot. Most known atheist in Finland was Johan Kellgren (1751-1795). He was a clear atheist and he supported hedonistic moral. 


In 1809 Finland became a part of Russia, but the situation remained virtually the same, although Anders Chydenius and Robert Lagerborg wrote on freedom of religion in 1863. The official religion was Lutheran Christianity, but Eastern Orthodox Church became the other accepted church because tsar of Russia belonged to it.


Shortly afterward, Darwinism reached Finland, and Nils Nordenskiöld discussed the new theories in the Literary Magazine. The first attempt to acquaint the common people with Darwin's ideas occurred in 1889, in the city of Jyväskylä, where the Keski-Suomi newspaper published popular articles on Darwinism, written by well-known individuals such as Juhani Aho and Minna Canth. The editor of Keski-Suomi was Eero Erkko, grandfather of Aatos Erkko, the richest man of Finland.


The first organization was the Association for Freedom of Religion and Tolerance (Föreningen för religionsfrihet och tolerans in Finland), founded by Viktor Heikel and Mathilda Asp in 1887-1888 but immediately suppressed by the economic department of the senate. Part of the members of the association was religious. The first journal, Free Thoughts (Wapaita Aatteita), was published in 1889, but tsarist censorship put an end to it (almost everything was censored). The Raketen Club (1896-1900) was a forum where the influence of Brandes' and Nietzsche's ideas was notable.


One member of this club was Rolf Lagerborg, a philosopher and author who fought the church on questions concerning morals and equality between men and women. He was the most rebellious of Edvard Westermarck's disciples and his academic career was a thorny one. His two dissertations on moral philosophy were rejected in Finland, but their French version was subsequently (1903) approved at the Sorbonne. Lagerborg studied moral philosophy, epistemology, and psychology, and was the first exponent of behaviorism in Finland. His professional advancement was vehemently resisted by theologians because of his opinions and his participation in the Student Association Prometheus (Ylioppilasyhdistys Prometheus, 1905-1914), and he failed to get a professorship. He was a contributor to the literary and art magazine Euterpe (1902-05), which promoted the ideas of separation



The student association Prometheus was established in 1905. Its chairman was Edvard Westermarck (1862-1939), professor at the universities of London and Helsinki and the founder of Finnish sociology. His most important work is the gigantic The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (the Finnish philosopher Georg Henrik von Wright considered it the most important philosophical work ever written by a Finn). Westermarck was Finnish social anthropologist and scholar, whose area of specialization was the history of marriage, morality, and religious institutions. Westermarck gained international fame with his doctoral thesis, The History of Human Marriage, which was started by the ideas of Darwin and attacked on the theory of primitive promiscuity. It helped to demonstrate that the matriarchate was not a stage of human development and that universal promiscuity was a myth. The study appeared first in 1891 and later in three volumes in 1922.


The school of social anthropology created by Westermarck was the best known in the world in the early 20th century. Westermarck's life was devoted to science and enlightened freethought. His naturalistic criticism of religion became a guiding influence, especially among academic youth. Westermarck headed the Prometheus Association during the entire period of its activity (1905-14).


Another member of the Prometheus Association was Rafael Karsten, who held the post of professor of practical philosophy at the University of Helsinki, 1922-48. Karsten wrote several books on anthropology and the science of religion, as well as many reports on his travels.


Rafael Karsten was born in 1879 at Kvelax in Österbotten, close to the city of Vaasa in Finland. He drifted away from the family tradition of priesthood, which his parents so eagerly pursued him to follow - only to deal with religion from an opposite point of view. At the University of Helsinki, he began to study philosophy and did later turn to sociology. In 1905 he presented his doctoral dissertation, entitled The Origin of Worship: A study in primitive Religion.


For some years he travelled around Europe, taking courses in Germany, England and France. In 1911 he went on his first fieldtrip, to the Gran Chaco area in the Bolivian-Argentinean borderland. In 1916-19 he returned to South America, moving his area of studies to the Amazonian region of eastern Ecuador. He made further trips in 1928-29, 1937, 1946 and 1951, all together amounting to some nine years in the field. His last journey to South America, took place at the age of seventy-two.


Invited to the 400-year celebration of the San Marcos University in Lima, Karsten proceeded into the jungle of eastern Peru in order to study the Shipibo Indians. Five years later he died of a heart attack, in the midst of writing a new comparative study pertaining to the religion of the South American Indians (for a further description of the life and works of Rafael Karsten see Acta Americana, Vol 1, No 2, 1993).


The journal Free Thought (Vapaa Ajatus) was published by S. E. Kristiansson from 1909 until his disappearance 1917 during or after Finland's civil war. There are two theories of his disappearing. First theory says that he was probably murdered. Second theory says that he drowned in Norway 1920-23. All atheistic thought of the time was reported in this publication.


Alfred Bernhard Sarlin wrote many books under the pseudonym "Asa Jalas". Both Kristiansson and Sarlin have spent time in jail for blasphemy.


The civil war of 1918 was a catastrophe for atheists in Finland; most free thought leaders were murdered by the White Guard.


The first law providing for freedom of religion was enacted in 1922, but it was no more than a compromise between the church and political parties. In spite of the new Constitution (2000) which formally guarantees the freedom of religion and conscience there is no real freedom from religion in Finland. Atheists' human rights are violated in the schools, and in some areas the situation is becoming worse.


The first freethinkers' association after the civil war was organized in 1927, but the oldest existing freethinkers' organization was established in the city of Kotka in 1929. The Union of Freethinkers' Assocations of Finland (original name: Union of Civil Register Associations, Suomen Siviilirekisteriyhdistysten keskusliitto) was founded in 1937.


The latter was sharply attacked by the church, and Minister of Interior Urho Kekkonen (later Prime Minister and President of Finland) tried to stop it. He was giving an order to suppress one of the associations of the Union: Civil Register Association of Tampere. City Court of Tampere suppressed the association 16.11.1937.


However, the union survived and became a member of the World Union of Freethinkers in 1946. IHEU – humanists have taken the power in the union in June 2005 (because the union has about million dollars).


Union of Freethinkers of Finland publishes a magazine, Free Thinker (Vapaa Ajattelija), and maintains seven cemeteries, where secular burials take place. It receives financial support from the government of Finland. UFF is an associate member of IHEU.


There are independent freethinkers' associations and Humanist Union of Finland also exist (150 paying members). HUF is an associate member of IHEU.


Atheist Association of Finland was founded 25.11.1985. Chairman is Mr. Erkki Hartikainen and Secretary is Mr. Kimmo Sundström. Atheist Association will continue the work for human rights of atheist and spread scientific conception of reality. Atheist Association is a member of Atheist Alliance International.