Chapter  8

A splendid result

The crows can go hang!

         My test result was splendid. I had a PSA value of less than 0,1. Next to nothing. It is a sign that I have got rid of the cancer, that the X-ray treatment has been a success. I said to the doctor at Ullevål, the prostate cancer specialist Dag Clement Johannessen, that I no longer look upon myself as a cancer patient. Im a person who does not have cancer, but have had  cancer.

         The doctor seemed to be satisfied with my attitude. But he explained that I have to take further tests. The effects of the hormone cure have now come to an end. My body will start to produce testosterone again. This production of male hormones may result in a higher PSA value. I shall test for that in the middle of July.

         That’s a sorrow for tomorrow.

         Now I ham happy. And tired after the stress of going to Oslo and sit in the waiting room at Kreftsenteret and wait for the call to the doctor’s office, wait for the result.

         I went directly from Ullevål to the bar at Hotel Bristol in central Oslo. Not to celebrate with champagne, but because I had an appointment there with the cultural editor of the Swedish newspaper Göteborgs-Posten, Gabriel  Byström. Byström had taken the trip from Gothenburg to Oslo to check the climate of debate in Norwegian cultural circles. He wanted an interview with me.

          I said, amongst other things, that I blamed myself for not having participated in the debate about the separation of church and state in Norway. A few days ago this debate, in which Norwegian authors did not play a significant role, ended with a compromise in Stortinget (Parliament).

          Norway often follow suit with Sweden in big political questions. Some years ago church and state separated in Sweden. I had hoped – and so did most conservative Christians- that we would have a complete separation of church and state in Norway. too.

         The problem here was that Arbeiderpartiet (Labour) has been against such a separation, while Kristelig Folkeparti (The Christian People’s Party) has been in favour of it.

         It is one of the Norwegian paradoxes.

          The Labour politicians, afraid to lose voters if a full separation took place, got their will in the end. The parliamentary compromise was simple: Government shall no longer appoint bishops. This task shall be conducted by The Church of Norway.

         The Norwegian Constitution was changed a little. The king still has to confess to the Evangelical-Lutheran religion, which is the formal name of our state religion. But the king shall no longer be constitutionally responsible for maintaining and protecting religion. Is the king then still the head of  The Church of Norway and do we really have a state church anymore? About this we already have seen a heated debate between two of the government parties, Arbeiderpartiet and Senterpartiet (The Centre Party). I agree with  the latter in that the king is still the superior of the church, and that we still have a state church. It is said quite clearly in the slightly changed Constitution: ”The Norwegian Church, an Evangelical- Lutheran Church, continues to be the people’s church of Norway, and as a such is supported by the State.”

         No, we had no separation, which would have been healthy for our society. Instead we had a half-hearted compromise.

         I said to Byström that I couldn’t quote Shakespeare’s famous words from Hamlet, ”Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”, and say that something is rotten in the state of Norway when it comes to the church compromise. But I said that the whole affair smells badly of opportunism and populism, and that we did not get the clarity and the clean cut that we needed.

         I mentioned to Byström that I also blame myself for not writing and discussing more Norway’s new role as an exporter of finance capital, and thus in my opinion a potential neo-colonialist and imperialist operator. But this is pure politics, and not the theme of this book.

         Byström asked me if consider my internet book ”Brev fra de troende” part of the new wave of atheist books. My reply was that my book stands apart from the others because I want dialogue with  believers and not confrontation. I described the response I had got, and said that I was working on a new text on the subject. But I did not say that I write in English.

         I was afraid that Byström would find this conceited, and perhaps ask me if I do not think that turning to English is both foolish and a betrayal of my Norwegian language. So I kept my writing in English a secret, which I have done to everybody except my life companion.

         We talked about realism in Norwegian literature. I think realism still has a very strong position and is on the rise, not on the decline. Post-modernism - to me a meaningless movement – never got a firm grip on Norwegian authors.

          Byström then had to go off to make an interview with Dagbladet’s chief editor,Anne Aaasheim.

         I sat in the bar, which is called The Library Bar because it contains some bookshelves, and finished my cup of green tea.

            A man, a complete stranger, came to my table and asked me in a friendly manner about my health.

            I said that modern medicine can make wonders and that I was allright.

            And I smiled, with the broadest smile in many weeks.

            The man also smiled.

            I went to catch the two o’clock train to Østfold.

            At a newsstand at the railway station I bought a copy of the Tuesday edition of the newspaper International Herald Tribune, IHT. I always buy the IHT when I am to take the train from Oslo. It is a very good newspaper, I have to say, even if I do not share many of the political opinions of the editors and staff. This may sound a bit pompous; the former editor of a small Norwegian daily passing verdict on a big American paper. Well, I give to myself the right to be pompous at times. Then, with afterthought, I often consider myself a silly clown. I’ll write more about my feeling of playing the role of a clown later on.

          Being American, the IHT looks at the world through American glasses, liberal glasses. I learn a lot about the American view of the world by reading the IHT, and it keeps my English up.

            In the coffeeshop at the station, I paged through the IHT . In the Tuesday edition of Klassekampen I had read that the Maoist party in Nepal had won a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections in the Buddhist nation on the slopes of the Himalaya. There was a picture of people dancing in the streets of Kathmandu with the hammer and sickle symbol painted on their backs.

          No mention was made of this sensational result of the Nepal election in the major Norwegian newspapers, and not in the internationally orientated IHT either. That the former guerilla movement will be the ruling party of Nepal should, in my opinion, be interesting news for a broader audience than the readers of little Klassekampen.   

            Just before entering the train back home from Oslo Central Sation, I received a surprise telephone call from Knut Arild Hareide. I immediately recognized his voice on the phone, a voice I had heard on the radio and in television debates. Hareide was a cabinet minister of the Department of Environment in our former government, representing Kristelig Folkeparti. A young, ambitious man, he now works as a manager of organization in Norway’s largest media corporation, The Schibsted Group.

          Hareide told me that he is a member of the organizing committee planning the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the largest church in Oslo, Trefoldighetskirken (Church of Trinity). He asked me if I was willing to participate in one of the jubilee arrangements, a debate in the church about religious faith, doubt and disbelief.

         I said that this sounded as an interesting proposal, and asked who the other participants in the debate were supposed to be.

         Hareide said that my opponent would be the Christian philosopher Henrik Syse. The debate would be led by a well-known clergyman, Per Arne Dahl. He is also an author, a lecturer and a regular columnist in the Sunday edition of the newspaper Aftenposten. I asked Hareide what position Dahl has at Trefoldighetskirken. I was told that he is a vicar (”sogneprest”).

         ”I have spoken in churches,” I said, ”but only at solidarity arrangements for the poor of the world. Are you sure you want me to speak about my atheism at a church jubilee?”

         ”Yes,” said Hareide, ”that’s exactly the point. We want to open the church for discussion.”

         ”Very well,” I said. ”When is this event going to take place?”

         ”It is scheduled for the evening of  May 1st.”

         I laughed a little, and said: ”That would be some place to be in on the 1st of May for an old communist -  Trefoldighetskirken!”

         Hareide laughed too.

         ”But I am serious,” he said. ”We really want you to come.”

         ”What kind of an audience would I eventually speak to?”

         Hareide said that perhaps the crown princess, Mette-Marit, and the crown prince, Haakon Magnus, would attend the meeting and a concert held for the occasion by their singer friend Sigvart Dagsland, who is a religious artist.

         I laughed a little again. I’m a republican, one of the very few active republicans in my royalist country. In 1995 I published a booklet called ”Leve republikken!” (”Long Live the Republic!”), advocating the abolition of Norwegian monarchy. (In the same book i defended the royal family’s right to have a private life, and some protection against the most rabid paparazzi journalism).

          I said: ”It would be a funny thing for an old commie and republican rabble-rouser to speak to royalty about atheism on the occasion of a church jubilee. So why not?”

         ”Yes, why not?” replied Hareide.

         ”Good idea,” I said. ”I gladly accept your invitation.”

         ”Thank you very much,” said Hareide. ”We look forward to seeing you.”

         One is always afraid that there might be a trap of some kind. What if it was not the real Mr Hareide who was speaking, but a guy who wanted to make a practical joke, imitating Hareide’s voice? I imagined myself arriving at Trefoldighetskirken, prepared for a serious and solemn debate about God’s existence or non-existence, dressed up in my dark suit and red tie, only to be met by a crowd of youngsters howling with laughter because they had fooled me to come to a church on May 1st, congratulating each other with a successful scam.

         ”Thank you,” I said. ”How will I receive further information about the meeting?”

         ”I’ll send you an email with the details,” said Hareide.

         ”That’s fine. We’ll keep in touch by email.”

         I entered the train. I made a note in my notebook that I should check the telephone number Hareide had called me from. (I never did that. One should not be too suspicious.)

          I thought about Mette-Marit, the girl from the heart of Norway (”folkedypet”) who against all odds became the crown princess of our country. She is a devout Christian. Recently a CD containing her favourite hymns sung by different artist was released. This collection of psalms became an immediate bestseller. I have a copy of the CD which was sent to me by one of the Christian readers of ”Brev fra de troende”. I haven’t played the CD yet, but I’ll play it some day. 

          When I travelled back home on the train, I wanted to sing a heathen hymn or two myself, to praise my splendid test result and to express joy for an unexpected invitation.

         One should not sing on the train, so I read the IHT instead, and found a story on the upcoming visit of Pope Benedict to the USA; ”Dispirited Catholics await pope in U.S. – Visit comes at a time of uncertainty”.

Less than two weeks ago, the bishop of Camden, New Jersey, announced plans to close or merge nearly half of the parishes in his diocese. Meanwhile, Catholics in New Orleans; Toledo, Ohio; Boston; New York; and nearly three dozen other U.S. dioceses are mourning the loss of parishes and paroichal schools they grew up in.

            So when Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the United States on Tuesday, he will find an American church in which many Catholics are eager not only for his spiritual guidance, but also for his acknowledgement that their church is going through a time of pain and uncertainty.

            Hundreds of parishes are being closed and consolidated, and the reasons are usually intertwined with the other big challenges facing the church; a shortage of priests, fallout from the sexual abuse scandal, insufficient funds to maintain aging churches, demographic changes and sometimes not enough people attending Mass to justify keeping parishes open.

 The IHT had a piece of information that was new to me. Earlier in this text I wrote about North America as a Protestant stronghold. But the IHT told me:

Catholics are the biggest religious group in the United States, about 23 percent of the population, a proportion that has held steady.

In the IHT there is an obituary titled ”John Wheeler, 96, ’black hole’ physicist”.

 John Wheeler, a visionary physicist who helped invent the theory of nuclear fission, gave black holes their name and argued about the nature of reality  with Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, died Sunday at his home in Hightstown, New Jersey. He was 96.


At a conference in New York in 1967, Wheeler, seizing on a suggestion shouted from the audience, hit on the name ”black hole” to dramatize the dire possibility of a star and for physics.

 It is not said that Wheeler was one of the fathers of the atomic bomb. But since he participated in inventing the theory of nuclear fission, he must have been.

         I think about the nuclear bombs that still threathen mankind, and about the black holes in the Universe. I am puzzled like everyone else by the riddle of the black holes. I would like to live long enough to get a better scientific understanding of the nature of black holes than what we have today.

         They are scary objects, those holes that swallow up everything around them and give away no information. Are they for real? Or are black holes just phenomenons invented by the minds of us small humans living on a little planet on the outskirts of our galaxy, the Milky Way, because we know no better ? A gigantic black hole may be at the centre of the Milky Way, but we have, as yet, no absolutely certain proof of this.

         It would be interesting to know for sure.

         I have had a dream where I fall into the black hole of the Milky Way. In Swedish the name of our galaxy is ”Vintergatan”, the Winter Way. It is a beautiful name, I think, and the name appears in my dream, like something whispered to me by my youngest daughter, who lives in Sweden. In the dream I drift along the myriads of stars in Vintergatan, then close in on the black hole, and whoooops...

         It is not such a bad dream after all. Did I call the black holes scary? Yes, they are, but they also have a strange appeal to me.

          Had I been a Christian, I may have dreamed that God hid in the middle of Vintergatan, in the black hole. But I dream about falling into absolute nothing, nothingness, supreme darkness. If the travel along Vintergatan has been like travelling in a kind of road movie, a galactic road movie, this is The End. That’s it. Goodbye, then.

         Good riddance! some of my enemies – if I do have enemies any more - would say.

          Now my travel – my train travel – came to an end.

          Going off the train at Rygge station, I whistled for the first time since June 2007. I had laughter in me, thinking about the event in Trefoldighetskirken, which is by the way one of the churches that the upsurging Norwegian Catholics probably would love to take over from the Protestants.

          I had the good feeling of being an outsider who is sometimes accepted into good company, blessed company. My German and British friends always find it difficult to understand the distinctively Norwegian acceptance in our society of people like me with a Marxist-Leninist background. I often find it difficult to understand this acceptance myself.

          But there has always been a room for radicals in Norwegian culture and society. And it has been a tradition for the Norwegian working class parties, both Labour, Socialist and Communist, to avoid too heavy confrontation with The Church of Norway and accept Christian members, and as of today, Moslem members.

         I drove home past the old stone church in Rygge. It is a building from Medieval times. The age of the church has been the subject of much discussion in the parish of Rygge. Now we have got a fact to stick to. The roof timber was recently, by the use of new, precise technology, dated exactly to the year 1169.

          I do not believe that the Rygge church is a house of God, but I have no problem to admit that the landscape would seem barren without the church. It is the municipality’s most important item of our common cultural heritage, a real landmark.

         To me the church belongs here, even if I do not belong to the church.

          If we get a separation between the state and The Church of Norway, the church would still receive public money, taxpayer’s money. But let us say that a revolution of some kind ended this practise, and that every local church had to be paid for by the people of the parish. Would I pay then? Of course I would pay! But I would write on a note accompanying my payment: I pay only for the building, not for the content. I pay for maintenance, not for sermons. 


       Chapter  7

Chapter  9