Saturday, June 4, 2011

What’s the Big F*ing Deal? Lil Wayne and the State Church of Norway

I sipped a drink as Cee Lo Green’s “F* You” played over the loudspeakers, expletives and all. A few tracks later, a Lil Wayne song lowered the collective IQ of all who heard it, and also featured myriad uncensored words. Not more than ten minutes later, a certain Enrique Iglesias song that is popular in clubs right now summarized modern courtship rituals—you know the song I’m talking about. All of these songs were playing over the most popular Norwegian radio station at noon in a restaurant filled with children, their parents and several senior citizens. No one cared.

Although the vast majority of Norwegians speak English and know what these words mean, there exists a certain desensitization to English swear words in the culture here. Or perhaps it’s just that those words don’t carry the same bite in Norway as they do in the United States. I couldn’t care less: it’s actually kind of fascinating. But it’s a bit strange the first time you hear such songs and don’t see parents scrambling to “ear muff” their children or demand a refund from the proprietor for letting the stuff play over the stereo. It’s just another small cultural difference. But it highlights a feature of Norway that I’ve talked about before: the ubiquitous juxtaposition of deep traditional values and modern culture.

While a walk down the street will expose you to trendy kids, The Hangover 2 posters and other such staples of the “now” culture, you’ll also see evidence of another aspect of Norway that makes it different from other places I’ve spent time in: the fact that here, the Church and the State are not separate. Virtually everything is closed on Sundays. And if you do find a place that’s open, alcohol will not be sold: giant curtains guard the six packs and tallboys and silently scream “forbidden.” In addition to the generous vacation time that all Norwegian employees are allotted—some five weeks or more annually—they also get all religious holidays off including relatively obscure ones such as Ascension Day and Pentecost. Surprisingly, not that many people here are religious to any degree. Nonetheless, the traditions are honored and, until fairly recently, no one seemed to think much of it.

The King of Norway is deemed by the constitution to be the head of the Lutheran Church: the professed faith of the country. And the Storting—the Norwegian Parliament—even controls the church’s budget. A vast majority of Norwegians are baptized every year—some 80 percent or so—but only about 20 percent of the population professes to be religious in any capacity. Less than three percent of Norwegians even attend church more than once a month: this makes Norway the “least religious” country in the world by some estimates.

With such low numbers of people claiming to be religious, the ties between the Church and the State are surprising. But movements towards separation are afoot. It used to be, more or less, required that all Norwegians be confirmed at the age of 14 into the Lutheran Church, but now many of the youth choose to go through a secular rite of passage called the borgerlig konfirmasjon: essentially an ethics course. Combined, a large percentage of teenagers across the nation go through some sort of confirmation despite the fact that only a small percentage of them will grow up to be church-goers. The main reason? Money. Like similar rites of passage in the US—graduation, Sweet 16, etc—confirmations in Norway mean big money to the youth: we’re talking several thousands of dollars or more. With such incentives in place, it’s no wonder that so few have qualms about committing to something that virtually means nothing to them. Hell, for that kind of money, I’d let them confirm me.

Still, in 2008, discussion heated up in the government about relaxing the ties between the Church and the State in Norway. The two will inevitably distance themselves from one another in the years to come. But in the meantime, Norwegians will continue to join the Lutheran Church in droves, and they’ll laugh all the way to the bank. And if you don’t like it, then they think you can go f* yourself.


  1. To the average person in Norway today, the Church is more an institution of tradition than faith. Although there exists many remote villages sharing a strong and often unusual faith.

    The rite of confirmation is more a rite of passage into adulthood than a religous one. It was about confirming a young persons entry into adulthood, and chip together to grubstake them with enough money to buy a share in a fishing vessel, or apprentice to a trade, etc.

    Alcohol hours and shop opening houra are set by the local county, and thus by the politicans elected in local elections every 4 years, not by any church.

  2. I didn't realize the alcohol hours were set by the local county. So no beer after 8 is not a standard everywhere? And what is the rationale behind this? Because you can buy beer at 8 a.m. at the Rema 1000 near us ... and I would think that drinking at 8 a.m. would pose more of a societal problem than at 10 p.m.!

  3. Jenaconti, that's because Hysfjon isn't technically correct. Although municipalities can choose to stay open for fewer hours or days than the national policy dictates, no stores in any municipality can sell alcohol during hours outside of what the Alcohol Act dictates. Off-premise retail monopoly shops (controlled by the national government) are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday to Wednesday and to 6 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. On Saturdays the retail monopoly shops are open until 3 p.m. and on Sundays all shops are closed. Grocery shops and local sellers with a municipal license to sell less-than-strong beer can do so until 8 p.m. on weekdays and 6 p.m. on Saturdays although the municipality may impose an earlier time for halting beer sales. So, the national government does have a firm grip on the sale of alcohol despite the fact that municipalities are granted some control in writing.

  4. oh oh oh i found out yesterday that it is apparently a fairly new thing that swear words are not bleeped out, happened in the last ten years or so (so not THAT new but still) thought you might be interested to know, not sure why though.