Sweden: Exemplary Atheism?

I have heard several times over the years that the success of Sweden as a culture is proof that a people can give up on God, yet still remain a moral and healthy people.

England’s Guardian (cited in The Christian Century, 25 Jun 2014) reports to the contrary, however. “Sweden has the highest rate of domestic abuse in Europe, its suicide rate is among the highest in the world, and it has an alcohol problem.” So much for the health benefits of atheism.

We Christians have to be careful here because it is easy for us to make the illogical jump from “an atheistic nation has moral problems” to “all nations should be Christian.”

While atheism has no sensible means of holding people accountable for living good lives, it is not automatically the case the Christians have done flawless job of creating a perfectly good people. As I look at the history of the church — especially in 20th century America — I am convinced that our problem is not that the people have deserted the church but that the church has failed the people. Our liberal side has simply gone along with the flow of our society while our conservative side has kept alive a deadening kind of pharisaical moral by rules and regulations.

I hate hearing the trite cliche: “God said it; I believe it; and that settles it.” In the first place, no one’s faith is that pure and simple. We believers fall short of God and his Word countless times and therefore need a great deal of humility.

In the second place, the cliche betrays an attitude which conservative Christians have often conveyed to the world around us. Since we take God’s Word as definitive for our lifestyle (or least that’s our aspiration), we naively think it is enough simply to tell people what the Bible says and then they’re supposed to believe it. So we shout out our rules and condemn those who are repulsed by our judgmental attitude.

If we had devoted our energies in the twentieth century to understanding Jesus’ dictum that we are to love our neighbors as we do ourselves, we would have learned how to love people into the Kingdom. Instead, it is the world which now says we are to be loving, and then the world confuses love and permissiveness, tolerance and indifference.

We Christians on the left and on the right have failed to understand and exemplify the deepest truths the Lord seeks to teach us. We have failed our neighbors, failed our culture, failed ourselves, and failed our Lord.

But by the grace of God it is never too late to repent. . .

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About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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