Back to reality
Back in South Africa after 2½ weeks in Sweden; the closer family and friend relations are indispensable and therefore Sweden is indispensably an important part of whom we are. However I have questions as to what is going on in Swedish society more in general, perhaps I don’t understand it. First it was quite fascinating to listen to some of the debates in the current election campaign as the general elections will take place on 19 September.
After a while I felt trapped and confined to what felt like a very small space. It appeared that almost all the issues discussed were internal issues regarding school, unemployment, taxation etc, all of them very important issues. Two very important issues were however hardly discusses at all: the role of recent and not so recent immigrants, and the role of religion (read church) in public life.
The first issue was held in abeyance because of the up coming party the Swedish Democrats which probably will get the needed 4 % in order to gain access to parliament. None of the other parties wants to utter any critical view point regarding immigrants as that could be taken as being sympathetic with the ‘hostile against foreigners’ party the Swedish Democrats. It would have been far more honest if some of the real problems regarding integration into Swedish society could have been discussed without fear and favour. It would even have given some an opportunity to state what a blessing immigration has been and is in many ways; the current minister of integration grew up in Sweden but is from Kenya. So the other parties kept silent.
Even more conspicuous was the silence around religion. The common Swede perhaps does not need religion and church any longer. And church leaders more often than not go out of their way to insure that being Christian is not very different from anything else. In terms of attitude there is a constant pussyfooting, making sure that there is no real difference between people of faith and people of whatever else there might be. In terms of convictions (faith etc) there is also a constant adherence to minimalism: you should say as little as possible about God with as few words as possible; if at least it could be openly claimed that there is a theological line that is accepting the fact that we know very little about God if anything, it is good to know there is this very old tradition of apophatic theology (we know what God is not, rather than what and who God is).
This almost total lack of a public theology in Sweden is astonishing and shocking. People seem to get along with ease without it… Church leaders who might be said to be called to be a prophetic voice in any given society comfortably blend into the background wallpaper.
Coming back to South Africa again is great, and I am only ‘three days old’ here, so far. It is indeed to return to reality and I don’t hesitate to say it. At the same time South Africa is pretty much like Sweden: people’s minds seem to be completely conditioned by South Africa only, as if there was no other world outside. When it comes to the flow of information and general interest, in fact South Africa is much more insular than Sweden. And yet, I can claim that I have returned to reality. Yes, I can. The first evening I had Zaviour on the door again, wondering where I had been for so long. The 16 year old’s household, headed by a jobless father, had no food items, again. It is very hard to turn down this gentle boy with this very soft voice. The screaming wealth next to the jobless and undernourished in shacks and the young students who with such a poor background make it through the degrees at university (we at UWC have our graduation in ten days’ time), all these aspects and many more, plus the often radical openness of this crazy society in terms of access to a public meeting or the basic freedom of speech, all these things make this place a reality that I simply could not find, neither in Stockholm, nor in Uppsala or Småland.
Back to reality…