As a preparation for Easter I published this on my Norwegian blog a week ago. It’s a part of a hotly debated issue in Norway, but I have attempted to adapt it to my international readers.
I came to think of the holidays recently, and all expressions of religion in the public sphere. The debate, as well as polls shows that the vast majority of Norwegian want to remove these holidays. They don’t actually, but that’ll be the consequence. The government supposedly abolished the state church a couple of years ago, but still sponsors what they now call the people’s church. One of the first things that happened was that a Christian journalist working as a newscast for the state channel forgot to remove her necklace with a cross. So when she went on the county news people acted like she had committed the worst type of atrocity you could imagine.
I don’t think people have thought much about what secularism entails. Our calendar is very religious. Some people work half a day on Christmas Eve, but most people get the whole day off. The next two days are off too, except for those years when you are off anyway because it happens to be during the weekend. Many people love Easter, not because they are religious, but because they like some days off. This year everybody gets off on17th, 18th and 21st April. We also get 1st May off (labour day) and 29th May (Ascension day). We would have had another day off too, but the pentecost is on a weekend this year.
Those who want a secular society have had a lot of progress in Norway in recent years. There is no doubt that we are well on our way towards a secular society, a society in which religion in the public sphere has no place. I really don’t think it‘s a good idea, and had I been a good, loyal Norwegian, I’d kept my mouth shut. I could have watched Norwegians experiment and fail while I practiced my faith in peace.I don’t like the first, most obvious step, but we have to accept some changes in the new society. The loss of the holidays is a natural consequence. So I suggest that we remove Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and Ascension from the calendar. Since the labour movement is also regarded as a belief system, it is not unreasonable that we go to work on May 1st too.
We could have a calendar similar to the American one. Americans have Good Friday, Christmas Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Martin Luher King Jr . Day and Washington ‘s Birthday . We could fill in with a few historical figures we choose to honour, but reduce the Easter and Christmas holiday to one day each. Thus, we will end up with 4-5 days off in addition to the summer holidays. Another thing is that many Americans don’t have summer vacation either, but that’s more because of a capitalist system than a secular. I suppose it’s the need of rest that is the only grounds for holidays in a secular society , and there is no such thing as a protected day.
That leaves only Sundays. That’s not a completely normal day in the U.S. either, but many shops are open. The Kroger we did our shopping in when we lived in the U.S. closed at midnight on Sundays. Shopping Malls were open from 10 to 18 on Sundays (both shopping centers and malls). A secular society is a society almost without closing times. In Norway the vast majority is against expanding the opening hours, but without a religious basis this is a meaningless argument. The Americans didn’t see this until it was too late and now there almost is no difference between Sunday and Monday. In Norway we have been discussing the Brustadshop, named after the Labour Party-minister that started that crap. She allowed grocery stores less than 100 m2 to be opened on Sundays. I suspect it is an illegal discrimination in a secular society.
We have a law from 1965 that was updated as recently as 2003, and it is intended to protect the “worship/church life and bring peace and dignity to the holiday.” The law contains restrictions to prevent the execution of the Christian faith from being disturbed. That is why there are a number of things this law prohibits between 06 and 13 on Sundays and holidays. That affects opening hours and sport/music events etc. I would argue that the closing hours themselves are a religious concept.
Abolish the people’s church
The church has previously been opposed to dissolving the state church and introduce a consistent secularised society, but it is now quite positive. On one side I think it’s a bad idea, but at the same time maybe it’s not a bad development. One of the problems in Norway is that the government has interfered in church affairs, especially in cases related to homosexuality and abortion. Politics had no place in the state Church, but I’m a fan of a church that at least tries to engage in important issues, and to defend the Scripture. It’s like drawing inspiration from the man who founded Christianity, Jesus, and the man who made it famous, Paul. You are not getting anywhere if your main purpose is never to offend anyone.
Secularisation has had different meanings throughout history, but it’s been used for emancipation from religious authorities and norms the last century. The Lutheran Christianity we have had in Norway has really been a secular philosophy in itself, because it has reduced the meaning of spirituality in society.
The church gave us philosophy
I wrote a couple of posts in 2012 that got some attention because many thought I gave Christianity too much credit for many of the ideas that shaped Norway. I would still argue that this is the case. The most interesting response was perhaps from those who declared themselves as atheists. They seemed to have a lot of repressed rage, and their opinios/attitudes contrasted the roots of humanism. I guess they showed how perverted or corrupted humanism has become.
Those who claim to be atheists should be very grateful to the Church. It was in fact the medieval Church that practically gave life to what the current secular people value most: art, philosophy and law. They may not have done it alone, because it was the result of a dynamic interplay between Christianity, philosophy, Judaism and Islam. It seems that many think of humanistic ideas as anti-Christian, but the truth is actually the opposite. Humanism in the Late Middle Ages and during the early modern humanism was essentially a response to the dominant university disciplines of logic and semantics. Humanists believed the two aforementioned disciplines were too concerned with things that didn’t help people, and therefore focused on the relationship between the human and the divine.
Their goal was to find man’s place in God’s plan. The problem wasn’t with religion; it was man’s understanding of it. Humanism was therefore far from a secular movement. These thinkers believed that God had given the religious truth to everyone, whether Christian or not. One just had to transform for example Plato to Christian thinking. It’s not unlike when modern day HEF (the Norwegian Humanist Association) steal texts from all over the place, arguing that they are neutral.
Later humanism was more concerned with man, and Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374) began to study the ancient writers, especially Cicero. It made humanists rediscovered Greek and Hebrew, and mixed their own beliefs with thoughts of antiquity. Humanism aimed to reconcile classical philosophy with Christianity. Pico was probably the best educated humanist and his project was to unite all human philosophies and religions with Christianity. He wanted one philososphy/religion.
The humanists renewed the interest in the literary heritage, both from the Christian and pagan antiquity. They focused on studying texts completely. This meant, among other things, a thorough study of the languages that the biblical texts were written in. In Italy Lorenzo Valla (1405-1437) compared the Latin Vulgata Bible translation with the original Greek text of the New Testament critically. John Rechlin (1455-1522) believed it was necessary to study Hebrew in order to study the Old Testament. Erasmus of Rotterdam (1467-1536) published the New Testament in Greek, as well as the writings of the Church Fathers. It was also through a humanistic milieu in England that Erasmus became interested in theology, or to put it another way: He became a humanist and discovered God.
The most important thing these did, except for rediscovering Plato, was requiring that one should read the sources and not what someone else claimed the sources said. The Greek philosopher Aristotle influenced the theology of central Christian thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and Anselm (1033-1109). Perhaps the most important legacy of Aquinas was that he saw the importance of conducting empirical research based on an inductive method. That meant examining something carefully, classifying and eventually form a theory. The same thing happened in the Muslim world. They discovered that the Quran and Aristotle went really well together.
Greek philosophy was initially problematic for Christianity, especially Aristotle, who believed that the world was eternal, and not created. The Greek philosophers believed that only common sense give us knowledge. Faith has nothing to do with it. Aristotle was illegal in Europe as his teachings were inconsistent with Christianity, but Thomas Aquinas still managed to define the relationship between science and faith in a way that made room for both. He believed that we can arrive at religious truths through sensible, philosophical arguments, while there is a higher truth sphere we can’t reach (for instance Holy Trinity and the Incarnation). That requires revelation from God. Aquinas built a kind of bridge between all religious and pagan traditions that influenced and pulled Europe in different directions, but the problem was that he tried to prove the existence of God, which is impossible.
Anselm was concerned that a Christian had to meet a non-Christian with words that were meaningful to both. It was also important to use what these two had in common, reason. He thought that believers and non-believers were actually looking for the same thing in life. Faith, according to Anselm was the basis of common sense, but a sensible reasoning is still meaningful to those who don’t believe.
Part of what evolved into Aristotelian theology was eventually adopted by Jewish, Muslim and Christian philosophers. Thus Antiquity affected Christianity, but I still stand by my claim from 2012 that Christianity has been a positive experience for Norway. It is through Christian thinkers that ancient ideas have shaped the Norwegian Constitution and the Norwegian society. It became a kind of symbiosis.
You have been assimilated
A major reason why Christianity has been such a great historical success is that it has adopted a lot of good ideas from others. Maybe it’ll achieve what the humanists dreamt about, one common philosophy? There are many pagan traditions in Christianity. The idea that man has a soul that lives forever and receives a judgment after death is not exclusive to Christianity. Plato had some similar ideas. This is probably what the early humanists refer to when they say that God has revealed Himself to all people.
It’s not easy to understand Socrates, but as I understand him he argued for a kind of meaning in the universe we call God. What still gives people distaste for religion has nothing to do with the content, but with perverse people. This is too important to let people in an organization such as the Church of Norway ruin it. Some Christian organizations might be corrupt, but I have a kind of faith that helps me through life anyway. To give up religion for the wrong reason would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
It is possible that our Lutheran church will come closer to the truth it wants to preach if it got rid of the troublesome politicians interfering all the time. What concerns me now is that we may have something worse. The government dissolved the state religion a couple of years ago, but it still funds it. We now have something called the people’s church, and it seems to be an even stronger expectation among the vast majority of Norwegians posing as genuine members to influence the theology. It’ll be interesting to see how the church and society will develop in the coming years.
According to various polls Norwegians choose a society as free of religion as a strict communist regime, for example North Korea. I’m not sure Norwegians would have liked it if they had been granted this wish, because it’s not just the hijab and journalists with a Christian necklace that would be illegal then.
All societies have their views on humanity. It’s not that I do not think it’s possible to place the norm of good within ourselves, but I’m a little skeptical when a society proposes to build the human view on the submissive man. Humanism has removed itself from religion and believes man is sufficient. There are many directions and philosophies the new society could find inspiration from.
I am thinking for example of secularism ( George Jacob Holyoake ), moral philosophy/nihilism ( Friedrich Nietzsche ), modern philosophy (Immanuel Kant), Marxism (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels) utilitarianism /normative ethics (John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham). It would have been tempting to add the famous Victorian satanist/occultist Aleister Crowley too, but he represents a religion, which disqualifies him in the kind of society Norwegians seem to want.
I can well understand that some are skeptical, and I’m not without skepticism myself. Perhaps the most important country with a strict separation between church and state is the United States. I’m not sure we ought to strive very hard to become more like them. In addition to the US administration, Russia and France are among the biggest role model for countries that want secularism. These countries wrote the textbook for why you don’t want to invest in the same experiment.
If we decide that we don’t want to exercise religion because we do not want to offend others, where do we stop? Should we change our political system because democracy doesn’t suit others, like our growing Muslim population? Should we eliminate Norwegian culture because we believe it can discriminate the increasing proportion of the population belonging to another culture? Should we follow the United States and kill individual enemies before they become enemies (the Bush Doctrine/preemptive strike)? Should we ban marriage because some believe that the idea of commitment is oppressive? We can take this mindset very far in the future.
The tragedy is that Norway probably didn’t plan far enough ahead. I don’t think many see the consequence of throwing the dominant religion, and thus the dominant Norwegian culture, overboard (by the way, while other religions and philosophies are growing). I think this is very simple. I don’t think it’s about more than good, old- fashioned ass-kissing. It’s about not having the courage to be who we really are. One of the methods parents use to teach their children is by being good examples to follow. I wish that the Norwegian authorities as well as society could adopt the same principle.
I wish it wasn’t so, but Norwegians disgust me at the moment.
Source: http://faculty.uml.edu/CulturalStudies/Italian_Renaissance/8_9_c.htm http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_ethics
Ingen unnskyldning (No apology), Jens Olav Mæland , Lunde Publisher http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Aquinas