In any individual analysis, the subject’s socio-cultural background is a key component in understanding the person and the actions they do (or do not) take. When the media mentions Greta’s socio-cultural background, the focus often lies on her national identity and the cultural aspects of a northern-European upbringing. However, there are other aspects to take into consideration in this regard. We have noticed that Greta is commonly depicted as a prophetic figure, a young savior of the environment; or, on the contrary, how her critics depict her in negative religious terms (i.e. the Polish archbishop that described her as an Antichrist). In light of this, and taking into consideration the fact that this area of Greta’s life is often neglected, we have prepared a short summary on religion and Greta.
The Climate Prophet
An often unknown socio-cultural area where Greta has had a significant impact is religion. While Greta is commonly silent on her religious beliefs, she has become a significant figure in Christian communities. For example, on 1 December 2018, the Church of Sweden (national Evangelical Lutheran church) tweeted that Greta is a “successor” to Jesus Christ – the official tweet reads “Announcement! Jesus of Nazareth has now appointed one of his successors, Greta Thunberg.” The church did receive a negative backlash from its tweet, which resulted in the abandonment of the account days later and a message of apology. The Church of Sweden is known for its progressive and liberal positions and despite the 2018 twitter fiasco, it continues to express support for Greta: in September 2019, the church said it would ring its bells as a symbol of the Global Climate Strike (Greta is the face of this movement).
Another significant religiously-related event took place on April 16th, 2018, when Greta met briefly with Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square and received the support of the Pope in her fight against climate change (“God bless you, continue to work, continue. Go along, go ahead”). Greta thanked the Pope for his stance on the environment (“Thank you for standing up for the climate and speaking the truth. It means a lot”).
The Catholic community has often expressed support for Greta. For example, a young German couple said to be inspired by Greta and her “Fridays for Future” protests and will be launching a “Sundays for Life” campaign to advocate for pro-life policies across Europe. The Global Catholic Climate Movement published on 17 April 2019 “Greta has said that “our house is on fire.” Young Catholics around the world are taking steps to “douse the flames.” Other Catholic news networks (like the Catholic Philly) have published articles urging the catholic community to follow Greta and her fight against climate change.
In terms of her public persona, it is common for the media to depict Greta as a prophetic figure, both in positive and negative connotations (positive connotations often come from religious news sites, examples of which are mentioned above). Examples of negative reports include conservative columnist Andrew Bolt’s comment that “No teenager is more freakishly influential than Greta Thunberg, the deeply disturbed messiah of the global warming movement.” In the political sphere, conservative members of the French parliament boycotted one of Greta’s speeches in July 2019, calling her a “prophetess in shorts” and a teen “apocalypse guru.” However, Greta has also been depicted through religious language in a positive light. For example, The Telegraph reported “Greta Thunberg is the first saint of our cruel new environmental religion.” The Guardian has also stated “Perhaps Greta Thunberg is a prophet after all.”