Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Societal Development: Iceland

In many locations, like Europe and the Americas, a native civilization was in place for centuries or even millennia before the arrival of Jesus followers.

The inhabitants of Europe, with their light-colored skin and red or blond hair, must have been curious about the Jesus followers from the Near East who arrived with darker skin, darker hair, and news about a Messiah.

Perhaps these original Europeans were even skeptical or suspicious.

But gradually the new Semitic faith spread. The native cultural practices, like slavery and the buying and selling of women, were replaced with new values. The Jesus followers nudged the Europeans, and later the Americans, toward a society which valued each individual human being.

But traces of the ancient roots remained. In Europe and in the Americas, wherever gender inequality or chauvinism emerged, they were the faint echoes of those civilizations which held sway before the new faith arrived.

The history of Western Civilization can be conceptualized as a type of struggle between between two sets of ideas: the ancient paganism, which embraced slavery, treated women as property, and saw human life as expendable; and the new ideas introduced by the Jesus followers.

Iceland is an exception to this generalization. Iceland was uninhabited until relatively late in history. There were no permanent dwellers there in prehistoric times, and even in early historic times the island was uninhabited.

At some time in the 700s, Iceland became home to continuous residents. As historian Sigurdur Magnusson writes,

The first human beings known to have lived in Iceland were not Norsemen, but Irish monks and hermits (papar). As early as A.D. 795 we have an account of some Irish hermits staying in Iceland from February to to August. When the Norsemen came to Iceland in the ninth century they met some of these Christian hermits.

In contrast to other nations, then, Iceland’s earliest beginnings were shaped by the presence of Jesus followers. To be sure, some of the Norse settlers, who arrived a few decades after the first Irish residents, were pagans.

Some of these Norsemen brought with them the paganism of their Scandinavian homelands. Norse polytheism was thus introduced to the island and coexisted with the Jesus followers for a several decades.

The difference, however, between Iceland and Europe was this: Europe had been thoroughly saturated by paganism long before any Jesus followers arrived there. Iceland, by contrast, from its very beginning had a strong presence of Jesus followers, even if paganism arrived and endured for some years thereafter.

During its first inhabited century, therefore, all the residents of Iceland seem to have been Jesus followers.

While all or most of the European nations developed their separate and different cultures along similar lines, Iceland’s pattern was different.

In Europe, Jesus followers encountered a strongly rooted culture of pagan values, and worked to gradually make inroads against that social pattern. In Iceland, Jesus followers arrived to a totally uninhabited land, and could create a new social pattern without having to displace a previous one.

What are the measurable and observable results of Iceland’s unique developmental path? A report released in 2010 by the Obama administration’s State Department (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor) evaluated Iceland’s society as being at the highest levels of protecting both civil rights and human rights.

Likewise, a 2015 report by the Obama administration’s State Department (International Religious Freedom Report) depicted Iceland’s excellent record of protecting and preserving individual political liberty and religious freedom.