Finding Spiritual Contentment in Denmark
AT THE gateway of the Baltic Sea lies Denmark. Consisting of a peninsula and some islands, this country covers an area of around 43,000 square kilometers (16,600 sq. mi.) and has a population of about 5,000,000.
Centuries ago the influence of this kingdom stretched far beyond its present borders. During the years 800 to 1000 C.E., the Vikings crossed the seas in dragon-stemmed ships, ravaging and conquering extensive areas west of Denmark. After the country had become “Christianized,” there were times when areas to the north, east and south also came under the control of Danish monarchs. Two of these territories, the Faroe Islands and Greenland, are still under the Danish crown.
For over 100 years, Denmark has not been actively involved in warfare, although it was not exempt from the effects of the two world wars. Thanks to highly developed agriculture, the country is one of the breadbaskets of Europe. The standard of living is high, and the Danes enjoy a noteworthy measure of security on account of their social legislation.
Nevertheless, there is still some truth in these words that English playwright William Shakespeare put into the mouth of the Danish prince Hamlet: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Problems of a financial nature can be seen in the form of unemployment and balance-of-payment deficits, and the many cases of thrombosis and cancer give evidence of widespread health problems. The people have not been made happier by the freedom and prosperity that they enjoy, nor by the loose sexual morality that has gained acceptance. According to statistics, Denmark has one of the world’s highest suicide rates. This emphasizes the truth of Jesus’ words: “Even when a person has an abundance his life does not result from the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15) To be truly happy and contented with their lot in life, people must have their spiritual needs filled.—1 Tim. 6:6-8.
EARLY ACTIVITY OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES
It was interest in this spiritual need that prompted C. T. Russell, the first president of the Watch Tower Society, to visit Denmark in 1891. He found the country to be like a field ripe for harvest. Also, the circumstances were ideal for spreading the Bible’s message.
Over 40 years earlier, in 1849, the former absolute monarchy became a constitutional monarchy. Up to that time the Evangelical–Lutheran State Church practiced forced christening on the infant children of Baptist parents. But, with the start of the constitutional monarchy, the State Church became a National Church, in which membership was voluntary. Moreover, after a period of considerable indifference to the Bible, some religious revivals increased interest in spiritual matters. Also, in the middle of the 19th century, the well-known Danish theologian and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard attacked the church in very strong terms. He accused it of watering down Jesus’ words about the ‘cramped road’ leading to life, saying that the church had trampled it so broad that everyone could promenade on it.—Matt. 7:13, 14.
Thus, in more than one way, it was fitting that the first “Bible Student,” a Danish-American, was sent to Denmark in 1894. From 1897 onward, articles from The Watchtower were published in a little periodical called Tusindaars-rigets Bud-bærer (Millennium Messenger), and since 1900 the Watchtower magazine has been published in Danish. This journal has played an important role in stimulating the spiritual appetite of many.
However, the words of Søren Kierkegaard still hold true. The general attitude is one of passiveness toward religion. This can be seen from an article in the Danish Journal, issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the January 1978 issue, the following remarks were made: “If it is true, as the old Danish proverb says, that it’s better to sit in the tavern and think of the church than sit in the church and think of the tavern, then the Danes are doing the right thing.” While more than 93 percent of the population continue as members of the church, only 2 percent go to church every Sunday. Four percent go once or twice a month, while “51 percent of the adult population say they never go to church.” In recent years, increasing numbers, especially among the young, have terminated their church membership.
INTEREST AMONG THE YOUNG
The prosperity that followed World War II caused many of the generation that is now of middle age to work for materialistic goals. But problems like the atomic threat, pollution and unemployment have contributed to a loss of faith in such values on the part of large numbers of young people. These youths are looking elsewhere in their search for contentment.
Take the case of a young man who completed a six-month course at a religious high school without finding any solution to his problems. At 18, he started looking for an answer elsewhere—to Hinduism, occultism, astrology, spiritism, Scientology and drugs. “I thought,” he said later, “that the sum of all of this was bound to give me an idea of God.” Disappointed by the outcome, he was led into drug addiction and gradually came under the influence of demonic powers to such an extent that he felt his life threatened. Nevertheless, he retained some faith in a God of love and in Christ. Regarding his continuing to search, he stated: “I went to the religions professing to be Christians—the Pentecostals, Apostolics, Baptists, Christian youth groups, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. I kept asking, getting contradicting answers, wondering, praying and searching in the Scriptures.”
At the age of 22, the young man came to the conviction that the truth was to be found among Jehovah’s Witnesses. He succeeded in breaking his drug habit after having been addicted for one and a half years. Despite great parental opposition, he became a baptized Witness and is now zealously sharing Bible truths with others. He has found spiritual contentment.
OPENNESS IN SCHOOLS
In the Danish schools, too, there are strong feelings of dissatisfaction with the standards of society. One positive result of this is a willingness to look into answers from other sources. For example, many teachers include information about Jehovah’s Witnesses in their classes. Especially in recent years has there been growing interest in classroom visits by the Witnesses.
How are such visits handled? A young couple who have gone to schools about 60 or 70 times state: “We give an introductory talk, explaining a few basic points of our faith—for example, our preaching about God’s kingdom and the coming paradise on earth, belief in creation, our view of the Bible, the commandment of neighbor love and its connection with the matter of neutrality, our history, and our form of organization compared with the early Christian congregation. The rest of the time is spent answering questions from the class. Recently, we have noted a change in what occupies the minds of students. Two or three years ago the class discussions often centered around social problems and our political neutrality. Now there is a growing interest in matters of a human, moral or purely Biblical nature.” After the Witnesses had one session with 40 students, the teacher expressed some surprise and pride because the students had been so attentive and had asked such relevant questions.
STILL A NEED TO FIGHT FOR THE FAITH
However, in Denmark there is one area where feelings have been running high, perhaps more so than in other places. This involves the stand taken by Jehovah’s Witnesses with reference to blood transfusions. This question was dramatically publicized in March 1975, when a young couple took their three-year-old son from the children’s hospital in Copenhagen. They did so because the doctor, in order to administer a blood transfusion against the wishes of the parents, had legal custody taken away from them.
Knowing that they most likely would be pursued by the police, the parents sought refuge with some of their fellow believers. At the same time, they tried to find a doctor who was willing to treat the child without the use of blood. A national police hunt, with raids, ransacking and border controls, took place. This was accompanied by a veritable persecution campaign in the press, with headlines such as “Child Killers,” “Religious Fanatics” and “Cynical Parents.” Even bomb threats and cases of outright violence occurred. A couple of clergymen and a member of Parliament raised the question of whether the authorities should not take action against Jehovah’s Witnesses. Meanwhile, the parents did find a doctor who was willing to respect their faith and to use alternate methods of treatment. Today the boy is alive and healthy.
STILL WORK TO DO
In recent years Danish society has undergone great changes. This has even affected the facilities that Jehovah’s Witnesses are using for meetings. In the past, the Witnesses used sports buildings for their semiannual circuit assemblies. However, rapidly rising rental costs have made it advisable for them to build their own assembly halls.
The dedication of the first assembly hall on March 17, 1979, was indeed a joyous event. Financed by unsolicited contributions and built with voluntary labor, this hall will serve the parts of the country called Jutland and Fünen. For the eastern part of the country, with the island of Zealand and the capital city of Copenhagen, good progress is being made with plans for a similar hall. In connection with the second assembly hall, it is planned to erect a new and much larger branch office of the Watch Tower Society.
During the nearly 90 years that have passed since C. T. Russell visited Denmark, the work of helping others to gain accurate Bible knowledge has progressed steadily, with intervals of rapid growth and periods of stabilization. Next to the National Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses are the largest religious body in the country—perhaps with the exception of the Catholic Church, which has not published any membership figures for a number of years. Very few countries with a population like that of Denmark have a similar ratio of Witnesses to population—1 to 387.
Today a substantial part of the work of distributing spiritual food consists of teaching and strengthening the many active Witnesses. At the same time, they keep on preparing themselves for an even greater witness about God’s kingdom. As long as Jehovah wills, they will declare the “good news” to the Danish people and show them how to find spiritual contentment.
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DENMARK COPENHAGEN SWEDEN
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THERE HAS BEEN GROWING INTEREST IN CLASSROOM VISITS BY JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES