Pic of the day: Typical Norwegian Christian value.
Yesterday, on Christmas Eve, the churches were full here in Norway. Today there is far more room. Most of the year, the churches are almost empty, and the people in them are mostly elderly and some children. A recent study showed that less than a quarter of us believed in God, and only around one in ten young people. Christianity and indeed monotheism seems to be waning here.
Ironically, unlike the USA we don't have a separation between church and state. On the contrary, it is almost at the start of our constitution: The Lutheran faith remains the state religion. The state finances and to a great extent controls the largest church in Norway, though people are free to leave it at any time. Most don't, though, even though they don't believe in God or Jesus. It is a convenient place for life and death rituals. Besides, most of us hold "Christian values".
By the time writing was introduced here in Scandinavia, the old Norse gods were still honored by some, and the myths and rituals and wisdom traditions of the old faith were still well known. Some of these were written down and preserved by curious sages, who themselves were good Christians. These traditions are still held in a remote kind of respect by modern Norwegians. We don't believe in Odin and Thor, of course, or the afterlife in Valhalla for fallen warriors. But we respect the insights these people had won in a far less enlightened time. It is much the same way that modern Norwegians approach Christianity, but people today are closer to Christianity in both time and mindset. In fact, most mature Norwegians today probably had at least one Christian grandmother or great-grandmother which they remember fondly. And generally we consider turning the other cheek more moral than killing people, though none of them are seen as practical in daily life.
A lot of people here will claim to share "Christian values", but which values are these? If you ask them, you will usually get answers like "neighborly love", "sharing with the poor" and "forgiveness". And to no small extent these things are seen as the task of the state rather than the individual, except for everyday values of forgiveness.
If we look at this with the simple but useful framework of Spiral Dynamics, we will notice that the Christian values are "Green" values. (Not to be confused with Green in the narrow sense of environmentalism, although "respect for Creation" is on the list too.) The Christian values that most Norwegians hold up, are strikingly different from the Christian values that the Bush administration and their friends practice on the other side of the Atlantic. That kind of old-time religion is with a poorly repressed shudder referred to here as "old-testamently". (On a related note, Norwegians these days have a strained relationship to Israel. We like good victims who know how to stay down, not confusing us by bouncing back and becoming top dogs.)
So in short, although most of my fellow Norwegians don't at all believe in a personal God or a risen Christ, they still see the New Testament and some Christian thinkers as valued inspirations and a civilizing influence. The more intense atheists are chided for throwing the baby out with the bathwater, meaning that they ought to just ditch the myths and superstitions, not the Christian values of caring and sharing. The atheists will reasonably argue that there is nothing specifically Christian about these values, but the fact remains that these ideas were largely brought here by Christians, not by atheists, so the name will probably remain popular for a while... even though the actual religion is not.
Visit the archive page for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.