Zuckerman writes a fascinating book with a great deal of startling information in it, and I greatly enjoyed reading it. However, after pondering the book for some time, I believe the author has missed the true revelation which his data offers. He considers himself a nonbeliever/agnostic (7-8), and so this Scandinavian lack of religiosity appears to frame both beginning and end for his research. I read his “cause and effect” to be as follows:
- He notices that statistically the majority of the populace in Scandinavian countries classify themselves as nonbelievers;
- He wonders what sort of society this lack of religious belief will produce;
- Through personal experience and statistical analysis he decides it’s really amazingly nice;
- Simultaneously with #3, he interviews Scandinavians to figure out what they did to create this effect; then…
- He writes a book about his research on what a secular society is like and how it happened.
To me this demonstrates Zuckerman’s sociologist (as opposed to, say, anthropologist) intellectual roots. He starts with his question (#2 above), then searches for the data to support or refute it. I would like to think an anthropologist, on the other hand, would more closely examine the people and the culture itself to see how all these unusual bits of data interrelate, rather than confining herself to answering a single question regarding an entire cultural paradigm. Further, an anthropologist would better understand (I hope) that he must be careful not to force the data to fit his preconceived beliefs.
A quick sidenote: The classic example for me of forcing the data to fit a modern belief system was in fact the root cause of my thesis research: I discovered the historically mostly-male archaeologists simply assumed all burial mounds with weapons in them must belong to men — because “everyone knows” women do not fight. Consequently these male archaeologists missed a great deal of fascinating and relevant data due to their blindness to the possibility that there might be women warriors and war leaders.
Also: yes, I do realize there are good and bad examples in any field of endeavor. ;)
The Ethnocentric Every-God
I believe Zuckerman has made a cultural paradigm error of this type in his research. The confused and somewhat ethnocentric imprecision which permeates Zuckerman’s book seems clear to me from his title choice: he’s discussing societies without God. True, he mentions some of his reasoning behind his titular choice: “many elements of the Lutheran religion definitely continue to permeate Danish and Swedish culture” (8). However, not only does he later attempt to negate this as nothing more than “cultural religion,” as mentioned in the previous blog posting… but even when speaking of spiritual rather than religious beliefs, he does not seem able to conceive of a spirituality which is not patrifocal and androcentric (128).
This is particularly odd considering his frequent mention of people who still have spiritual beliefs, but are neither members of the Lutheran church nor part of any established religion; he truly does not seem to consider these valid examples of religion. He even mentions with surprise how many people feel there is “something” out there, and that “there is meaning everywhere,” as well as the people who turn to Nature for inner peace (59, 61, 63, 70-72) — and then he seems to completely miss the possibility that this is a form of religiosity!
It is bleakly amusing that, when interviewing the Asatru woman, he tries immediately to associate Thor with Jesus. Not only is it she who brings up the goddesses — did he forget their existence? -but by his rather simple reaction to “Freja” she realizes she must explain both that the goddesses are equal to the gods, and also that they are not simply and solely concerned with sex and/or fertility (137). Indeed, the author seems to have conflated the words God and religion in his mind, as he occasionally uses them interchangeably. It is as if the model of religion as anything but an integral, internalized element of masculine social power is completely beyond his conception.
Not only can he not conceive of a non-patrifocal religion… but apparently he cannot see these personal blinders on himself. He mentions in extremely casual passing, for example, that the Lutheran clergy in Scandinavia is now predominantly female — but he doesn’t seem to register what incredible, dramatic social changes must underlie this amazing development (8). Indeed, I had to laugh when I read him unthinkingly quoting someone who actually used the term patristic in connection with organized religion and its skeptical reception in Scandinavia (42). It would appear Zuckerman completely missed the significance of that astoundingly perceptive statement.
This, then, is why I believe Zuckerman has all the empirical data, but the answer they lead to eludes him: the author cannot see religion (or society?) in any terms but patriarchal ones, which means he also will not be able to see any non-patriarchal social structures for what they truly are. This growing lack of interest in organized, patriarchal religion in Scandinavia is not some simple, casual social cause-and-effect. It is instead the unplanned byproduct of the social elimination of patriarchy.