Chapter 24

My mother should have seen me

 Afterwards, when you sit in your car driving home after a meeting, you always think about what you should have said, but did not say.

            In the arrangement at Trefoldighetskirken, Henrik Syse and I were interviewed by vicar Dahl. The reverend Dahl (57) is what the English call a jolly good fellow. He is sympathetic and sincere. He smiles easily. He has the good looks of a working class hero, and does not look like a traditional clergyman. He was once a candidate to become bishop in the bishopric of Tunsberg on the western side of the Oslo Fjord. If I have got the story right, Dahl received most votes from the parish councils, but government appointed a female bishop.

             Now he is a vicar in a fifty percent job, and spend the rest of his time writing and lecturing.

            One reason for my bad feelings about the evening is that I didn’t say anything, when interviewed by Dahl, about the bad way many in the church deal with homosexuality and homosexual marriages. On the other hand; eternity, not homosexuality, was the theme of the evening.

            Was I playing the role of what Vladimir Ilyich Lenin called  ”an useful idiot”? Did my apperance in a church make the church community seem more tolerant than it really is?

            Should I have stated more clearly that I disagree totally with the dogmas and the ideology of the church? But this is obivous, since I am an atheist. No need to say it.

            A charming clergyman like Dahl is dangerous to me, because he can trap me into saying charming things about Christianity which I do not really mean. I should have been more cautious, an a bit tougher.

              I could have said that I dream of a society where there are no churches, or mosques, or Buddhist temples. But as a modern atheist, and not on oldfashioned Soviet atheist, I have learned to live with the churches, the mosques and the temples, and to accept that they exist and will do so for as long as we can see into the future.

             Am I a coward since I did not put up a real fight to convince the Christian audiences at Katarinahjemmet and Trefoldighetskirken that they should become atheists like me? Have I capitulated? Where is my missionary zeal?

             When a Christian crowd meets an atheist like me – a pudding of an atheist! - the crowd’s beleif in God does not diminish. It increases. My appearance strengthens the beleivers in their faith.

              If I was an attraction of the evening, I attracted people to a church preaching a faith I do not beleive in.

             And all those Christians were happy to see me because they knew that my words would run off them like water off a duck’s back (”prelle av som vann på gåsa”).

             I should have read more existensialist-atheist philosophy in advance. I just paged through a few pages of Camus. I should have prepeared myself by reading more of Jean Paul Sartre. I should have appeared more arrogant, like the French atheists do, more like Sartre. I should have played the role of a real tough and brain-strong guy from the Latin Quarter in Paris.

             Do I have a hidden agenda when going to church? Am I afraid of Islam? I grew up in a white, Christian Norway. From the mid-seventies, when immigrants started to arrive here from Pakistan, I have always spoken strongly against racism. In a Labour Day speech in the small, very white – all the houses are painted white – town of Risør on the southern coast, in 1987, I said that Norway needed a million new immigrants. At the time that was very controversial, also amongst leftwing politicians. Today business, trade and industry advocate increased immigration of  skilled labourers from all parts of the world. But am I really in favour of it?

             I have spoken warmly about multicultural society. Now Islam is on the rise in Norway because of immigration from Moslem countries. I am a white man, brought up with Protestantism. Do I want The Church of Norway to be strong to prevent the growth of Islam?

             This cannot be true!   

             But bad feelings I have.

             Then a good feeling: After the interview, Syse and I were invited to give short, five minute lectures. And I think my lecture went well and was clear enough. It was as concise a speech about atheism as I am capable to deliver. I said that my reason (that small hindrance!) prevents me from beleiving in the supernatural.

             I mentioned the response to my internet book, all the letters and emails from believers. I said that it is a new experience for me to know that men and women all over the country pray for me. I used the opportunity to thank my Christian compatriots for their consideration.

            But, I said, this new situation, this pressure, all those prayers, have not changed my beleif. I’m in a process of  self-aknowledgement. In this process I have to be honest to myself and to all those who take contact with me. I cannot fake faith when there is no faith.

            I said that I find it astonishing that I am not condemned by anybody. The great friendliness bestowed upon me by the Christian grassroots has been a positive surprise to me. I had expected more fanaticism, perhaps outright hatred, to be directed from the grassroots towards an outspoken atheist.

            But friendliness, I said, is not enough to change my mind.

             Oh, I sighed, how I envy the beleivers! But envy is not a good reason to change one’s mind. If I dig at the bottom of my soul, I find an atheism which is deply rooted in me. Life eternal is not for me. Earthly life is all I get, and I have to be satisfied with that.

             We, the guests, did not speak from the elevated pulpit at Trefoldighetskirken, but from a speaker’s desk on the floor.

              I resisted the temptation to speak about my mother.

             When I entered the speaker’s desk, I thought that my mother should have seen me now, and been proud to see her son in front of such a big audience, speaking his mind. This is a thought I often have, when dreaming and when awake, that my mother can see me.

              It is one of the great sorrows of my life that my mother did not live long enough to experience that I became an author. She died in the spring of 1972. At that time my situation in life was not the best. My first marriage had gone to pieces, and I was divorced. I had got sacked, for political reasons and because of my own stubborn stupidity, from my first job as a journalist in the Labour Party newspaper Nordlys in Tromsø in North Norway. I held a highly insecure job in a newspaper in Hamar, Nye Stikka, which was run by the editorial staff after the bankrupcy of the original, Conservative newspaper Stiftstidende. I had joined the young Marxist-Leninist movment. I risked to be blacklisted from jobs in every ordinary newspaper in Norway (and so I was). My mother was afraid that I should become a drifter in society. She was very worried about me. And I was worried about her, because I saw that she was not in good health. But I did not understand how bad her health really was. Then she died from a heart attack at only 62 years of age. Three years later I published my first novel. She was not there to see it and read it.

             If I had said, at the desk at Trefoldighetskirken, that I would have loved that my mother saw me, that might have sounded pathetic. But I am not so afraid of sounding pathetic, or emotional, or even high-flown.

             The real risk was that I should have been misunderstood. That the audience should have thought that I meant that my mother saw me from Heaven.  

             The thought that we can meet our dead beloved in an afterlife is a deeply fascinating and gripping thought. It is one of the pillars of Christianity. But in my opinion it is a pillar built of sand, which cannot stand.

             However much I would have loved to meet my mother and father again, I do not think I ever shall.

             I head south on the motorway in the rain. I think about Syse, and his father, Jan P. Syse, who was prime minister of Norway, representing the Conservative Party (Høyre), and who died quite suddenly when not very old. That must have been a terrible blow to his son. Does Henrik Syse really beleive that he’ll meet again with his father? Yes, since he is a Christian beleiver he does. What is strange to me, is normal to Syse, and to the majority of my people.

             Syse said that the resurrection of Jesus is fundamental for his faith. He told the audience that it was a proof of resurrection that the diciples believed so firmly in it that they rather be tortured and killed by the Romans than deny it.

             To me that is not a proof. I admire the courage of the diciples, but I see their acts of heroism as proof of nothing else than how strong faith can be.

              Many good Communists have died martyr’s deaths, being tortured and then shot down by Nazis or Fascists, calling out as their last words ”Long live Communism! Leve kommunismen! Viva el partido communista!” The martyrdom of these Communists is no proof that Communism was ”true”. It proves only that beleif in Communism once was very strong.

             I arrive at our house, an old Swiss style timber house by the road, painted yellow ochre. The house needs some fresh paint, and soon the painters are to come.

             I am too tired to think more about spiritual matters. I think about painting.

             The air is still heavy with rain, but the temperature is high enough for sitting outside on the veranda. I bring a glass of Scotch with plenty of icecubes to the veranda. My companion has gone to bed. I sit in darkness and solitude.

             I lift my glass and drink.

             ”Skål, ” I say. It is one of the well-kown Scandinavian words which needs no translation.

             ”Skål, old chap,” I say. Then I salute the Blood Tree. Its first leaves of spring are soon to unfold. ”Skål, old tree.”  

              Then I salute Trefoldighetskirken: ”Skål, old church. I survived, as an atheist, being your guest.”

                 I have no feeling that my mother sees me now. Nobody sees me. I am alone in the night. I am swallowed up by the night.

                 ”Skål, night.”   

       Chapter 23

Chapter 25