Last night I went to a social gathering for Humanists. There was a new member there, an iranian woman, who took a few minutes to introduce herself and suggest that we should reach out to exile iranians and other immigrants, whom are often intellectuals and non-religious. It’s an interesting topic that I won’t spend more time on now, instead I would like to recount a funny anecdote she shared.
She is a teacher in one of the Stockholm suburbs that has the most immigrants. Her pupils are mostly muslims, with some christians thrown into the mix. And no, their parents obviously have absolutely no qualms about imposing labels on them. And the children propagate the labels happily, asking each other “Are you muslim? Are you christian?”
At one point, one of the children asked her, their teacher, “What are you?”. Something like the following exchange ensued:
Child: What are you?
Teacher: I’m sorry?
Child: What are you, are you muslim?
Teacher: No, I’m not a muslim.
Child: Are you a christian?
Teacher: No, I’m not a christian.
Child: But then what are you?!
Another child: I know what she is! She’s Swedish!
Oh, this is gold. It encapsulates one of Sweden’s greatest strenghts and faults in one. Religion has become such a marginal part of Sweden that it’s barely visible at all anymore. This is nice. But, it’s also the case that if you have any opinion at all on religion, you’re automatically too hardcore. Sure, people think deeply religious believers are a bit strange, but the converse is also true: If you take a stance against religion and other nonsense, you are a fundamentalist. Even simply calling yourself an atheist is a bit too strong.
No, the acceptable stance for a true Swede is … nothing. Don’t be a christian, don’t be a muslim, don’t be an atheist - just be Swedish…