Icelandic Gods

There’s a lot to like about Iceland.  It has geothermal heat.  The people are literate and proud of it.  They don’t have an army.  Viking heritage and northern lights—what an interesting place!  A friend recently sent me a satirical piece on Patheos titled “Iceland Declares All Religions Are Mental Disorders,” by Andrew Hall.  I may not be as naive as I once was, but I have to admit I was nearly taken in on the fly.  Maybe because the idea seems so much better than what we have over here in our warmer, but less educated world.  Clearly, however, religion is extremely important to people, and if it is a mental disorder it’s an essential one.  Hall mades the astute point that Iceland didn’t want to become like the United States.  Who would, at this point?

Although this is a satirical piece, like most satire it works because it has chunks of truth in it.  Countries run by religions do seem to get into quite a lot of trouble.  I often think this is primarily a monotheistic problem.  If a nation accepts many gods, then adding those of other peoples is hardly an issue.  With a single deity, however, there is a single truth.  Anyone different is, by default, wrong.  When entire nations self-identify with a religion, it is only too easy to begin seeing those who believe differently just across the border as a threat.  Faith becomes fight.  As if a deity who always claims to value peace is only satisfied when we’re killing those who don’t share our same peaceful outlook.  Irony and satire have met together, it seems.

I’ve never been to Iceland.  It’s on my bucket list.  As a rockhound, the volcanic nature of the place calls to me.  I do wonder, however, how a vegan might fare on a far northern island.  My times in Orkney are among my mental treasures.  Those northern Scottish isles were places of wonder.  Not the most options regarding comestibles, however.  What they lacked in food they made up for in magic.  Iceland, despite the satire’s bite, has a considerable population that believes in the little people.  Anyone who’s too quick to dismiss such things ought to spend some time in the far north.  Driving to the ancient sites of Orkney certainly shifted my perspective a bit.  There’s great value in listening to the wisdom of those relatively isolated from the rest of the world.  You might, however, have to bring your own beans.


I’m not sure what Patheos is, but it has been on my web-radar (or is it “ping”?) for some time now. They host bloggers with a more substantial platform than mine, and often have a number of comments that must require a full-time coterie of first responders. As a working class blogger, however, I siphon off their success to spin my own ideas a little further. All of this is preface to the fact that a recent article by Michael Stone on Patheos comments on Texas’s approval of textbooks where Moses inspired “the American system of democracy.” We are all used to Texas shenanigans by now, but making laws with the ultimate lawmaker just as a movie is being released that portrays Moses as a warrior is apt in a way that Rick Perry’s stomping grounds may not truly appreciate. The need to validate outdated laws with a largely mythical biblical figure is telling. Revisionist history depends on the version of history that is more compelling at the moment, and I find Moses charging the Egyptian army on horseback eerily appropriate.

Textbooks are insidious. They are society’s first crack at young, and naturally open, minds. As we socialize the rising generations to support that with which we’ve always felt comfortable—not wanting to jeopardize our ease in our advancing age—it becomes important to provide the appropriate propaganda. As I speak with fellow scholars (if I may be so bold) I frequently hear them decrying textbooks. By their nature they are a leveling off of what naturally comes in mounds—heaps, even. They are a tool used to keep everything even in a world of rough knowledge. They are insidious in that they are hard to override. Those of us who’ve taught in college know how difficult credibility is when “the book says” is the standard line of recourse. If it was published by Pearson corporation, it must be true.

Revisionist history.

Revisionist history.

Of course, we venerate the published word. Today the Bible, I suspect, were it newly composed, would have difficulty finding a publisher. Since it was written a couple thousand years ago, however, it retains all the trappings of hoary wisdom that is required to make the elders comfortable. Even scholars of the Bible have, as a matter of course, questioned Moses’ role in the story for centuries. As early as the Middle Ages some sages were asking how Moses knew to write his own death scene. Even so, the vast majority took the word literally, and now that we’ve defined ourselves as a “Christian nation,” or at least the southern half of a Christian nation, we can use the Bible as a textbook. What could be more natural? On the big screen I anticipate Christian Bale charging the Egyptians on horseback. In the Pentateuch I read of Moses hiding behind Aaron’s eloquence. One is biblical, but is it believable? If it comes to a contest of force between the two, I’ll go with Ridley Scott every time.

Weather or Not

The internet’s nothing if not self-referential. A post by Fred Clark over on Patheos, pointed out to me by my brother-in-law, has received 235 comments (at the time of this writing) for a topic I’ve addressed repeatedly, to no avail. I know my place. In any case, the topic which brought such furor was that severe weather is caused by divine displeasure, something I’ve addressed a time or two. In fact, I’ve written a book about it. Never mind, some of us revel in obscurity. Fred is writing about the remarks of former Tory David Silvester that the UK has been suffering unusually severe weather because of homosexual marriage. That’s really old news to those of us over here in the colonies; Pat Robertson told us as much after Katrina (although he didn’t limit the sins to homosexuality). Sex tends to stir up storms of its own, regardless of divine voyeurism, while we ignore the obvious culprit—global warming. (Culprit of unusually severe weather, not of sex.)

Global warming, as a recent conversation with a very smart undergraduate confirmed, is a poor name choice. Those of us on the northeastern coastal corridor have been shivering a lot this winter, and snow has remained on the sidewalks of Manhattan for more than a single day at a time. You call this global warming? Yes. The science behind climatology tells us that warming the overall temperatures of the globe will result in erratic weather, including uncharacteristically cold and freezing in some locations, dampness in others, while yet others experience, yes, warming. We know it is real, we know it is happening. We just don’t know what to call it. Some choose to call it God’s wrath. Others choose to name it more properly human shortsightedness. After we hunted the last mammoth down, we decided to start building bigger fires to warm the ice age up a bit. Those fires have been burning ever since.


My book on the weather, by the way, suggests that divine control of the elements is an essential part of the biblical mindset. To ancient folk this was a no-brainer. God is in (his) heaven and messing with the HVAC system is one of the ways (he) passes the time. Down here we may shiver, become parched, or get washed away. It’s all a matter of the divine thermostat. As Fred Clark points out, the divine temperament sets the temperature based on human activity. Sin leads to unusual weather. Unwittingly, however, David Silvester may have gotten it right. There is a sin involved, and that sin is called global warming. No deity need be involved. We have shown that humans are quite capable of messing with the thermostat on our own. And the day I get 235 comments on anything it will be a very cold day in a place famed for its heat.