Jerker Karlsson over at the Swedish blog Allotetraploid wrote an excellent post on the climate of current Swedish religious debate. I have translated it (rather loosely) with his permission, and added a couple of footnotes.
A column in SvD1 on August 5 brings up the heated religious debate of the Anglosphere. The question posed is whether the same debate could rise in Sweden. The answer seems to be a definitive no. The role of religion in Sweden is peripheral, and the power of the religious communities is relatively weak. The major media; our national papers, the big tv channels and the national radio are all expressly secular. There simply aren’t any strong religious counterweights to the secular forces. There’s also a lack of numerous religious grassroots organisations that can mobilise the people in a defense of traditional superstition and bronze age morality. A Swedish (or Scandinavian) debate must therefore by necessity have a different tone and focus than the current Anglo-Saxon debate.
So far, the Swedish debate has had rather a unique focus. It has not touched upon the question of truth as much as to what degree society should even tolerate religiously motivated actions and beliefs. The question was never whether intelligent design (ID) is a scientific theory or whether we should accept the theory of evolution. The question was rather whether we should make room in our schools for any religious explanations of the world whatsoever. When homosexuality has been the topic of discussion, focus has not been on the morality aspect (i.e. whether it is an ethically defendable way of life). Instead, the discussion has been about whether religious organisations should be suffered to express their opinions at all, and if so to what degree. Several years ago the American preacher Charles Ndifon, who claimed to be able to heal cancer, was touring southern Sweden, and was accused of quackery. No one took prayer seriously, the question was instead of whether freedom of religion allows for quackery. The answer turned out to be yes and the police investigation was cancelled.
Traditional religions have low credibility in Sweden and they are viewed with skepticism by the average Swede. Obviously there are plenty of other superstitious practices and beliefs, but these are of a private nature and usually not organised. People visit soothsayers, hire exorcists or take an evening course in self healing. However, this curiosity about the supernatural lacks dogma. It’s apolitical and often agnostic. It’s doubtful that these groups should be interested in defending the traditional religions. The debate in Sweden must therefore be of a different nature.
Personally I think it’s a healthy sign that the question of truth is no longer the prominent one, as it was at the time of Hedenius2. It’s a sign of progress that we have left primitive myths behind us and instead put more focus on the question of tolerance. To what degree can and should we tolerate religious manifestations in public space? That question is both current and difficult, and actually a lot more interesting and relevant than the question of truth, which we may, with strong justification, view as settled.
1 Svenska Dagbladet, Sweden’s third biggest national newspaper. 2 Ingemar Hedenius was a Swedish philosopher who sparked an intense debate about religion in the fifties, leading to the eventual separation of church and state.
1 Svenska Dagbladet, Sweden’s third biggest national newspaper.
2 Ingemar Hedenius was a Swedish philosopher who sparked an intense debate about religion in the fifties, leading to the eventual separation of church and state.