Saturday, February 9, 2019

Curious about New Age

”Nyfiken på Gud” (Curious about God) is a peculiar Swedish TV series about religion and spirituality, aired in 2001. Some of the episodes have been ripped on YouTube. Of course, you need to understand Swedish to watch them. Somewhat unexpectedly, the series is narrated by Peter Wahlbeck, a rowdy comedian not usually associated with anything even remotely spiritual. However, he turns out to be a fairly orthodox and even somewhat cranky New Age guy! 

The series was shown at the public service channel SVT, and it sure was interesting to see what kind of religion or spirituality *they* decided to promote. Wahlbeck says virtually nothing about Islam and most Christians interviewed are fairly liberal or heterodox. The main emphasis is on New Age and Buddhism, and is often so uncritical that I´m surprised no angry atheist filed a complaint against the show. Are we to believe that secular public service TV, at least 20 years ago, regarded New Age and Buddhism as harmless and therefore “legitimate” paths, while monotheism and more traditional polytheism were no-nos?

That being said, I did find the interviews in “Nyfiken på Gud” interesting, although perhaps too short. Wahlbeck has met Sture Johansson, the world famous Swedish medium who channels a spirit named Ambres. He interviews Göran Grip, who promoted Raymond Moody´s books in Sweden, about Grip´s own near-death experience at the age of five. One episode deals with Martinus Kosmologi, a Danish version of Theosophy developed by Martinus Thomsen, which has some supporters in Sweden (Wahlbeck seems fascinated by it himself). The inevitable Anthroposophists and their weird art and architecture are featured, and so is Swedish pop singer Thomas Di Leva and Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess. The worst interview is with a crazy woman who claims to be able to live on pure light, but if you follow her words carefully, she actually admits that she sometimes drinks juice or eats a candy bar…

The biggest scoop of the series, or so Wahlbeck claims, was an interview with the 17th Karmapa of Tibetan Buddhism – or one of them, specifically Ogyen Trinley Dorje, who was only 20 years old at the time, having just escaped from China to Dharamsala in northern India, the center of the exiled Tibetans. (There are apparently two claimants to the position of Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage within the Kagyu sect of Vajrayana Buddhism. The Dalai Lama belongs to another sect, the Geluk-pa.) Wahlberg´s talk with one of the older lamas was actually more interesting.

The most comic part of the series is Wahlbeck´s interview with a Dominican sister, who tells him to get down to earth instead of dreaming about angels, space aliens or whatever. Wahlbeck asks the sister what she would do if a “being of light radiating magnetic energy” would appear in her room, at which the sister responds that she would go out and have a good steak in order to recover from the experience!

What a shame Paul (the apostle) never thought of that…

OK, seriously. If you´re Swedish and curious about spirituality, I think “Nyfiken på Gud” is worth watching, but to a large extent for shall we say “ethnological” reasons. As already indicated, it´s an interesting question to ask why TV in the most secularized nation in the world chose to make a series about “God” in exactly this way, and no other…

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