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Who is really out of place when a religious service opens parliament?

Who is really out of place when a religious service opens parliament?

Published: 19 Sep 2011 17:51 GMT+02:00
Updated: 19 Sep 2011 17:51 GMT+02:00

Sweden Democrat leader Jimmy Åkesson's complaint that an imam 'politicised' the religious service that opened the Riksdag last week, raises an interesting point about the place of religion and in Swedish politics, argues contributor Ruben Brunsveld.

When the temperature starts to drop below 10 degrees Celsius and the warmth of the sun starts to fade, you know it’s time for the opening of the parliamentary year in Stockholm's historic ‘Storkyrkan’.

It's an event accompanied by many beautiful Swedish traditions.

But since last year it seems that a new tradition has been added to the opening of the Riksdag: Sweden Democrats complaining about the ceremony.

This year, party leader Jimmy Åkesson complained that the presence of an imam and a rabbi in the ceremony last Thursday politicised what was supposed to be a religious event and a moment of reflection.

He continues his lament by saying that he is not against inter-religious dialogue as such, but that the opening of the parliamentary year is not the time or place for it.

On the latter we can actually agree.

The position of the Church of Sweden in Swedish society continues to fascinate me with its mix of Catholic, Lutheran and animistic symbols and rituals.

Although the vast majority of Swedes claim to be atheist they, nevertheless celebrate Saint Lucia more fanatically than their own birthday (or name day for that matter).

My Swedish friends tell me it is more culture then religion.

“Don’t worry we do not mix the worldly with the divine!” they say.

Yet until recently, Swedish citizens were automatically born into membership in the Swedish Church.

Moreover, a religious wedding ceremony is still binding before the law and here we are in Storkyrkan (lit. 'the big church') celebrating the opening of the parliamentary year.

A fascinating contradiction, it seems, for a country so proud of its strongly rooted sense of secularism.

This time, the confusion seems to come forth out of the fact that the ceremony serves a double purpose.

It is both a religious ceremony and a political one.

If it were primarily a political one, you could wonder what the imam, rabbi, pastor and all other clergymen were doing there.

The royal family, as representatives of the state, would still have a function, but representatives of all faiths would be superfluous.

If on the other hand the ceremony is primarily a ‘Gudstjänst’ (worship service) as Åkesson describes it, it seems not the clergymen, but the politicians are out of place!

If he is right in his description, then it is not the imam, rabbi, and pastor, but Åkesson and the other politicians who are intruding and politicising the ceremony.

The problem is that the world is once again not as black and white as Åkesson would like it to be.

Politicians base their views on their personal experiences and upbringing, including their religious beliefs.

And although Åkesson is in claiming that, for centuries, the basis for the shared value system in Sweden has been Christianity, he will have to accept that for many Swedes, other religions now play an important role.

He writes that Swedish society is kept alive and vital by traditions and by honouring those who came before.

That is absolutely true.

But it is equally true that society is kept alive by change. By new views, new people and yes new blood.

No matter how much he would like to, he cannot turn Sweden into an open-air museum of the 1950s.

The sooner he realizes this the better, because this yearly lamentation is one tradition Sweden can easily live without.

Ruben Brunsveld is the Director of the Stockholm Institute for Public Speaking (StIPS), which offers training in Intercultural Communication, Public Speaking & Negotiation Techniques

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Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

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Your comments about this article

20:38 September 19, 2011 by AbangBeruang
Ditto! Love it! Ruben, you made the point!
22:05 September 19, 2011 by Heuristics
>"Although the vast majority of Swedes claim to be atheist"

This is not the case, at most about 1/3 are atheists (whenever you see high numbers about this on the interwebtubes they always include agnostics in the atheist figure which makes the figure about 2x higher then it should be) and if you spend some time talking to them about these things you will find that they have beliefs about such things as ghosts, auras and aliens. Some even have complete eschatologies of machines taking over the world.

Now is it out of place for politicians to be involved in the church? Not according to the church or the political parties, the Swedish church is a democratic church where many political parties (from the government) routinely run for office in church elections.
23:14 September 19, 2011 by space2
Actually it is: the government and the church HAS to be separated. And on paper it is... so why it's not separated in reality? The current situation just increases the number of agnostics.

And if you want to see what happens when the church and government is not separated, look at the USA: in Texas schools can choose to teach "intelligent design" and/or "creationism" INSTEAD of evolution. In Greece they plan to ban any social security (or other personal number) which contain the number 666. They were even thinking of not letting tourists in who have 666 in their passport number. (http://www.cogwriter.com/news/religious-news/greek-orthodox-concerned-about-666/)
23:49 September 19, 2011 by jostein
"But it is equally true that society is kept alive by change. By new views, new people and yes new blood. "

This change lacks a democratic mandate since it was never put to the people. And thus the rift is turning into an abyss that will consume us all.
08:29 September 20, 2011 by bells on the knight
please note that islam and the state is NOT segregated. the ultimate goal of islam is to turn the world into totalitarian islamic ruling.

is this how you want to live in sweden - like saudi arabia?
11:25 September 20, 2011 by Grokh
Why was any religion used?

Why have a religious service to anything related to the government in a secular country ?

islam is an evangelical right wing religious based political ideology.

I dont even need to tell the bad stuff that comes with it.

christians have their own ideologies of how to burn gays and whatnot.

separate the insanity from politics plz.
13:14 September 20, 2011 by jamesblish
Agnostics and atheists SHOULD be counted as one as the point is to count the number of non-religious people. Atheists (and religious people) are nothing but un-enlightened agnostics btw. They're making the same basic mistake claiming to have definite knowledge about something which is not proven or even prove-able.
13:33 September 20, 2011 by gabeltoon
bells on the knight #5. Your thought brings to mind a comment i heard while travelling in europe a few years ago, that within the next decade europe will become islamic. This puzzled me for along time but as things are turning out these days it could be right. Are we as a christian society of europe going back to the days of the crusaids.If we are not careful then christianity will disapear soon.The islamic countries have there traditions and culture which they keep alive but let them stay in these countries.Seems to me that we are giving up our traditions and culture all for the name of intergration.
13:50 September 20, 2011 by Value
>this yearly lamentation

This columnist has no idea what he's writing about.

If you want to get rid of insanity get rid of atheism, especially of fundamentalist atheism.
14:54 September 20, 2011 by Kibitz
Again,. I think the topic of religion is almost laughable in a country that is 98% athiest, and just about all the churches sit empty and are nothing more than museums and community centers.
20:39 September 20, 2011 by Tanskalainen
I am not a Lutheran but I'd sure like to ball Jimmy's fiance.
10:10 September 21, 2011 by sjuttiosjusköterskorpåsjukhuset
@Kibitz, #10: True, so very true. And the irony of it all is that irreligion is what is becoming the ethnic Scandinavian's downfall more and more each passing day. Sad, so very sad, that they don't see it that way. I will pray for them.
10:58 September 21, 2011 by Kibitz
sjuttiosjusköterskorpåsjukhuset , I couldn't have said it better. I will pray for them too.

My daughter has choir practice in of all places.... a 14th century old sitting vacant church in our town. My wife and countless other moms get together several times a year and host large loppis ( flea market) in which they sell hundreds of childrens garments at of all places.. the old abandoned church.

Most people can't even remember back far enough when there actually was a church service held there. In fact except for the fact that over 80% of swedes are born into the the Church of Sweden automatically. Ironically as much as sweden preaches that church and state should never be intergrate., the Church of Sweden ( Luthern) is run and operated by the state and regularly is involved in all of the political process ( the Social Democrats, the Moderates and the Centre Party).
12:18 September 21, 2011 by Jes
The Catholic religion is the ONLY TRUE christian church that was founded by JESUS .Jesus does not knom "Luthern"

If one is going to collect religious leader for a ceremony , it makes no sense at all to invite and Immam and a Rabbi , but not the arch-bishop of the Catholic church .
14:42 September 21, 2011 by Tysknaden
I don't believe in Atheismn. Human beings have this need for something, they can believe/ what they can hope for. This void becomes filled, anyways. Sometimes with horrible things, sometimes with things beautiful.
14:47 September 21, 2011 by engagebrain
13:50 September 20, 2011 by Value wrote If you want to get rid of insanity get rid of atheism, especially of fundamentalist atheism.

fundamentalist atheism !

No such thing - there is(are) no god(s) -

What has changed in the last few hundred years is that we can say there are no gods and ask the believers to explain how they can worship something that gives every appearance of not existing - and laugh a little.
15:06 September 21, 2011 by Jes
Etheism does not exist , it is a myth that even the ones who call themselves etheists cannot define .

Simple wisdom says that an intelligent person cannot be opposed to something that ( he thinks ) does not exist .
16:14 September 21, 2011 by Rick Methven
Etheism does not exist

18:01 September 21, 2011 by Tysknaden
@engagebrain: Did you never wonder... about the fact of so many people feeling God inside their hearts? And the human wish for the existence of God - does he really come only from education - or is he a part of human condition? Why is it, our brains are always on the search for spiritual things?

And do you really think, our sense organs or our machines can see everything? There are more than three dimensions. There is Quantum theory.
20:41 September 21, 2011 by Kibitz
engagebrain ,

The Bible definition of faith tells us that 'faith is a substance;' a spiritual substance which resides in a believer's mind. Though faith is as invisible as thought, faith is infinitely more powerful than thought. Faith motivates thought, which in turn expresses itself in words or deeds (often called works).

The opposite of faith is doubt. Doubt is also a substance with enormous latent power. On the Day of Judgement a person's faith or doubt will act as evidence for or against him/her.

Deut:32: 20: And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.

Hab:2: 4: Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him:

but the just shall live by his faith.

Today, you can witness a growing trend around the world of new believers from scientist and physicists to scholars and historians who have commonly been atheist. Most were like those here in Sweden who feel that god is a product of ignorance, due to lack of scientific knowledge. The bigger arrogance however is feeling that there isn't a power or life force in our universe greater than mankind. All the while living in a world created by God.
03:05 September 22, 2011 by Value
"The bigger arrogance however is feeling that there isn't a power or life force in our universe greater than mankind. All the while living in a world created by God."

I completely agree, Kibitz. Well said.
11:17 September 22, 2011 by Jes
Helo Rick Methven , don`t worry , it was just one of those misses of mine .

But the point was that atheism is nothing but a cheap attempt to cop-out.
15:21 September 22, 2011 by Streja
Kibitz, you're wrong. The Church of Sweden is not run by the state and people are not born into the church. Perhaps you should do some research before commenting.
15:22 September 22, 2011 by cogito

Refreshing to see someone who can think logically here (your #18).

Pay no mind to Constable Rick, the language cop. The irony is that he makes more grammatical and spelling gaffes than most of those who have English as a second or third language.
17:58 September 22, 2011 by Kibitz
On 1 January 2000 a separation of church and state was enacted in Sweden. On that day, the Church of Sweden legally became a "faith-community" which, along with others like the free churches, Roman Catholics, Jews, Moslems etc, could now register themselves as such with the state. Their church dues can then be collected by the state along with income tax.

The fee the members of the Church of Sweden pay to the church finances about 80 percent of church activities.

The state church decisions in Sweden which came into effect in the year 2000 are often described as a separation of State and Church in Sweden. But there are still several links between the Swedish State and the Church of Sweden. The changes have led to closer relations between the State and the other churches and denominations.

The financial affairs of the Church of Sweden illustrate the long connection with the state. All members are liable to pay church dues, collected by the state with the taxes and, under the new system, handed over to the church to finance all its operations, which include the maintenance of all its historic buildings. For this latter item the church is to receive extra money from the state and has to obtain expert agreement to any restoration or alteration.

International Religious Freedom Report:

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor:

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Church of Sweden, formerly the state church, effectively became separated from the State in 2000; however, it still receives some state support from the State.

With the continuing decline in membership ( monthly dues) The Church of Sweden is left with ponder if whether its is a relevant institution in Swedish society.
23:59 September 22, 2011 by esvahnt
i thoght sweden was a cristian country

other practitioners should look for better countries to practize their religion

please let us alone

eve when some enjoy denying it we are mostly christians
00:36 September 23, 2011 by Value
I do hope that Sweden is still Christian, esvahnt. It would be really good for the Swedes.
11:55 September 23, 2011 by engagebrain
Tysknaden wrote Did you never wonder... about the fact of so many people feeling God inside their hearts? And the human wish for the existence of God

We have a range of sense organs which can be tested etc - we also get sensations wrong: people experience pain from amputated limbs, a heart attack presents as pain in the arms, there are optical illusions and some feel god in their hearts. Some people hear voices that nobody else and no machine can detect - nobody takes these voices and sensation seriously, unless the claim is that this is god and for no obvious reason the rest of the population is expected to take this seriously.

These communications with god never provide anyt useful or testable information - where is my lost watch.

If there actually is a god, this god should be detectable. You might wish to explain, or even ask your god, why it invests so much effort to not exist. A god does not have to be undetectable and avoid any kind of meaningful discussion. A real god might actually explain why why some suffer terribly and how they created the world. it would also be interesting to know if god really told Tony Blair that the Gulf war was Ok by him.
15:25 September 23, 2011 by tadchem
Hellooo! The Riksdag is a political body, by DEFINITION. Åkesson is a fool for complaining that the presence of an imam and a rabbi in the ceremony "politicised" the opening. But then as a party leader, he himself is a political beast to whom religion is a tool of political expedience.
16:53 September 23, 2011 by graceolsson
Church is Church, STATE is STate,....And between them are the human being,.,..Does not matter if the Swede are or not religious, the church has a power in Sweden that I did not know...I was surprised when I discovered that at Uppsala University you take a Master´s degree in HUmanitarian Action and you receive an award in Theology. I couldn´t accept it...I don´t see any conection...

Most of the Swdes pay dues WHY they want to protect the buildings and their history...ONLY that.

Last but not least, to accept the religious is one thing..other, totally different is the church interferes on the power of state...It´s remind me South American Continent....For example...Brazil....the politician go to the church before to decide the fate of a people...

it´s horrible.
19:09 September 23, 2011 by CITGAB
It is important to remember that the repudiation of organized sectarian 'religion' is not necessarily the same as the repudiation of the concept of 'God'. Jesus himself said that he came to "fulllfil the law [of God] and to abolish the customs and traditions of men." It is the latter not the former that many people today are rejecting.

Many still retain a basic belief in the existence of a 'higher power', a moral center superior to earthly logic and pragmatism. This spirituality does not require one to reject logic or science. There are instances where reason alone does not provide an answer to life's challenges. It is at these moments that we can call upon our spiritual faith for guidance. It is to faith that we turn when all else fails.
22:18 September 24, 2011 by Iraniboy
Atheism is also a religion. They even have a God and call it Spagetti... . So that should be out of the politic too. The only solution is that politic completely free from any sort of religion. I think Sweden does a a great job in this regard in comparison with other countries.
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