Tradition vs reason in today’s Denmark
Another new year’s eve, 2017, and the queen, her majesty, makes her speech. Later in the evening, when everyone is watching the TV to announce the turn of the new year, the national broadcast shows a womens choir singing religious gospel.
The song is sang in the first 5 minutes of the new year, representing the national ideal at this special hour. The choir and Denmarks Radio of course mean very well. It’s tradition to sing gospel, and what’s wrong with admiring the beauty of this wonderful nation and honouring its history?
The problem is that Denmark inhibits many people, where reference to Christianity on the new year’s eve doesn’t help turn the fractions in the society towards a shared sense of belonging. The choir had a few ethnic minority faces, but those faces of course doesn’t change the fact that the songs are building and reminding the Danes of a national identity based on faith and shared history.
History and faith are not where we can seek our identity or sense of belongingness. The shared identity of Denmark isn’t about Christianity or wars the nation fought, or the beauty of its nature. It’s the values of its people and how we look to the future. It’s based on sound reasoning and learnings and compromises gathered herein.
Danes talk a lot about integration. There is a lot going wrong with it as with other European states: higher rates of crime or joblessness in the immigrant communities. At the heart of the problem lies not biological issues, ie inherent inability of people to cope, but traditions that are at odds for many with the society here.
How do you combine to different traditions? You do that by making tradition obsolete, and challenge it with reason.
We need to treat our country and the world, like a white paper we want to write on. What makes sense to do, and what does not? If you can explain a policy by reason, that is, how it benefits society, that’s the path we would like to take. If the explanation is to receive general social acceptance, or “that what people want” or that it is tradition, we are not referring to reasoning. Then, we only have a confirmation that there is no reasoning.
We can demand everyone, including immigrants, to question their traditions. We can do so, if we are willing to do the same. Our values must be based on sounds reasoning, and we must be brave enough for them to clash with our traditions, where we accept change. With that, we can expect everyone to change.
We cannot accept that boys and girls are brought up hearing they have different rights. That attitude is simply against our values of equal opportunity. And so is also the fact that a family is said to be royal and get a different treatment and financial support. Both are traditions that need to face power of reason. And become history.
Sam Harris defines someone ignorant when one could be possibly wrong but doesn’t want to know about it. He calls someone a hypocrite when one could be wrong and know it, but is reluctant to incur the social cost of admitting this publicly. I have to call the nationalist Danes who expect that immigrants conform to Danish values, but not apply same rigour to their own traditions either ignorant or hypocrites, by definition.
I love Denmark, and am glad for being a part of and contributing to this society. This gives me the optimism for change and courage to state that there are still many forms of traditions that serve as source of discrimination in the country. One is the public engagement, or administration of tax funding for the public church. The state should have no engagement with the church whatsoever to remain unbiased towards religions. It could (and IMHO, should) of course declare all religious dogma illegitimate for children’s education or exposure. In the meanwhile, in public schools kids face the clear choice of confirmation. And unless you have a strong bias against the church, who wants to miss a party and a lot of presents as an 11-year old?
This apparently cute tradition is then followed by the choice of religious teaching at the schools by priests. However modern the Danish public church may be, it still preaches religious dogma. Dogma, by definition, separates. It creates us and them, by what one believes. It kills the possibility of reasoning, the kind we employ in science, to reach a common ground.
Traditions have to be questioned and challenged. We still live in a world of traditions, because we didn’t have the kind of scientific reasoning or morality to assist with decision-making in just a few decades ago. But this has been changing during the 20th century, and we must succeed in completing this transition.
In contrast to dogma and tradition, values are based on reasoning. They can be challenged and changed. A value such as providing equal opportunity, be it in the form of public day care, healthcare, or parental leave — are not based on dogma. The tax system, where we strive to strike what is just, who shall be taxed and how much, is not based on tradition or dogma. We argue — often with scientific basis — why additional spend in social service or infrastructure is aligned with our values.
The aim of the immigration must be then to ensure the alignment of immigrants’ motivations and ability to learn and express their values. It is fine to draw a line for the minimum cohesive values everyone living in this country must adopt. Values based on our reasoning, and not tradition or religious dogma. And if someone does not agree with this reasoning, we can ask them to step outside of this society, whether they are immigrant or not.
However, the first step in asking all parties to agree on shared values, is to ensure the state maintains legitimacy by getting rid off its hypocrisy. We should take steps to change those practices that are currently the law, however stand at stark contrast with values that we deem to belong to us.