BreakPoint Blog

Gosh, Those Swedes Are Nice, Aren't They?

Books_society_without_god And, as a rule, they're godless.

Lisa Graham McMinn gives a good review at of Phil Zuckerman's book Society without God, which examines the phenomenon of those remarkably contented, friendly, and irreligious Scandinavians.

When he was in Sweden five years ago, Dave the Swede encountered uniformly healthy, handsome, happy people who were remarkably friendly towards this American of Swedish descent. As he traveled the countryside with his Pop . . . wait, I can't keep this third-person thing up . . . sorry, LeeQuod. As I traveled all over Sweden with my dad and my oldest son, we were all struck at the remarkable lack of poverty, the prosperous, picture-postcard-perfect farms, the lack of trash and graffiti (which plagues much of Germany and Holland). Even the churches were immaculate--even though I'm told they are more museums than places of worship.

Why was everyone so nice, and why was everything so neat and clean and pleasant? And this in a notably post-Christian society? We asked ourselves these questions after the trip. We had no answers.

Guess I'll have to check out the book and see what Zuckerman thinks.

(Image © NYU Press)


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Vikingmother, I saw that film -- less, I fear, out of a love for Swedish history than out of a love for William Holden. :-) Good movie.
Another brief comment - Who wouldn't have some measure of peaceableness in a small country where socialism with a few million people - might work much better than in a large country---where most people have shared history, cultural background, ...where there has been no significant war damage, deaths, emotional destruction for.....many generations, where they (as far as I know) do not fear some neighbor shelling them, enslaving their young girls, conquering their country... Why wouldn't such people appear placid & happy? Their boats have not been rocked..much. Tho I suspect some Swedes (if put to the test) might return to the faith maybe their grandparents had...
Re Swedes & WWII - Here's a 1962 spy/love/true life movie which is pretty good...The Counterfeit Traitor.. --- with William Holden playing Swedish Oil exec Erick Erickson who first is blackmailed into spying for the Allies who wish to destroy the oil reserves. Then---he gets on board emotionally & morally to help take out Nazi oil... US General Eisenhower is supposed to have credited him with knocking possibly a year off WWII. ===
Helen: Thanks very much for your thoughts. Fascinating about "lagom." You are absolutely right about Americans' attitudes about the word "average." No one wants to be "average." Especially, no one wants their children to be merely "average." "Normal" is another word that is either greeted with scorn (unless referring to a medical condition!)or rejected in the sense of, "there is no such thing as 'normal.' " As for contentment, I think many Americans crave contentment but never achieve it because they have no earthly idea as to what could cause them to be content. Contentment is usually thought of in terms of career, possessions, and income. There's always something "more" we seem to want. And that includes us American Christians as well. Perhaps that's why "New and improved" and "bigger and better" are the key phrases in American marketing. I'm rambling now. Thanks again for joining in the discussion.
I suppose I should follow through on my comments. Dave asked what kind of anti-biblical lawmaking had been passed, and I'll include a link for you to look at for those who may find this of interest: It has made preaching against homosexuality a crime. Further, I think there is a misconception regarding Sami and Finns. There is NO racial discrimination against these groups WHATSOEVER and I am not quite sure where this fact has arisen from. It is true that Samis have expressed a will to create a separate state, however this opinion is represented by a minority and not something that's been pursued aggressively. I would also add further to the discussion (for the sake of interesting thought-provocation), that the niceness, and Socialist imposed equality has been outright demotivating for an entire population. The seemingly beautiful concept of "all men are equal" in Swedish terms has resulted in "no one can be different". Education outright discourages ambition and extravagance of any sort (again, I'm generalising and obviously drawing from my own experience). The result is that many people who have the potential of becoming something extraordinary will be conformed into being 'ordinary'. The concept of being 'average' is important, and there's a term which I think captures a lot of the Swedes mentality, namely "lagom" which means something close to 'just right'. Interestingly the English/American connotation for both 'ordinary and 'average' word is not really positive, but often implies 'boring', 'not interesting' and even 'below average' (am I right?). All these concepts are strong words indicating 'the right balance' and so encaptures the culture. Contentment is highly prized, whereas my impression is that in America contentment is anything but! At this point, I have invited some other Swedes which may be able to give other angles to this debate, as I feel my viewpoint is only one person's view, and I am in no position to claim to be right about it all!
Every country has its problems:
So, now, wait -- if Jason's dad's theory is correct and all the hot-tempered, aggressive Vikings ran away to America, how come they are so cranky now? Is it because they no longer have an outlet (aside from ice hockey and football) for their warlike ways? Sort of a violence deprivation syndrome? LeeQuod, I had wondered if it was kindergarten Grendel did not want to attend .... now I'm relieved I didn't insult you! Seriously, I agree that sensitivity training *does not work* ! When my husband's coworker, too fond of jokes using the "n" word and job assignments tagged with remarks like "That's where blanks like you belong -- at the end of a shovel," was reprimanded for civil rights violations, he went off to sensitivity training for two weeks, and came back just as hateful but much cannier about how to express it. Blech. We concluded sensitivity classes exist solely for the sake of lawsuit-proofing big companies. But I am wandering far from our Scandinavian subject matter so I will stop ....
Of course LeeQuod, you might recall that Sweeden hasn't been a major power since Karl XII which does make for unaggressiveness and lack of authoritarianism. As for cooperation and civility, well, I don't know. Of course my Dad has another theory. He says most of the really viking-like Scandinavians ran away to America leaving the nice ones back in the old country. Seeing as Scandinavian Americans include, Arleigh Burke, Knut Rockne, Charles Lindburgh, Buzz Aldrin, and Viggo Mortensen; he might be on to something.
"Grendel" is actually LeeQuod, who sometimes forgets to fill in the personal info when he uses a different computer. Particularly when in a fit of pique. But I admit, Rachel, that it's an apt alter-ego designation for me. And so far I've managed to avoid mandatory sensitivity training. People I've known who have had to take it came away with more sensitive behavior, and improved skills in hiding any insensitive thoughts and feelings, but waaaaay increased hostility. Enough to cause some real trouble for any nearby Geats, I would imagine. Hmmm - meditating on Beowulf's timeframe, I find it interesting that a country famous for producing the Vikings (among others) would now be known for non-aggression, peaceful cooperation, absence of authoritarianism and an emphasis on civility. I'm grateful to Olof Skötkonung and Inge Stenkilsson, for without their kingdoms back then, today we might find DtS pillaging The Point instead of leading it.
Maybe Grendel is unhappy because Grendel does not want to attend compulsory sensitivity class?
Is that Grendel I hear growling just behind me?
JT wrote: "As for education, it is not clear that it produces reconciliation." It would be egregious thread-hijacking for me to rant here about liberals' promotion of education (a matter of the head) as the cure for sociological conflicts (matters of the heart). So I won't. But I'm thinking it, *loudly*. Maybe some other Point blogger will let me vent sometime. grrrrr... Uff da! (stomp, stomp, stomp...)
The problem with the liberal idea of reconciliation programs is that they tend to have a ham-handed bureaucratic idea of how to go about what is actually a rather difficult job(a smarmy official telling you that you are SUPPOSED to get along with someone can be irritating) and tend to patronize their subjects and can't understand why someone might think it his duty to hate. In any case the idea allows for hatred but not ambition: a considerable amount of human conflict was fought by people who had no actual dislike for each other. Be that as it may one can easily see why someone from the Middle East might place their hopes in such things seeing as how much of the local history is wrapped up in centuries long feuds. As for education, it is not clear that it produces reconciliation. It can very easily make more efficient terrorists. And an intellectual can easily feel alienated and romanticizing ancient feuds is one way of trying to connect to ones roots. On the other hand, all that may just prove that people are going about it the wrong way. I have long thought that liberals(probably many conservatives too but perhaps chiefly liberals)cannot really comprehend traditional societies and that makes them ill-fitted to deal with them.
Helen, I'm SO glad you have entered this conversation (one you may feel I dragged you into by my original post ... Sorry for being presumptuous). We're all enriched by hearing your voice, especially since I know you both as a "cheerful" Swede and a Christian.
Helen: On the contrary, thank you for bringing it back to a Christian perspective! Could you give us some examples of the "anti-biblical" lawmaking? I assume it has mostly to do with speech issues?
This is all very interesting to me because I have a Kurdish friend who was brought up in Sweden. She is a Christian (raised a Christian, in both Iran and Sweden) and very interested in peacemaking between nations as a future career. The thing that struck me most about her was how liberal she is, and how her solutions to world problems focus heavily on education and reconciliation programs between individuals of different societies. This post has been very thought-provoking. I haven't asked her much about Sweden but I'm thinking maybe I should ask her more about it.
The cheerful Swede here (haha). Didn't mean to infer that Swedes are all peaceful and that the reason for "nice-ness" is the lack of authority. It is too incomplete and simply untrue to claim that's the whole story.. Further, it is a gross generalisation to claim that the family is like that, but it's just a measure against other societies. I'd also like to say that the 'tensions' referred to between Swedes and Norwegians are not really true, as it's mostly on an affectionate shallow level. I feel great love and fondness of Norway and admiration for its historiacal courage during the Hitler-era, a period I think most Swedes feel rather ashamed over. To bring this conversation back on track to the Christian perspective (sorry DtS...), I do dare to say that the virtual replacement of religion by materialism and Socialism (or at least its attempt to!!) has been a destrucive one for the spiritual welfare of the country. The climete is very anti-Christian, in particular media. Taking a stance or having any opinion as a christian is met with aggressive opposition, recent lawmaking has even been outright anti-biblical. Having lived in UK for 15 something years now, I notice this even stronger as an "outsider" when go back home. But I love my country-men deeply, and find their cool reserved polite-ness on the outside beautiful, while knowing that under the surface there's a genuine depth and warmth, and limitless hunger for God (even if you need to scratch pretty deep!!)
Also, I just want to say that Helen's post was exceedingly cheerful. Is that because she is, ahem, Swedish? :)
DtS wrote: "Lee Quod: My heavens, what have I done? DtS may have to go back into hibernation." No, no - quite the opposite! Look at all the varied comments and interest you generated via a single post. Mike Perry reappeared, labrialumn was mostly Minnesota nice, Jason provided his usual first-class history and sociology, we found out that "vikingmother" refers to genealogy instead of parenting style ;-) , we heard from Mike D, Rachel, Roberto, Gina, Diane - and met Helen!! Nobody went ballistic because I mentioned the now polarizingly political Garrison Keillor. (Aside to labrialumn: my in-laws are from St. Paul, so I experienced the "long goodbye" prior to understanding it. One of the great "aha" moments of my life, because even if Keillor's wrong, I was able to see that this was not an annoyingly strange habit - it was an expression of how highly my wife and I were valued by her parents.) That's a lot of involvement, and tremendous civility. And it would take even longer to summarize all the topics bwe covered. All from one posting that may have appeared to you to be rather specialized and of primarily personal interest. So please - pop out more often, in spite of your shadow, and inspire us again!!
Suomi and Saami? You mean Finns and Lapps? When have they had a recorded ethnic conflict between each other?
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