Tag Archives: Europe

Embodied Religion

By Jule_Berlin (originally posted to Flickr as [1]) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Ponte Maceira on El Camino by Jule Berlin (via Wiki Commons) Share Alike

I continue writing about pilgrimage: embodied religion in nature. Serenity itself? Yes. There is beauty in nature, and oneness with nature that those who don’t hunt or fish or climb mountains might not otherwise access. There is beauty and peace in nature, and even fear, in nature that those who go on an evening stroll might wish to deepen or face. In deepening one’s connection to the land, one may deepen one’s connection to a transcendental God, or to the immanental god within.

And all those pilgrim symbols, from staff to cross, and pilgrim paths, within European borders do other, less obvious work. They provide a moving tableaux, a visual demonstration of Christianity as a physical presence. European pilgrimages connect European nation to nation, not undermining the all-important nationalism or nationhood, but reinforcing pan-Europeanism. There is also, surprisingly, something dark that bubbles up in pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is not only a simple and age-old act of putting one foot in front of the other, and circumnavigating a region by foot. It is also often a political act. In some cases it is, and has been, a political act for the good. Sometimes a political act against gender constraints keeping women at home. At others a political act of defiance against circumscription by Vatican authority, commanding the laity at what place, and how, they must worship.

Pilgrimage in Europe, meditative walking, may be broadening, ecumenical, and inviting. It may also be exclusive. Going on European Christian pilgrimage generally does not exclude atheists, agnostics, and seekers. In most cases, however, pilgrimage in Europe is Christian pilgrimage and excludes those of other faiths.

Today, as in ages past, it is the pluralism of Christians and Muslims living together in Europe that is being worked out. Is walking an act of territorial inscription? Probably in part, yet it is much more, and adds much that is positive to the individual and communal good. Pilgrims are certainly more than border control
agents.

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Northern Lights Blackout

Subway Station of Husby, Stockholm Suburbs, Wiki Commons

Subway Station of Husby, Stockholm Suburbs, Wiki Commons

Sweet little Sweden is showing its dark side to the world. Swedish riots are currently chaotic, destructive, but not yet deadly. According to television, radio and newspaper media sources rioters are primarily youth born themselves born abroad or to immigrant parents. (The largest immigrant populations in Sweden are from the other Nordic and European countries, but it does not appear that Danes and Norwegians are currently being held accountable.) Counter-demonstrations, against violence, are also being held.

Sweden’s inhabitants are 15% foreign-born. Whether that statistic includes those of other Nordic lands is not made explicit in news sources I consulted today. When last in Sweden, I had  conversation with a woman I will call Anna-Lisa. I was visiting Stockholm and Gothenburg, Sweden’s two largest cities, on that visit, but not Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city. Anna-Lisa informed me that I “would not recognize” Malmö because there were so many Muslims on the streets. Those who do not practice Islam, feel oppressed by being labeled and identified with oppressive regimes–in Iran and lraq among others–that they have fled.

Anna-Lisa went on to say that “these people” don’t blend in well in Swedish society. They live in the same neighborhoods and their children attend the same schools. I replied that we have similar issues in the U.S. and that areas in which most residents are of a single, minority race, and are impoverished, were formerly referred to with the harsh, pejorative terms “ghettos” or “slums.” We now use euphemisms and speak of “urban blight” and the “urban poor,” along with “urban violence.” We are no longer blaming the victims, but we are also not taking any blame upon ourselves. Anna-Lisa vehemently objected, reiterating that “these people” choose their lifestyle. I wonder whether people actively “choose” the unemployment that is far higher among immigrants to Sweden than it is among native Swedes.

Southern Sweden, close to Denmark–which has a less liberal immigration and asylum policy than does Sweden–is also the area in which the Sweden Democrats first gained traction. There is now a growing backlash against immigrants in Sweden, fomented by this single-issue anti-immigrant party (sverigedemokraterna.se). The anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats are not to be confused with the Swedish Social Democrats, the left-of-center party which had long led the ruling coalitions in Sweden until losing power in 2006 and again in 2010. (socialdemokraterna.se ).

Xenophobia is certainly not confined to Southern Sweden, nor to Sweden alone. Anti-immigrant parties exist,and are beginning to thrive, in other European countries as well. The “True Finns” are but one example. These parties seeks to propagate the myth of ethnic purity. That sounds familiar and very dangerous, does it not?

I recently visited Uppsala, which I am surprised to learn is now Sweden’s fourth largest city. Uppsala feels like the university town it is, but not like the city it has apparently grown to be since my last visit. In short, while by all accounts Swedes remain among the most contented people in the world, life in Sweden is changing.