Björn Ulvaeus: “I imagine a universe that does not care the slightest bit about me”

Björn Ulvaeus

Last year Björn wrote an article called ‘Även ateister kan förundras’ (Even atheists can marvel) for Swedish magazine Sans.

In the article, he drew on his beliefs as a Humanist, as a music listener and as a person who has experienced what it means to love, to argue that beauty and wonder are not solely the preserve of the religious-minded.

Just published in Sweden is a brand new Sans Magazine article in which Björn reflects on his recent experiences of becoming reacquainted with Kristina från Duvemåla and how, despite the musical having a deeply religious central character, it has only helped reaffirm his status as a ‘freethinker’.

Read my translation of the article below:

Björn Ulvaeus: Thanks to the Svenska Teatern in Helsinki, I have had the opportunity to become familiar again with the musical Kristina från Duvemåla. It premiered at the end of February and being on set was, like last time in the 1990s, entirely fantastic and stimulating.

Once again I was struck how tenderly the author Vilhelm Moberg depicted the profound believer Kristina. Sympathy with the lonely frontier wives out there in the wilderness is self-evident for him, and I felt the same thing when I wrote the lyrics.

It got me thinking about why some people hold close to a dear religious belief, while for others it is impossible.

Vilhelm Moberg places Kristina alone under a starry sky in her singular heart-rending moment of doubt. For the first time in her life, she is not sure whether God really exists. A number of crucial events have meant that she has reached this pivotal moment. In the musical we have her singing:

Du måste finnas, du måste
– You must be there, you must

Hur kan du då överge mig
– How can you abandon me?

Jag vore ingenstans…
– I would be nowhere…

Jag vore ingenting om du inte fanns
– I would be nothing if you did not exist

Kristina stares out into the infinite, icy abyss and feels that despite everything, God is out there. He must be out there because she needs him so much.

I believe that this applies to billions of people in the world; because the need is so great, there must be an answer to it as if the needs is itself based on the theory of supply and demand but on ideological grounds.

“The human need for consolation is insatiable,” wrote Stig Dagerman, and therefore he could never become a happy person, because ” I have no belief and because of that I can never be a happy man. Because happy men should never fear that their lives drift meaninglessly toward the certainty of death.”

Is it the case that evolution has seen to it that some of us have brains that are predisposed to accept religious impulses without questioning them?

Hopefully, neuroscientific brain mapping will eventually provide answers to what religion is.

While others, like me, have an icy-cold scepticism, a part of me that like a cobra strikes down on those impulses and begs the inevitable question: “Is it actually right to think like this? Yeah, I know it would be nice if it were true, but… ”

As everyone knows, the brain is able to put us into a state of dreaming and so one could imagine that religious revelations, of the type that Mohammed and Paul are said to have had, is just the brain playing tricks on us. Hopefully, neuroscientific brain mapping will eventually provide answers to what religion is, and on to whether God exists or not.

If it is the case that there are people who deeply and from their very core, honestly and without any doubt, feel, know, that there is a God and that he cares about them, then it follows that those people must be happier than others.

They are to be congratulated as long as they do not allow decisions made as a result of their convictions impact others.

Kristina gets her unyielding faith back, convinced that she and Karl Oskar are destined to meet again on the other side:

I natt, ska en stjärna tändas, den ska skina klar
– Tonight, there will be a new star, it shall shine so bright

Den lyser dej väg, du och jag, vi mötas åter
– It lights up your way, you and I, we will meet in the ever after

Beskyddet av en ängel som står vakt
– Protection from an angel on his guard

Det vet du att jag har
– You know that I will have that

Jag vill att du ska minnas vad jag sagt
– I implore that you shall recall what I said…

Jag är i gott bevar
– I am in good keeping

I find myself also staring into the boundless, icy abyss and imagine a universe that does not care the slightest bit about me.

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18 Replies to “Björn Ulvaeus: “I imagine a universe that does not care the slightest bit about me””

  1. Björn is wise, and I fully share his understanding. I’ll be insulted if anyone claims that just because I do not believe in religion, I cannot be in awe over the beauty in nature and the amazing Universe. The wonders of our Planet, the mysteries of time and space, and the bewildering of all unanswered questions; -God is for me not the answer (none of them!), and neither is the answer based on revelations someone else has had. If anyone is blessed, then we all are.
    I believe that if there’s anything to understand, it will come to me and everyone who lives and breathes like the warmth of the sun, the sound of the waves and the smell of the forest. The wonders and the horrors of this tiny blue planet should make us wiser. Any ideas of a God, a Mother or Father of all things, and/or a spiritual sphere which only some of us truly can interpret and understand is deeply wrong towards us all. The starry sky Kristina seeks help from is just as wonderful and uniqely amazing if there’s no God out there.

    There is absolutely nothing cold about not believing: there’s a harmony in everything without God, and it can all make sense even if I wonder about a million things 🙂

    Thanks, Björn!

  2. Openness and rightfulness…
    Are people entitled to hold, share and communicate a belief that at some point might be cause or inspiration of to inflict sorrow for others?
    “Any ideas (…) which only some of us truly can interpret and understand is deeply wrong towards us all” John states above.

    While Bjorn questions “others, like me, have an icy-cold skepticism,(…) beg the inevitable question: “Is it actually right to think like this?”.
    And finally -also- states; “If it is the case that there are people who deeply and from their very core, honestly and without any doubt, feel, know, that there is a God and that he cares about them, then (…) They are to be congratulated as long as they do not allow decisions made as a result of their convictions impact others”.

    The mystery of how each of one of us forms our belief…
    To approach this deep question, It is safe to assume that each involved science will deliver their answer in their own jargon and based on their own scope and measuring tools, their own parameters focus and indexes for evaluation. Cognitive sciences as well as neurophysics and biology related branches do overlap their field study but also to some extent differ. The same way a telescope won’t study the same subject than a microscope (though both study the physical reality). And as such, both sciences will produce results that from the onset could not be imposed on such cases as broad subject as the human experience. In short, specialized sciences could hardly bring absolute answers when studying human matters, but only bring enlightening parts of the puzzle.

    Whether religious people have had many times over shown disrespect and disdain for people who differ, there had also been some (certainly a minority) religious persons whom have held respect for the unknown, the uncertainty and other beliefs.

    The paradox is that a majority of cartesian based scientists (mostly XX century ones but their sway do lingers on,.. Many times I catch myself on such predicaments). Again, many scientists would still expect particular branches of science to answer questions that in scope are broader than the very assumptions and limitations their own specialization bases on.
    On more contemporary postmodernist approaches favor -instead- interdisciplinary studies and careful wording of the limitations of each investigation results…. And this stems even at high broader studies like philosophy that nowadays mostly exchanges absolute answers for probabilistic tentative presentations.

    i do perceive this swing as a move to humbleness and in such vein, as a society we are gaining respect to each other and possibly also openness, while at the same time we are able to witness how our knowledge swiftly increases.

    Also I enuntiate the above with some sense of relief, since the main questions look far from answered. From time to time, strong painful experiences do fiercely shaken me and no matter I won’t wish anybody to go thru them, sometimes when reflecting on those, a feeling of thankfulness do bear with me

  3. There are few atheists in fox holes. Björn, we love you, but pony up. Really think about it. Will I See You In Heaven?

  4. I think that there is a difference between the question why people are religous and if there is a God. There are too many question we don’t know the answer to them and even the scientists don’t have all the answers. One of the questions is what is life? We know the mechnism of life but not why it is happen and why it stops. The same thing is the thinking and imagination it is not clear at all also to the scientists… these questions and much more are unclear and raise a doudt about how it all begin and why… The scepticism can play for both sides because we are very far from answers to a kot of cricial questions..

  5. With religion comes fundamentalism not based on fact, and with science comes a conveyerbelt of fanciful theories which are quickly superseded by the next. I’ve stopped listening to what physicists say.

    Both these things are open to misinterpretation and misuse, and I feel its best to keep an equidistance from both.

  6. in reading the article, I stand firm on my belief that the lyrics to Du måste finnas, are not as powerful in English. “You must EXIST” is far more poignant than “You Have to Be There”. It doesn’t question the existence of God, it merely questions the location. The English translation just watered down the depth of the pain and questioning.

  7. It appears we have some very deep thinkers contributing here although there appears to be only one inescapable conclusion and that is we must keep asking the questions !
    Each riddle solved is a miracle in itself and just possibly, inspiration for another great song.

  8. As a former Christian believer myself, I understand Bjorn perfectly. Ultimately, it’s all about survival. And because it’s about survival, it’s all about security. That thing we all seek and never can quite find to our satisfaction? That’s security–or, rather, a release from our feelings of insecurity. We’ve needed those uncomfortable feelings in order to survive as a species. They’ve kept us skittish, willing to jump, sometimes even when there was no real need, just so we’ll do it when there is a need. But they don’t feel very good. So we 1., seek to make ourselves more secure (seek power) and 2., anesthetize ourselves to our insecurities. We all do this. Religion–belief in protective deities–is just some people’s attempted means to that latter end. To the degree we’re successful in these efforts, we feel more secure. And “happiness” is virtually defined as freedom from that sense of being under threat. Those of us who don’t believe in gods don’t have that retreat, but the confidence that we’re more in tune with reality is adequate compensation.

  9. If the reader (including, hopefully, dear Björn) will forgive my trivial transgression from Björn’s thought-provoking observations, let me try to connect these three phrases taken from the interview: 1) ‘The human need for consolation is insatiable’ 2) ‘Tonight, there will be a new star, it shall shine so bright’ 3) ‘I … imagine a universe that does not care the slightest bit about me’
    A lot of people, all around the globe, found consolation in an evening out watching, listening to, feeling, absorbing Mamma Mia. I say it is time for a new star, and we do care about you Björn: your and Benny’s music catalogue includes a wealth of material for an inspired and inspiring sequel. I hope for a ‘revelation’ on your part Björn, and as you can see, it doesn’t have to be of the religious variety …
    Arnold

  10. If the reader (including, hopefully, dear Björn) will forgive my trivial digression from Björn’s thought-provoking observations, let me try to connect these three phrases taken from the interview: 1) ‘The human need for consolation is insatiable’ 2) ‘Tonight, there will be a new star, it shall shine so bright’ 3) ‘I … imagine a universe that does not care the slightest bit about me’
    A lot of people, all around the globe, found consolation in an evening out watching, listening to, feeling, absorbing Mamma Mia. I say it is time for a new star, and we do care about you Björn: your and Benny’s music catalogue includes a wealth of material for an inspired and inspiring sequel. I hope for a ‘revelation’ on your part Björn, and as you can see, it doesn’t have to be of the religious variety …
    Arnold

  11. Bjorn, I don’t know if you have time to read the comments, but I have read a few of your articles and sense that you would like to believe there is a creator responsible for all of the splendid in both heaven (above) and earth below. I always seemed to be hard pressed to want to know if there is something beyond this earth and why there is death and where the human spirit goes after leaving the earthy body. Where is the personality (thoughts, laughter, etc). Does that just go into nothingness?? What is the point of this life and having family, etc if we no longer to exist? I started reading the bible several years ago after exploring others paths and was astounded at how this book addresses this world’s evil and where it first manifested itself. The bible says that God created everything in an orderly fashion and that sin (evil) entered the world through disobedience to God. It also mentioned that there is a Kingdom beyond this earth where we can dwell in an uncorrupted state where the Creator God dwells for all eternity. What other alternatives are there out there? Many – but who has the truth??? I have come to believe in this Marvelous God and my life has new meaning and I see God’s handiwork in everything good. I would like to ask you to go back to the Bible and read the Gospel of John Chapter 1, verses 1-20. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a]it………and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….

  12. Universe exist by itself and it doesn’t need creator. Universe is the only existence
    and even God (if would exist) can not make to universe disappear.

  13. Atheists sadden me. Generally they seem to believe that they have a monopoly on thought. For example in the above article “Is it the case that evolution has seen to it that some of us have brains that are predisposed to accept religious impulses without questioning them?”
    What evidence is there that those who believe in a deity, do not question their beliefs or that their conclusion is any less valid? What about those who have been tortured for their beliefs, persecuted – surely they might have questioned their convictions?
    And the above quote also brings up the theory of evolution. This so called ‘scientific’ theory claims that nothing at all, produced all the physical laws that we know of, all matter, caused some of that matter to start to live, and gradually increase in complexity over time. Every aspect of that sequence is proven to be false by genuine scientific experimentation. Yet atheists cannot see that incredibly simple point.
    So what has this got to do with Bjorn? Well as a fan of great music, it saddens me that those who create it (note that-create not randomly mutate from a scale of notes) seem to hold a position of intellectual superiority, and also that their outspoken views influence others.

  14. @SWorthington
    Following your balanced thought process you could otherwise choose -not to- “sadden me that those that create (…great music) hold a position and influence others”.
    As you pointed out, there is no conclusive evidence for any hypothesis (there is God or not), and so to hold a view and to communicate it is rather a personal choice. That precisely this is a matter or a subject for somebody to discuss and share in their respective circles of influence is also a matter of choice. I don’t feel “influenced” in any way. On the contrary I do welcome that people from whom I respect or admire parts of their output, (art or mostly whatever I respect), do find additional ways to share their views and intimate choices. Plus, we are offered here the freedom to tune in and even respond.

    I also do value the possibility to respond to your opinions, knowing what we somehow share some part of our tastes, but do not know each other in all other respects.
    Peace

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