Growing up in the Norwegian Bible Belt in the 70s and 80s provided a very different upbringing than most people have today. So what was it like growing up in an environment like that?
There are “Bible belts” in many countries, for example in the southern United States and in the Netherlands. Unsurprisingly, these areas have a high concentration of people of Christian faith, and general values are also often conservative.
Norway’s Biblical Belt runs roughly southwest and south of Norway. Typical characteristics of the region are higher than average church attendance, support for Christian political parties, fewer divorces and more marriages.
The Bible Belt is also home to missionary organizations and other Christian communities that are more conservative and smaller than the traditional Lutheran Protestant.
Norway in the 70s and 80s
When I grew up in the 70s and 80s, Norway was quite different from today. It was very homogeneous, and it applied especially to the most remote places.
Where I lived, everyone was white and born in Norway except for a few Brits or Portuguese. We read the same magazines and a few select newspapers, we watched the same shows faithfully and Barne-TV at 6 p.m. The information broadcast was only presented by the state channel NRK. We didn’t even have Swedish TV on the coast.
We also had limited access to popular culture and were behind when it came to fashion. Films were shown in a community house about once a month; always the most popular American films.
Children played in the streets and woods unsupervised. We have developed creativity and fantasy, bravery and independence. On the other hand, we weren’t taught tolerance and encouraged critical thinking in the way children do today.
Does it seem to you that I grew up in another era and not in a modern Western country? Of course, this is generalized. But that’s how many Norwegians grew up. It’s very different from my Canadian husband’s upbringing and the way most Norwegian children grow up today.
As for the mindset of the people, most were humble and respected authorities. The Norwegian attitude of superiority is something quite recent. I think that started to change when North Sea oil brought unfathomable revenues to the country. It also seems to have gradually increased the level of national trust.
So what is it like growing up in an environment like this in combination with powerful elements of the Christian faith?
A safe environment
Most people who grow up in communities like this feel safe and happy, and have a strong sense of belonging.
There is little crime and people look out for each other. In addition to the church service, there are many social events, where everyone is encouraged to participate. This is regardless of family status or age.
All of this can prevent loneliness and exclusion. It was also perfectly acceptable and very common to drop by someone’s house unannounced.
Some people were more conservative than others, and some weren’t even religious. However, there were powerful forces trying to urge people to lead more godly lives.
Something that was considered a sin by the majority of the city council was drinking alcohol. At the time, municipalities in Norway could by law refuse to sell beer in grocery stores, and that applied to where I lived.
This meant everyone had to place beer orders through the postal service. The nearest vinmonopol was also about 3 hours away by car. This Norwegian law was not repealed until 2003.
I guess the assumption is that when alcohol is less available, people drink less. Although I strongly suspect it had the opposite effect, mainly because people ordered bigger qantas.
But also because people seemed to consume more hard liquor and home brew. There were many wild parties (bygdefester) with extremely heavy drinking.
Some parents have been quite creative in trying to keep children away from sinful activities. An example is when we had dance lessons at school. It was a traditional Norwegian folk dance, and not exactly cheek to cheek.
Nevertheless, some conservative parents felt that the school exposed children to sinful activities. The school, of course, had no choice because it was part of Norway’s standard curriculum.
The compromise, in the end, was to rename this “dance” class as a “rhythm game”. Even though education was unchanged, it was seen as less sinful.
It was extremely difficult to stand out
I never knew anyone who was gay when I was growing up. The majority also lived in nuclear families with children and almost no one divorced.
If you did something out of the ordinary, people started chatting. When a girl chose a humanistic and non-Christian confirmation, it was practically scandalous.
In a society where you always think about what your neighbors would say, it is extremely difficult to stand out. And if you do, you usually keep it to yourself.
Most people probably did not know that the community practiced a very effective kind of social control, in order to maintain the homogenization of society.
The Dark Side of the Bible Belt
Nowadays, Norwegian children learn about other religions, humanism and spirituality. But when I grew up, religious education in primary school in Norway was purely ‘Christian’.
And even though some parents weren’t Christian or religious at all, they didn’t speak up or even question the way Christianity was taught in school. It was probably because the schools at the time were seen as an authority.
Most children believe what they are told, especially when they are not encouraged to think critically. And when belief systems are taught as absolute truth in combination with the creation of fear, it also makes indoctrination possible.
I wouldn’t say the school did it on purpose, but no one seemed to realize the effect all the talk about Hell and the Devil could have on the most sensitive children.
I remember when I answered a question on a test something like “Hell is a place where you will suffer excruciating pain forever.”
The teacher didn’t seem to think about how a 5th grader could believe such a thing, and how deep fear it could create. Thing is, it sounded so scary that I refused to participate in the dance class because I thought it was a sin.
I did well, after all it was all about dancing and I came from a home with tolerant parents. But for young people who are unsure of their sexuality or identity, being exposed to this kind of education could be devastating.
Do such environments exist today?
As Norway becomes more secular, the Bible belt is also changing and becoming more progressive.
But there are still very conservative Christian churches and communities all over Norway.
They usually have strict rules about what is acceptable behavior and a narrow view of how people should live their lives; heterosexual and married, where children must be born in wedlock, and where abortion and homosexuality are not accepted.
Some even practice conversion therapy, the goal of which is to convert homosexuals into heterosexuals. The methods are therapy sessions, spiritual interventions, but can also involve more physical methods.
It’s still legal in Norway, but the government recently proposed a new law to ban the practice. There is a political agreement in Parliament, but there is always resistance. For example, the smaller Christian Party (in Kristne), still advocates conversion therapy, or what they call “spiritual guidance” for gay people.
As for indoctrination, in the United States, for example, about 5-8% of teachers endorse creationism and not evolution, and only about ⅔ teach evolution as an established science. Creationism is the belief that God created humans in our current form over the past 10,000 years or so. It’s something that 40% of American adults still believe today.
Now church and state have separated, children are taught other religions, and public schools are not allowed to preach Christianity or any other religion.
Children learn to be more critical and parents are more proactive and less humble. And no one needs to order beer by mail order. Therefore, today’s Bible Belt is not like the environment I grew up in.
But such communities still exist all over the world where conservative Christian forces are very strong and where people are expected to live godly lives and not stand out.
And while most people are happy and others laugh at double standards, there is a minority where such environments are downright unhealthy.
Personally, I wish I hadn’t been exposed to this kind of upbringing, had grown up in a more diverse environment, and had people my age also learned tolerance and acceptance like most Norwegian children do today. today.