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Learning from Secular Nations | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

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Today I came across a review of a book, “Society without God” by Phil Zuckerman, describing the Scandinavian (particularly Sweden and Denmark) way of life in relation to religion and faith in God. The review puts forth the question on what good life really is, questioning the some of the conclusions the author of the book makes.

Although she makes some valid points she there are points where she misses the mark. First of all, I think the values of the welfare states of Scandinavia is religious. The heritage of Scandinavia is very much a Lutheran and pietistic one, meaning that the values that forms the basis of the welfare state have a lot in common with Christian (and humanistic) values. I would go as far to say that it is a secularised attempt to utilise Christian values in a modern society. The pietistic heritage institutionalised Christian care and founded diaconal institutions that are still around today, and the modern welfare state of the Scandinavian type evolved out of this institutionalised system. Recently, the Danish philosopher and theologian Knud E. Løgstrup provided a theoretical basis for the welfare state, in his ontological-ethical phenomenology.  

 

South Bork

Many stones ...

The second point is one that Zuckerman makes. There is a difference between religious faith and a particular type of faith in God. As most Danes, Swedes and Norwegians see themselves as Christians, it is not a traditional form of Christian religion. It is more a more secularised faith, and the very devout variety is not the favoured. The Scandinavian God is culturally important, but personally it is a very private matter. But, as the review also makes clear, if you ask the average Scandinavian what the meaning of being is, you probably wouldn’t get an answer that points to something transcendent and beyond their life. Family matter, job matter, friends matter, – as they do all over the created earth. The transcendent is taken care of by the Church (that in most Scandinavian countries enjoys a close relationship to the state). You baptise your child, you participate in the confirmation, you marry in a church and you are laid to rest by a minister. And some even go to Church during Christmas. The church represents the liminal in people’s life; they choose to become members of it, because they feel it represents something they are. When facing the liminal in their lives, Scandinavians also tend to ponder what the meaning of all is. They may not be aware of their soul all the time, but it does not mean it is totally lost for them.

Zuckerman’s main thesis is that societies do not have to be religious to function well. I think he is right about this (and nod if you think religion played too great a part in say, the recent American general election), but I think he comes up short when it comes to people. People with a mature and realistic faith live enriched lives. And religious faith can play a positive role in a society and politics, the protest of Church in both Germany and Norway during WWII shows that Christian faith at times responds to the duty to oppose inhumanity and injustice. Something that is very much in line with Scripture.

(Richard Dawkins also seem to have discovered this book, but not read it yet).

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US Election 08

Yesterday I came across this funny video by Sarah Silverman on the upcoming election. Check it out:

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Recently a Norwegian member of parliament (the “Storting”) was discovered to have called a fortune teller 58 times. The Storting therefore stopped paying her mobile phone bills. She has promised to pay back what she owes. Although it certainly is a valid question whether the Norwegian tax payers should pay for all the conversations that a public servant has, I think the most interesting question is her actual use of a fortune teller to help her in her (personal or work related) decision making.

I think it’s vital that a politician is able to listen to advice, if not, all options will not be explored and given weight. It is Christian virtue to seek other people to hear out and find better solutions than what yourself may come up with. But is any help helpfull?

What about Christian politicians that pray for God’s guidance? What about a Christian leader that goes to the Pope or a bishop to ask for advice? While praying may be considered superstition by some (like the use of fortune tellers), going to a living person is not the same. Perhaps the person you consult is not competent to give advice, but he still might give an advise you can refuse.

And God does not send you letters on a stone tablet. God is not an prayer automate, he does not give out advise or answers like a machine. He is something more, and when praying to him we express our relationship to him, our trust in him and our hope in him. He may – or not – intervene.

Politics is messy buisness, but it is important buisness. And we all need advise, especially politicians. I just hope that the one I voted for does not seek help in the stars but in their fellow human being (and of course God).

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