Chapter  3

The Pope’s worry, and my own


On March 23rd 2008 the Norwegian daily newspaper Klassekampen (Class Struggle) published a paragraph under the title ”- En historisk sannhet” (” – A historical truth”), signed by journalist Sandra Lillebø, quoting the French newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur.

          I was the editor in chief of Klassekampen for five years, from 1997 to 2002. The newspaper calls itself ”The daily of the left”.

          To my Norwegian readers of this text I have to explain that the English word ”resurrection” means ”oppstandelse”. (I did not know the precise English word for ”oppstandelse” myself, until I checked the dictionary). Just like in Norwegian, the word is probably mostly used when writing or speaking about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In my translation into English the short article in Klassekampen goes like this:


When Pope Benedict XVI held his weekly mass for thousands of beleiving Catholics three days after Easter, he said that the resurrection of Jesus ”is a truth that is fundamental to our belief, and a historical truth that is widely established, even if there is no lack of people who doubt it”, writes Le Nouvel Observateur. The Pope expressed his worry that there are less humans  who believe in the resurrection now than it was before. – This makes the Christian testimony fragile, he said.


Pope Benedict is obviously correct when he says that the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday is fundamental for the Christian faith, for Catholics and Protestants alike. Resurrection is in my opinion the pillar of Christianity. Thus, it is not remarkable that the Pope is worried because there are less believers in resurrection now than it used to be. That he states that this fact makes the testimony of Christians fragile, is an interesting aknowledgment from the spiritual leader of one billion adherents to the Roman Catholic church.


            I am amongst those who doubt, or rather denies, that the resurrection of Jesus is a historical truth. I consider the biblical preaching of the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb in the cliff, the Holy Sepulchre, a Christian dogma in which I cannot believe. This lack of belief in the resurrection has been with me since boyhood, since at the age of fifteen I refused to be a candidate for confirmation in The Norwegian church, our state church.

Pope Benedict has more to worry about. On March 31 the Norwegian news agency Norsk Telegrambyrå published a short article with the title ”More Moslems than Catholics”. It reads, in my translation:


Islam has  passed Roman Catholicism as the worlds largest religion, the Vatican informs.

            - For the first time in history we are no longer at the top. The Moslems have taken over, says Vittorio Formenti, who is finishing work on the yearbook of the Vatcian, to the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservvatore Romano.


I strikes me as funny that this information comes from the Holy See in Rome, and not from Mecca.

            It is interesting that the Vatican is honest enough to admit that the Catholic Church has been bypassed in size by Islam. What would this mean for the papal authority?

            Vittorio Formenti gave a sober statment. But behind the walls of the Vatican there might be hard feelings, quite an uproar. It is always though to be beaten.

            Still, Islam is not bigger than Christianity as a whole, since the Roman Church does not encompass all of Christianity. If we also count the believers in the Protestant strongholds of Northern Europe and North America, and those in the Orthodox churches, Christianity by far beats Islam.

            I am not proud of that. I live in a Christian country. Since Norway has had relatively limited immigration from Moslem countries, it is formally and in reality one of the most Christian countries in the world. Atheism and agnosticism is not uncommon, but in the overall picture Norway is a predominantly Christian country. I would like it not to be. But I’m not actively fighting the Christians of my country. I’m fighting for my soul.

            Islam has come to Norway, especially with Pakistani and Somali immigration, and mosques have been built in the biggest cities.

         As a matter of fact, the most common name given to boy babies in Oslo is now Mohammed. Yes, official statistics for the year 2007 show that Mohammed is on top of the list. When I think about this, I smile a little. It is a change that no one could have foreseen when I was a boy, or 25 years ago. Growing old, I tend to be more conservative in many aspects. But still I like some changes, and this shift in our name culture from the traditional Norwegian names Ola and Nils to Mohammed has a strange appeal to me, even if I am an atheist. (My dictionary spells atheist with a small a, but Catholic and Communist with a large C. Why is that, I wonder?)

          Those who speak of an upcoming Moslem takeover of Norway are far away from the truth. Islamofobic sentiments are on the rise, but not widespread. Racist fanaticism is present in Norway, but luckily not omnipresent.

          Christianity in Norway is so well rooted that most people, ordinary people, the true believers and the lukewarm believers, do not feel Islam as a threat, just as they do not feel atheism as a threat.

         When it comes to religion, things go on in Norway like they have done for the last 1000 years. The church has lost its firm grip on people, but is still a powerful institution which pervades daily life more than we normally think of. An association called Human-Etisk Forbund (The Humanistic-Ethical Society) organizes non-believers, has done so for 52 years, and is nowadays making some progress. I have spoken at the society’s confirmation sermons, which are very well attended. But compared to the influence of the church, the society’s influence is minimal.

         After I published the internet book ”Brev fra de troende”, I have had overwhelming response from my Christian countrymen and –women. This has reminded me that I’m an irreligious man in a religious country, in a religious world. I belong to the minority, nationally and world wide.


         I have written about the worries of the Pope and the papacy. From Norway there is some good news for the Vatican. The Catholic Church is on the rise here. In Oslo the Catholics need more churches, and are ready to take over some empty and vacant Protestant churches that will probably be offered them. Why is this? The explanation is simple. We have had a wave of immigration of workers from Poland, especially in the building sector. Many of those workers are pious Catholics who want to go to church.


         It is one of the paradoxes of life and history, and one could joke about it, like I – if I had the courage to do so – would do with some Polish farmhands, painters and carpenters I meet. I would say: Poland used to be Communist. Now it’s exporting Catholics. 


         Then I would become serious and say that, even if I reckoned, and still reckon, at solemn occations and on May 1st, myself a Communist, I did not support the Polish government during the upheaval in the 1980’es. I supported the Solidarity movement led by Lech Walesa. But that is another story.



         Today is Tuesday the 8th of April, and now it’s late evening. Earlier in the day I took a trip to Oslo to take a blood test at the laboratory at Kreftsenteret at Ullevål Hospital. The test is of great importance to me. It is internationally and in Norway called a PSA test. The test measures the amount af prostate anti-genes in the blood. High values may indicate cancer.

 A similar test which was performed on me in the spring of 2007 gave a test result with a value of 20,9. The value had increased from 10,1 the year before. My doctor told me I was obviously in the risk sector for prostate cancer. I went through further tests at Sykehuset Østfold (The Østfold County Hospital) in Fredrikstad. Testing with supersonic vibration equipment (”ultralyd” in Norwegian) gave no conclusion. But sampling of the cellular tissue (”biopsi” in Norwegian) of the prostate gland showed that I had the malign cancerous tumour mentioned before.

            After  X-ray treatment, I took a blood test in early January this year. I had a consultation with one of the cancer specialist doctors at Ullevål on January 8th. He presented to me the good news that my PSA value now was 0,0. Seemingly, the X-rays had done very good work, and the treatment been a success, the cancer exterminated. But there was a snag to this. The zero result might have been connected to an after effect of the hormone cure I had underwent since July.

            Now, I have been off hormones since the midst of November. The new PSA test will therefore be more conclusive, and decisive for my future. I’ll get the result when I meet with the Ullevål doctor again on April 15th. Am I anxious? Of course I am! Am I worried? You bet!

            I think of the thousands of cancer patients around the globe that eagerly, and with more or less fear in their minds, await similar test results. I have prostate cancer brothers from North Cape in Norway to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, from here to the most remote regions of Siberia, to the faraway Amazon.

            Cancer of the prostrate is the most common type of cancer in the male population of Norway, and as far as I know in most countries of the world. In my country, 4000 cases are discovered every year. Modern treatment has reduced prostate cancer mortality in Norway dramatically. It’s a popular saying that one does not die of this disease, but that one dies with it. This is not the whole truth. If the prostate cancer you have is not completely cured, its deadly cells might wander through the lymph paths to other parts of the body, especially to the spine, and eventually spread further and kill you.

            I cross my fingers. I know I’ll wake up at night and think about the glass test tube at he Ullevål laboratory which holds my blood sample. My fate is in that small tube.

            If the PSA value is too high, I may be given a new hormone treatment to hamper the cancer development. That would be a possible comfort of a kind. But it would not completely subdue my mental suffering. Because I’ll have the bad, bad feeling that cancer is still within me, operating like a dark demon of the body.  

            A few days ago I got a postcard with a flower motive sent from the village of Jessheim north of Oslo, with the text:


Dear Jon Michelet


We are a prayer group at Jessheim who prays for you – that you may find belief in Jesus – and participate in the joy, security and confidence which means so much to us. Best regards...


The senders had signed with their full names. They were thre women and two men.

            My reply comes here: I thank you for your forethought. I have to say quite frankly that I have never believed in prayers, and still do not believe in the power of praying. But I appreciate your friendly consideration. Even if it cannot cure the agony of my soul.

            Can anything cure that agony? A new zero result, or a  0,1 result, which is quite good, would be a step in the right direction. I am a materialist, and cannot be anything else. Rational thinking is what I rely on.

            In a newspaper interview and a television broadcast I said that I envy Christians that they have the strong skipper fist of God to place their own hands into. Christians in my country have picked up the term ”strong skipper fist of God”, and mention it in their emails and letters to me.

            For me such a mighty hand is an illusion.      


       Chapter  2

Chapter  4