The Founders Did Not Establish Congress as a Church Council

The Statue of Liberty does not say "Give me your angry blowhards"
The Statue of Liberty does not say “Give me your angry blowhards”
Here we go again. As my friend Muse wrote here the other day, we were just witness to Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX) going on a rant of Old Testament proportions to condemn the Obama administration for not being – you guessed it – Old Testament enough. Gohmert, apparently completely unfamiliar with not only Article VI of the Constitution but also with the First Amendment, wants Obama to use the Old Testament to guide his policies.

This is hardly the first and it will not be the last attempt by a Republican to force a biblical worldview on the American government. It is happening with tiresome regularity. 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 of it.

Maybe because they’re so confused.

The quote on the Statue of Liberty kinda mirrors what Jesus was saying:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

But they don’t want the poor and they sure don’t want anything Jesus was selling.

Republicans are really unhappy with immigrants (and nobody hates immigrants more than Louie “Terror Babies” Gohmert) and yet they want our foreign and domestic policies to be informed by a foreign book! Foreign not only the United States but to the Anglo-Saxons.

I’m getting confused too: Only Anglo-Saxons are real Americans but then only if they are carrying around a Semitic book with a later Greek revision added to it?

And as long as we’re on the subject of immigration – and being a Heathen I always wonder if there is any particular way a Heathen like me should think about the topic – shouldn’t we be cognizant of the underlying historical fact that America is largely a country of immigrants?

And we can do better than that. The people who came here not only came from someplace, but their ancestors often came from someplace else. Not only the United States, but the world, has been a real melting pot.

No more than the Jewish or Christian Bible is the Heathen 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 (my own ancestors) 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 ninth century Iceland were Gaelic in origin, half or more 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.

People talk about immigrants in the Roman empire being Romanized (and they were) but the Romans were also Germanized, Syrianized and other-ized up the proverbial wazoo. In the same way Christianity itself was Germanized when it came north force the not-such-good-news gospel on the Heathen, most of whom were perfectly content with the gospel they had been born with. And of course, the same process is taking place in America – and the world – today.

By the same token, sometimes the Vikings assimilated others. More often than not, as I mentioned above, 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.”

We see something similar in Iceland, where genetic studies reveal that while most settlers were from Scandinavia, the rest – particularly women (to the tune of 60 percent) – were from the British isles. Certainly some came as slaves, but many Norse immigrants to Iceland came from Scotland, where they had intermarried and brought their mixed blood brood with them. Others were those Irish brides. Of course, all this becomes politicized in nationalist but also racialist terms. But the search for “real Vikings” as it is for “real Americans” is doomed to failure by history itself.

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.

These Americans seem positively xenophobic when it comes to letting their “Anglo-Saxon” blood become diluted (in the new Confederacy they call it “Anglo-Celtic”) providing the irony of something “pure” being by its very name something mixed. For a long time in America, the Irish were not even considered white, yet now we’re told the South is a white homeland for people of Irish descent?

Really! Go back a century and a half and see how well that idea sells.

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. (Imagine how different the world of our imaginations if there had been some equally enterprising Hungarian scholars to foist on the world the Magyar Age – and let’s face it, Medieval Europeans were as afraid of the Magyars as they were of the Vikings.)

Despite what some Heathen groups pretend today, 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 were the lowest of the low but even thralls could be freed. They could become part of the community, sharing in the religion and culture of the Norse. They could cease to be part of the constructed other in a way no black person in American can aspire to.

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, destroying the fabled Anglo-Saxon culture in England, which itself had subsumed a previous Celtic culture which had a millennium before replaced the indigenous culture.

The world is a crazy place. More than a match for any crazy Republican racist.

But back to my ancestors. There is no suggestion that anyone was saying that the blood had to be preserved or kept pure, or that Norway or Sweden 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 olden times, 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 referenced the Bible than they did the Hávamál, the Qur’an or any other holy book you care to name.

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