Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ylva Eggehorn: Europe's Grandchildren (1985)

Ylva Eggehorn is these days perhaps best-known as a hymn-writer. She was active in the early years of the Jesus movement in Sweden, around 1970.

Like most Swedes who achieve a certain prominence, she is also a poet and a newspaper columnist, at least she was back in the 1980s when the impressive articles collected in this book were written. By then she had become a sort of  unofficial voice for younger Christians in Sweden.

These articles represent, as the rear jacket explains, her own journey from 1960s internationalism to an increased focus on "Europe". This was Europe as a historic cultural entity, the Europe of cathedrals and art and science. The Europe that had been idealistically embraced by dissidents in the East (in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia...), yet was forgotten and neglected by an americanized gum-chewing youth in Europe's capitalist nations. Eggehorn, you might surmise, was becoming nostalgic for "Christendom", for Catholic fiefdoms like the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. (See "Att dö för Europa" / "To die for Europe", 3rd March 1984.)

Eggehorn's book precedes, of course, the break-up of the Eastern Bloc in 1989. The story of Lech Walesa's Solidarity was unfolding as she wrote. The struggle against Communism was a prime focus for Christian activism of the time, as were the debates about abortion legislation in the West. In both spheres Christianity stood against materialism, variously understood.

Some of our own preoccupations of more recent times are, of course, conspicuously absent, not because of anything about Eggehorn or her position but just because things have changed a great deal since the 1980s.

She rarely mentions the EU, which Sweden joined only on 1st January 1995.

She didn't yet see Europe's populations in the multi-ethnic terms that we do today, and she scarcely mentions the Islamic world, now the focus of so many of our fears and hopes.

And her book pre-dates, of course, the dramatic resurgence of the Far Right across the western world that now threatens such civilization as we still have.


Eggehorn's Christian thought is strongly anti-relativist, defensive of the objective reality of moral values and of a definite Christian conception of the human.

The poet Lars Gustafsson, who I've written about a couple of times recently, makes an appearance here:

Lars Gustafsson skrev i en stor artikel i BLM [Bonniers Litterära Magasin*]  förra året, att paradigmet "människan" saknas i vår moderna vetenskap -- det är faktiskt ofint att ens efterfråga det. Aspekter på människans liv -- sociologiska, biologiska, ekonomiska och andra -- går att studera, men att fråga efter helheten, att söka ett paradigm för människan, anses ovetenskapligt, skriver Lars Gustafsson. Han tillägger dock i slutet av sin artikel att man med fog måste misstänka den moderna vetenskapen för att ha en alldeles speciell avsikt med att betrakta frågan "vad är en människa?" som i princip omöjlig att besvara eller som ointressant för forskarna. Och han tror att den moderna institutionella vetenskapen snart kommer att "tvingas ut ur sin objektiva förklädnad."

Vems intressen de här gagnar och vad vi kommer att få bevittna, säger Lars Gustafsson ingenting om.


Lars Gustafsson wrote, in a long article in BLM [Bonniers Literary magazine*] last year, that the paradigm "Man" is missing from modern science -- it is indelicate to even ask about it. Aspects of the life of Man -- of his sociology, biology, economy and so on -- those things are rightly the objects of study, but to ask about the totality, to seek the paradigm "Man", is considered unscientific, says Gustafsson.  At the end of his article, however, he adds that one may have the suspicion that modern science has particular reasons for defining the question "What is Man?" as intrinsically impossible to answer and not of interest from a research point of view.  And he thinks that modern institutional science will soon be "forced to abandon its guise of objectivity".

Gustafsson doesn't say whose interests this might benefit and what we will then be witness to.

(From "Den utbytbara människan" ("The interchangeable man" - 13th February 1981)

I guess you could say this is Eggehorn co-opting Gustafsson's sceptical and speculative humanism in order to brandish it as Christian accusation.

*NOTE:  Bonniers Literary Magazine, commonly called BLM or "Blemman" (The Pimple), was a Swedish literary periodical published between 1932 and 2004, when it finally expired after years in the doldrums; it was down to 1,300 subscribers and was published only four times a year. (Its final editors were Kristoffer Leandoer and Aase Berg.)

By this time it had already had one recess, beginning in 1999, and was mourned as the relic of a more ample and slower-moving time, as in this article for Aftonbladet by Arne Johnsson: .

In its glory days, for instance when Gustafsson himself was editor (1962-1972), it was published ten times a year: basically a monthly, but with the usual expedient of a "summer special" to cover the blessed period when Swedes stop work and head for their summer cottages.


The article "Vems fred?" ("Whose peace?" - 19th February 1983) shows the strength of Eggehorn's internationalist heritage: here she points out that the peace we hope to enjoy in the comfortable west often means suffering, and therefore conflict, in other parts of the world.

The article argues thus: when we pray for "world peace" what we actually conceive is peace for us privileged westerners (as above). Is the concept of "world peace" even coherent, if peace for one part of society means misery for another? The only coherent concept is "God's peace". Pray for that, and you know you can't be wrong.


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