Sunday, July 15, 2007

Alleluia! It's the Second Coming! In Sweden??????

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Buried behind the WSJ’s subscription wall is a fascinating look at the resurgence of a particular type of Christianity within Europe, and especially within the cold grey socialist paradise of Sweden. There an outraged ACLU-type demanded a hotel chain remove the Bibles from its nightstand drawers, and they complied. Then something rather un-Swedish happened.

A national furor erupted. A conservative bishop announced a boycott. A leftist radical who became a devout Christian and talk-show host denounced the biblical purge in newspaper columns and on television. A young evangelical Christian organized an electronic letter-writing campaign, asking Scandic [the hotel chain]:Why are you removing Bibles but not pay-porn on your TVs?

Scandic, which had started keeping its Bibles behind the front desk, put the New Testament back in guest rooms.

“Sweden is not as secular as we thought,” says Christer Sturmark, head of Sweden’s Humanist Association, a noisy assembly of nonbelievers to which the Bible-protesting hotel guest belongs.

The WSJ reporter seems pretty confident that Christian religiosity is on the upswing, and spends most of the long article trying to explain why that might be. Some economists have an idea about how that could have happened:

As centuries-old churches long favored by the state lose their monopoly grip, Europe’s highly regulated market for religion is opening up to leaner, more-aggressive religious “firms.” The result, they say, is a supply-side stimulus to faith.

“Monopoly churches get lazy,” says Eva Hamberg, a professor at Lund University’s Centre for Theology and Religious Studies and co-author of academic articles that, based on Swedish data, suggest a correlation between an increase in religious competition and a rise in church-going. Europeans are deserting established churches, she says, “but this does not mean they are not religious.”

Upstarts are now plugging new spiritual services across Europe, from U.S.-influenced evangelical churches to a Christian sect that uses a hallucinogenic herbal brew as a stand-in for sacramental wine.

Well, that’s not the kind of “ascension” He meant, but it sounds to me like that church is the exception, whereas charismatic and evangelical churches are more the norm–and are growing rapidly just like they are in the United States. That fact isn’t lost on the free-market theorists:

The enemy of faith, say the supply-siders, is not modernity but state-regulated markets that shield big, established churches from competition. In America, where church and state stand apart, more than 50% of the population worships at least once a month. In Europe, where the state has often supported — but also controlled — the church with money and favors, the rate in many countries is 20% or less.

“The state undermined the church from within,” says Stefan Swärd, a leader of Sweden’s small but growing evangelical movement.

The state supported churches are banal, PC, and empty; they need not compete for parishioners because the state supports them no matter how wacky their ideas, how tepid their sermons, or how empty their church:

Consider the scene on a recent Sunday at Stockholm’s Hedvig Eleonara Church, a parish of the Church of Sweden, a Lutheran institution that until 2000 was an official organ of the Swedish state. Fewer than 40 people, nearly all elderly, gathered in pews beneath a magnificent 18th-century dome. Seven were church employees. The church seats over 1,000.

Hedvig Eleonara has three full-time salaried priests and gets over $2 million each year though a state levy. Annika Sandström, head of its governing board, says she doesn’t believe in God and took the post “on the one condition that no one expects me to go each Sunday.” The church scrapped Sunday school last fall because only five children attended.

Just a few blocks away, Passion Church, an eight-month-old evangelical outfit, fizzed with fervor.

Passion Church is, obviously, not state supported.

What struck me about this piece was that I had just finished reading almost the same argument by Lawrence Henry in the American Spectator Online–about subsidized versus unsubsidized talk radio in the United States. AM talk is competitive, and it’s brash, vibrant and entertaining as the talent struggles–and succeeds–to attract listeners. Meanwhile subsidized radio (ahem NPR ahem) is very professionally produced, but it is also bookish, snobbish, and trending toward irrelevant. If the state-sponsored churches of Sweden lack butts in their pews, the subsidized talkers of NPR lack ears on their frequency. But like the sinecures of the Swedish priesthood, NPR doesn’t care if you listen or not. They get paid either way. [...Snip] HotAir.com

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