Sunday, July 15, 2007

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

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]


Bill Murray said...

Can we afford to ignore religion and its impact on humanity any longer?

Most religions say that they are in a search for the truth but then why are we expected to accept everything on faith and faith alone?

Two thousand years have transpired since the birth of Christ and approximately 1400 years since Mohammad. We have spent the last two thousand years without questioning the validity of religion or a god or gods. What concerns me is that Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all on a collision path. Isn't it about time that we took a more critical look at all religion and did some analytical thinking about it?

We could begin by asking why do we have a religion, what is the value of participating in a religion and why do we look to a god or gods? We tend to accept our individual religions and our gods based on pure faith and faith alone. We don't ask for fact or data to support an existence of a god or anything else relating to religion. Why do we not ask for factual data to support the existence of a god and/or the stories in the Bible, New Testament and the Qur'an? Christians' even use the term "You can accept it as the Gospel" or the word of god. But why should we accept it as the "Gospel". The "Gospel" has no basis in fact nor can it in any way be supported by fact.

To accept something as important as a god and religion solely on faith with no basis of fact is just not rational. The problem is we don't have the luxury of ignoring the subject any longer or to just say "let everyone do their own thing as long as they don't bother me". We can't afford to ignore religion any longer. We must address the subject. Religion has been a major cause of conflict around the world for centuries and is still the primary source of conflict today.

Just think about it. How can we accept a god and religion on faith alone? If someone told a wife or husband that their spouse was running around on them the husband or wife would ask for proof but most people don't ask for or expect proof when someone mentions a god, an immaculate conception, angels floating around with wings or being taken away to a heaven on a horse with wings.

For two thousand years we have had religious conflict and we still look to fables or stories written over 1400 years ago in the case of the Koran and two thousand years ago with the new testament. Many continue to accept these stories without question. Many still believe in a "divine creation" even though science has proven the theory of "evolution". Why does religion refuse to accept fact? Have we not learned anything about the pitfalls of religion over the last two thousand years? We have learned many other things over the centuries such as the earth is not flat and that we no longer have to burn women at the stake for being witches because they caused storms; yet we have failed to question the same fairy tales, myths and beliefs in the Qur'an and Bible that are thousands of years old.

We must address the subject and soon because we are fast approaching world wide religious conflict of a magnitude not previously seen. We all must question the validity of our gods and religion or we may find ourselves living with the disastrous consequences of our failure to ask the necessary questions. We should also stop the conditioning our children starting at a very young age through "religious instruction". All religions "indoctrinate" the young before they have a chance to think and reason on their own. Let them study religion at a more mature age and study it as a philosophy as they would study evolution as a science.

The world may yet be destroyed using nuclear weapons in a religious war. We can no longer afford to ignore the numerous conflicts around the world among different religious groups and the radical thinking associated with so many religions. We, the people of all the religions on earth, had better wake up to the dangers of religious thinking and question the very nature of religion and its beliefs before it is too late.

But then again it may already be too late.

Bill Murray said...

There is no morality with the Catholic church. That has been clearly demonstrated with the extensive abuse of our children and the attempted cover-up of its actions.A lesson has been learned... If you are a Catholic, never leave your children alone with a priest....