Monday, July 06, 2009

Religion in Scandinavia

Here's a very interesting article about religion in Scandinavia. It's based on the book Society without God by Phil Zuckerman. Though irreligious in many ways, the Danes and Swedes that he interviewed "were in no way despairing nihilists but “for the most part, a happy, satisfied lot” who “generally live productive, creative, contented lives.”"

They seem to embrace religion but at a very shallow cultural level. Actually believing in God in a deep, moving manner is almost a faux pas.

Sounds like an interesting book.

Thanks David!


Jay Livingston said...

It looks like Durkheim was right -- for the society, rituals are the most important aspect of religion. As the NYT article says a Christianity that seems to have everything to do with “holidays, songs, stories and food” but little to do with God or Creed, everything to do with rituals marking important passages in life but little to do with the religious meaning of those rituals.

I suppose you could call that "shallow"; I wonder if the Danes would agree that their life,ideas, and feelings are shallower than those of fervent believers. In fact, I wonder how we might operationalize "shallowness" as a variable to see the assertion is accurate.

Jeff L said... seems to me that shallow is an accurate descriptor. Christian religion is purportedly about a relationship with God. If the relationship consists only of ritual...imagine a marriage where one spouse was asked questions about the other and gave similar responses to these interviewees. "Well, I guess I haven't really thought about her in a while" or, "Wow, this is fascinating, I haven't actually thought about my husband in quite some time." It would be fair to call a marriage where certain rituals were followed, but neither spouse actually thought or cared much about the other person a shallow marriage. Scandinavian religious beliefs seem to be at a similar level.

This is not to say that the Scandinavians have shallow lives in general, merely that their religious beliefs are shallow.

David in Alaska said...

My 30 months in Sweden earlier this decade leads me to believe that the basic premise of the book as reported here may be about right.

There are a couple of important caveats, however:

1) There are substantial pockets of white-hot Christianity in the Nordic countries. Some exceptionally strong churches, and apostolic, evangelistic & missionary movements are based there.

2) Sweden has worked hard to create "Heaven on earth" with its own brand of socialism. Norway and Sweden are consistently ranked among the very best places on earth to live. By world standards, Nordic people are rich. Jesus said it is it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, and we see the evidence of that truth in the Nordic countries.

Finally, Phil Zuckerman is an instructor with the Centers for Inquiry. CFI's stated purpose is "To oppose and supplant the mythological narratives of the past, and the dogmas of the present, the world needs an institution devoted to promoting science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values." This is not an assault on Mr. Zuckerman's integrity, just an observation on his apparent center of gravity.