Björn Ulvaeus: “Even atheists can marvel”

In a recent article in Sans magazine, Björn contributes an article that draws on his beliefs as a Humanist, as a music listener and as a person who has loved.

Music experiences and love need not be explained, but even if it were possible, it would not call into question the feelings.

BU: Something strange and wonderful happened to me a while ago. Without warning, he added. I listened for the first time to Puccini’s opera La Bohème in a classic recording with Herbert von Karajan, Luciano Pavarotti and the Berlin Philharmonic. It was clever and beautiful and very enjoyable, much as I had expected. This will be one of the best recordings ever of the opera. But so will the Aria, Aria with a capital A, the one in Swedish begins: “So cold you are laying their hand …” That’s when the dam bursts. But I took in what was happening and it made the hairs on my whole body rise and the tears started everywhere. I felt a strange emotion when Pavarotti, without any effort, surfed the high notes. So surprising and emotional was my response that I would almost call it transcendent. It was as if Pavarotti opened up existence in a few short seconds, so much so that I could imagine something bright and incredibly nice out there, or perhaps rather inside. How could that be possible? What happened in the brain and the rest of the body? One of life’s great mysteries.

Inevitably, I will think of another, in any way closely similar mystery – draws near. We all know what is happening in a person’s heart when they fall in love, but what if we could see what’s going on in their brain? If we could see the areas affected, the chemicals released and whether we could see if the same thing happens in all brains affected by love or music. How would we look at these human phenomena? Would we discover? Rainbow was long an inexplicable mystery — was its beauty more for former times people than for those of us who are living today and who know that it consists of sunlight that is refracted in a billion droplets? We know that the sun’s rays are broken in the droplets and in the resultant spectrum all colours stand out so magically and beautifully soporific for this very reason, however, is our experience not as big as that of our ancestors? It might be, of course, we cannot be sure, but I know: I will refrain from the scientific explanation of the cause.

As a humanist and atheist, I often encounter people who think I am ice-cold rationalist. They think that I live in a black and white, unimaginative world where only common sense prevails. Nothing could be more wrong. To call oneself an atheist is not an active position, it is a passive sleep I will occupy until someone shows me that gods exist. It is the natural born state that a child is in before it becomes indoctrinated into a religious environment. Whoever is afraid of the “Revelations” as scientific achievements, must at the same time believe it actually goes to explain everything, and that the human brain is capable of understanding everything in the universe. There is fear which might result in knowing and being able to explain everything. But it does not happen. For those of us who think we just scratch the surface, it is never a threat to a Stephen Hawking is one step closer to understanding the Big Bang and barely able to transmit it to us. It only increases his fascination for the great, wonderful, unknown. This increases the willingness to take a step to closer to the light. But few of us believe we ever reach all the way.

There is nothing wrong to seek rational explanations for everything we ever could in the model of a supposed objective reality that our senses are building. Not if we have the humble attitude that we still only scratch the surface. No postmodern relativist and science-hater can then accuse me and like-minded folk for lack of imagination and sensitivity about the unknown. We say that science can’t explain everything, so that they would like to hear us say and they claim that we say whatever we say.

Now I do not think so that we can get the love, that flower in scientifically controlled — Oops, I think I agree that the fall in love, I must put the electrodes on me! In the heat of passion we have other priorities. I am not afraid of a scientific survey of love with synapses and substances and all. I think it would be equally beautiful anyway. Fixed-possibly in a different way. As science specifically explained the rainbow. And don’t forget, we do not see love, we know it. To explain how the feelings arise from the brain to see activity in neurons, it is we are light years from, that is and remains a mystery. She is the only — it is written in the stars – when you see her for the first time. She and I are meant for each other. What I choose to believe in. I put in me lurarna again and let me be withdrawn in Puccini’s world. But to resist letting my music hit me. And without worrying about how to do this.

Many thanks to Ian Cole for news of the article. I have used an online translation tool on it and tried to tidy up a bit – but I realise it is not perfect!

Related link

Sans magasin – Björn Ulvaeus: Även ateister kan förundras


  • Interesting article. It’s good to read something from Bjorn that provides a little insight into “his world”. We disagree on a few points re Pavarotti – I prefer Bocelli but anyway good to note that singers are valued as I’ve often wondered why he hasn’t pursued any solo career himself.

  • My thoughts exactly. I think I have never seen anyone so similar to me as Bjorn. Hardly surprising that I am a big fan of his (and Benny’s) work. Scientifically speaking our brains must have a similar chemical structure…

  • The world and the universe didn’t become any less wondrous to me when I lost my faith.

  • Dear Bjorn,

    Found one of your comments interesting- especially “until someone shows me that gods exists” “. I have a question: what would your criteria be for someone showing the existence of God?

    Thank you.

    Warm regards,

    Patti McCann

  • I love ABBA music and I admire Bjorn as composer, but honestly I don´t care what He thinks about God.

  • Hej!
    I had to read that article a few times over to process all of the information. That article really opened my eyes.
    I found it extremely interesting to see, in black and white, Bjorn’s thoughts on that aspect of things. As I am between religious beliefs at the moment, I found that quite intriguing.

  • Hej Björn,

    Many years ago I read Aldous Huxley’s two essays, “Heaven and Hell” and “The Doors of Perception.” In those essays Mr. Huxley describes the effects of hallucinogenic drugs, more specifically their capacity to induce feelings of directly communicating with God. He describes in some detail the physical, bodily processes that these drugs arouse and then compares them to the same bodily processes that are induced by, for example, wandering alone in the desert for a longer period of time. The results are very eye-opening. He shows that there is actually no difference between taking, say, LSD or mescaline and wandering for a prolonged period of time alone in the desert. Both situations stimulate the same bodily processes. In other words, there is really no difference between a “prophet” wandering through the desert and having hallucinations and some hippie in San Francisco taking LSD. Yet when the hippie says he’s “seen God” or such, he’s dismissed as a charlatan, whereas the person who a few thousand years earlier had similar hallucinations in the desert is considered a prophet and his hallucinations the word of God. Like you rightfully say, there’s a rational explanation for everything and if Mr. Huxley’s observations are correct, then we may have actually found a way of, as you say, looking into someone’s brain.

    Peace, love and happiness
    Paul, Frankfurt, Germany

    P.S. I coincidentally saw Benny’s Orkester perform “Why Did It Have to Be Me?” this morning on YouTube. I’m just amazed at how you came up with such brilliant, touching lyrics! I tip my hat to you, Sir.

  • Brogan said: Having found you through Helen and Du Maste Finnas ..only a few months ago…it is so wonderful to read your thoughts here. Mom and I have often noted the incredible passion that Helen shows with your lyrics/music AND there doesn’t have to be a mystery deity involved. Truly you are an inspired creator….so much magic and marvel….just from your own self. Keep it up. We get to see Helen this July where I hope she may preform Du Måste Finnas….not sure if she takes requests..?
    Tack., Brogan from Seattle.

Please leave a comment...