Interesting article recently in the NYT about lack of interest among Scandinavians concerning God or ‘the meaning of life.’ Scandinavian Nonbelievers, Which Is Not to Say Atheists reports the findings of Phil Zuckerman, who “spent 14 months in Scandinavia, talking to hundreds of Danes and Swedes about religion,” and finding “a society — a markedly irreligious society — that was, above all, moral, stable, humane and deeply good.”
It’s not, according to this article, that the Danes and Swedes are anti-religious or even atheistic. Most consider themselves Lutheran and belong to a church, though they deny “most of the traditional teachings of Christianity.” It’s more that religion is just a non-issue: “Religion, in their view, is ‘nice.’ Jesus ‘was a nice man who taught some nice things.’ The Bible ‘is full of nice stories and good morals, isn’t it?’
(If you think the Bible is full of nice stories, you haven’t much of read it — and they probably haven’t.)
Dig a little deeper and there seems to be a mild taboo against thinking or talking too much about God: “‘In Denmark,’ a pastor told Mr. Zuckerman, ‘the word ‘God’ is one of the most embarrassing words you can say. You would rather go naked through the city than talk about God.'”
The article compares this apparent lack of interest in religion, and lack of practice of it, with the long-standing idea that people are hardwired for religion, for a belief in something “that might be considered ‘sacred,’ at least in the sense of something ‘that would justify, if necessary, the sacrifice of our lives.'” On that score, Zuckerman tries briefly to make a case that there’s a ‘cultural religion’ in these countries, consisting of meaningful civic rituals (tied in name only to Christianity) but I don’t think he comes up with anything sacred enough to inspire sacrifice.
On the one hand, I wonder if this is a society where, for whatever reason(s), there isn’t the sort of violence seen in most cultures, and so there isn’t a need for religion, for any sacred violence to contain all-against-all profane violence. From a mimetic theory perspective, I’d ask whether the Swedes and Danes are for some reason either not socially mimetic (and why not?); why, if they are mimetic, does their mimesis not reach troublesome levels of rivalry and violence as it does in most cultures – something inherent to the structure of the society?; and is the society held together by some unity or unanimity other than a sacred one, and if so, what is it?
On the other hand, taboos are part and parcel of religion, and a taboo about speaking of ‘God’ in polite conversation is very interesting to me. If there is little or no meaning attached to Christianity in Denmark or Sweden, why would it matter if people talked about God freely? Maybe there is an unconscious awareness that attaching one’s identity too strongly to the sacred brings about violence?