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Religions Must Be Challenged

Here we are rid of the oppressors. By Björn Ulvaeus.

'You must exist, you must', sings Kristina. I know this because I wrote it. Kristina from Duvemåla. She's singing about God. About the God she has to have to make it through her life in the north American wilderness. The lonely abandoned human being wants to believe in something, something greater than herself. Vilhelm Moberg, the atheist, created Kristina, and he gave her a naïve but deep faith. The atheist Moberg must have had a great love for some believing human being, maybe his grandmother, to be able to describe this wonderful, strong woman. Karl Oskar, her husband, does not share her religion. But he never condemns. He blasphemes sometimes - who doesn't. He questions often, but deep inside he seems to want to believe in Kristina's God.

It's probably like that with most of us.

Like Karl Oskar we don't care much one way or the other. We're tolerant. Even towards those who are intolerance personified. The fundamentalists. This is an untenable standpoint in the long run. That Denmark last Monday crumbled for religious threats is a very alarming sign. We have to stand up for the democratic and humanistic advances we've made in Europe. I think we should be proud of our struggle for equality and our secularised societies. Even if we haven't fully reached our goal we're still moving forward in contrast to those who want to take a step back into the religious mist of the middle ages with patriarchies and oppression of women and all of that. What Voltaire, Newton and Einstein and all the other great philosophers and scientists have done may not be in vain. Even if what we call our age of enlightenment has passed other parts of this planet by without a trace.

Religion must be analysed and scrutinised like all other facets of a modern society. It is absolutely unacceptable to have a free zone for religious issues, to expect respect for the belief Eve was created from Adam's rib and so forth. In this matter I think the secular society has been weakened compared to the 60s and 70s. The demands of religion are growing today at the cost of reason and science. It feels in many ways as if we are leaving the age of enlightenment and it scares me. We need a strong secular answer to our time's big questions. Here the US under Bush has unfortunately betrayed its cause. We needed a secular America together with the EU in the struggle against fundamentalism. Instead we have a president who puts creationism on a parity with Darwin.

We who believe religion is fiction definitely don't get any respect nowadays from those who believe that they know it is true. If someone wants to draw a figure representing Mohammed or Jesus or Krishna, he or she has all right to do it. How coarse and low it may be. If we concede that then we're in trouble. We may not yield to death threats. None of us want to live in a society where one grovels for the religious fascistic men of the dark. Who otherwise would have been a grateful target for Monty Python. For it lends itself to make fun of old men who claim they have a direct contact with God. A god who just happens to have a special interest for certain ethnic groups in a desert area on a small planet in a tiny solar system that lies on the outskirts of a little galaxy which in turn lies on the outskirts of the universe.

If certain groups in Europe feel offended by what is written in newspapers, in books or is said on TV or radio, does that mean we must refrain from saying this? Yes, if one's only purpose is to offend. No, if one wants to communicate something else. It can be humour, serious or in between. The democratic maturity of a society can be read in how far one lets freedom of speech go and at the same time where one voluntarily draws the line.

I do not believe in any god and I therefore think that religion should be regarded as any other idealogy and that all children have the right to be spared all forms of indoctrination. From this it follows that religious schools are just as unthinkable as political schools. Who would be able to consider a communist or fascist coloured school? No one. What happens within a family, behind the closed doors of the home, we neither can nor want to control. Even more important then that there be a public sphere where the child gets impressions which are shared by the society at large. An antipode to the family's, and perhaps in most cases the father's values. It should be relatively problem-free to implement this for all political parties save possibly for the christian democrats. It is an absolute human right for a child to, in its most receptive age, be free of this influence. A greenhouse for terrorism could possibly be removed and all children should be able to decide their spiritual home in a grown up age instead of bearing religious rucksacks from their childhood.

When the immigrants in 'Kristina from Duvemåla' celebrate their first time in America with a harvest feast, they sing:

We who always squatted under low ceilings
Keeping silent and swallowing our vexation
Now we have risen, now we walk straight
Here we are rid of the oppressors


Björn Ulvaeus was a member of ABBA from 1973 to 1980. Next week he travels to the US to put up his musical 'Kristina from Duvemåla' on Broadway.

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