Herland Report Newsletter

Hanne Nabintu Herland: The preservation of traditional Eurpean culture

Diversity and preservation of traditional culture are not contradictory

One of our times most renowned religion sociologist, Peter Bergers work is characterized by a dramatic mid-career transformation of his view on the role of religion in modern society. In one article Berger goes so far as to admit to a major mistake during his career as a sociologist: earlier he indicated that modernization would cause religion to decline.  He assumed that a globalized society would gradually lead to religious alienation.

A society characterized by modern diversity need not be equated with a break with traditional religion. In Peter Berger and the Study of Religion Europe’s growing godlessness stands as a major exception in relation to the rest of the world, where modernization has proceeded hand in hand with a persistent religious faith.  The separation of church and state has, however, placed religion in a new and more distant position in the public sphere.

Even so it must be said that spirituality plays an equally important today as it has in the past. People continue to be religious in modern society. They find new ways to approach central cultural values derived from traditional religion and find modern expressions for worship and the search for inner peace. Diversity and pluralism in a global society are not in opposition with preserving one’s own cultural identity. Neither does diversity necessitate a situation where it is necessary to relegate religion to the private sphere. According to Berger, USA’s ethnic melting pot constitutes good evidence for this. A basic tenet of American culture is full religious freedom with a high level of respect for any and all faithful, even though American culture rests fundamentally on Western Christian values.

In Nasjonalstaten. Velferdsstatens grunnlag (The national state. The foundation of the welfare state), Professor Sigurd Skirbekk at the University of Oslo states that there is no justification for allegations about the inappropriateness of national pride on the basis of omission of others. National identity is not contradictory to universal human rights or in the way for necessary processes of globalization. Diversity need not conflict with nationalism as long as emigrants abide by the laws and regulations of their new homeland.

Europe’s socialist regimes force an artificial religious antagonism on citizens

Europe stands today as one of the most secularized and spiritually antagonistic regions in the world. One of the reasons for this development is the Protestant Church’s indecisive attitudes and lack of conviction in the teaching of classic Christianity. This has been especially apparent in Scandinavia’s Lutheran contexts.  For decades the leadership of the Scandinavian Church has feebly permitted their more or less atheistic employers to dictate policy as well as direction. The State’s control over the Church has been enabled by regulations that assured the secular authorities’ supervision of Christian education at all times. Politicians in many countries have consciously exploited this position of power. Politicization of the Church is also apparent in the Anglican Church in Great Britain. In fact, strong internal splits threaten to blast the global Anglican Church into bits.

It has long been recognized that the Church, as a conservative authority in society, poses a challenge for progressive liberal-value forces. To seek political control over the Protestant Church as a state institution, with the goal of directing it away from traditional Christianity, has clearly been a successful postwar political practice. The leaders of the Church have selected to ignore this process. The Norwegian theologian Eskil Skjeldal points out that for many years the Church has allowed itself to be pressured into following the state-dictated ideology of inclusion. Rather than present a manifest Christianity, this ideology consists of reducing the Christian message to a popular humanistic cult. Fear of not appeasing politicians has robbed the Church of its ecclesiastical backbone, and further divested modern society of the critical voice of this institution.

The influence of elite powers, through, for example, the right of political authorities to appoint bishops, results in a severe restriction of the true religious freedom of the Church. When politicians wield the authority to dictate changes in the Church’s dogma, any reforms clearly will reflect political goals. This process has gone on for years. Skjeldal points out that the church’s problem does not lie at the grassroots level, but at the top, in the vague fog that soon surrounds every bishop or leader of any Church committee, council, or board. The problem exists centrally, where power over the Church’s profile is administered.

In an eagerness to be a Church for everyone and fearful of not staying abreast of the times, the Church has lost its Christian identity. And people respond by not attending the state-controlled and anemic church services. It is appropriate to recall the words of the world renowned founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth, who said that the greatest threat in the next century was to become a religion without the Holy Spirit, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without changed behavior, politics without God, and heaven without hell.

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