Abroad View: Laughing at Jesus in Denmark

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By Parker Barry, Denmark

I visited the Trinitatis Church in Copenhagen today. The church was built in the 17th century during the reign of Christian IV, a Protestant Lutheran. The church was beautiful. When I first walked in, the alter caught my eye immediately; Jesus hung nailed to his cross with bits of gold shooting out like sun bursts. Gold-covered pieces of the archways and the organ were magnificently vibrant.
It was really quiet and people gave my friend and me judgmental glances as we whispered comments to one another. There was almost no one in the church on that Tuesday afternoon. A pair of tourists glared at us as we snickered a bit at Jesus, and one woman looked at me like I was personally disrespecting her. I think I laughed because I was uncomfortable in this formal setting. I felt out of place not only being in a church but being an American in Denmark in this place of worship.

I guess what those people don’t know is I wasn’t trying to make fun of Christianity or organized religion; I’m not ignorant to its history and significance. I was raised Protestant and know quite a bit about the Bible through various medieval history courses and a Republican father. I think, though, that you should be able to laugh a little about the absurdity of Jesus hanging from his cross — it looked to me that he was judging me because he died for my sins and I clearly wasn’t living up to his legacy.

Outside the church, we were approached by some Danish students doing a survey for tourists in Copenhagen. After answering their questions, we asked them some of our own. One of the students said he “doesn’t care about religion,” a statement familiar to me as I come from a liberal arts college on the west coast of the U.S. I asked him if he thought religion was stigmatized — if he met someone who went to church every Sunday, would he think they were weird? He said he probably would, and that it isn’t normal at all for Danes to be very involved with religion.
He said he was registered as a Protestant Lutheran when he was a child, but canceled his membership because he “doesn’t mind paying taxes to build bridges and educate Danes, but [he] does mind paying taxes for the church.”

Every citizen of Denmark is born a member of the Lutheran church, yet they are not very religious at all. Most Danes are atheist — it’s interesting, though, that their image is so profoundly built upon this one unifying religion. What makes the welfare state of Denmark work is homogeny, every person feeling as if they are brothers and sisters.

The unifying religion of Lutheranism helps contribute to this. Denmark has the oldest monarchy in the world, it has lasted around 1,000 years. The royalty of Denmark legally have to practice Lutheranism — it’s written in the constitution — yet if you asked the average Dane they would say that Denmark is primarily atheist. This phenomena adds to the veil of the Danish image.

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