Sunday, May 16, 2010

Part 2: Kappa Kappa Denmark - On Religion

(To read Part 1, go here)

My first year in Denmark, I was leery about making too many American friends. My Irish friend Carl advised me, early on, to steer clear of most international groups, for fear that I would be suggestible to the way their meet-ups often descend into whine-fests with participants singing the Battle Cry of the Foreigner: “It’s a Hard-Knock Life for Expatriates in Denmark!”

He wasn’t far off base. Often, you get a bunch of expats in a room in Denmark and the topic turns to how hard it is to: 1) learn Danish 2) make friends 3) ride a bike (that may just be a gripe of Americans, I’m not sure yet). We also often talk about 4) how expensive everything is in Denmark 5) how hit or miss healthcare is 6) how g*d-damn bloody rainy the weather is...7) how bad the service is in restaurants and cafes...and a host of other ‘issues.’ Sure, a lot of wine drinking and partying goes down too, but complaining can be a common thread among internationals getting together in Denmark.

Sometimes, my American sorority falls prey to this. But mostly, we try to problem-solve our way out of tight spots we each, individually, run into as immigrants in a foreign land – socially, linguistically, professionally. You name it.

Kris has helped me make peace that because I was born a Catholic, and, as far as I can tell, cannot wash my faith out of me, I don’t need to let it get to me so much, the fact that other people (Danes) are afraid of me for ‘having a religion.’ American sociologist Phil Zuckerman wrote in his book Society Without God (based on his year spent living in Denmark and Sweden) that he was told by a Danish pastor that “the word ‘God’ is one of the most embarrassing words you can say. You would rather go naked through the city than talk about God.”

Kris, unabashedly Catholic and raising a Catholic American/Danish daughter, helps me deal with this. Because this is a banner issue for me that unwittingly prevents me from fully integrating into Danish society. Not because I want to chat about God. I don’t. Not because I’m a devout Catholic (I’d prefer to be known as Jewish). Not because I want everyone to believe in G*d, I don’t want all of us to be the same. Not because I want everyone to be as mad as I am at the Catholic Church; most are. But simply because I want it to be okay to have a belief in something without it eliciting fear. Call me kooky, but I believe the world is richer for having many faiths in it. And this is not something to be afraid of. But I’m afraid of living in a country that is so afraid. I have a hard time being neutral on this one.

And if Denmark wants to live up to her ideals of being the most tolerant, open-minded European country (and that isn’t just hippie-dippy ‘kumbaya’ yarn), then she will extend those ideals to everyone. Atheists, Christians, Muslims, Skeptics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Baha’is. Everyone. Kris is much more forgiving of her adopted 'countrymen' on this issue, and just lets it go.

But this is issue #something for me. I need people like her to help prop up my faith.

(To read more about my über-issues click here.)

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