Religion and fantasy

Bodil Gram listedwj at
Tue Sep 11 11:13:38 EDT 2001

I am still catching up with hoary old discussions that everybody else has
left and forgotten about.

Many weeks ago, Ven wrote about Lutherans:

>[ ] of course I know who Luther is, and
>they're obviously Protestant, but of what precise kind of
>Protestants? When founded? where to be found? Like Anglicans?
>Baptists? Methodists?The Wee Wee Free? Big? Small? Powerful?
>Weak?.............. Just wanted to know.

and Hallie replied:

>We don't seem to have any Lutherans on the list, do we?  Odd, as the
>World Book (pretty bad ref. source in some cases, so I don't
>guarantee this) says Lutherans are the largest Protestant
>denomination in the world.

I am not sure I qualify as a Lutheran as such: although I am not a member
of the Lutheran Church here in Denmark, like all other Scandinavians I grew
up in a Lutheran society and am deeply coloured by it. There are several
Swedish and Finnish members of the list who must be just as steeped in
Lutherdom, but perhaps our societies have become so secularised that we
barely think about it anymore.

Irina's description of Danish Lutheranism does not quite catch what is
essential Lutheran - but she explains very well what Lutheranism looks like
to us Danes today: "emphasis on liturgy and a lot of singing". She is too
polite to say that we are not very devout and rarely attend services, but
she mentions that Lutheranism is our national church. National in the sense
that for a while it was the only legal denomination here, and even today
members of other creeds and denominations must bring their newborn babies
to the local Lutheran parish church to get them registered and officially
named, no matter what naming ceremonies of their own they also perform.

If you are a non-Lutheran you may well feel a bit oppressed living here.
For instance you have to actively tell the tax authorities to stop hitting
you with the Lutheran Church Tax. They do not bother to ask if you are a
member of the state church, they just grab your money as soon as you are
old enough to earn 'em.

Scandinavian societies have been totally Lutheran for almost 500 years, and
many parts of Northern Germany, most of Holland and even bits of Belgium
have been completely Lutheran too, but what exactly are Lutherans?  Some
Lutherans are high-churchy, as Irina pointed out, but far from all of them.
Here in Denmark we still have a very, very low-churchy Lutheran sect called
"Inner Mission" (as opposed to those "saving savages" abroad: Outer

Lutherans are the people who followed Martin Luther when he broke away from
the Catholic Church. Everybody knows that, obviously, but there is more to
being a Lutheran than that. Breaking with Rome just makes you a Protestant,
not a Lutheran.

Luther was the first major Catholic heretic who got away with critizising
the Pope. At that time (=early 1500s) Germany was not a single nation, and
a lot of the leaders of small German principalities were sick and tired of
paying more and more to huge building projects in Rome. Up here in Northern
Europe, Rome seemed far away and not very responsive.

At first Luther meant to reform the Catholic Church from within, but it
refused to accept his calls for reform and Luther was only saved from the
bonfires that got rid of protestant predecessors like Johan Hus in Bohemia,
by some brave Lutheran princes who hid him away, gave him and his friends
access to studying and publishing facilities, and formed alliances with
Scandinavian monarchs.

Luther gradually let go of his allegiance to the Catholic church, but he
soon found that he could not accept the results of a total lack of Catholic
hierarchy. In places such as Geneva charismatic leaders like Calvin formed
their own sects where the leader's word stood above the law of the state.
Genevan Catholics were tortured to death. In German villages the peasants
used protestant theology as a kind of proto-communist ideology that allowed
them to do away with any kind of state and law at all, and they went on
murderous rampages through the landscape.

In Luther's eyes the protestant movement was splintering into anarchy, so
he quarreled with Calvin & Co and withdrew his support from the peasant
rebels in extremely brutal words. ("Kill them off like mad dogs!", which
they promptly were by German princes.)

Luther lived for quite a number of years after the chaos of the Reformation
subsided, gradully refining his ideals for a Lutheran state, creating new
liturgy, making new rules, abolishing many Catholic traits such as clerical
celibacy, but always carefully stressing that the individual man could
never find God on his own outside of the organised Church, and that he
should work humbly in the station in life that God had elected to place him
in. The American Protestant idea of getting rewarded for good conduct in
this life by God is an abomination to true Lutherans.

Northern Europe became Lutheran mainly because Lutheranism was a handy tool
for a local ruler. The core of being a Lutheran is that you recognize the
state's supremacy over the church. In that respect Lutherans are like
Anglicans, but Anglicans follow the formula worked out by Tudor and Stuart
monarchs, while Lutherans follow the tradition created by Luther and his
supporters (particularly Melanchton). Lutheran rulers are not the head of
their church in quite the same way as Anglican rulers. Lutheranism has a
greater emphasis on humbly serving God, whether you are a ruler or a
bishop. Lutherans use Bibles more or less derived from the translation
Luther made in the Renaissance, Anglican tradition grew out of the King
James Version.

The high church elements in Anglicanism derive from English Catholicism,
whereas Danish high-churchy elements such as lots of singing and joy in
prayer were mainly the result of one man's work in the 19th century: N.F.S
Grundtvig. I guess ole Grundtvig was a bit crazy, but he made our culture a
lot nicer, getting rid of a lot of gloom from 18th century Pietism. Pietism
was a Lutheran reform movement from Northern Germany. It was very
low-churchy, hating all worldly pleasure and concentrating on anxious
meditations on your own spiritual failings and need for improvement.

We Danes still think of Swedes and Norwegians as gloomy Pietists who are
prone to hysterical ideas like limiting the population's intake of alcohol.
We Danes just drink ourselves silly all the time - but of course that was
not what poor Grundtvig had in mind at all. ;-)

* * *

Oh dear, two postings about matters Christian in one day. You must all
thing I am a religious fanatic. Actually I am not religious at all, but you
gotta admit that the large religions have all the really good stories, and
besides, Christianity was an obligatory subject in teacher training
college. Even there the Danish State Church places its limp but still
mighty hand on your shoulder.

As far as I can remember, the Lutheran thread grew out of a thread about
Narnia. Fiona said:

>I have to say that I still find it extraordinary that the Narnia books are
>described as preachy.

In college I suddenly realised that the Narnia books were full of of
Christian imagery. If, like me, you grew up in a home where Christianity
was one to the many quaint and charming things they believed in once upon a
time, you were not able to recognize the Christianity and the Narnia books
were just wonderful, utterly enchanting.

Friendly greetings,

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