Scandinavians are as far from Italians as Scandinavia is
from Italy. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, a famous Norwegian
author, once wrote, "Every joy you have you pay for with
sorrow." Many Norwegians think this quotation came from the
Bible. They take this quotation seriously-and I mean
seriously. They, and all Scandinavians, value even-keeled
emotions rather than the highs and lows that are more
prominent in Mediterranean cultures. This means that
expressions of affection and praise are guarded. When a
highly gifted girl asked her mom why she didn't affirm her,
she responded, "We didn't want you to get proud or spoiled."
Many children grow up in Scandinavian homes wondering if
they are valued, and this attitude they then pass on to
their offspring. It's not vastly different from many other
places in the world in that respect, except that it might be
more pronounced among Scandinavians because of their
dispositions. Individuals have characteristics that set them
apart, and so do races. These are formed by such things as
religion, geography, history, and cultural values. Garrison
Keeler has helped us laugh at some of these Nordic cultural
patterns, but sometimes they aren't funny.
These attitudes, a part of Scandinavian society for
centuries, were reinforced and perhaps embraced overtly as a
result of a novel by a man named Aksel Sandemose. He was a
Dane who moved to Norway and there came across attitudes of
negativism and depression. His book, called The Escape from
Jante, takes place in an imaginary small Danish town called
Jante, based on his hometown Nykobing Mors. Written in 1933,
it tells about the ugly side of Scandinavian small-town
mentality, and the term "Janteloven," which means "the Jante
Law" has come to mean the unspoken rules of such communities
in general. It is a curse, not a blessing, but Scandinavians
seem to have owned it as their particular DNA. Sandemose may
have chosen ten laws to give it the seriousness of the Ten
Commandments, which interestingly are called the "Moseloven"
(or the Mosaic Law) in Norwegian.
What it is
Here is the Law of Jante, which Sandemose wrote after
observing it in Norwegian culture:
think you are anything special.
Do not think you are as important as we are.
Do not think you are wiser than we are.
Do not fool yourself into thinking you are better
than we are.
Do not think you know more than we do.
Do not think you are more than we are.
Do not think that you are good at anything.
Do not laugh at us.
Do not think that anyone cares about you.
Do not think you can teach us anything.
Heresy is truth in
distortion, and there is an element of truth in these Ten
Commandments. St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, "Do nothing
out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility
consider others better than yourselves" (2:3). The next
verse balances this outlook by saying, "Each of you should
look not only to your own interests, but also to the
interests of others" (Philippians 2:4). Humility is a tricky
quality to get a handle on. It does not mean putting
ourselves down, de-valuing who we are, adopting an
inferiority complex, or assuming we can't do well or won't
amount to anything. This is the false face we sometimes give
humility. True humility is a realistic assessment of who we
are, and it actually leads to boldness rather than to lack
The Law of Jante, however, takes an inaccurate picture of
humility, what I call "worm theology," and applies it to
others in a kind of pseudo-democratic fashion. It levels
people off so that no one feels like rising above anyone
The Japanese have a saying, "The nail that sticks out is
pounded down," and the Law of Jante has been used for
decades to pound people down, to put them in their place, to
keep them from stepping out, to make them feel like they are
junk, until they question their value to others and even to
A Swedish pastor once told me that it is the opposite of the
American spirit of "rugged individualism." "If you ask a
Swede if he plays an instrument, he says, 'Well, not much. I
just practice a little bit,' even if he is a concert
pianist. If you ask an American, he says, 'Sure, I'm going
to release a CD soon,' even if he knows only two chords."
A man gifted in prophecy was in Sweden for the first time in
the ‘80's. Without knowing about the Law of Jante, he saw a
spirit over Scandinavia, a spirit of "Don't think that you
are someone, don't brag or be pushy; step back in line."
This man also said that it was not the true spirit of
Scandinavia. The Vikings at their best were brave pioneers.
When people are transformed by Christ and delivered from
bondage to the Law of Jante, they take on this true spirit.
What it does
The Law of Jante has the effect of creating:
||· An appearance of
humility which is, in fact, pride
· A passive rather than an active faith (Fatalism
· A lethargy that is difficult to overcome
· A lie which engenders a false religious spirit
· A uniformity rather than a true unity (Unity
· A stifling of courageous leadership
· A resistance toward doing good works
· A legalism that opposes grace
· A spirit of judgment and suspicion rather than of
· A cap on emotions, making a person feel
. A climate in which prophets are not welcome
The Law of Jante neutralizes
what is positive in the Viking spirit. It levels everyone
off, so that no one shines above the others. It creates a
democratic spirit, the strong side of which encourages the
rich to share with the poor, as they do in Scandinavia, but
the negative side keeps people from feeling special to
anyone, even to God. To hear how freely God loves them is
good news, although many find it too good to be true and
prefer to stick to their own feeble efforts.
The Law of Jante stands in contrast to God's assessment of
His crowning creation when He said that it was "very good."
It says instead, "I'm not okay, and you're even worse." So
it makes people reluctant to affirm others, to show honour
where honour is due, to live with positive attitudes toward
themselves, and to exercise faith. Place the sieve of the
Jante spirit over a person's mind and truth is siphoned out.
Even if I read from Scripture that I am special, the
interpretation comes out, "I am second-rate. God blesses
special people; I just don't happen to be one of them. Of
course, God loves the world, but I'll never play in His
first team. I am not gifted, I am not worthy, I am not
important to God or to anyone. And I shouldn't attempt to
The Law of Jante also keeps people from living their true
emotions, from experiencing true joy. One Christian lady we
spent an evening with in Norway told us that she was
criticized by some friends for having too much fun on her
thirtieth birthday. The spirit of Jante creates a heavy
legalism that makes people uncomfortable with a spirit of
celebration and that transforms delight into duty. Sober
living is deep in the Scandinavian soul. They laughed at the
jokes I told in sermons, but they let me know that their
pastors do not tell jokes when they preach. I could get away
with it, because I was an American. Because of the shame
that is imposed on people who step out of the line or rise
above the crowd, many people have placed a cap on their
emotions. They stay close to the middle rather than going to
the edges, either of expressed grief or of expressed joy.
Going to the extremes is a greater social sin than
passivity. So look for a whole company of passive-aggressives.
They are spawned in this kind of climate.
All of this means that peer pressure is a big factor in the
Christian culture and in the community. Pastors’ fear
becoming mavericks more than they do in America,
disappointing their bishops, creating waves, and stirring up
opposition among their people. So while many pastors in the
state churches have experienced personal renewal in the life
of the Spirit, very few churches have. People long for the
freedom of the Spirit and find it in renewal meetings, but
then they must return to churches where tradition brings
intimidation and where you had better not stick out in any
way, lest you get pounded down. I once asked a Norwegian
pastor friend, Jens-Petter Jorgensen, then the director of
Oase, the Norwegian form of Lutheran Renewal, whether the
main enemy in the church was liberalism or traditionalism.
His answer, the latter, was borne out by my experience
there. Traditions are healthy, but traditionalism makes a
god out of traditions, and it makes change and innovation
difficult to implement.
One can fall off the horse on
either side. Where you find legalism, it will often be
followed by license. Both operate in the flesh rather than
in the spirit.
Legalism creates license, because legalism resists grace,
condemning people to put on holiness and to resist sin by
their own effort -- which is impossible. The Pharisees were
out-of-control sinners, although they hid their wickedness
behind a veil of religion. Scandinavia, for all its
sophistication, success, and beautiful state churches, has
trumped American culture in its embrace of immorality.
America is the world's leader in evangelizing evil, but
Scandinavia is ahead in living it out. Its churches, like
many of its people, are empty.
Dr. Gary Sweeten, director of Lifeway Ministries
International and a frequent lecturer in Scandinavia, said,
"We encountered the spiritual, social, religious and
familial results of Jante when we began to minister in
Norway in 1986. It showed up in many of the comments of
bright and capable men and women. They chronically put
themselves down. For example, most refused to respond to my
request to write down their talents and share them with
others. When I asked them why the usually submissive
Norwegian pastors would not comply, I got this answer: 'we
have no gifts or talents. It would be sinful to act with
pride and admit that we have any strength.' Most attempts to
affirm them were rebuffed, and suggestions that anyone
assert himself or excel were seen as 'American and not
Norwegian.' While doing a weeklong retreat…we ran headlong
into several leaders who mentally beat themselves up for
being successful. In fact, one asked for prayer to be healed
Dr. Sweeten took people at the retreat through an eight-step
process of deliverance prayer. "Amazingly," he wrote, "after
all this teaching, discussion, confession and repentance,
there were still many leaders who were confused about why
the Law was wrong. It had become so much a part of each
person's mental map that change was almost impossible. I
therefore did another complete teaching, confession, small
group sharing, burning of the vows, public confession and
repentance and burning of the Law of Jante.
After the retreat we heard something that thrilled us and
made us think that God was at work among us. The Prime
Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, appeared on national TV the
night after our teaching and prayer. At the time (the late
80's) there was a recession in Norway and she was concerned
that the country could not pull itself out without great
effort. She spent a great deal of time discussing how the
Jante Law destroyed Norwegian initiative, self-reliance and
self-esteem. 'This old view must be destroyed,' she said.
Next, the Prime Minister did a very powerful thing. She,
like us, destroyed the Jante symbolically by first reading
it, and then tearing it up! This showed the entire country
that it could not go on with these lies in the minds of the
people. We believe that her boldness was related to our
spiritual fight the night before. Perhaps some of the
current revival in Norway can be traced back to that evening
of spiritual warfare. However, it must be taught and
re-taught all the time."
How to Overcome it
| I identify the
stronghold. The Law of Jante in particular has most
likely influenced people of Scandinavian heritage,
although a Jante spirit has impacted the whole
culture of the upper American Midwest. Acknowledging
a stronghold, a habitual and unhealthy way of
responding to life, begins the process of
deliverance. I acknowledge that some of my responses
to life come more from the culture than from the
|I confess my
attachment to the stronghold. I acknowledge that I
have been influenced by lies more than by the truth,
by laws of the flesh rather than by laws of the
Spirit. I have been held back by a false humility,
by passivity, by a spirit of lethargy, and by
cowardice, rather than obeying the Word of the Lord.
I acknowledge that these lies have brought some
bondage to me.
||I renounce the lies.
I refuse the lies of the Law of Jante. I renounce
their impact on my family, my heritage, and me. A
baptismal liturgy reads, "I renounce all the forces
of evil, the devil, and all his empty promises."
Instead of clinging to the lies, I expose them and
resist them actively. I don't give in passively as
if I have no other option. I come against the
lethargy that the Jante spirit produces.
||I forgive others.
Where I have been wounded because of a Jante spirit,
I extend forgiveness to anyone who has hurt me,
including pastors, the church, my heritage, or my
|I affirm the truth.
Standing in the truth invites the Spirit of truth to
work in my life. Clinging to lies invites the devil
to work me over. I make the choice to move in the
opposite spirit. I walk in boldness rather than in
timidity. I give appropriate expression to my
emotions rather than keeping them capped. I step out
and do what God is leading me to do, inviting Him to
change my heart as I bring forth the fruit of
repentance. I embrace and live the truth, and I set
my mind to be controlled by the Spirit (Romans 8:6).
Gary Sweeten wrote a
response to the Jante Law, which he called the Law
of the Spirit:
am a person of worth, created in God's image
I am as good as anyone else because God says so
I have the wisdom of God's Spirit
God has gifted me to be a winner
I am filled with the knowledge of God
God honors me as much as anyone on earth
I have God's destiny and plan for my life
What others think or do will not control me
God loves me and so do His people
I have a teachable spirit.
deliverance. We pray (for ourselves or others): "In
the strong name of Jesus, I command the Jante spirit
and any spirits associated with it to leave. They
have no power or right in my life. I lay claim to
the freedom that is in Christ Jesus. I lay hold of
the inheritance that belongs to me as a child of God
purchased by the blood of Christ. I break off the
influence of an unhealthy inheritance. I cling to
Jesus as my true stronghold."
|I ask to be filled
with the Holy Spirit. I reject all wrong spirits,
and I invite the Holy Spirit to fill me. I rely on
the power of the Spirit to overcome the negative
impact of the Law of Jante in my life. I learn to
walk in the Spirit day by day, moment by moment,
yielding my life, my destiny, my time, and my
choices to Him. I make decisions that keep me open
to Christ's work in my life. Deliverance is both an
act and a process. I must establish new thought
patterns and resist old ones.