Björn: “There’s probably no God”

From The Local (Sweden’s news in English): "Freedom from indoctrination ought to be a basic human right for all children," argues ABBA star Björn Ulvaeus in a passionate plea for Sweden to rethink its policy on faith-based schools.

Without thinking too much about it at the time, when I wrote the lyrics for ABBA’s songs the message I wished to convey tallies well with campaigns launched recently by humanist organisations in the UK, US and Australia:

"There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Earlier this month the Swedish Humanist Association (Humanisterna) launched a similar campaign. And in light of the growing influence of religious schools in Sweden, the campaign could hardly be more timely.

Unfortunately the European Convention on Human Rights doesn’t permit the banning of independent religious schools. Under current Swedish law, independent schools may adopt a "confessional direction" as long as they stick to the official national curriculum and adhere to the education system’s "general goals and values".

A lot of independently managed schools (friskolor) negotiate this balancing act well, but there are also a lot of schools that don’t.

If it wished, Sweden could choose to refrain from using tax money to fund these independent schools. There is nothing in the European Convention on Human Rights that prevents such a course of action. But Sweden has chosen to go the other way.

So do the legal guidelines outlined above ensure that pupils at religious schools are educated in an environment that does not favour any one ideology or religion above all others? No, of course they don’t.

And are not curious, questioning citizens one of society’s most valuable assets? "Of course they are", is the ringing response you will receive from the majority of Swedes, of this I am convinced. And these are the sort of citizens we want our children to become.

In a recent debate with principals from two religious schools I was accused of being driven by emotions masquerading as reason. But if we hypothesise for a moment that they are right, then surely the same is true of them. And if that’s the case, who should we listen to?

It is precisely to avoid such conflicts that schools should provide a safe haven from all ideologies, with the obvious codicil that children should learn as much about as many of them as possible from an objective point of view.

It’s hardly controversial to opine that people in favour of religious schools are themselves believers. Religion has a natural place in their homes and their children grow up with it.

And that’s fine. But does this not make it all the more important for schools to be free of religious influence? Children need to be able to meet and get to know their peers on neutral ground. Religions by their nature always run the risk of creating an "us against them" scenario. However tolerant we believe ourselves to be, there is always a reason people consider their own religion superior to all others.

One of the school system’s most important functions is to create a feeling of community, where all are treated on equal terms regardless of race, class or creed. Society’s way of treating children with the respect they deserve is to combat by all available means any sense of an "us against them" divide.

In my debate with the school principals, they said that societies which had not encompassed different ideologies and beliefs had never been successful. And they’re absolutely right, which is why we have a secular and democratic system of government.

It is important to guarantee people the right to believe whatever they wish. But people should be free to choose their own ideology or belief system when they have become old enough to think for themselves.

Nobody should have to form an opinion on matters of such weight before they are ready to size up the arguments. Above all, children should be kept away from anything that bears even the slightest whiff of indoctrination. In fact, freedom from indoctrination ought to be a basic human right for all children.

A religious education makes it more difficult for children to form their own views on the world. It puts obstacles in their way that not all are capable of overcoming.

The headmasters also put it to me that there were plenty of famous free-thinking, prominent figures who had gone to Christian schools. But really this just annihilates their own argument. These people learned to be free thinkers despite, not because of, their Christian schooling.

One of them is particularly topical this year, 150 years after the publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’. Charles Darwin may have gone to a very Christian school but it didn’t prevent him from coming up with the "best idea in the world". Nor did it prevent him from abandoning his faith. Because, faced with the facts at his disposal, Darwin reached the same conclusion as the Swedish Humanist Association: There’s probably no God.

Björn Ulvaeus is best known as one of the four members of Swedish pop sensation ABBA and co-producer of the smash hit musical and movie, Mamma Mia! He is also a member of the Swedish Humanist Association.

7 thoughts on “Björn: “There’s probably no God””

  1. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but perhaps Bjorn should be cautious about expressing these views too widely, especially if he is hoping to convince some reactionary american audiences of the sincerity and integrity of the passionately pro-faith lyrics he wrote for Kristina. Critics will have a field day with Du maste finnas in the context of these statements.

  2. If you read between the lines and know anything about recent events in Malmo, you’ll understand that Christianity is not really the target of Bjorn’s concern. After all, Sweden has been a largely Lutheran country for centuries and somehow managed to become one of the most socially liberal countries in the world

  3. One doesn’t have to be a believer to to empathize with Kristina when she’s having the foundation upon which she’s built her life and hope for the future seemingly crumble beneath her feet. It would be inhuman to despise her in that state just because one doesn’t believe oneself. How Bjorn’s personal disbelief will affect American audiences, we’ll see. But in the meantime he shouldn’t pretend to favor something he actually opposes, even by silence.

    BTW, I agree with him, both about the existence of God and about how public moneys should not be used for religious instruction.

  4. I am not ignorant of the context of the remarks he made (but these things will always be quoted out of context), nor am I denying that he is sufficiently gifted to create credible characters through his lyrics, whatever their circumstances; I’m just pointing out that this is a delicate time for the future of Kristina as a piece of theatre, and if you want placards outside Carnegie Hall on 24 September and potential US backers for a possible follow-up production to get cold feet, then this is one way to go about it

  5. I absolutely agree with Mike. I’m an atheist, but Du Masta Finnas makes me cry every time I hear it. That’s the genius of Bjorn’s lyrics. And if a few fundamentalist Christians in America miss out on Kristina because they don’t like Bjorn’s view of religion, I’d say that’s their loss, not his.

  6. Well, as the old saying goes, any publicity is good publicity if you can get it. Christian fundies waving placards out the front would result in plenty of that. Not that Bjorn and Benny and Kristina should need it. But at least no one will be beheaded or have effigies of themselves burnt in a riot as would happen if certain other religious parties should take offense.

  7. Bjorn’s subjective concept of atheism has been the subject of numerous other debates. If he were completely honest with himself, he would acknowledge he was an agnostic:

    The operative word he used in his opinion was"probably". He is leaving the door open, which agnostics and not atheists are not inclined to do.

    While Bjorn Ulvaeus is a brilliant musician, his reflections on mysticism often seem rambling and indicative of someone who has arrived at his conclusions from some preliminary reading and the presence of evil in
    human experience.

    The logical fallacy in that reasoning, of course, is that if we assume that the presence of evil suggests the non-existence of God, what does the presence of goodness imply?

    Intellectual honesty demands we acknowledge that since we have only the most primitive understanding of the cosmos, that we cannot definitively come down on one side of the argument or the other but by
    faith.

    The theist has faith in an overarching diety by the testimony of the senses, while others maintain the same faith by contemplating the almost infinitisimal probability that a planet like earth could be the result of chance rather than design and purpose (see, "The Privileged Planet").

    The Athiest, however, uses essentially the testimony of the senses and the faith that inanimate matter itself could be internal and
    life could emerge from that which is lifeless.

    That seems to me the more unlikely possibility. The threadbare
    "infinite monkey theorem" often used to argue for life emerging given enough time and the mechanism of chance is "a metaphor for an abstract device that produces a random sequence of letters ad infinitum."

    It is nonsense.

    One may believe in God or not, it’s all the same to me. But I prefer to live by Pascal’s Wager: One has more to gain and less to lose by living as if the bible were fundamentally true than were it not." (i.e., there is an omnipotent diety that intercedes inman’s life, helps he or she to untabgle the messes we all get ourselves in to.)

    My guess is belief plays a huge part in life in general and religion seemes to foster a hopefully helpful belief system where atheism pretty much leaves someone out on a ledge seemingly alone.

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