Sunday, 29 September 2013
Strindberg and religion
Was Strindberg religious? Yes and no and yes! That is, like practically all Swedish citizens at that time he was brought up in the Lutheran faith. The church and the state were not separated until the year 2000, we had our Church of Sweden, like England still has its CofE. Right up until the late 1950s all schoolchildren had a religious morning assembly and about six hours of religious instruction a week. That would include comparative religious studies as well, as you got older. The result was that you knew the stories from the Old Testament, you knew your catechism and the basics, at least, of the New Testament. That, in turn, meant that you could relate to the classics, you could spot the allusions to the Bible and you had a foundation on which to stand on when it came to education.
Many writers, including Strindberg rebelled against Christianity and the power of the Church at the end of the 19th century. Working class people often felt marginalised and discriminated against by the church.
Strindberg went through an atheistic phase in the eighties. It went hand in hand with anti-Establishment ideas and a radical outlook. This didn’t stop him from baptizing his children, however, although his keen criticism of the church was very apparent in his play The Father.
After two failed marriages he was living in Paris when, in the mid 1890s he went through a religious crisis, which he later called his Inferno, and after that he called himself a Christian again.
His second wife, Frida Uhl, had been a non-practising Catholic but her family were all devout Catholics and Strindberg was deeply influenced by them, even after the break-up from Frida.
‘I am not a Catholic,’ he wrote in his essay ‘Religion’, published in Stridsskrifter, ‘but after spending seven years in Catholic countries and having Catholic relations I discovered that the difference between the Catholic and the Protestant doctrine is non-existent, or simply superficial; and that the break that happened once (The Reformation) was simply political or it may have been about theological issues that don’t really adhere to religion. Hence my tolerance towards Catholicism, especially in Gustav Adolf (a History play).’
He blames Darwinism for a general feeling of hopelessness. He cites the preposterous unfair idea that the stronger should be eligible for supreme power merely because of his strength. He sees the evil of capitalism as a direct result of this teaching. ‘Everything that is contrary to charity, compassion, fairness are the consequences of Darwinism.’
He goes on to say that Darwinism is the philosophy of the upper classes, it is conservative, anti-people, the opposite of socialism.
Strindberg claimed that without religion there is no honour, no faith, no sacrifice. People can’t trust each other because they are without faith. That is the victory of science over compassion.
Strindberg was not a church-goer, at least not while he was living in Sweden, but he knew his Bible and he read it and quoted from it throughout his life. He preferred the stern God of the Old Testament to the meek Saviour of the New Testament, but his Chamber plays which were written towards the end of his life all have a Christian message.
Strindberg battled with his God, as with everything else, but after his Inferno period in Paris he announced that from 1896 he considered himself a Christian.
When he died he had the Bible on his bedside table and he had given instructions about his grave where he wanted a simple wooden cross raised, with the inscription: Ave crux, spes unica. Hail the cross, my only hope.