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.