Well, I’m back from my trip to Norway and Sweden, and when you add this to my previous trip to Denmark, I can now pretend to be an expert on all things Scandinavian.
Still, I did have a chance to ask locals (humanities and social science types, mostly) about whether the Scandinavian reputation for secularity and irrelevance of religion to much of the population is accurate. The answers I got were mostly yes. Some observed that newagey paranormal beliefs can be very popular, but it’s also true that this is no basis for an organized social presence of religion that can replace the older high-profile Christianity.
Norway is, interestingly, home to the strongest humanist organization in the world, the Human-Etisk Forbund. (The question arises: if they’re so secular, why do they have a need for a strong humanist presence?) Anyway, here’s a picture of me standing in front of their building in Oslo:
For good measure, here is a secularized church from Stockholm, Skeppsholmskyrkan.
Christianity is not completely dead, however. One Wednesday morning we walked into a church in central Stockholm that is off the standard tourist list, and ran into a Protestant congregation complete with preacher strumming an idiot guitar and the about twenty congregants producing a musically asinine hymn. (Catholics and high-church Protestants have much, much better music.)
Still, things are pretty secular overall. Here’s a funerary chapel converted to a bookstore on the Lund University campus: