Separation of Church and State

My country has an official religion. The head of state is also the head of the state religion. When I went to school, we had to pray every day and sing hymns. We also got a lot of Bible stories. The state television channel also had religious programming but only really on Sunday and it was easily avoided.

English: Recording Songs of Praise The BBC rec...
Thora Hird preserve us!

Becoming a Catholic at age 10 was stressful because I was in a Church of England school and there was a bit of a prayer I would leave off and I would have to bless myself (Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch) before I started. This seemed like a way bigger deal than it was. I was NOT conforming. I was NOT doing what everyone else was doing! The teachers might tell me off! As an adult now,  I can see that was ridiculous. What adult would tell a Catholic off for being Catholic? NONE! (Maybe Queen Elizabeth I, amirite?)

Then becoming an atheist at age 11 and a half was even more stressful. This was because I was in a Catholic school. Not only was I missing off ‘For Thine is the kingdom..’ but I was missing off the whole bloody Lord’s Prayer. Now, instead of furtively blessing myself, I was sitting horrifically still while everyone else blessed themselves.

My mother told me “DO NOT TELL THEM YOU ARE ATHEIST YOU WILL BE EXPELLED” and this may or may not have been true. I did refuse to show up for confirmation classes which got a lot of “Ahhhhhhms!” from my contemporaries. I was able to really examine Catholicism as an outsider while being treated as an insider. I was really able to deconstruct what we were going through, what we were being asked to believe and the basis of the catechism. A believer is often too awestruck by/comfortable in their spiritual experience to want to dig too deeply and a believer of another religion is often too respectful to try to unpick it (or else they go the other way and do not bother to examine anything because it’s all blasphemous rubbish anyway).

In the end, the experience forged me into an adult who reads holy books, does not rag on the religious but nevertheless has no personal relationship with God. I am living with an atheist who has gone the Way of the Dawkins and it boils my piss. What’s the POINT of disproving God’s existence? What’s the POINT of mocking the spiritual? As if MY beliefs and views are unassailable and pure just because they are based in rationalism! Rationalism is lovely (I would say that), but it is based on my sensory input which is interpreted by some fairly faulty cognitive gear. My blind spots are just as stupid and ridiculous as any religious person’s, or another atheist’s for that matter. Why do people have to be such wankers?

Anyway. The Danish state also has a state religion. In schools, there is not much in the way of praying or even hymn singing. At Christmas, there is a month long worksheet-a-thon which celebrates the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ with colouring and cutting out. But believe me, that is less “religious” as it is “self-preservation”. Children do NOT want to learn how to read when they are thinking about getting a bunch of new toys. All they want to do is make pynt and hygge themselves. This I know for certain.

That said, the Danish Church is massively involved in the lives of every motherfucker on this collection of islands (and peninsular) . If you die, your death MUST be reported to the Church so they can cross you off the list. If you are born, you birth MUST be reported to the Church so they can approve your name. Marriage must be reported to them.  This is not just for their members. They are up in everyone’s business.

If you want to be buried in a graveyard, the only graveyards available are in churchyards. There are NO municipal graveyards. If you do not want to be in a church yard, tough luck, go get buried at sea.

If you are weak, unreligious and 14 (and who the fuck isn’t at that age?), you will probably go through a religious ceremony to enroll you to pay taxes to the church. The ceremony results in an important party, lots of presents, permission to have sex and drink. It is a major deal. I have to teach this age group and it is about this time of year that they become “unteachable” (for the same reason they are difficult at Christmas: they are fantasising about new toys). They get a few hours off every week to be educated by the priest. They get a day off in order to nurse their hangovers after the rite.

There are some non-religious teens who go through more or less the same ceremony without the priest in order to get a metric shittonne of presents. There are some who are genuinely Christian who do this. The majority just “go with the flow” even though they do not accept Jesus as their saviour. Very few do not go through with it at all.

The Church promotes something called “mini-confirmation” where 9 year olds get to have a rehearsal, replete with balloons and cake. (The whole POINT of holding off until 14, is that the Church decided that is when a child could make up their mind properly. Pro-Jesus or heathen? Which will it be? Nine was judged to be “too young” by them and yet, they are now pushing for a temporary commitment from that age group. Very interesting. If it was just a way of allowing God’s grace into the lives of his children, why would it necessarily involve bribery? Why don’t they have faith in their own message to be convincing enough?)

If you just had a baby or want to get married, you will probably use the Church as the venue to celebrate.

The schools do not teach religion, they teach “Christendom” but to be fair, some year plans do not have any mention of Christianity, it’s all Beginners Islam or Beginners Norse Mythology etc.

The national broadcaster “promotes” Christianity. All taxpayers pay towards the upkeep of the national Church, not just the enrolled members.

I have mixed feelings. I feel like, you know, religion is a private matter and the love of God does not need to be rammed down anyone’s throat. Knowing about religious matters and the faith of others is useful. Otherwise idiots can tell you nonsense about your own or another’s religion and you end up believing it because you do not know any better. A separation of Church and State might be good, then it is totally in the realm of the private. People can believe what they want and no one gets hurt.

But then again. The buildings are very nice and part of the heritage of the country they are in. If they need financial support for upkeep, I think it is good to help them out with tax.

But then again. Just because one belief system has a long cultural influence on a country doesn’t mean it should be favoured. All views on these matters are equally valid and while respect is important, deference is unnecessary.

But then again. I like being able to play “The animals came in two-by-two” to teach vocabulary about animals without worrying about an atheist parent calling me after work and accusing me of indoctrination.

But then again. I dislike children being indoctrinated into beliefs without being taught how to check them for themselves.

But then again. I like the unselfconscious way people enjoy their seasonal holidays.

But then again. I do not want to get buried in some CHURCH yard! And I do not want to have to tell a priest I had a baby. And I do not want the DANISH CHURCH to be in charge of deleting my account from the Danish state.

So, it is difficult. I am not anti-religious. I am not pro-religious. And it seems to me that the Danish state is set up in a very pro-evangelical Lutherian mode of thinking.

Maybe it would be good to devolve some of the church functions to the secular state.

8 thoughts on “Separation of Church and State

  1. Hey, I’m happy you are blogging again – I like reading your point of view on Denmark. It sounds to me like the Danes aren’t really that religious, and the church there is just another huge bureaucracy. The Danes I know aren’t really into God, but they are really into their traditions (and the idea of their traditions)!

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      1. I’m not sure why, but that statement just blew my mind! Evangelical Danishness, that’s EXACTLY what goes on here!

        Meanwhile, I also do that whole “but on the other hand” thing re: Danish state religion. And it’s not that I’m an atheist. I identify as agnostic or, when pressed by Jehovah’s Witnesses, Episcopalian. It’s just… I’m not a Lutheran, so why should I pay to be a member of something I’m not? Taxes to health care, schools, military (although I’d like to have a bit more of a say in who we are bombing, thankyouverymuch) and welfare (even though *I* don’t get to use it, I’m all for helping out those who need it) are cool, I may use those some day (except the welfare, see above) and so I feel like I’m investing in my future. Becoming a member of a religious group I don’t believe in… feels like lying.

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