Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Let's not copy the Lutherans

This passage — from a lecture last week by Charles Murray — seems like it captures the urgency of the Great Commission to spread the faith in the increasingly “post-Christian” Western society:
Drive through rural Sweden, as I did a few years ago. In every town was a beautiful Lutheran church, freshly painted, on meticulously tended grounds, all subsidized by the Swedish government. And the churches are empty. Including on Sundays. Scandinavia and Western Europe pride themselves on their “child-friendly” policies, providing generous child allowances, free day-care centers, and long maternity leaves. Those same countries have fertility rates far below replacement and plunging marriage rates. Those same countries are ones in which jobs are most carefully protected by government regulation and mandated benefits are most lavish. And they, with only a few exceptions, are countries where work is most often seen as a necessary evil, least often seen as a vocation, and where the proportions of people who say they love their jobs are the lowest.

What’s happening? Call it the Europe syndrome. Last April I had occasion to speak in Zurich, where I made some of these same points. After the speech, a few of the twenty-something members of the audience approached and said plainly that the phrase “a life well-lived” did not have meaning for them. They were having a great time with their current sex partner and new BMW and the vacation home in Majorca, and saw no voids in their lives that needed filling.

It was fascinating to hear it said to my face, but not surprising. It conformed to both journalistic and scholarly accounts of a spreading European mentality. Let me emphasize “spreading.” I’m not talking about all Europeans, by any means. That mentality goes something like this: Human beings are a collection of chemicals that activate and, after a period of time, deactivate. The purpose of life is to while away the intervening time as pleasantly as possible.
Alas, it seems as though our mother England — despite its longstanding suspicion of the Continent — is only a generation or two behind socialist secular Sweden. Today America is a more Christian country than those of Old Europe, but recent trends are not encouraging.

Update March 19: Vicar Josh would like me to call this Let's not copy the Swedish Lutherans. He points out that there is considerable variation between US and European Lutherans, as well as among US Lutherans. If the Swedish Lutherans are at an extreme, what’s left of the Lutheran church in Germany (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland) isn’t far behind. Among US Lutherans, the LCMS and WELS are every bit as devout and orthodox in their beliefs as the Continuing Anglicans.

However, I think Murray’s point is more about society than the church: people are placing their trust in Big Government to provide in this life, rather than focusing on God’s promise of Eternal Life.


Vicar Josh Osbun said...

Your post would be better titled, "Let's not copy the Swedes." This is not an accurate portrayal of Lutheranism. You will find few Lutheran parishes like this in the United States.

9.West said...


I didn't say "Let's not copy the American Lutherans," which I agree would be unfair.

However, Lutheranism began in Germany. Can you argue that the doctrine and devoutness of German Lutherans is still what it was say 50 years ago?

My sense (from both the American Lutheran blogs and visiting there) that Germany is definitely 20+ years ahead of England in its post-Christian decline. The US (thus far) looks to be 20-40 years behind England, but — absent immigration — it seems like it's coming.


Vicar Josh Osbun said...

"The Lutherans" is encompassing of all who bear the title "Lutheran." Certainly it would be unfair and inaccurate for me to refer to "The Anglicans" as a bunch of happy-clappy feminists.

"These Lutherans" or "The Swedish Lutherans" would be a more accurate title and would bear less impact upon Lutheranism in the United States.

I'm tuned into these sorts of distinctions considering there are people who claim that "The Lutherans" ordain women. So also a friend of mine despises Lutheranism because she once attended a really horrible funeral in a Lutheran congregation. Because there are so many divisions and distinctions among those who bear this name, "The Lutherans" is an unfair generalization to many out there, regardless of topic.

Vicar Josh Osbun said...

Thank you for the edit at the bottom.