"Europe 2004-05" story # 19

Umea, Sweden           September 15, 2004

Hey, everybody!
     I've recently encountered some new ideas, on the subject of religion, that I'd never thought of before. Since new ideas can help us get a fuller understanding of the world, I thought I'd pass them on. Who am I kidding, of course I'm gonna pass them on!
     A loud Swedish guy at a party in Umea kept asking me questions about the U.S. and George W. Bush and philosophical stuff. Eventually, he said, "You know, it's weird. The U.S. seems like a very developed country, and yet, at the same time, so many of the people there are so religious."
     I was surprised. It was the first time I'd ever heard it suggested that there was a negative correlation between religious following and development. In the USA, alternatively, society often considers a person primitive if he DOESN'T believe in religion.
     I don't know that the loud guy necessarily convinced me of anything. He was trying to say that belief in the unseen and unproven was illogical. So, I began to play devil's advocate - pardon the term - and asked the philosophical guy what proof he'd seen - with his own eyes - that evolution and such things had taken place. He responded, "Sometimes you just have to have faith ..." He caught his slip-up. "... in our scientists."

Anders Nordim, the dark-ponytailed cow-farmer I visited, also thought religion and development didn't fit well together. In Sweden, few people - some say 5% of the population - are religious. I told Anders that in the USA, alternatively, society often considers a person primitive if he DOESN'T believe in a religion. There's a lot of pressure in the States for a person to accept faith in some God.
     One day in Sweden, Anders and I were taking a coffee and tea break when Anders received a visitor. The visitor was a young man with a short, neat, blond haircut. He'd come to offer to sell one of his business's machines. He and Anders talked business then chatted some, and then the visitor left.
     Anders told me, "That guy is very smart. He's a farmer. He's always changing his crops, depending on which one is most valuable." One year, the guy would raise this crop, the next year that crop. "I don't like him."
     The guy also had his own sales business. Anders didn't like him because he could never trust what the guy said. The guy was Christian. He was a manipulative salesperson and well-off.
     Anders said he thought Christians - based on the morality they claim and the image of generosity they generate - should be trustworthy people. But, the more Christians he met, the more he discovered they could be tricky businessmen and out for themselves.
     Anders told that in the south of Sweden, a city called Uppsala was home to big Christian congregations. Members of these churches had collectively bought many of the country's big businesses and other powerful institutions. Based upon the Christian idea that followers ought to be caring and unselfish, Anders found it strange that so many Christians are sly, upper-class businessmen.
     I told Anders that mainstream American Christians - well, the white ones - are also often well-off and wealth-seeking people. I told Anders I had no idea why this was. It had always seemed strange to me.
     We went on conversing, trading ideas and learning from each other.
     At one point, Anders asked what had been the origin and cause of me personally becoming different from the average American.
     Ooh, good question. I thought back and struggled to find an answer. I hadn't been particularly smart when I was young, I remembered. Many people would say I'm even dumber now. I've never in my life had a strong desire for money. But, the final answer was:
     "When I was young, I used to always want to be free. I didn't like people telling me what to do." I still want to be free.
     I want to be free, and I care about everyone else and want them to be free too. The opposite of my want, I think, would be a want for personal power ... personal power to control or have more than others. And, money - when one has more money than the average person - is clearly the equivalent to such power.

The other day in Umea, I was reading a novel about children. Swedish rumors witnessed that "Popularmusik fran Vittula" by Mikael Niemi is hillarious.
     One of the characters is a quiet, six-year-old boy. All the children in his family are quiet. Their parents are members of a strict Christian sect named "Laestadianism," or something else in English, named for Lars Levi Laestadius.
     We later learn that the quiet boy's father is controlling and abusive. The father had followed a strict version of Christianity his whole life. But, then, he stopped believing, and "in the Lord's place he inserted himself" - wrote Niemi.
     And, then, something struck me. I had a revelation.
     The Christian God, in simplest terms, is "power." He tells people how to live. He can kill them by merely willing a natural disaster. He brings them good fortune and bad luck and can teach them lessons. He can save them or damn them. He has hundreds of millions of followers who build churches to Him, pray to Him, give donations to Him, and worship Him.
     People worship Him. They worship Him who is Almighty, Him who is "power." It seems only natural that if people worship something, they will then emulate it.
     I don't know if this makes logical sense to anyone reading it, I don't know if it makes logical sense to me, but it's something to think about.
     So, maybe that's why many relgious types really crave money. What are we worshipping?
     And, if we keep trying to have power over one another on this earth, how can we all get along?

later, Modern Oddyseus.

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