For the 3 years I have lived in Iceland now, I have had an ongoing debate with my friend J. in Illinois about our differing lives. In addition to politics, food and culture, we have regularly compared the remarkably different dominant strands of Christianity as practiced in the two countries.
Iceland being a Lutheran country with the State giving financial support and backing to the church, one might expect a dreamy American Christian nowadays to envy the high place Christianity has here. Think again. (Though there does exist a 24-hour Christian channel here, dominated by American evangelical preachers and their regular rants against Islam and liberals alike, most Icelanders hold a much different set of Christian views than what is seen there.) For example,
None of the Christians I know here think George Bush is anything but a boor and a bully, fearing him much more than any tin pot dictator the US supports then disposes of with growing fickle regularity.
The Christians I know might be against abortion, but they do not impose their opposition on women. In fact…
The Christians I know here founded the first women’s political party in Europe and successfully elected the first woman President who was a single mother at the time.
The Christians I know are by and large socialists believing that poverty should be eliminated, hunger eradicated and that social equality should be the primary purpose of having a government.
The Christians I know oppose war, and regard it as evil. Period.
The Christians I know don’t believe in oppressing anyone and that includes Palestinians.
The Christians I know value the Sermon on the Mount more than they do the Book of Revelations and it shows.
The Christians I know give to the poor without asking for allegiance to their version of God in return.
The Christians I know engage me and others in real interfaith dialogue, enjoying the comparative jostle while retaining a healthy respect for others of differing belief systems.
The Christians I know are actually curious about Islam and take seminars and courses on it and other religions regularly in order to know and understand more about the world they read about.
The Christians I know take none of the millennial, “end of the world” talk seriously, regarding it as silly, outdated and dangerous.
The Christians I know value reason and uncertainty, science and doubt and wear their faith in their hearts and not out on their sleeves.
The Christians I know don’t think there is anything admirable about guns or militarism.
The Christians I know do not attempt to convert me nor do they attempt to convert anyone around me, respecting my freedom to be who I am and loving me nonetheless.
The Christians I know are worried about global warming (they see it daily here near the North Pole) and are constantly working to convert their economy towards more renewable sources of energy.
The Christians I know don’t necessarily go to church often, if at all, but they are good, decent, hard-working people who are moved by their consciences not their ideological rigidity.
The Christians I know have differing political views but they are respectful of each other and don’t engage in any of the viciousness I saw regularly in the States.
The Christians I know are not superstitiously afraid of practicing meditation or yoga and find that when they do it complements their own faith rather nicely, teaching them even more respect for traditions outside of their own, something they value as important in this modern world.
As much as I love living here, Iceland is no utopia and there are many reasons why I am a Buddhist and not a Christian. However, as I told my rigid, fearing-for-my-heathen-soul cousin recently, one of the biggest is that I was raised around them my whole life. Had I been raised here in Iceland though, things might have turned out differently.
Rev. JOSÉ M. TIRADO is a poet, writer and Green activist. He is also a Shin Buddhist priest teaching in Iceland. His articles have appeared in CounterPunch, Swans Commentary, Dissident Voice, the Magazine of Green Social Thought: Synthesis/Regeneration and Gurdjieff Internet Guide. He can be reached via his website: www.thepathofmyexperience.com