Chapter  4

 

”We all believe in resurrection”

 

I have written that I want to test my atheism by comparing it to the faith of the common Norwegian Christians. On the grassroots of the church, and in other Christian congregations, I expect to find Christianity in its purest form.

            On March 19th this year a man called Terje Berg published a comment related to Easter in the newspaper Sarpsborg Arbeiderblad (Sarpsborg Worker’s Daily). Berg was presented as a preacher in the Pentecostal movement (”Pinsebevegelsen” in Norwegian). He writes a weekly column in the newspaper, which is the only paper in Sarpsborg. The town is an industrial town somewhat bigger than Halden. It has been ruled by Labour as long as people can remember. Sarpsborg Arbeiderblad used to be the party paper of Labour. It is now more independent, but still has strong ties to the party and the local trade unions.

           I am mentioned in Berg’s article, and that is why I heard about it.

            His comment was called ”Alle tror på oppstandelsen” (”We all believe in resurrection”).

            Before I set about to write something concerning his pooints of view, I had a long conversation on the telephone with the Reverend Mr Berg. He is the principal, or the senior pastor, of a congregation in Halden called Salen. This is not a misspelling for Salem, which is a common name for Pentecostal congregations in Norway and abroad. When the Pentecostalites established themselves in Halden in 1911, they rented a rather simple assembly room called Amundssalen. ”Sal” is the Norwegian word for ”hall”. The name of the premises was abbreviated to Salen, and became the official name of the congregation.

            Today it counts 800 members, in a town of 25 000 inhabitants. Salen sports a brass band and a gospel choir for youths. Missionaries have been sent out from Salen to Bolivia, Honduras and other countries. Over the years, recruitment to Salen has mainly been from the working class in the industrial town.

            The person who tipped me about Berg’s article was an old friend from politics, Odd Helgestad. He is a typical Salen member, a former railroad worker who is now a pensioner.

         We were both elected to Østfold fylkesting (Østfold County Parliament) in 1987. Mr Helgestad represented the ruling Arbeiderpartiet (the Labour Party), while I represented Rød Valgallianse (the Red Electoral Alliance), RV. Something must be briefly said to my foreign readers about RV. It is not so well known abroad that Norway had a Marxist-Leninist movement that grew quite strong in the 1970’es. In 1973 I was a founding member of Arbeidernes Kommunistparti (marxist-leninistene) (The Worker’s Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist)). We organized RV as an alliance which should participate in local and national elections. And we got representatives elected to local municipalities in the bigger cities, and to some of Norway’s 19 county parliaments. In 1987 the heydays of the AKP (m-l) were over, but RV persisted. I ran for candidate in Oslo in the 1989 elections for National Parliament, Stortinget, but failed to obtain a seat. In 1993 my comrade Erling Folkvord was elected to Stortinget as the first RV representative, for a four year term. After that RV has not been represented in Stortinget. In the 2007 local elections RV got representatives in most cities and many towns in Norway. Down here, as we say about Østfold, RV is now represented in the municipality councils in Halden and in my neighbouring town Moss. In both towns RV has voted for Labour mayors, which of course is considered better than conservative mayors. In 2008 the party changed its name to Rødt (Red). It is opposed to the national government of the socalled red-green alliance of Arbeiderpartiet, Sosialistisk Venstreparti (the Socialist Left Party) and Senterpartiet (the Centre Party, formerly the Farmer’s Party). Rødt argues strongly against the Norwegian participation in the warfare in Afghanistan, and that is one of the reasons for me to keep up my membership in the party.

            Sorry for this detour, which was a bit lengthy.

            When I was in politics with Mr Helgestad for eight years, I did not know that he belonged to the Pentecostal movement. What I knew, was that he was a Labour politician who did not always follow the party line. During a big demonstration to keep up the local hospital in Sarpsborg, which was threatened to be closed by the ruling Labour Party bosses, Helgestad and I spoke out  against closure. I remember him standing by the loudspeaker on the stairs of Folkets Hus (The People’s House) and speaking from his heart.

            After he read my internet book ”Brev fra de troende”, Odd Helgestad mailed me and said that he hoped he and I could stand together some day and speak up for Jesus. It was then I realised he was an active Pentecostalist.

            Back to Berg. In his article he compares the resurrection of Jesus to the life cycle of nature. He writes, in my translation:

 

He who was crucified and died stood up from the grave the third day, and met his disciples and was alive! - I cannot believe this, some people  say. – It is impossible, others say. -If one is dead, one is dead. It is illogical and inconsistent to believe that anybody can stand up from the the dead, is the argument. But stop for a moment. Those who say these things in fact believe more than they understand – and they believe in resurrection! Let me present an example: Now it is springtime, and it starts to sprout in our gardens and in the forest. The whole nature bears witness to resurrection!

            We can see this with our physical eyes. We ascertain it, and we beleive it. What died in the fall yesteryear, is growing to new life in spring.

...

 

When we are soon to pick the first white anemones, we will hold a wonder of resurrection in our hands.

 

White anemones (”hvitveis” in Norwegian) have now popped up under the Blood Tree in my garden. The anemones are truly beautiful. It’s a modest beauty. The flowers make me think of milkmaids on a dairy farm in the mountains. But I cannot look at them as a wonder of resurrection. The flowers did not die when they withered away last autumn. The root systems were intact and alive in the soil. The anemones wintered under the snow, to germinate in spring. A living organism which dies cannot resurrect. It can give life in the form of nourishment to other organisms, but can itself have no new life.

            This is elementary. Why do I bother to mention it, and to engage myself in a polemic against pastor Berg? He belongs to the Christian grassroots in Sarpsborg, his hometown, and leads a big congregation in Halden. He is in his own words a conservative Christian, but do not reckon himself a fundamentalist. His points of view I have met before, in conversations with Christians, and in letters from them. Since Berg writes a Saturday column in the only newspaper in a medium sized Norwegian town, he has some influence in the town and its sourroundings. Of course not all of the paper’s readers will look upon him as a spiritual leader they believe in, but quite a few will do.

            Berg is a layman. He was never educated as a theologist, and considers himself an autodidact who has got his religious education through self studies of the Bible and courses arranged by the Pentecostal movement. The laymen have during the last 150 years had a special position in Norwegian religious life. It all began with the preacher Hans Nilsen Hauge from Østfold who started a pietist awakening which resulted in a pietist movement that spread all over the country. Hauges movement, Haugianismen, still gives resonance in the religious life of many Norwegians. 

            Arguments about resurrection similar to pastor Berg’s  I find in a publication regularily given to me by representatives of the organisation Jehovas vitner (Jehova’s Witnesses). They ring my doorbell and give me their semimonthly publication ”Vakttårnet” (”The Watch Tower”). It is an American magazine, published by Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. The magazine is translated into 81 languages. On a world basis 37 million copies are printed.

            With common politeness I refuse to engage in discussions with the witnesses. I do not invite them into my house. Their preaching is too one-eyed and fanatical for me.

            Why then bother with the Reverend Mr Berg? Well, he wrote about me. He impressed me favourably on the phone. And I find his argumentation charming, in a way.

            He writes about the power of resurrection, calls it violent, and goes on like this:

 

All who put potatoes in the ground in principle believe in resurrection, all who grow vegetables. I you apply for a job in a market garden or Plantasjen (a gardening company), you do not have to present a testimonial for beleiving in anything, not in resurrection either. It is just obivous that it is like this! This principle of life God showed us with Jesus, when he died, was laid in the grave, but stood up again.

 

There is a naivety – not to say absurdity – in these arguments. Jesus compared to a potato! But such preaching makes an impression with some people.

            In his article Berge describes the ordeals of Jesus on Good Friday and his resurrection in the morning on Easter Sunday. 

 

Therefore, God is a reconciled God, who wishes to bring his blessing to us. This is difficult to belive for some. Yes, there are those who call themselves atheists, which means that they deny the existence of God. One of them is the well known author Jon Michelet. Last week he was a guest on the internet in a session arranged by the Christian daily Vårt Land (Our Country). Everybody could send him emails with greetings and questions.

            It is rather touching when Michelet says the following to Ragnar Nordseth: ”When I call myself a non-believer it is related to you who are Christians and have faith in God. This faith I envy you. I think that I would appreciate to have a strong skipper fist of God to place my hand in when I am in stormy weather. But i cannot believe that such a fist exists.”

            Jon Michelet is very honest. For that, he should be met with respect. However, I know that faith is nothing we can arrange for ourselves. Faith is a gift from God. Some catch the Gospel quickly, others need more time. Luckily, we believe that the fist (of God) exists, and that it was this fist which was crucified for our sake (...) 

           

Terje Berg’s article was illustrated with a half page photo of the statue of Jesus Christ on Corcovado mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The photo was taken in 1999 when the Austrian base jumper Felix Baumgartner made himself ready for a jump from the outstretched right hand of the Jesus statue. In the picture Baumgartner is no bigger than one of the statue’s fingers. He survived the jump.

            On the phone Berg invited me to attend a Sunday sermon in Salen. I asked him if members of the congregation speak in tongues during the ceremony. He confirmed that this happens at almost all the Sunday meetings. Sometimes healing of sick people also occurs.

             That God speaks through humans in languages they do not know, is a special Pentecostal belief.  I found that I did not need to tell Berg that I find it impossible to beleive in glossolalia, the gift of tongue. Since most Christians do not practise glossolalia, why should an atheist believe in it?

            Once, when very young, I attended a session arranged by a breakaway sect from the Pentecostalites, called the Maran Ata. We were a gang of boys who went to a Maran Ata meeting in Oslo to listen to the most famous - not to say infamous - Maran Ata pastor, the demagogue Åge Samuelsen, and have some great fun. Mr Samuelsen really was a fire-and-brimstone preacher. But he did not scare us much with his flaming words of condemnation and Hell. What scared us a bit, was the intense energy of the young women and men who jumped up from their seats and spoke in tongues.

            Did I say that i found Berg’s argumentation charming? Well, but I do not find glossolalia charming at all. The thought of it awakes a deep resentment in me. On the other hand, it is a sign of the human capacity to believe. And who am I to pass judgement?

            Couldn’t I go to Salen out of curiosity, and to get in touch with the real Christian grassroots?

            Terje Berg asked me again if I would attend.

            I mustered all my civilty and answered no, thank you. I said that if I should go to a sermon, it should not be out of curiosity, but because I felt an urge of some kind. I added that I feel no such urge.

            We wished each other well, and said a polite goodbye.

            I know that many Christians in Norway now look upon me as a prime object of salvation. They are after my blood. My scalp would be a valuable one to hang in the belt of a Christian chieftain.

          The old Communist turned Christian would make a good story. Magazines like Se og Hør would love it.

         To deny the Christians a triumph, or to deny the press a lovely story, are not heavy reasons for me to stick to my atheism. The real reason, the tought from the bottom of my soul, is that I cannot believe in the supernatural and in miracles..

Give me nature, not supernature. I take great pleasure in the white anemonas. They are a sign of life to me, but not a sign of eternal life. They are miraculous, but they are earthly miracles.

 

I complete this text late Thursday evening, April 10th. Yesterday we had a snowfall. Nothing exceptional in the capricious month of April in Norway. It was hard on the anemones, but they survive.

         I drove to the pool outside Sarpsborg through the snow. My swimming went better than Monday. 15.09, 15.16. Why do I tell you about this? What’s the point of reporting to the world in English about the swimming efforts of a rather old Norwegian man, living in a remote corner of the world, in a hole-and-corner place, traveling to one-horse towns?

         Earlier I wrote that I fight for my soul. This may sound like I fight for my soul to be saved. Yes, I want to save my soul! But by this I mean that I want to save my poor soul from faith and keep it rational like it has always been. I fight to stand upright mentally, and not give in to beliefs I do not really have. I try to follow the Nike slogan ”Don’t crack under pressure”.

 

         This fight is connected to the fight for my body, that it should not give in to disease, not get rotten and drag the soul under.

         These fights are universal.

         We all fight them one way or another, don’t we?

 .

       Chapter  3

Chapter  5