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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

"Norway goes secular"

This is an interesting story about a decision in Norway to remove the Lutheran Church as the state religion. It doesn't seem to be a total removal, as the royal family will still be required to belong to the church, and there will apparently still be some other constitutional recognition given to it. On the gripping hand, it does appear that any formal political power still enjoyed by the church will now be removed, as will any formal political control of it. We're told that, "The current requirement for at least half of all government ministers to be members of the Church will also be scrapped, and even the minister of church affairs will no longer need to belong to the church."

That is more important - a higher priority - than removing every vestige of establishment where it already exists.

In the longer term, of course, I don't see any role for established churches, even relatively harmless ones. Or for royal families, if it comes to that! They are all silly anachronisms that we could well do without.

H/T Jerry Coyne, among others.


Alexander Johannesen said...

This is just a very important first step that has been very long in the making. It's complicated by the state owning quite a lot of church real-estate, which is complicated business (as these properties are always in prime locations), as well as the trickiness of altering "Grunnloven", the foundational lawys of Norway (to which a lot of National pride and being is tied in with) laid down in 1814.

The link with the royals are even more apt, but after 1904 (when the Swedes let us become our own nation after taking us for war spoils in 1814), remnants of past royal lines were England and Denmark (tied in with their laws of Christian governance of their country's Church, like the Queen of England is the head of the Church of England). It's a useless thing, of course, but it carries cultural meaning which we seem to hang on to for a bit longer than more practical things. For example, the king is the head of State in name only, but he *could* - theoretically - not approve whatever elected government comes in. Not sure if that is a real power, though, as it simply hasn't been tested legally, and I seriously doubt it ever will.

Give it another 20 years or so, then it will all have been resolve, I suspect. The royals are disseminating into more normal structures, and so our laws will go with them.

Russell Blackford said...

Thanks for all that, Alexander - good to hear an informed view on it.

Alexander Johannesen said...

Not a problem, although there's tons to be said on the issue, like our rather secular state, the involvement and general acceptance in Norway of secular-humanist organisations and ideas, of multi-culturism (albeit in law more than in practice, and there's a certain trail ongoing that demonstrates just too horribly that we still got ways to go) and a rather all-inclusive attitude to ideas and debate that is simply no where to be found here in Australia (and I could make a hundred jibes towards the Aussie political shambles of late *grumble*). Norway has a culture of serious and mostly civil debate about the big issues, and this should be pointed out as it probably leads us to be rather progressive. Finland especially, but also Sweden and Denmark and Iceland have similar cultures, but I do not dare venture why that is (although we can trace democratic processes right back to the Viking age, but this becomes mere speculation), but we're a social democracy which, I guess, emphasizes the human and social aspect of all debate, rather than just "money talks." Again, speculation. :)

Alexander Johannesen said...

Oh, and when I say "we", I mean those crazy Norwegians. I'm an Aussie now. :)

Russell Blackford said...

No worries! I'm a big fan of Norway and the other Scandinavian countries - wish I'd had more chance over the years to visit them, but I loved Norway the one time I spent a few days there, back in the day. Hopefully, another opportunity will come up some time.

Alexander Johannesen said...

Well, if I translate your last book, then we could both go. :)

Anonymous said...

What about a post on abortion?

GTChristie said...

This post and the issue it refers to -- secularization of the state -- brings up a parallel question. There is a growing debate in Europe about Islamic influence on European culture and politics. In a democracy, majority rules and the Islamic population in Europe is growing. The Islamic constituency is becoming a power base capable of influencing policy through democratic means. But the Islamists really want theocracy, not democracy, and in their culture, freedom is not a value (in fact freedom is evil, as the believer is not free to question the religion or its God).

In this context, I am wondering whether "secularization of the state" is not an innoculation of the state against the theocratic disease. In the US, some states are trying to pass laws specifically banning sharia law, and are discovering in court that it's unconstitutional (or certainly constitutionally difficult) to do so. Somehow it must be made clear constitutionally that although religions or religious beliefs cannot be suppressed by government, the law of the land is secular and the definition of justice (thus law) is the province of the state, and not of religion; wherever the two conflict, the laws of the state take precedence over any religious "law." It is proving difficult to write this principle into law, however, because the constitutions of most democracies specifically guarantee religious freedom, and in court the Islamists can argue their "rights" are violated by attempts to block their "law."

So any attempt to "secularize" the constitution in any country might be seen as a pre-emptive measure to diminish the potential influence of sharia law (not to mention, let's say, papal or clerical law). It's theocracy prevention, I would think.

GTChristie said...

Following through: In the Norwegian example, it would be difficult to justify exclusion of Islamic theocracy, while the constitution allows elements or remnants of Christian theocracy. Therefore vestiges of Christian theocracy must go. That may be what the Norwegians are thinking ... no?

Russell Blackford said...

I'm no expert on Norwegian politics, but I expect they mainly think that it's a silly anachronism to be phased out.