The Norwegian Constitution states that the ethical principles of the Kingdom of Norway are based on its Christian and humanist heritage. The Storting, the Norwegian parliament, has committed itself to this Christian heritage.
But God, Jesus, and the Bible are rarely used as ethical principles, arguments, or references in parliamentary debates.
Associate Professor Ole Jakob Løland from the University of South East Norway has examined the position of the Bible in Norwegian politics.
“Today, the Bible is absent from the vast majority of political debates. When Biblical quotations are used so rarely, they are of no importance in making political decisions,” she said.
“They are used to score political points against other politicians,” Løland told sciencenorway.no.
He has systematically searched for Biblical quotations in Norwegian parliamentary debates after 1884.
He found only two discussions where the Bible played a significant role and was used as part of the basis for decisions.
Religion for and against women’s rights
The first was in the 1880s, when the Storting would adopt women’s property rights. The second time was in the 1930s when the dispute was over the priestesses. In these two debates, some politicians used the Bible to argue that women were subservient to men, while others used Biblical texts to argue for religious equality.
However, the Bible was not invoked in the debate when the Storting amended the Constitution in 2012 to create a separation between church and state.
“It was the most important religious policy decision on the state and the church in Norway in 500 years. You would think that the dissolution of the state church would inspire politicians to use biblical texts,” Løland said.
But no one did.
fun with the bible
Quotations from the Bible have been used in parliamentary debates of late, but mostly for fun.
That is what happened during the national budget debate in 2012. Biblical citations abounded and politicians quoted the Bible a total of 47 times.
“We probably have to go back to the debate about priestesses in the 1930s to find something similar,” Løland said.
The Labor Party started. Marianne Aasen believed that the research would solve major social problems. She said: “If you become familiar with climate research, the following Biblical quote is very valid: ‘He who increases knowledge of it increases pain of it.’
Here he used the Bible as a source of words of wisdom, not a reference to God, Løland said.
The Old Testament for new buildings in Trøndelag
Other representatives followed.
“There is no Bible in the parliament hall, so maybe they googled the bible texts. But it may also have been an agreed game to invoke the Bible, as the Biblical citations came like pearls on a necklace,” Løland said.
Tord Lien of the right-wing Progress Party (Frp) was not happy that the government had not allocated money for a new building at Sør-Trøndelag University College. He quoted from the Old Testament: ‘It is better that you make no promise to him, than to promise and not keep.’
Snorre Valen of the Socialist Left Party (SV) continued with the biblical theme, now about school politics, “because in the Bible it says that ‘it is better to give than to receive’”. Elisabeth Aspaker of the Conservative Party has criticized the government because Norwegian students do poorly in exams. She said: “And to borrow a verse from the Bible: ‘Lift up your eyes and look around you.'” Education Minister Kristin Halvorsen of the Socialist Left Party regretted running out of Bible citations.
“In this debate, the Bible was not used as a basis for religious values or as the word of God, but as a book from which we can derive sound morals and values,” Løland said.
“They used the Bible to beat themselves up a bit,” he said.
The minutes of this parliamentary debate said that there was a constant joy in the room. The representatives laughed.
Fisheries miracle threatens Norwegian exports
“It seems they agreed that the Bible stories had little to add to a real political debate,” Løland said.
It was mostly fun. Henning Warloe of the Conservative Party offered a warning about the Biblical story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with just five loaves and two fish. He commented that this would hurt the export market for Norwegian seafood.
“Politicians mock the Bible in debates. They are not afraid to play with the text,” said Løland.
Politicians from the Norwegian Christian Democratic Party (KrF) do not refer much to the Bible in political debate either.
“This is interesting, because the Christian Democratic Party is the only party that should act on a Christian basis,” says Løland.
politics for all
According to its website, KrF’s values are derived from the Bible, among other things.
“The Christian Democratic Party is visibly on the defensive in the debates in the Storting and elsewhere,” Løland said.
Kjell Ingolf Ropstad, KrF’s parliamentary representative, explains the lack of use of the Bible by saying that the party’s policies are for everyone.
“We base our policy on basic Christian values, such as charity, human dignity and stewardship, but our policies are for everyone,” he wrote in a text message to sciencenorway.no.
Ropstad said this is a common practice in Christian Democratic parties in Europe.
“There is a broad consensus among these parties to argue from a universal ethical point of view, based on these values and human rights, and not through biblical quotes,” Ropstad said.
Stoltenberg Follows Biblical Counsel
“When former KrF party leader Knut Arild Hareide referred to the Bible, he often did so in a self-deprecating tone,” Løland said.
Kjell Magne Bondevik, also of the KrF Christian Democratic Party, quoted the Bible just once in the seven New Year speeches he delivered as Prime Minister between 1998 and 2005.
When Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of the Labor Party gave his New Year’s speech in 2010, he quoted the Bible with all seriousness. He said that the coalition government had followed the advice that Joseph gave to Pharaoh in Egypt, to save for good times. Pharaoh built barns. Stoltenberg built the government pension fund.
“No one was provoked or mocked by Stoltenberg’s use of this biblical text. It was successful political rhetoric,” Løland said.
The right-wing party called the Progress Party is the one that has done the most to put religion on the political agenda in recent decades. Løland gives two examples.
The Progress Party and Jesus
Carl I. Hagen, leader of the Progress Party from 1978 to 2006, compared Jesus and Muhammad in a 2004 speech. Where Jesus said ‘Let the children come to me’, Muhammad said ‘Let the children come to me to that I can use them in my fight to Islamize the world,’ Hagen said.
Hagen received a lot of criticism for what he said about Islam. Løland says that the Qur’an is rarely discussed in Norwegian parliamentary debates.
“I have never seen in any Storting report that representatives show disrespect or engage in irreverent jokes with the Koran, as they do with the Bible,” Løland said.
In 2015, Sylvi Listhaug of the Progress Party criticized Norway’s refugee policy. She used Jesus as an argument that Norway should accept fewer refugees and help them where they are.
‘That was what Jesus was concerned about, that you help as many people as possible. And it’s not about helping as many people as possible in Norway,” Listhaug said on the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s evening news show, Dagsnytt 18.
Use the Bible for different policies.
The bishop with whom Listhaug debated on the news program used neutral language and spoke about human dignity.
“It was the politician who used religion as a political tool in this debate, not the bishop. And Listhaug quoted Jesus in all seriousness. It wasn’t fun here, like in parliamentary debates,” Løland said.
Various researchers have analyzed different uses of the Bible in political debate. Ole Jakob Løland gives an overview of the research in his article in the magazine Kirke og Kultur (Church and Culture).
The Bible was long used to justify the monarchy, with a king who ruled by the grace of God.
Now American and British politicians use the Bible to defend modern liberalism.
Løland can only find one such example in Norwegian politics.
Jesus for the individual
On the 2017 election campaign, former Liberal leader Trine Skei Grande claimed that the New Testament was about the individual. She said: “When Jesus heals, he never heals a group, but individuals.”
Skei Grande tried to use the Bible as a basis for Norwegian liberal politics, according to Løland. Other politicians did not follow his line of argument.
“The Bible has had little to say in shaping Norwegian politics. The idea that politics can be based on biblical texts has become almost laughable, ”writes Løland in his article in Kirke og Kultur.
So much so that the Storting politicians laugh when they hear biblical quotes from the podium.
Translated by Nancy Bazilchuk
Ole Jakob Løland: The Bible in the Storting. When there is hilarity in the room. (The Bible in the Storting. When there is hilarity in the room.) Kirke og Kultur, 2022. Summary (in Norwegian).