Great article in this week’s Observer about Iceland. The country has the highest birth rate, the highest divorce rate, and the highest percentage of women working outside the home in Europe. It is also the best place in the world to live according to the UN. It has a booming economy and a very strong society, with almost no crime. It is as close to a Gene Roddenberry-style Utopia as we have on this planet, yet ignores many commonly-held notions of what is important for a ‘good’ society.
The principles on which Icelandic society is built are very interesting. The country was never converted to Christianity, so approached the modern world with a value set based on paganism. This has driven a respect for the, often harsh, environment, but the spiritual aspects seem to have been largely replaced with an appreciation of science and a love of progress.
This practical, open-minded approach contrasts strongly with much of the debate that has taken place around the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill over the last month. I try not to talk about religion in this blog because of the ease with which I could cause offence, both to prospective clients and to friends and family. But it seems that all the major religions are increasingly attacking the principles of science and humanism that form my ‘faith’. So though I will continue to try to avoid offence, there are some issues that really should be addressed in a blog looking at the future.
The article about Iceland reminded me that our value system is coloured by our historical religion, and the disproportionate sway that it continues to hold in our media and parliament. We all need to examine the natural bias in ourselves that this produces. Even an atheist such as I can subconsciously value a classic ‘nuclear’ family over other models, whether they be gay or lesbian couples, or other systems in which children may be raised.
Throughout the debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill, those lobbying to maintain the guidance that a father is vital in raising children have referenced unspecified ‘research’. This apparently shows that the absence of a father figure means children are more likely to commit crime, take drugs etc. Yet surely the weight of global evidence shows the opposite. In parts of Africa children are often raised by the community. And in Iceland, a tradition of strong women comes from the fact that Viking men were off pillaging often for years at a time, raising the children together in their absence. The fact that children may suffer in a broken version of our traditional model does not mean that other models are not just as valid, if not more so.
If we are going to continue human progress, and work towards a day when the whole world shares the quality of life enjoyed in Iceland, we all need to be open-minded about our beliefs and values. Are they based on fact and reason, or misunderstanding and prejudice? Or worst of all, on the values of a many-thousand year old civilisation that knew nothing of our reality and the potential of our society?