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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Beautiful, godless Scandinavia

Just an article I found on Reddit and thought would be an interesting read for some of us. An excerpt:

To a certain jaded sensibility, what makes Scandinavia particularly magical is what it lacks. "There is no national anti-gay rights movement," writes Zuckerman, "there are no 'Jesus fish' imprinted on advertisements in the yellow pages, there are no school boards or school administrators who publicly doubt the evidence for human evolution ... there are no religiously inspired 'abstinence only' sex education curricula ... there are no parental groups lobbying schools and city councils to remove Harry Potter books from school and public libraries ... there are no restaurants that include Bible verses on their menus and placemats, there are no 'Faith Nights' at national sporting events ..."

Not to put too fine a point on it, there's no God. At least none that would pass muster with evangelical Americans. As few as 24 percent of Danes and as few as 16 percent of Swedes believe in a personal deity. (In America, that figure is close to 90 percent.) In Scandinavia, belief in life after death hovers in the low 30 percent range, as opposed to 81 percent in America. Some 82 percent of Danes and Swedes believe in evolution, while roughly 10 percent believe in hell. Their rate of weekly church attendance is among the lowest on Earth.

"The notion that religious belief is childish, that earnest prayer is something that only children engage in, and that faith in God is just something that one dabbles with in childhood, but eventually grows out of as one becomes a mature adult, would strike most Americans as offensive," writes Zuckerman. "But for millions of Scandinavians, that's just the way it is."

This excerpt in particular caught my eye:

This will come as a surprise to cultural conservatives, who for a long time have pointed baleful fingers at the atheist dictatorships of Albania, North Korea, China and the former Soviet Union. But as Zuckerman argues, there is a significant difference between imposing atheism from above and absorbing it from below. The majority of Scandinavians, he writes, "stopped being religious of their own volition." It may be they never started. Although Christianity was first introduced to Sweden and Denmark in the 800s, it took centuries to become fully entrenched, and given that this process was shaped less by missionary work than by royal fiat, Zuckerman questions whether Danes and Swedes were ever truly as devout as some of their European brethren.

As for faith being the cornerstone of personal morality, Zuckerman would remind us that Scandinavians rank near the top in charitable giving to poor nations, that their murder rate is among the lowest in the world and that the safety net they've created for their poorest citizens puts the U.S. welfare state to shame. And all this has been accomplished without God breathing down anyone's neck.

Well, color my sensibilities jaded, because it sounds pretty much like paradise to me.


  1. I'm a fan of Scandinavia myself but some Scandinavians do believe in strange things...
    The Norwegian princess
    Martha Louise believes in angels...

  2. but you could have all the snow you like, NM. And temperatures down to -60°Celsius (-76°Fahrenheit) in winter...

  3. Beer is very expensive.

    Coming from the North of Germany, I know what Scandinavians do:
    Take a trip over the Danish border to Germany, buy a truck full of beer (only the beer, obviously)from one of the discounters at the border and praise the Schengen treaty...

  4. Tilia -

    Just now researching it, but perhaps you could tell me a little about the Schengen treaty?

    Would it be similar to the NAFTA?

  5. I'm glad that the Scandinavian peoples have their freedom of choice.... even to cross the borders to buy truckloads of beer!


  6. Sweden may be cold in the winter, but it's beautifully temperate in the summer (it feels like a southern Ontario summer) - that is, if you can handle the stupid amounts of mosquitoes. Holy.

    Also, Stockholm is one of those awesome places that everyone should visit. I didn't even think about God, though my hoped-for trip to Uppsala (where all the churches are) didn't happen :-(

  7. The Schengen treaty, named for the town in Luxemburg where it was drafted and first signed, has until today been signed by 24 European countries.
    It removes systematic border controls and checks on vehicles crossing in between these countries.
    NAFTA is about removal and reduction of customs fees, so they're not the same thing.
    Customs are still active between Schengen countries, but will only check and search specific vehicles when they have reasons to do so, typically trucks and private cars from border countries which are by profile more likely to carry uncustomed or contraband goods or illegal immigrants.

  8. Tilia,

    I do so love bitter cold weather. I'd take a few kooky beliefs from the princess for the freedom from fundies and the cold.

    Oh and the beer runs must be so much fun!!

  9. I dunno. I just checked out the national church of Sweden's website (they don't have separation like we have) and they said 75.6 % of swedes were members there.And of course- that's just 1 major church. Colour me skeptical about those figures.
    At the bottom they have some approx figures on religion

  10. It's lovely here, I would not want to be anywhere else!

  11. mr. freethinker,
    it's not only one major church it's the church in Sweden. The king is the head and all other churches are just "tolerated" (well, it's not that bad anymore, but I wouldn't have liked to be a catholic in 18th century Sweden...)
    And just because people are in the church for ceremonial reasons (Christmas, weddings, funerals,...) it doesn't mean they really believe in god. We had one case of a protestant priest who didn't believe in god but said it wouldn't make any difference at all, since he believed in Christian values.

  12. NM,
    nothing against a little frost. But below -20°C it's really no fun anymore. I had to go to school by bike (10km) and one winter we had that situation for more than two weeks. You simply can't wear enough clothes.

  13. Ah, even if it's a cold paradise there now, you'll soon be warm enough in the Lake O' Fire.

  14. Charles,

    Ya know, I've been thinking. Xians continually pull out the fear card with the blah blah about hell, and I'm thinking 'Wait...you mean if I go to hell, I won't have to put up with your antiquated bullshit superstitions anymore?? Where do I sign up??'

  15. nonmagic -

    Actually, all it takes to go to Hell is belief.

    Don't you agree?

  16. LOAF,

    Since there is no hell, then no.

  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. laof,

    Have you been reading Pratchett, because he postulates that idea all the time or at least in the fake world where most of his books take place.

    fixed typo

  19. rocky -

    Actually, I don't recal ever reading Pratchett.

    I'll look up his works and consider it. Thank you for the recommendation.

  20. Sweden. A virtual sea of beautiful blondes. Yummy.

  21. froggie,
    a virtual see of drunk beauty blondes from my experience ;)

  22. nonmagic said...

    Since there is no hell, then no."

    I can't believe that, in a thread about Scandinavia, people are claiming that there is no such place as Hell. Looks quite nice, from what I can see.

  23. LOL, Paul. At least there is proof of that Hell!

  24. I'll second that recommendation for Pratchett (he's awsome: "The Last Continent" and "Small Gods" are my favorite works), and mark Scandanavia as a place to visit.

    I love the comment about charity, murder and welfare. So much for God being the basis for all morality.

  25. One of the civilised things that I enjoyed about Denmark was being able to buy beer from a vending machine in the Dan Hostel in Roskilde.

  26. NM,

    Of course, if you do end up in Hell, then it will have been because their antiquated bullshit superstitions were actually right all along. Either that, or your bravery in battle wasn't sufficient for you to earn your seat in the meadhall in Valhalla.

    Personally, I've come to believe that a deity as described by most Fundies isn't worthy of being worshiped.

  27. German Wikipedia states that about 85% of Norwegians are members of the Lutheran Norwegian Church, while less than 10% attend service more than once a month or regularly; about 3% of the population according to Bishop Laila Dahl. The NC was the exclusive state church until 1969, and free excercise of religion wasn't constitutionally permissible before 1964 at all. The monarch is official head of church (like in the UK), and the royal family has the duty to care for and serve the church and its adherents. So its not surprising that you'll probably find no professing atheists among the royalty.
    According to posts at rdnet and various other sources:
    - the Norwegian Constitution instructs Lutheran citizens to raise their children in Lutheran faith: "The Evangelical-Lutheran religion shall remain the official religion of the State. The inhabitants professing it are bound to bring up their children in the same."
    - 32% of Norwegians believe in a personal God, and 47% believe in a spirit or life-force (Eurobarometer poll 2005)
    - they have a blasphemy law forbidding insult or disrespect to religion
    - children get registered as members of their parents' church by default, but adults can opt out or switch; so about 25% of church members are actually minors involuntarily counted as members (the same applies to members of other religious faiths and the Humanist Association)

  28. felix -

    Thanks for that.

    Basically, state religions 'blow'.

    Religion (or freedom therefrom) is a personal choice and shouldn't be regulated by the government.


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