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Christian and non-Christian

Matti Kuusi

Christian and non-Christian*

The Christian church has had for centuries in Finland a complete monopoly on the national education. One might think, therefore, that the folk ethics of those centuries would be one with Christian ethics and folk belief the same as Christian belief.

This has not been the case. The Sermon on the Mount and the old folk proverbs move on completely different levels, and the directions they give often collide abruptly. The basic command of the Sermon on the Mount, 'Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you' does not seem to have left the slightest trace in Finnish proverbs. The teaching that one should not resist evil or that one should take no thought for the morrow or that to enter the kingdom of heaven one must become like little children is almost unimaginably distant from the proverbial wisdom dictated by the steadfast common sense of the peasant.

The ethics of the Old Testament, the commandments and prohibitions of the tablets of Moses, are far closer to the spirit of the ancient folk. Kyllä piru puuta tuo, kun pyhänä puukon ottaa (The devil will bring wood if you use a knife on Sunday), Parempi on vanhan kunnia kuin nuoren häpeä (Honour when old is better than shame when young), Henki hengestä (A life for a life), Huorat hulluksi tekevät, salavaimot vaivaiseksi (Whores drive you mad, secret wives make you miserable), Ei totta kieltää saa (You must not deny the truth), Ei toisen miehen omat omaa ole (What belongs to another man does not belong to you) and dozens of other warnings follow the moral rules of the church. In contrast to them, it is true, are both shameless villainous witticisms - in which, for example, prostitution is seen as a creation of the Lord or a result of a tender heart - and reasonable objections: Ei pyhä kiellä pyytämästä, sapatti samoamasta (Sunday does not deny asking, the Sabbath roaming), Joka kaikki pyhät pitää, se kaikki nälät näkee (Whoever keeps all the sabbaths sees all the hungers).

The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio - Issue 7:1998 & Issue 8:1998, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.

The following ancient proverb is in complete accordance with the noblest of Christian ethics: Älköön olko ikinä sitä, joka lyö lyödyn mielen, särkee särjetyn sydämen, jo se on lyöty lyömättäkin, särjetty särkemättäkin (Do not ever be the one who strikes the stricken mind, who breaks the broken heart; it is stricken without the striking, broken without the breaking). Far more numerous are the proverbs that describe the way of the world: Kaikki purtua puree, kaikki pantua panee, hätäynyttä hätii (Everyone bites the bitten, everyone slanders the slandered, everyone harasses the harassed), Siitä ylitse mennään, missä aita on matalin (Where the fence is low everyone goes over). A combination of ethical idealism and peasant realism may sometimes give rise to a miniature monument of folk wisdom such as the following:

Juopuvat olutten juojat,
häviävat tappelijat,
vaipuvat valehtelijat,
kielen kantajat katoovat,
sikiävät työn tekijät.

Drinkers get drunk,
Fighters lose,
Liars collapse,
Gossips repent,
Workers conceive.

Matti Kuusi

*Reprinted from Mind and Form in Folklore. Selected articles of Matti Kuusi. Ed. by Henni Ilomäki. Studia fennica. Folkloristica 3. Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura. Helsinki 1994, pp. 145-147

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