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Strategies in the ‘80s of New Religions in Sweden - Lester Wikström

The new vogue words used in the religious and pseudo-religious movements of the ‘80s in Sweden seem to be positive and constructive:

behave in a constructive way, think in a positive way!

This morning, when I started to write this article, I found an interesting leaflet in my mail: »Do something constructive [positive] with yourself. it says, and the face of a cheerful, smiling young woman urges me to go on reading. »To be able to cope with life and also to have a positive view are some of the aims of Dianetics.« Furthermore the author, L. Ron Hubbard (the founder of both Dianetics and Scientology), is »effectively killing the myth that man’s intelligence cannot be changed.« Hubbard’s book, which according to the advertisement is »available for me,« costs SEK 277 (USD 35) in hardcover and SEK 88 in paperback. It can be ordered from the Centre for Dianetics; the word Scientology is never mentioned in the leaflet, only the abbreviation SCN.

Talking about the Scientologists, I should mention that in December 1983, 19 people gathered in Gothenburg to form DUGA (Ability) an association which is a splinter group from Scientology. DUGA receives their material from American David Mayo who used to be very closely related to L. Ron Hubbard.

Not far conceptually from Scintology is est (Erhard Seminars Training) and the Hunger Project: eliminate the world’s hunger through a new way of thinking. It was introduced to the Swedish public in the beginning of the ‘80s by Bibi Andersson, a well-known actress, and has now spread even among churchgoers.

Think in a positive way! Behaves if you already lived the life you are dreaming of! Then you will function in a better way and the profit of your company will increase. In that way you might sum up the message of the Motivation Consulting Company, Ltd., which was introduced on television recently. In the same program Bhagwan Shree Rash and his 350 neo-sannyasis in Stockholm (one of whom is the well-known pop singer Ted Gärdestad) were presented in an uncritical way. A Zorba the Buddha restaurant and discotheque, owned by the movement, recently opened in the central part of Stockholm. In a recent issue of VI (one of our biggest weeklies, with a circulation of 253,000) a six-page article was published on Bengt Stern, a medical doctor who »draws his wisdom from the leader of the sannyasi sect, namely, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. The doctor maintains that all illness derives from chaotic emotional life. Get to know yourself and you will not fall ill.

That kind of positive thinking has also entered the Church of Sweden and the independent churches, especially in the form of the so-called theology of success. In that theology, essential aspects of the Christian message are either repressed or distorted. The question must be raised, however, whether that constitutes a new religious movement or not. Consider the Word of Life community in Uppsala, for example. When the congregation was founded, its leader, Ulf Ekman, was still a priest in the Church of Sweden. His special task was to minister to students in the evangelical SESG movement. As a result of a talk with the archbishop, Ekman resigned his ministry. His »fathers« are, above all, Norman Vincent Peale, Robert H. Schuller, Yonggi Cho, and Kenneth Hagin. At the heart of the congregation lies a Bible school with 250 students enrolled this session, a figure expected to reach 400 by the next session.

I have chosen the concluding passage of a prayer on prosperity and God’s understanding of money to illustrate Ekman’s message.

When you give money to the collection tonight, the Lord will heal your body. Disobedience in this field [rneans] that we have opened ourselves for the devil, and there are several people here who the Lord will heal as a result of your giving to him....God will work miracles here in the midst of us when you give your money to him....Two or three of you will be able to testify to this; we will not have time enough to do it tonight, but you will be able to do it next time or in another context. You will testify that you were healed by the Lord when you offered your money to his work.... In the name of Jesus I confront the spirit of poverty that has attacked several people here who have worked and toiled and who have tried to reach above the level but failed. I order you, Satan, from this very moment, to leave them, and I loose God’s blessing on them so that they will wonder, O Lord, at the change. I thank you, O Lord, that there are those here tonight who will get new employment, O Lord, and I thank you, O Lord, that there are those here tonight who will get an increase in pay, though they did not believe it possible. You will give them new employment, O Lord....

In a leaflet written by Jim Kaseman of the Word of Faith Ministries in the USA and distributed by the Word of Life, it is said that some people believe more in Satan than in God. They believe with all their heart and say with their lips, »I always get the flu when it is about,« and since they believe it and say so, they get the flu. Confess illness and poverty and you will get them! Confess health and wealth and you will get them!

It is evident that there is a market for that sort of positive thinking in a society characterized by unemployment and a pessimistic outlook on the future. In a church which often has preached a too negative and pessimistic understanding of Man--you are a sinner, you shouldn’t believe in yourself--it is only natural that the message that you are able to change yourself If you only change your mind and your thinking is accepted as good news.

Economic depression and uncertainty of the future might also explain why so many people turn to horoscopes and astrology. There has been a marked increase in the number of horoscopes in both daily newspapers and weeklies. Another evidence of that fact is the increased sales of astrological literature. The available literature on reincarnation has also increased strikingly, as have the number of articles on reincarnation in daily and weekly newspapers.

For the one who believes in astrology and the one who believes in reincarnation, there is no place for a personal God and even less for the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation between humanity and God. When I expressed those ideas in an editorial and in some other articles in the Church of Sweden Weekly, they aroused a strong reaction, particularly from the Anthroposophists, since they try to combine Christian ideas with Hindu ones.

The trend to throw the blame on planets or karma reminds me of Genesis chapter 3, when Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. They were not willing to take responsibility for their own actions. Genesis 3 is relevant from another perspective as well. Eve wanted to be like God. In the new religious movements’ offering for the ‘80s, the crucial point is to become like God or the gods, or to become God.

That is often emphasized in Summit Lighthouse (aka Keepers of the Flame or The Church Universal and Triumphant), which has spread in Sweden during the last couple of years, not least since Eva Rydberg, a well-known, popular actress, declared herself a member of the movement. During the election campaign in 1982, she was very active in the Christian Party (KDS). It caused some bewilderment when the party leadership discovered her religious identity. In 1983 the Summit Lighthouse published, both in Swedish and English, a book called Studies in Alchemy: The Science of Self-Transformation (dictated to the messenger Mark L. Prophet by Saint Germain). I quote:

Blessed ones, you are not limited in alchemy merely to the drawing forth from universal light of three-dimensional objects. Alchemy can be mastered in order to illumine the mind, to heal any unwanted condition, and to spiritually exalt man’s total nature from its base state to the golden standard where the golden rule is law. With you--as with God--all things are possible.

To realize that the creation and the Creator are one, to become God, or to realize the oneness between Man and God are often reduced to a technique derived from Zen or Vedanta or Shamanism. Shamanism, for example, is a growing religion in Sweden. The leader, Jörgen I. Eriksson, is a well-known journalist with Radio Sweden. Michael Harner’s book The Way of the Shaman: A Guide to Power and Healing, for which Eriksson wrote a preface, was translated into Swedish in 1983.

In the ‘70s the vogue word was self-realization, which in the secular context meant to realize the personality, the I, but in the religious context to kill the I and realize the Self, Atman, to become one with Brahman. That way of thinking is still important in the ‘80s, but now there is a simpler way to reach »salvation«: think in a positive and constructive way, think or dream of whatever you like, and you will get it!

To become strong, powerful, and victorious is also the aim in Satanism. The other day a teacher phoned me to report that »the nine satanic statements« had been found in a classroom. I told her that those were from The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey, who formed the Church of Satan in 1966. Last month a priest phoned and told me that two coins had been found in his church, one on the altar and the other behind a strip of wood. The coins depicted the Devil and contained the inscription »civitas diaboli.« In the Satanic Bible one reads:

Blessed are the strong, for they shall possess the earth--Cursed are the weak, for they shall inherit the yoke! Blessed are the powerful, for they shall be reverenced among men--Cursed are the feeble, for they shall be blotted out! Blessed are the iron-handed, for the unfit shall flee before them--Cursed are the poor in spirit, for they shall be spat upon!

Which movements are increasing in Sweden? According to my experience, those movements which offer power and those which combine religion and psychotherapy, as with Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, are especially on the increase. A market also exists for those who, like the Anthroposophists, combine religion and vegetarianism or an alternative medicine or alternative schools. The Anthroposophical schools are gradually becoming recognized by the authorities, and the movement is now building their first hospital in Sweden.

How do we as Christians respond to the new religions? Let me first note that there has been an increasing consciousness about new religious movements in both the Church of Sweden and the independent churches. In the Church of Sweden we have had a working group on new religious movements, but our mandate is running out. In my editorial in the Church of Sweden Weekly on 9 December 1983, I suggested that the work we are doing should be continued by the new organization which is decided upon by the Church of Sweden General Synod. I also suggested that we should assign a worker full time to the study of new religions.

That editorial evoked a strong reaction in the form of an »appeal on religious freedom,« which was originally signed by 21 people who represented, among others, Hare Krishna, the Theosophical Society, the Western Buddhist Order, and the spiritualists. Among the signers were also Dean of Stockholm Ludvig Jönsson and Member of Parliament Kerstin Anér. They appealed

to the swedish government, to the ministry for civil service affairs, to the bishops and the Church of Sweden General Synod to make an unbiased investigation into and restrain the activities of certain institutions and of certain individuals within the framework of the Church of Sweden and the way they mold public opinion.

In the end, 1,200 people signed the appeal. It was revealed, however, that some of the 21 who originally signed had done so without reading the full text, which asked for restrictions on the freedom of the press and freedom of religion. Those ideas are so extraordinary that the parliament would never even consider such a proposition, least of all Kerstin Anér’s Liberal Party.

As I was finishing this report, I received a telephone call from a 20-year-old student who told me that he had been initiated into TM a month ago. Now he is deeply uneasy because he thinks the TM teacher, who is also his mathematics teacher at school, has procured extraordinary power over him. The teacher indicated to the student that he has the ability to levitate, to walk through locked doors, to govern others, etc. He is a superman, a Siddha. It was a good reminder to me that when we analyze new trends on the religious scene, we can easily forget about those movements which have already established themselves in our country. According to 1981 statistics, for example, 50,000 men and women out of a population of 8.3 million had been initiated into TM. So the work goes on.

Lester Wikström is editor in chief of Svenska Kyrkans Tidning, and he has authored numerous articles and several books on new religious movements.