The Nordic countries are among the most secular in the world. This has allowed us to achieve great personal and other freedoms and we are among the most prosperous societies in the world. But could there still be something we are missing?
Photo by Vaishnava108 / creative commons
Spirituality and religion around the globe
This summer a fan of my books recommended that I watch the film Baraka. It is an extremely beautiful film showing landscapes and spirituality from many places around the globe.
At first I just found it fascinating. Then it struck me: with very few exceptions, only men appear in the film.
The more feminist side of me thought: How typical! The women have to stay at home and work and take care of the household while the men can go to the temple and have fun and get a kick out of doing all kinds of rituals.
But quickly I realized that it is a typical pattern: In general, it is the men who define most religions. But is it only men who practice religion? Or is it that only men's religious practices are worth filming?
Then it struck me: I asked the wrong question.
Rather than asking "Why do we only see men practicing their religion?" we should ask "Which are the most stable societies in the long run: the ones that occupy men with religious practices and guide their thoughts towards rewards in another reality, or the ones in which there is no spiritual guidance and religious community, and where each individual male must find his path in life on his own?"
Women traditionally take care of their children and generally don't need heavenly rewards in order to do the right thing here and now; crying children have let their mothers know what is needed of them throughout history.
But to keep thousands upon thousands of testosterone-laden men calm and on the right track in the city states of the Bronze and Iron Ages may not always have been easy.
Enter priests, rituals, collective trances, hierarchies to be climbed by abstinence and moral virtue, celibacy, self-torment, feelings of guilt, promises of numerous virgins in the afterlife, dietary restraints, etc. and wouldn't that just be the perfect recipe for social calm and a long lasting society with few inner, violent conflicts?
Modernity and its young men
Post Enlightenment, Darwin and secularization it is hard to tell people that heavenly rewards will await them if they behave well and follow certain rules and practices.
Rather, in order for people to follow any kind of rules in the modern, industrial and postmodern, post-industrial society, the rules must make personal sense, and only if certain behaviors pose dangers to others can we put constraints on people's personal freedom.
Unfortunately, while throwing out the religious rituals and spiritual practices that kept people, especially the men, emotionally aligned with the interests of the greater society, we also lost the language for morality and talking about what is good and bad behavior.
Sports are the only field in which it is still OK to demand that people follow certain rules that constrain their personal freedom and for which they will get a reward. Actually, it is the main point in sports: If people followed individual rules, it wouldn't be worth playing.
The problem with - or rather: the poverty of - sports is that it only has a limited language and a one-dimensional outlook on life. It only knows about winning and losing, fighting and achieving. It doesn't deal with existential questions or personal development at an emotional and/or moral level. There may be individual coaches who are great human beings and who can guide youngsters towards good values, but the more commercial sports have become, the less the focus is on the development of young minds.
A failure of the Nordic countries
One failure of the Nordic, postmodern, secular societies is the number of gangs and subcultures, religiously extreme or plain criminal, that attract a lot of young men.
Maybe it was worth considering how, within the framework of metamodernity, we can re-establish ways of reaching these young men and offer them meaningful, hierarchical, challenging communities in which they can develop morality and a language for personal and spiritual growth, and in which they can align themselves with the greater society.
Sports seem to be the default answer whenever these issues come up, but after hundreds of years of cultural evolution, is that really all we as a society have to offer?