Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Feb/09

28

Scandinavia!

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It was difficult to read this New York Times piece without feeling just a little cheered…

Mr. Zuckerman, a sociologist who teaches at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., has reported his findings on religion in Denmark and Sweden in “Society Without God” (New York University Press, 2008). Much that he found will surprise many people, as it did him. The many nonbelievers he interviewed, both informally and in structured, taped and transcribed sessions, were anything but antireligious, for example. They typically balked at the label “atheist.” An overwhelming majority had in fact been baptized, and many had been confirmed or married in church. Though they denied most of the traditional teachings of Christianity, they called themselves Christians, and most were content to remain in the Danish National Church or the Church of Sweden, the traditional national branches of Lutheranism. At the same time, they were “often disinclined or hesitant to talk with me about religion,” Mr. Zuckerman reported, “and even once they agreed to do so, they usually had very little to say on the matter.” Were they reticent because they considered religion, as Scandinavians generally do, a private, personal matter? Is there, perhaps, as one Lutheran bishop in Denmark has argued, a deep religiosity to be discovered if only one scratches this taciturn surface? “I spent a year scratching,” Mr. Zuckerman writes. “I scratched and I scratched and I scratched.” “And he concluded that “religion wasn’t really so much a private, personal issue, but rather, a nonissue.” His interviewees just didn’t care about it.

I know the feeling.

The piece can also be seen as an interesting examination of the way that the state churches of protestant northern Europe (the Church of England – as opposed to ‘Anglicanism’ – is another example of this phenomenon) still represent a strong and largely benign national/cultural presence in countries where the majority population has retained little or nothing in the way of formal religious belief.      

Read the whole thing.

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25 comments

  • Author comment by Steel Phoenix · February 28, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Some people seem to be religious more out of habit than anything.

  • Spawn of Cthulhu · February 28, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Perhaps he should go to Malmo and start scratching. Oops! Wrong religion.

  • Ivan Karamazov · March 1, 2009 at 6:41 am

    I won’t be surprised if we start to see a little religious comeback. When people consciously or subconsciously feel that they are less in control of their lives (the current and coming economic realities qualify ) they try to get some control back, actually or apparently, and religion can certainly give that feeling.

  • mikespeir · March 1, 2009 at 8:37 am

    And he concluded that “religion wasn’t really so much a private, personal issue, but rather, a nonissue.”

    I agree with Ivan. It’s one thing to lack a belief, but quite another to have a good handle on why you don’t believe. If there’s just a void there, you’re apt to be looking to fill it as soon as a contrary wind starts to blow. Far better to teach people why they shouldn’t believe than to let them wallow in a negligent void of belief. Nature’s not the only thing that abhors a vacuum.

  • Donna B. · March 1, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    If only I’d never read Genesis, I might be a believer. There was never a void. Genesis is the foreshadowing of Noah – chosen pairs, and the elect.

    How can Christians who have read the Bible deny that man existed before the creation of the special couple, Adam and Eve? Had they not sinned would there ever have been offspring?

    And had there been offspring before the fall, who would they have mated with, if not the sons and daughters of man?

    I can understand almost all of the Bible if I look at it as a prescription for behavior that might do man the most good in the time it was written. Some things admonished against or advocated for are universal and have passed the test of time. It’s their universality that, to me, denies any particular Religion, but does not exactly deny the existence of a God.

  • Marc · March 1, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    As much as 25% of Malmo’s population identifies as Muslim. As much as 20% of Stockholm identifies as Muslim. As much as 15% of Copenhagen identifies as Muslim. In some sub-groups of these populations have the highest birthrates in Scandinavia. How much longer will religion remain a “non-issue” in the region? Is there any reason not to believe Zuckerman’s interviewees are likely to care about it in the future?

  • Caledonian · March 2, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    These atheists don’t seem to be rationalists. They merely don’t cling to particular religious doctrines that many people associate with ‘religiousness’.

    I suspect that in actuality religious belief is quite strong among such people if you look at forms other than traditional religion.

  • Mark in Spokane · March 2, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    As a German friend of mine told me once, “being religious in Germany isn’t like being religious in America.” In Germany, for example, there’s still an identification with a religious tradition, still a desire to have that tradition be part of one’s major life moments (birth, confirmation at adolescence, marriage, holidays, death, etc.) but less emphasis on the need to worship regularly at church. Part of this, I think, is that in Europe the day to day practice of religion is largely a state affair — state churches, pastors who are either funded by the government or who are overt government functionaries, etc.

    If the prevalent faith in one’s country was essentially an arm of the state — run by the same people who ran the country’s version of the IRS — would that really inspire people to identify and ardently practice that particular faith? Speaking as somebody who is religious, I can think of little that would put me off regular churchgoing than to have my beloved church become an arm of the grubby state.

  • flenser · March 3, 2009 at 10:16 am

    This site bills itself as the “secular right”.

    It is certainly “secular”, if secular now means hostle to religion. But “right”? I’ve never noticed any real interest in a “right wing” sensibility here.

    So what is the point of this blog, other than to allow some god haters to scratch their itch?

    I don’t mean that as a snarky question. I’d really like to know. There are some reasonably intelligent people associated with this blog, and what they are associating themselves with is not a flattering reflection on the secular right.

  • flenser · March 3, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Just a reminder, this is from the sites mission statement.

    “We believe that conservative principles and policies need not be grounded in a specific set of supernatural claims.”

    Well, that’s wonderful. But it might be useful if the contributers to this site could sometimes post something about these “conservative principles and policies” they claim to be concerned with.

    If you want to set up a “Why Belief In God Is Stupid” website, that’s fine. But as a person on the right I take issue with this site using the term “right” in its name. It’s not concerned with conservative principles at all.

  • Jeeves · March 3, 2009 at 11:57 am

    @flenser

    If you want to set up a “Why Belief In God Is Stupid” website, that’s fine. But as a person on the right I take issue with this site using the term “right” in its name. It’s not concerned with conservative principles at all.

    Are you from the domain name police? The positioning of “Secular” before “Right” should have given you some hint that chewing over conservative principles might not be paramount. Commenters of your ilk always make me wonder why you bother to come here. It’s not like there’s a dearth of conservative principles being discussed on the web.

  • mikespeir · March 3, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    I agree with Jeeves. We’re at least as “secular” here as we are “right.” And, for me anyway, secular trumps right. Secular, to me, is a lot more rational. If I have to choose between rational and right (i.e. conservative), I’m going with rational.

  • mikespeir · March 4, 2009 at 5:09 am

    Oh…my….

    Well, let’s just move along, shall we?

  • Grant Canyon · March 4, 2009 at 6:23 am

    @mikespeir
    “If I have to choose between rational and right (i.e. conservative), I’m going with rational.”

    I agree. Perfect case in point is the recent stuff with Limbaugh saying that he hopes Obama fails. The way I see it, I would rather have it that Obama succeed and thereby have the country (and world, obviously) recover economically than to have the country continue to suffer, even if that means that conservative economic theory is proven wrong or shown to be inapplicable in this situation.

    If the choice is between liberal economic theories be proven correct and the country’s economy benefit; or conservative economic theories be proven correct and the country’s economy suffers, Limbaugh’s statement suggests to me that he would rather have the country’s economy continue to suffer than face the possibility that his favored economic theories be correct. I think that position is irrational.

  • Steve · March 4, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Will someone just post “Obama sucks” and make flenser happy.

  • Jeeves · March 4, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    @flenser
    Oh, fuck you and you “ilk”.

    OOOh…You make me so hot! Will you whisper conservative principles in my ear while you do it?

    Obama sucks. There, was it good for you Flenser?

  • harry flashman · March 5, 2009 at 12:50 am

    C’mon – after all, the subject IS Danes and Swedes. Is history a non co-efficient suddenly? The Danes surrendered to the “NATIONAL SOCIALISTS” in less than a month. The Swedes forever protected their “neutrality” and to this day, still pretend to. No matter that Hermann Goering retained his hunting palace there, his palatial bolthole. But, still, Sweden pretends they had nothing to do with WWII.

    Morals? Who was Dag Hammerskold?

  • silver · March 5, 2009 at 5:28 am

    So what is the point of this blog, other than to allow some god haters to scratch their itch?

    Scratch their itch and distance themselves from the truly insane, just beyond insane, insanity-on-stilts insane, left. They probably think they’re really brave, too — they shifted a few inches and thought it was enough to call themselves “right.” Amusing, really.

  • silver · March 5, 2009 at 5:38 am

    It’s one thing to lack a belief, but quite another to have a good handle on why you don’t believe.

    Far better to teach people why they shouldn’t believe than to let them wallow in a negligent void of belief.

    Do you have a good handle on it, mikey? I don’t mean just “it’s irrational and people shouldn’t believe irrational things.” Because that’s clearly not what it is. You and your pals here, I’m quite sure, believe a whole host of irrational things. No biggie, it’s perfectly natural to. But unless you’re willing to address that, I don’t think you’re at all well placed to be telling anyone why he “shouldn’t believe.”

  • mikespeir · March 5, 2009 at 7:12 am

    I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, silver. How did what I wrote lead to your comment? Are you thinking I can’t explain why people shouldn’t believe? How would you know?

  • silver · March 5, 2009 at 8:12 am

    Mike, I don’t know that you can’t give a good explanation; I just suspect you can’t.

    Say I believe. Go ahead and tell me why I shouldn’t.

  • mikespeir · March 5, 2009 at 8:30 am

    Say I believe. Go ahead and tell me why I shouldn’t.

    I don’t think that’s the purpose of this thread. Go right ahead and believe.

  • Caledonian · March 5, 2009 at 11:08 am

    “The way I see it, I would rather have it that Obama succeed and thereby have the country (and world, obviously) recover economically than to have the country continue to suffer”

    Short-term success can lead to long-term failure. If Obama were successful at implementing his preferred strategies, and the economy recovers (whether due to those policy changes or not) and the strategies gain influence as a result, we’re set up for long-term disaster.

    If you believe that Obama’s policy preferences will lead to disaster, it’s only reasonable to hope that he fails at implementing them.

    It would be nice to be able to hope that things around here improved. But, as our country is falling ever-further from what I consider to be its greatest potential and moving towards the negation of those potentials, I have to hope that it doesn’t do well at all. I hate to share any position, even loosely, with Limbaugh, but the man has something approximating a point.

  • Grant Canyon · March 5, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    “I hate to share any position, even loosely, with Limbaugh, but the man has something approximating a point.”

    I think the point he was trying make is the kind of thoughtful one you make here. But it came off as him saying that he only cares about Obama failing, even if that means that the country goes down with him. As an aside, for someone who has made eleventy-zillion dollars talking on the radio, Limbaugh really is a poor communicator.

  • John · March 5, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    Flenser: the best I can understand, this Secular Right website is for people who happen to be right-leaning, whose main interest is criticizing or mocking religion. I agree there is nothing distinctively conservative or rightwing about the articles. The new website was needed because more traditional conservative websites are favorably disposed toward religion.

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