Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Religion in Swedish-America

The stereotypical Swedish-American is old. Has never been to Sweden. Claims Swedish ancestry through a long lost generation. And is Lutheran. Really Lutheran. There is a God with a capital G. There is plenty of religion in the US so maybe a Lutheran pocket isn’t all that strange.

But I still get tripped up by it all. The other day I saw three college aged kids sit down at a restaurant. They were big. Football player big (no word on their claimed European ancestry). They all had their food in hand; two of them took their hats off, elbows up on the table, folded hands, and bowed heads. They were praying. Or saying grace. I’m not really familiar with the parlance.

In three years in Sweden I never once saw someone bow their heads in prayer at a meal. In fact, I only saw heads bowed four times in my time there. Three times at weddings and once at a Christmas service in a small church in southern Sweden. It was so rare that I can count them all. On one hand.

I don’t walk into churches here for that very reason. In Europe I ducked in because I loved the buildings. The history. The architecture. The art. Here I feel like I might be recruited if I were to wander in.

Strangely enough, the buses right now are covered in an ad campaign that felt vaguely familiar. An ad campaign that I never would have expected in the US, especially considering the scene I stumbled upon above. An organization promoting atheism and freedom from religion has paid for 13ish different ads all introducing a local atheist and espousing the virtues of not believing in God. Like sleeping in on Sunday.

I expected uproar. Old people attacking the buses with crucifixes. Or at least poorly worded placards explaining the well-known fact that all non-Christians are going to hell. Duh. There has been nothing. At least nothing of note.

Maybe it is fitting that, despite the Swedish-American stereotype, a place that has a high Scandinavian-American population would entertain such an ad campaign. Maybe it’s a changing of the guard. Maybe it’s a slow process. Maybe it’s completely a publicity ploy and those 13 ads are the only 13 people in the area who support the cause. Or maybe the stereotype still is true and it just so happens that because they are old, they are dying and unable to work up the vitriol needed to protest.

Regardless, I was surprised. Both by the display of religion after three years without it. And also by the display of non-religion because of my own held stereotypes. Confusing isn’t it?

Welcome to Swedish-America. And religious tolerance. Or something like it.