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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Spirituality: God, spirituality, making comeback in Europe?

Wall Street Journal's Andrew Higgins recounts:
Late last year, a Swedish hotel guest named Stefan Jansson grew upset when he found a Bible in his room. He fired off an email to the hotel chain, saying the presence of the Christian scriptures was "boring and stupefying." This spring, the Scandic chain, Scandinavia's biggest, ordered the New Testaments removed.

In a country where barely 3% of the population goes to church each week, the affair seemed just another step in Christian Europe's long march toward secularism. Then something odd happened: A national furor erupted. A conservative bishop announced a boycott. A leftist radical who became a devout Christian and talk-show host denounced the biblical purge in newspaper columns and on television. A young evangelical Christian organized an electronic letter-writing campaign, asking Scandic: Why are you removing Bibles but not pay-porn on your TVs?

Scandic, which had started keeping its Bibles behind the front desk, put the New Testament back in guest rooms.

"Sweden is not as secular as we thought," says Christer Sturmark, head of Sweden's Humanist Association, a noisy assembly of nonbelievers to which the Bible-protesting hotel guest belongs.

Now, it's worth paying attention to what really happened here. When secularism got started, most people thought it meant that you wouldn't be forced to read the Bible.

No one thought it meant that you wouldn't have a Bible in your room, but would have porn TV. How religious do people need to be to see what is wrong with that picture?

The article goes on to offer a "business" explanation for Sweden's religious revival:
Now even Europe, the heartland of secularization, is raising questions about whether God really is dead. The enemy of faith, say the supply-siders, is not modernity but state-regulated markets that shield big, established churches from competition. In America, where church and state stand apart, more than 50% of the population worships at least once a month. In Europe, where the state has often supported -- but also controlled -- the church with money and favors, the rate in many countries is 20% or less.

Personally, I'm surprised that even 2% of people would want to attend a church run by the government, but heck, what do I know?

Higgins' article is most interesting, and full of insight and good sense about public policy. It explains everything except the revival itself. But Higgins is not to blame for that. An authority on religious revivals has said,
You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

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