Just when you deal with one bit of insanity, along comes a recent CNN article on Congress debating the biblical stance on immigration. Gives me cause to wonder what would be transpiring in those hallowed halls were we talking about the Heathen stance on immigration.
I want to first of all go on the record as saying that biblical stances on anything don’t belong in Congress. Keep your religion in your pants. Or at home. In Congress we ought to be debating the constitution’s stance on immigration, and nothing else.
We didn’t elect these guys to hold a church council. We elected them to run our country.
And they’re not doing a very good job, according to this article.
But as long as we’re on the subject of immigration, let’s ask if there is any particular way a Heathen should think about the topic.
No more than the Bible is the Hávamál a manual on immigration policy and procedure. I mean let’s face it, there wasn’t much in the way of immigration controls in the ancient world. People really got around. If the Israelite port authority had something on paper it didn’t survive Sargon II’s visit.
The Scandinavians were pretty easy-going on the subject of moving populations. They moved themselves around and they moved others around as well. A recent genetic study has shown that while only a quarter of the men in 800 CE were Gaelic in origin, half of the women were. Irish brides, anyone?
The Vikings more often than was once thought brought their families with them. In the early 11th century Adémar of Chabannes mentions them invading Ireland “with their wives and children.” But the Vikings demonstrated that if they came lacking brides, they were more than capable of finding some. After all, Adémar also mentions their “Christian captives whom they had made their slaves.”
Cultural assimilation was the rule of the day. Peoples mixed. Sometimes willingly, sometimes not. The periphery of the Viking Age world was a melting pot, and not merely as a consequence of the activities of the feared Northmen.
So the picture that emerges is that this was not the sort of world in which set ideas of immigration could exist, let alone be enforced. You went where a boat – or your feet – could take you, freely or as a slave, and mixed with the dominant culture.
Sometimes the Vikings assimilated others. More often than not, they were assimilated themselves. Recent studies have shown the extent of Norse blood in the populations of the northwest of England: ”The collaborative study, by The University of Nottingham, the University of Leicester and University College London, reveals that the population in parts of northwest England carries up to 50 per cent male Norse origins, about the same as modern Orkney.”
By contrast, some Americans seem positively xenophobic when it comes to letting their “Anglo-Saxon” blood become diluted. Americans – some Americans – “real” Americans – set themselves apart like a chosen people, and in fact, some of them do consider America the successor to Israel as their god’s chosen agent and Americans as their god’s new chosen people. As a consequence of this mode of thinking, they tend to be picky about who gets to share in the bounty of this new covenant.
Usually, the losers are those who are not White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Fairness forces me to admit that if there is any religious group who is going to stick up for the “constructed other” it is the Catholic Church.
So where would this debate take us, given the store of Norse wisdom that has come down to us, and the example of Viking history?
There isn’t much reason to suppose that anything like Norse Exceptionalism existed before the 19th century when the Viking Age was invented by an excess of nationalism among Scandinavian scholars. Despite what some Heathen groups pretend, there seems to be no lack of willingness among Viking Age folks to allow others into the fold, or to join another’s fold.
Thralls could be freed. They could become part of the community, sharing in the religion and culture of the Norse. And Norse folks easily assimilated into foreign cultures, as in Ireland and England and Normandy. It didn’t take them long, either. A mere century after settling in Normandy Rollo’s Normans were speaking French and acting not like seagoing buccaneers but knights.
There is no suggestion that anyone was saying that the blood had to be preserved or kept pure, or that Norway or Iceland was only for the Norse. Obviously it wasn’t, given the preponderance of non-Scandinavian women who found their way there. That’s more Irish than 19th century Americans were willing to have around.
Norse wisdom has a strong pragmatic flavor, a practicality and acceptance of the world that is missing from American conservative discourse – and from biblical discourse, which is not inclusive but exclusive, lists of don’ts rather than do’s.
Yes, the Vikings killed their share of foreigners. Every Medieval culture did. Every modern culture has continued to do so. But the idea that America is for Americans, specifically for those who happen to be white, Anglo-Saxon, and protestant, is somewhat new and absurd.
After all, if we go back to the Colonial Era, nobody was checking passports at the port or along the border. Those who wished to come, came. The same is true of the Viking Era. There were no legal or illegal immigrants in the modern sense and the Bible no more than the Hávamál is going to guide modern minds through the dangerous shoals of immigration policy.
Nor are ideas of justice limited to religion, or to any particular religion.
To answer my own question, I rather suspect that the Heathen “community” is so varied that we might get any number of answers and of course, you can (and they do) make the Bible give any number of answers to the question of how to deal with the immigration issue. Then again, the Bible presupposes we own slaves and stone unfaithful wives and disobedient children and that there is nothing wrong with this.
You have to wonder sometimes just how relevant what comes to us by way of millennia-old documents is relevant to us. Maybe we should just be who we are, the sum total of all our parts, not just our spiritual notions, and check our religion at the door and look at the Constitution when it comes to deciding how to run our country.
I think it’s safe to say that’s what the Founding Fathers had in mind. After all, they wrote the Constitution, and they no more quoted the Bible than they did the Hávamál.