A Watered-Down Christianity in Sweden November 24, 2009

A Watered-Down Christianity in Sweden

Sweden isn’t a very religious country — while a majority of people may belong to the Church of Sweden, that says little about how many people have actual “faith.” It works that way in a number of European countries.

Reader Patrik lives in Sweden and he emailed me about what life is like for an atheist in that country. One particular bit stood out:

Whether your family is Christian or not, it’s customary to have your kid baptized… Baptism is kind of like a party the parents throw to celebrate having babies. In Sweden, these Christian rituals, which seem so frowned upon in the skeptic community worldwide, have very little to do with Christianity. Or rather, only as much to do with Christianity as you choose.

Of course, the priest speaks of Jesus in church and blesses the child, but the baptism isn’t about that. It’s about bringing people together. Confirmation (at 14-15 years age) is no longer about confirming you’re part of the church (even though that comes with it). It’s about having fun with classmates and other kids the same age as you. And getting some presents from your relatives while you’re at it. Awesome!

I think this holds true for a lot of things in the Swedish society. We still have all these Christian traditions and rituals, but they are not about Christ anymore. Easter isn’t about mourning Jesus’ death. It’s about painting eggs and hiding them so the kids can look for them. We don’t celebrate Jesus being born at Christmas — we celebrate Santa coming over with gifts! We get together to make something a little extra for the kids and to bring people together.

So, in essence, more people there treat all Christian celebrations like many atheists in America treat the main ones.

What do you think about the baptisms/Confirmations? I know a lot of atheists are opposed to that sort of religious ritual, but would it make it any better if you knew participants didn’t really treat it as a religious event, but as just a fun celebration?

Would you still not want to celebrate those things if they were devoid of religious meaning?

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  • liz

    this kind of just sounds like how an atheist raised in a catholic family would speak.

    i mean…i was baptized and confirmed when i was like 14 (i didnt protest because, hey it was free presents and shit)

    all of my younger siblings were also baptized and it definitely was nothing more than a party. they did the ritual and then we went home and celebrated. it wasnt like excessive praying and praising god…just celebrating my baby brother and sister

    my parents didnt even sit me down and make my confirmation all special and awkward…all i did was walk to the front of the church, say a prayer or something (just stand there) and then go home and have a party

    i dont really think it’s that country…i think it’s just different denominations and families practicing things more relaxed than religious

  • liz

    on the other hand…if you asked my mom about these celebrations she would focus on the ceremony more and the presents less. and talk about it as if it was some epic day, when it reallly wasnt

  • You can tell that the commenter doesn’t pay much attention in church if he thinks Easter is about mourning Jesus’ death!

  • The only issue I have is that you’re lying. There are other celebrations you could have that are not religious in nature. For your coming-of-age (confirmation) you could go out into the jungle alone until you kill a tiger and bring it back home..you know – secular practical celebrations.

  • steve

    You could argue that many Christians, while theists in their stated worldview, are what someone termed “functional atheists” (i.e. there’s really no meaningful distinction between their actions/practices and those of the non-theist).

    In fact, aren’t all rituals social constructs whose only meaning is that attributed to them by the participants?

    The irony in Sweden, as with other Western European nations, is that church attendance plummets in modern nations that have a historically state sponsored church.

  • HP

    One big difference between Sweden and the U.S. is that the Church of Sweden is the state church. As taxpayers, they’re already paying for the facilities, so why not?

    One result of church-state separation in the U.S. is that religious rituals become that much more fraught with extraneous meaning, because choosing to participate in any one religious ritual amounts to “taking sides.”

    Whereas ritual participation in the Church of Sweden is, for a Swede, entirely normative. I doubt that most Swedes would treat a ritual at the local synagogue or mosque or Baptist church with the same cavalier attitude. In America, there is no “regular” church to which “factional” churches might be compared. All we have are factions.

  • That actually sounds like how it is for some in the US already. I know a handful of people who don’t call themselves atheist, but in conversation will admit they aren’t believers. All those “nones” that fall in the middle between atheist and theist, in some sort of apathy category. They celebrate Christmas with Santa, Easter with a bunny, and other holidays with the secular or commercialized icons.

    If we could just get rid of the fundamentalists, the ‘Christian-Nation-ers’ and the ones whining about God being removed from the country… We’d be in almost the same frame of mind.

  • Reynvaan

    I really don’t have a problem with this. My family gets together for Christmas and Easter every year, but do we sing hymns, pray, or read the manger/resurrection stories? No. We meet up at my aunt’s or grandma’s house and sit around sipping drinks, catching up on each other’s lives. We cap it off with a big dinner and presents for Christmas, or a big brunch for Easter, all without so much as a mention of Jesus. More than anything, these are our days to celebrate being a family and to reconnect after months spent apart.

    I totally understand why some skeptics and atheists might feel uncomfortable with observing traditionally religious holidays and rituals like baptism, and I obviously respect their choice not to. But for some of us, it’s just part of our cultural heritage that we’ll continue to practice, only rebranded with the focus on the things and people that matter to us, rather than the superstitions and beliefs we no longer hold.

  • ckitching

    Looks like this site is getting trackback spammed. Unless, of course, this page has anything to do with caskets.

  • As an atheist living in California, I will be going to a Santa Lucia festival this year. I’m not there for the religious part, but because the daughter of a friend will be singing, and for the potluck smorgasbord beforehand.

  • HP is almost right. Almost, because the Church of Sweden is no longer the official state church. However, Sweden has only been officially secular for about 10 years, and the majority of the Swedish population are still members of the church. One reason why they don’t leave is probably that the membership fee is collected through the taxes (the CoS is not the only church that has this privilege), which means that you won’t notice it the way you would if they sent you an invoice. The result being that most people in Sweden aren’t aware just how much money they’re paying to the church each year.

    The Swedish Humanist Association are working on providing secular officiants for the various ceremonies people usually do at church. There is definitely a “market” for it, given how swedish people will often ask their priest “not to talk so much about god” when getting married or the like. A humanistic officiant will tailor the ceremony (be it welcoming a child, celbrating the union of two people or bidding a loved one farewell) to their customers. The one thing the church can supply that secular institutions can’t is, well, churches.

    Patrik is spot on about the holidays. Christmas and Easter are both thoroughly secular these days. Which is why it baffles me that people still occasionally ask us atheists whether we celebrate christmas.

  • Beckster

    We won’t get our kids baptized or confirmed because it would get our parents hopes up that we were considering returning to the fold. I don’t care how fun the after-party is!

  • liz

    can’t we make up a new holiday?

    one where you buy a tree, decorate it, sing songs about reindeer and give your loved ones presents?

    i mean…all we really need to do is come up with another name for it. and Christians cant even get pissed because trees and reindeer and gift wrap have nothing to do with Jesus.

  • Ramon Caballero

    No, I think it is dangerous, in Mexico it used to be like that, baptisms and communion were about parties and reunions, but then there is always this generation that thinks they have to do “what is right” and force everybody to remember the original meaning and there you go, back to the beginning. Same case with the motto in the coin, it can always be used as precedent.

  • JMP

    This sums up my impression of Sweden (and the Nordic states) when I lived there. What surprised me, and to my satisfaction, was how accurately these attitudes towards these traditions describes my experience growing up in northeastern Minnesota (basically a lot of Finnish ancestry in the region, i.e. liberal, lazy Lutherans). I actually felt like I was among communities that were just as skeptical of religious claims as I was when I lived there. It was quite refreshing and inspiring to learn how non-religious the Nordic countries are while simultaneously holding high ethical values and high quality of life. Why not, anyway? Well, perhaps it was more shocking that this can be so conveniently ignored by ideologues and religious alike in their false assertions of moral corruption of the nonreligious.

    As for celebrating such traditions, I personally don’t see much need for them now or in my future. I do understand how celebrations of life events can be great for bonding, but they’re more like excuses to throw memorable parties with good people. Birth, consummations (education, career, union), death (memorial), etc. are all good life events to celebrate even without a religious institution riding on the coattails of human endeavor.

  • tsmz

    I’m from Germany and essentially, it’s like the reader from Sweden describes it as well. With a slight twist perhaps, as lots of people from the formerly communist GDR (eastern Germany) are (unsurprisingly, as it was a communist nation) atheist with their respective atheist coming-of-age ceremonies as well (which, to my knowledge, no people from the “west” partake in due to generally negative associations with the GDR).
    So Germany’s situation is basically 1/3 catholic, 1/3 protestant and not quite 1/3 atheist (state-collected “church tax” as well, so these numbers are quite reliable), but, as described by the reader from Sweden, no one cares.

    I’m an atheist myself, but I was baptized and confirmed, which does bother me from time to time (especially the latter), but it’s hard to get any sensible impulse for actually thinking about your (non-)beliefs when society doesn’t make a fuss about it. This seems to me like a fundamentally different view than in the US, where lots of attention is brought to religious views; generally, that’s not the case in Germany. Even RE classes in school (plain vanilly, secular, state-funded school; which is, from an atheist viewpoint, just plain wrong) focussed more on general discussion or philosophy than on explicitly hardcore christian content; if this had been the case, I would have begun seeing myself as an atheist much, much earlier.

    So, to make a long story short: Religion (generally; we have our fair share of religious nutjobs as well) isn’t taken as seriously as it is in the US. On one hand, that’s good for obvious reasons, but on the other hand, it creates far less incentive to actually become an atheist, as you’re essentially not provoked enough to start thinking.
    I hope this wasn’t too confusing alltogether, but it’s hard to describe.

  • I don’t find baptism or confirmation to be fun celebration, but that’s my personal opinion.

    And, again speaking personally, I’d rather substitute those celebrations for other, more secular ones. They have “naming ceremonies” now that have replaced baptism. And I don’t really see how to remove Christ out of confirmation. You are “confirming” your faith.

    Aw, well. Just my suggestion. I think I love science too much now and want to celebrate all of that.

  • Revyloution

    The real issue is the culture wars.

    In the US, the ‘high holy holidays’ are the battle fields in our culture wars. And the reason we fight the wars is that the religious want to see their religion based morals turned into laws that govern everyone. Thus, everything religious is seen with derision and scorn by the secularists.

    In Sweden, they would laugh at the idea of creating laws based on a holy text. They are already a largely rational group, so they can have harmless ceremonies based on religious themes without worrying that the clergy will try to meddle in the affairs of the body politic.

    Ramon Caballero’s point is a good one. If the prosperity and security of Sweden were ever to falter, the seeds of religion could be used by the Church to regain political power there.

    Punto bueno amigo.

  • tsmz

    Revyloution, it’s not just the church being able to get political influence when the very foundation of a functional society–prosperity and security–is collapsing. Everyone who’s able to seduce the people will at least try; if they get their words right and manage to pull of a small economic miracle or bestow confidence upon the populace, they’re almost guaranteed to gain lots and lots of political influence.
    I don’t think that’s a matter of latent religion so watered-down and liberal it would make fundies cringe.

  • I read a fascinating book about religion in Sweden and Denmark a few months ago.

    Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment by Phil Zuckerman

    Hemant, I’d love to see you do a book review of this one. It’s definitely one of the most interesting and educational books I’ve read all year.

    Regarding the topic at hand, there was quite a bit of information on how watered down Christianity is in Scandinavia, and a lot of discussion about why atheists in those countries choose to have their children baptized and also why they decide to be confirmed and married in the state church.

  • unique.smile.within

    This way of looking at Christian holidays seems normal to me. My family just uses the holidays as an excuse to come together, eat, drink, exchange gifts on Christmas, and basically have a good time. There is no religion in our celebrations. Some of us are Atheist, some are Buddhist, or Christian, or Wiccan, or whatever you call people who follow Sylvia Brown… or a mixer of everything.
    We just love to party! Whoever hosts makes sure there is food and drink for everyone, though, regardless of beliefs. So there is vegetarian, alcohol-free drinks and the like. Plus turkey and stuff. Maybe my family is just plain weird…

  • I don’t oppose rituals at all. They serve a real practical purpose, which is to give our lives some structure, if we feel we need it. It’s the same reason we have graduation ceremonies and marriage ceremonies.

    With that in mind, nobody should feel obligated to participate in rituals they do not enjoy. I myself generally don’t enjoy rituals, for instance. I find them boring.

  • geru

    We are pretty much at the same point here in Finland. Churches are seen mostly as a nice place to have all your traditional ceremonies, and it’s quite common that people join the church just to get a church wedding, and some resign again right after the wedding, so it’s quite a revolving door system.

    Me and my brother have both gone through the traditional pattern, we were confirmed and at some point were a bit religious even though our parents were never the least bit into religion, but I’m proud to say that we’ve managed break the cycle of habitual Christian ceremonies. My brother just got a civil wedding and he’s soon having a baby, that will get a non-religious Christening.

    I guess the main reason why people aren’t doing this more is that they just aren’t aware that this is an option..

  • Sandra S

    Well, actually, he got that part about confirmation wrong. It’s actually about the gifts.

  • Neon Genesis

    Aren’t there also atheistic Jews who still practice Jewish rituals but don’t believe in God?

  • I actually just wrote a piece about this (sorry for the self-linkage, but it really is relevant): What if People Actually Treated Religion as Just a Metaphor (Like Trekkies and Secular Jews)? The gist: What would religion be like if it really were just a metaphor, the way that many progressive believers insist it is?

    And the main example I use for what this might look like is secular Judaism in America. Which is very much like what Patrik is describing in Sweden. It’s about the connection to family and history and tradition, about the need for comforting and beautiful rituals… but it’s not about belief in the supernatural.

    And I, for one, am totally in favor of it. I think it’s a great way to keep a lot of the stuff that is genuinely useful and good and comforting about religion… without tying it to the unfalsifiable and unsupportable belief in an invisible friend. If I could convert to secular Judaism without feeling like an idiot, I’d seriously consider it.

  • HP

    @ Felicia Gillman: My apologies for being only almost right; I didn’t know that Sweden had disestablished their church ten years ago. In my defense, I am old, and it’s still a big world, with lots of people and stuff in it.

    (I am also inordinately pleased to use the word disestablished in a sentence, in part because antidisestablishmentarianism was the longest English word I learned as a child.)

  • Wait. Easter has something to do with Christianity? Who knew?

    Next you’ll be saying Pancake Day is religious too.

  • HP

    @ Neon Genesis: I suppose I should preface this with the obligatory “I am not a Jew.” Most of the Jews I know are not believers; yet they participate in rituals like the bris, or say the baruch hatad before meals, because it’s a way to confirm their shared cultural history. Jewishness is both a religion and an ethnicity. I can’t remember what it’s called (Humanist Orthodox? Google fails me), but there’s a Jewish denomination that is secular and humanist theologically, yet absolutely scrupulous about keeping kosher, respecting the Sabbath, etc., because of the role of these acts in establishing Jewish identity.

    Those atheists born into ecumenical traditions, like Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, tend to forget that religions like Judaism and Hinduism are as much, if not more, about people and places as they are about nominal beliefs.

  • Pete

    It’s more or less the same in the UK, many families go through the ritual of baptism like they gather for Christmas dinner, the religious significance is a side issue.

    Both my niece and nephew married this year, and both ceremonies were held in hotels licenced to hold the ceremonies.\, this is common practice these days. What we now need is a similar ceremony for baptism to be held as a family gathering to celebrate a new life.

    If the child chooses to take up a religion later in life, they can go through the ceremony of their chosen religion then. It used to be common practice for adults to be baptised, exactly when it moved to infant baptism I’m not entirely sure, but it removes the child’s choice, and so it’s very wrong to baptise a child into any particular faith.

  • Solitas

    @liz: one where you buy a tree, decorate it, sing songs about reindeer and give your loved ones presents?
    Like… Yule? 😀

    Coming from Norway, here it’s just about the same as Patrik describes. Church attendance is plummeting, but just about everyone celebrates Christmas (although I preder Yule…) and Easter and such. It’s an excuse to get a few days off and meet up with family and fiends and have fun.

    Although I do agree with some of the posters here that it would be nice with some truly secular versions of baptism and confirmation… I still have this thing about bringing your kids to church; and, of course, the only reason for a naming ceremony and a coming-of-age ceremony would be for the gifts. 😉

  • Christophe Thill

    Here in France, it’s approximately the same as in Sweden. Everybody will tell you that it’s “a Catholic country”. But apart from the fact that there’s an important minority of atheists and agnostics, most so-called Catholics are actually heretics. They all take what the pope says with a grain of salt, and criticize him when needed. Some mix their beliefs with new-agey, buddhistish stuff. Quite a lot think that animals have souls and that their dead pets will join them in the afterlife. And I’m sure many of them would laugh at the idea of transsubstantiation, if it was spelled out clearly to them.

  • Martin

    This, in fact, goes for all the Scandinavian countries and quite a large part of the European countries to boot.

    Naming your child, having your Confirmation, getting married and lastly being buried – have become rites of passage with the church as a setting. People dress up and there is a sort of gravity to the whole thing, yet having very little to do with religiosity of any kind.

    Someone pointed out that we in Scandinavia pay part of our tax to a state church (which you can opt out of if you so care), which is true and a very large part of the reason why people decide to hold these rights of passage within the church … its “free”.

    I think the main point here would be that rites of passage are a universal to all cultures, and that the Christian church has, for a long time, been able to convince us that they have a monopoly on said rights.

    While church attendance might be going down across the board in Europe, life stages and rites of passage are always going to be an integral part of our lives.

  • Bethor

    I rarely comment here but I feel like I have to share my perception of religion in France since it is rather different from Christophe’s above 😉

    Some actual evidence first : the most reliable source I could find (http://www.insee.fr/fr/ffc/docs_ffc/ip570.pdf) dates back to 1998 and already has 25% of the population saying they neither practice nor feel they belong to a religion. More recent sources (namely a CSA poll from 2007) say 31% of respondents identified as “non religious”; 51% as catholics. Of these, only 8% said they regularly attended mass.

    And now for some biased anecdotes and personal not-data 😉

    Easter is celebrated but for most people it only involves eggs and the easter bunny with no mention of Jesus. Christmas is likewise celebrated (even amongst all the atheists I know) but it only involves Santa and presents. I have never seen a manger outside of a church. Even the word for it (Christmas being called “Noël” in France) seems non religious (although it is, etymologically speaking, but I doubt many know that. I certainly didn’t until I looked it up a minute ago).

    I am personally not baptized. I do not know anyone who is religious amongst my close friends or my work colleagues.
    I have been two a church for something other than the historical value only twice in 27 years (both funerals). Of three deaths in my immediate family, two did not have a church service at all, simply a meeting at home and a burial. My father was baptized, my mother was not. Both are atheists, as were two out of four of my grandparents.

    I have never personally encountered anyone who believes animals have “souls”, either 😉

  • We had a Naming Day celebration for our son when he was about three months old, instead of baptism. We gathered friends and family to the house and had a small party to welcome him – it went down very well.

  • Ada

    I’m American and I live in Denmark with my Danish husband and our daughter. My husband has officially left the church and does not pay the church taxes.

    Like Lagunatic, my problem is with the lying. I don’t want to lie about believing in God or about raising my child in a faith when I know full well that I don’t and won’t. For this reason, we skipped the christening and just had a first birthday party. We still got presents and family reunion without having to lie.

    Note that no one cared that we did it this way. We got no flak at all for skipping the religion, and in fact it has been socially acceptable to have a ‘nonfirmation’ instead of a ‘confirmation’ for a long time. The fact is most people don’t care either way. They don’t care enough to buck convention and NOT get confirmed, but they also don’t care if other people choose not to. Danes are so laid back. 😉

    I have zero issues with, say, singing a song about Jesus at Yule, because to us, it’s just a story. It’s no different than singing about Santa. I’m not singing that I believe he’s real or that I worship him. I’m just singing that some baby was born in a barn, and a few breaths later I’m singing about a fat guy in the sky with reindeer. I’m fine with that. Christenings and confirmations go beyond that, IMO.

  • Riksa

    As an aside, as a Finn it always makes me warm inside to remember that our word for Christmas, Joulu, is derived from the pagan Yule. The same goes for you Swedes as well of course. We borrowed your word, after all. (An unexpected bonus for centuries of Swedish rule.) And we ain’t returning it, either. =)

  • muggle

    Why not skip the religious rites and just throw the party?

    That serves the need for the rite of passage or celebrating a major event. Most people just squirm through the religuous ritual anyway waiting for it to be over so they can get to the real celebrating anyway.

    So I say, skip the b.s. and go right to the party! Celebrate!

  • Riksa and a few others make a good point – there literally is no CHRIST in the Swedish CHRISTmas, because we celebrate Jul (Yule). A couple of years ago I wrote a post about how I personally celebrate christmas, and I think it’s fairly typical for Swedish families.


  • therowan

    The monotheistic religions have based their main holidays, ceremonies and sacred sites on top of ancient pagan – pre-monotheistic sites/rites and dates.
    Christmas and Easter are the ones I know the best. Christmas is actually “Yule”, or “Solstice”, as has been noted by other posters. Easter is the spring rite of birth and renewal. Thus the fertility symbols of eggs and bunnies.
    The Islamic temple mount is built upon the temple of Solomon, and if there were archaeological studies of underneath the Temple, I’m sure we’d find pagan relics.
    I’ve been to places where a Christian cross is blatantly on constructions that date waaaaay before Christianity arrived.
    It is how a new meme is created to obscure, usurp and deny the original intent of the local people.
    People who ask me about why I am celebrating Xmas get an earful. As far as I’m concerned the Christians and others have stolen the history of my pagan ancestors and can go ^*(%&^ themselves!
    Humans have an anthropomorphic need to mark the passage of milestones in our short linear lives.
    We are taking those human elements back form the theists, one holiday at a time.

  • For the record, this sounds a lot like the Congregationalist Church I was raised in. But here’s my question: is the Jesus nonsense necessary to the celebration, or can we write some more meaningful words for the occasion. I appreciate the beauty of Christianity-lite (liberal UCC, Church of Sweden), but I wonder if we can’t do better. That’s the project we Humanists are pursuing, which is, it seems, on parallel tracks with Christianity-lite (perhaps also describable as “Christian Humanism”).

    Also, Christmas is a secular holiday. The Christians stole the concept and the date from the pagans and threw Christ in there as an afterthought (Christ was actually born on July 3 or 4, I believe). Let’s be honest, Christmas is about peace on earth and spreading good will. That’s as humanistic as it gets.

  • Mikko

    I’m baptized but not confirmed and a few days a go i left the church of Sweden

  • KS

    I’m from Finland, that country right next to Sweden.

    I pretty much second that original post from Sweden. I’m an atheist, but I think it’s different in general to be one here than, say, in many parts of US.
    Finland is a Lutheran country with the best education system in the world(by research). I’d say this country’s culture is generally like the original poster described the same in Sweden.

    Both are generally highly educated countries, with relatively small dependance on the “ruling” of religion. I know that most of the people I know, don’t want to give up the originally-religious-traditions just for the sake of it being part of the culture. Belonging to church is pretty “harmless” and nobody really expects you to go to church often.

    Some (maybe) interesting facts:
    – Today there’s less than 80% of Finns that belong to church.
    – In 1981 it was 90%.
    – In 2000 it was down to 85%
    – In 2003, when the legistlation concerning the freedom of religion changed, Free Thinkers association opened the Eroakirkosta.fi website, through which you can resign from church with couple of clicks
    – Eroakirkosta.fi stimulated the resigning process and the convenience really made the difference for the decision making among people
    – I resigned in 2008
    – In 2008 alone, over 52,000 people resigned from the church (1% of the whole population)

    Estimate says, that by 2020, less than 70% belong to church in Finland.

    Everyone can make their own conclusions about relations between things, but is it a coincidence that Finland (all Nordic countries are pretty much like that) is the pioneer in equality of genders, has a woman president, is one of the least corrupted countries, again, has a high quality education system, etc.

    I don’t know anyone here, who DOESN’T believe in evolution. Some might believe that there could be something else in the beginning, but still wouldn’t deny the science.

  • patientia

    I wouldn’t celebrate those holidays/events if I lived in Sweden (as I don’t celebrate them here in Croatia) because I’m not a fan of kitsch and consumerism.

  • Neon Genesis

    And I, for one, am totally in favor of it. I think it’s a great way to keep a lot of the stuff that is genuinely useful and good and comforting about religion… without tying it to the unfalsifiable and unsupportable belief in an invisible friend. If I could convert to secular Judaism without feeling like an idiot, I’d seriously consider it.

    You should read John Shelby Spong’s book Why Christianity Must Change Or Die since he’s actually a progressive Christian who thinks the bible is just a story and in this book, he fully admits that the role of bishops is to wear fancy clothes and walk around: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Shelby_Spong

  • Neon Genesis

    But while I think you bring up some good points Greta, I disagree that progressives getting offended by anti-theistic critics claiming the mere existence of progressive Christians somehow enables fundamentalism and that no matter what they do to challenge fundamentalism, the anti-theists won’t be satisfiied until they join the true religion of anti-theism even though no one ever presents any evidence that their mere existence somehow enables them. If you have fundamentalists on the one hand accusing you of being evil and hellbound because you don’t belong to the true religion and anti-theists on the other hand accusing you of being insincere, liars, and untrustworthy on the other hand, wouldn’t you be offended too when it seems like people on all sides always have a complaint about you minding your own business? And before anyone suggests, yes, I have read Sam Harris and he still makes no sense to me.

  • Neon Genesis

    The edit button for some reason didn’t appear but I made typos in it. What I meant to say in the first part was “But while I think you bring up some good points Greta, I disagree that progressives getting offended by anti-theistic critics claiming the mere existence of progressive Christians somehow enables fundamentalism and that no matter what they do to challenge fundamentalism, the anti-theists won’t be satisfiied until they join the true religion of anti-theism even though no one ever presents any evidence that their mere existence somehow enables them means they are not sincere about religion being a metaphor. I don’t think they’re getting offended at mere criticism although some may do but because of inaccurate claims some anti-theists make about what progressives believe and do.”

  • Mountain Humanist

    Here’s my two cents about religion in general. I tend to view the phenomenon much like the famed mythologist Joseph Campbell did. We are coming (and will come) to a point where religion will be viewed much as it is in Sweden — a collection of myths that can nonetheless provide a framework for deeper philosophical discussions.

    In short, as long as people don’t literally believe in the content behind these rituals, it seems rather harmless. Of course we are not yet to the point where everyone simply takes them as myth but we are getting there. A Baptism, for example could be seen as a simple initiation into a larger community. One thing I think American culture lacks is any kind of real ritual for entering adulthood (beyond college). Our families don’t usually have any kind of shared rites of passage. I’ve been trying to think of some for my 14yo son (ideas are welcome — a secular bar mitvah?)

    The future of religious thought will very likely be like some of those “The Philosophy of” books you see.

    You know, “The Philosophy of the Simpsons,” “The Philosophy of House MD,” etc. People read those books because they are curious about the philosophical framework behind these shows or movies — not that they believe they are real but they want to know how the author weaves real philosophy into a fictional work.

    That’s how we will all someday view the ancient “holy” texts — interesting, possibly insightful but not literal. The same goes for rituals. We geeks, for example, may have parties or events in which we dress up as Star Wars characters (or Harry Potter). Even though we live out the philosophy of those characters to some degree, we all recognize it’s just a fun party (kind of like what the Swedish person was saying). We don’t literally believe we are part of the Empire or the Rebellion. However, such an event may bring up useful philosophical discussions (what lessons can we learn from Yoda, for example — What Would Yoda Do?).

    In short, as Sweden is, so will the rest of the world be one day. Anytime you want to see the future for the rest of us, I would recommend looking at the Scandinavian countries.

  • muggle

    Interesting, Mountain Humanist. You might have a point. My grandson’s been moaning about wanting a wand (we’re big Harry Potter fans; can you guess from my moniker) but has been learning in his first grade class the difference between fiction and nonfiction. I asked him, “You do know that Harry Potter’s fiction, don’t you? And that magic wands don’t really exist?” He was bummed for about a day then decided he wants one anyway. He decided that it was still cool for make believe anyway, like all his other toys.

  • Sheri

    I am a secular, atheist Jew, I guess…???   Well..the thing is that Christianity, for me, carries a legacy of persecution against my ancestors and as such is a detestable institution.   I don’t much care for Jewish traditions  either, but at least they don’t carry a legacy of hurting anyone like the church does.  Think of the Inquistion, for starters.   What it did to Jews, Muslims, and thousands of native Americans.   And think of Luther and his fierce anti-semitism … it carries a legacy.  Etc Etc.   And so the church is not free of associations that make it quite evil.   If  “Christian countries” ignore their churches’ pasts, they are still committing injustices.   It’s time for the ‘Official Churches’ in European countries to come out and speak of their pasts and make sure their members KNOW what they at least ONCE stood for, if they are free of such attitudes now (which I tend to doubt….).  The world is so marred by religion…how I would LOVE to see it gone for good!

  • Sheri

    Yes…I think they are Reconstructionists…but I won’t vouch for their all being atheists….more like spiritualists…..

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