In an article titled "One nation Under God and a lot of stress," Alyce M. McKenzie, professor of homiletics at the Perkins School of Theology, was quite taken with her son's description of life in Copenhagen, where he'd studied for a semester. She furnished a laundry list of admirable aspects of Danish society - mostly the usual stuff American liberals cite to illustrate Europe's superiority:
...riding a bike or walking just about everywhere, having lights that go on and off automatically, recycling all glass bottles, drinking tap water, being able to let your baby in its stroller bask in the sun a bit while you go in and pick up a few groceries for tonight's meal, beautiful public spaces, green parks where people enjoy leisure time, high-speed and clean trains [what is with the liberal obsession with trains?], not being obsessed with work to the point that family and leisure are devalued, and, by all accounts, a happiness factor that exceeds ours.
And -- big bonus for a liberal trapped by "the convenience oriented, car-driven culture in suburban Texas" -- Denmark even has an exotic word that captures a concept we dull Americans couldn't have originated (think "feng shui"). "[H]ygge, which translates [as] ‘coziness,' or, more accurately, ‘tranquility,' is a complete absence of anything annoying, irritating, or emotionally overwhelming, and the presence of and pleasure from comforting, gentle and soothing things."
That's cat nip to liberals who dream of being swathed in bubble wrap and bike helmets by the nanny state. And for McKenzie, "This started me wondering why, in the Bible belt, my own life doesn't have as much hygge as the Danes." Her answer: the Danes aren't burdened with all that God baggage.
She quoted approvingly from a 2008 book by Phil Zuckerman called "Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Tell us about Contentment." Zuckerman, McKenzie wrote, "seeks to account for the fact that Denmark and Sweden have such high contentment quotients in light of the fact that worship of God and church attendance are minimal." The book is also a slap at conservatives "who swear that a society without God is hell on earth."
Zuckerman found that in marginalizing religion, as most of the rest of Europe has, the Danes have essentially sidelined the existential questions of life and death. "His basic findings," wrote McKenzie, "are that Danes seem to focus on gratitude for the pleasures and gifts of life right now: family, work, and the beauties of the natural world. They are more interested in their family, home, bikes, careers, weather, and favorite British or Brazilian soccer players than questions of the meaning of life and the existence of heaven and hell."
So the secular paradise Lennon sang about -- "Imagine there's no heaven ... No hell below us ... Imagine all the people Living for today" -- turns out to have been blonde, blue-eyed and rather more prosaic than the song's whispy, dope-addled strains hint at.
On the other hand, it does go with the song's plodding lifelessness. Marxism (and make no mistake, "Imagine" is an ode to the old dialectic materialism) is predicated on a denial of human nature. Nothing is more human than inquiring into the meaning of life and death, of man's relationship to the universe - all the Big Questions that sound clichéd because they have been central to human existence for as long as there've been humans. It's wonderful that the Danes love their families and friends and take time to hug the earth and sort their garbage. But McKenzie never questions whether, in banishing the questions that religion always has helped humans answer, they're not a little less ... human.
McKenzie wrote of herself that, "I spend just about all my time thinking about the meaning of life and the significance of the Bible and better ways to share the good news of Jesus Christ. I derive meaning, joy and purpose from my faith." Therefore, it's odd that she's untroubled by the notion of an entire society that has willfully gone deaf to the good news she loves so much.
But there's a simple answer. As a Christian whose profession is homiletics, McKenzie has, perhaps out of habit, dragged God into otherwise standard-issue liberal griping about modern American society; too big, too hectic, too competitive, too individualistic. That's it. Not spiritual, not even particularly thoughtful.
Her son, she wrote, just three days home from Denmark, complained, "I feel more stressed since I've gotten back." Tough life, kid. But not to worry, Mom has hope for you. And you may say she's a dreamer, but she's not the only one.
"Denmark has had an impact on my son," McKenzie wrote. "I predict that he will seek a life that is more communal and relational than the life of individual-achievement-at-all-costs that is a popular version (or perversion) of the American Dream." ["Imagine all the people Sharing all the world"] "I don't think he's going to lose his initiative, but I think he is going to seek a life that is more about experiencing hygge and less about being harried."
No word on whether his hygge has to come at the expense of his religion.