can jesus, allah and science coexist?

Published December 3, 2004

by Valur Gunnarsson

TAKE 1: The Vikings

“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” Easily the best opening line in history. Better than Dickens’ “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Better even than Tolstoy’s “All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” If nothing else, at least it excludes any possibility of a prequel. Or does it?
When trying to convince myself, for whatever reason, that there is a God, I tend to fall back on two arguments. One is that all societies, no matter where or when they have come into existence, seem to have a notion of, a belief in, a God. Believing seems almost to be as fundamental a need as eating and fornicating. And one unique among the species to mankind. If there is no God, have all men at all times, then, been wrong?

Our memory of God

Where does the feeling that there is a God come from? Is it just a fear of nothingness, a fear of dying that lies behind all the worlds’ religions? Or are we all born with a sense of something above and beyond us, a feeling for something greater out there, because there is? Is there something in the collective racial memory, something in our myths that goes back to a time when gods walked the earth, whether these were the Titans of the Greeks, the sons of God “who took wives among men” in Genesis 6, or the spacemen of Daeniken? Is it any more fanciful to believe that there is some truth to the most profound truths in any society, than that there is none?
Descartes, often called the father of modern philosophy as well as being a mathematician, stated that man’s profoundest thought, the idea of the perfect, the eternal and the unlimited, the idea of God, must be true precisely because it is the highest thought, because it cannot have derived anywhere but from God.

It took a girlfriend to convince me otherwise. Growing up in the Soviet Union, she was taught by society that there was no God. And she seemed to have no conception of him, unlike the Western atheist who tries to destroy god by logic. To her, there simply was no question of him existing at all. And hence my faith that we had within us some conception of eternity because there was something eternal, collapsed. The generations that grew up under Soviet communism grew up in a society where God officially did not exist. Whereas three out of five Russians today say that they believe in God, two out of five say that they didn’t then but that they do now. In general, and in a general trend opposite to the West, it is the older generation, the one that grew up without god, that is the most irreligious. In the west, the post war generations that grew up with materialism at its most rampant are the least religious. God, it seems, is a concept you learn about. But where, then, does, this feeling of eternity, that most of us can feel at times in one form or another, come from?
The poet and Nobel Prize winner Romain Rolland, who wrote that art was not an illusion because it must not be, asked his friend Sigmund Freud this very question. Romain spoke of an oceanic feeling of the eternal shared by millions of people. Was this the origin of man´s feeling of God? Sigmund, as usual, went back to early childhood to come up with an answer.

Although he claims to not feel it himself, he acknowledges that this feeling of being at one with the Universe does indeed exist. It is, in fact, nothing more than a memory. Before we discovered the “I”, that we were beings distinct from our surroundings, we felt at one with everything. But then we realise that some things, such as our mothers´ breast, are outside our being, and slowly we learn to distinguish between the two. Any feeling of oneness with the Universe is hence a memory from the time we did not distinguish ourselves as a distinct part of it. The key to the kingdom is not within us after all.

God in politics

Descartes did not live to see the society without God. But God has been in steady retreat ever since the days of Descartes. Two years before he died in 1650, Europe’s last great religious war came to an end. Having settled on the permanent division between a protestant Northern and Catholic southern Europe, almost six hundred years after Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Michael Cerularius mutually excommunicated each other, creating an Orthodox Eastern Europe, God has been, by and large, banished from international politics.

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 brought to an end the religious wars of Britain if not Northern Ireland, and Europe’s next major wars were fought as always with God on every side, but this time little attempt was made to distinguish what made the God of the Austrians different from that of the French, or what made the God of the Prussians distinct from the God of the English. Although ostensibly dynastic wars, they were fought primarily over control of trade, colonies and resources. Soldiers were by and large mercenaries who needed no motive other than money. Never since has war been fought as unashamedly for profit.

Ideology didn’t re-enter European politics until the French revolutionary wars of the 1790´s. In defence of the republic, the French mobilised the population on a previously unheard of scale, creating mass armies inflammed by political ideology, that were able to defeat all the other European powers in the field.

When other governments discovered that political ideologies were as potent a means to pushing the masses onto the battlefields as religion ever had been, they sooner or later adopted one or the other as their reason for being. Armies grew in size as conscription was introduced in defence of the nation, climaxing with the slaughter of the World Wars.

The static world of the post war era led to political apathy among the masses in both east and west. The last time a democracy fought a war using conscripted troops was in the catastrophic Vietnam War, detested and renounced by large parts of the population. Political ideology was no longer motivation enough for the people to go to war. In 1989, the peoples of Eastern Europe renounced political ideology spectacularly in favour of mass consumerism. There was no longer anything to kill or die for. Some even prophesied the end of history. And then, on September 11th 2001, God returned. With nothing else left to believe in, perhaps it was inevitable that he would make a return.

How did it all begin?

My second argument for the existence of God goes back to the beginning.

Where did we come from? You can trace yourself back to your parents and their parents, and, with the help of modern science back to the primeval sludge we all came from and from there to the Big Bang, but you always reach a dead end. And what then?

Philosophically, as well as politically, God had been in steady decline since the days of Descartes. The second argument Descartes used to prove the existence of God is the question of creation. At some point, something has to come out of nothing. This, then, must be where God comes in. But of course, this is just postponing the problem, for what created God? What is the prequel to Genesis 1.1?

In fact, the great monotheistic religions that originated in the Middle East are among the first to think that there even was a beginning to the Universe. This linear view of the world, that things necessarily move from one point to another, may explain the great dynamism of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Most previous religions saw the world in terms of cycles, most probably inspired by the cyclical course of nature. Summer, autumn, winter and spring follow one another in perpetuity. In China, Ying alternated with Yang, in India one Brahma followed another, each lasting 311 trillion years. Small wonder that the impatient West adapted a religion wherein everything was created in a week with time to spare.

In ancient Greece, things also moved in cycles, but here the cycles differed from one another. And of course, things are getting worse all the time. The first age of man was a Golden Age ruled by Cronos, where man did not have to toil and aged backwards. He was usurped by Zeus who created a silver age. But silver age man was disobedient, so Zeus decided to destroy him and start anew. Now came the Bronze Age, inhabited by a warrior race, but still Zeus was unhappy and killed them off in a flood. Next came the Heroic Age, populated by heroes and demigods. These, inevitably, wound up destroying each other but some of their tales still exist, most notably the story of the Trojan War. This was followed by the Iron Age, the one we currently live in, a time abandoned by the Gods, a time of evil. But it won’t last forever, one day Zeus will return, destroy it all and begin anew.

Greek thought was inherited by the Islamic Arabs after their conquest of the Middle Eastern provinces of the Greek-Byzantine Empire, and reintroduced into Western Europe by the Crusaders returning from the Holy Land, steeped in Arab blood and learning. There, it was merged with Christian doctrine and formed the basis for modern Western thought.

But unlike the Greeks, the great monotheistic religions do not believe in endless cycles. Time must have a stop. There is a beginning and an end. Scripture is silent on what came before, nothing it seems, and it all ends in Armageddon followed by heaven on earth.
Zeus was the son of Cronos and his sister Rhea, who were the offspring of Uranos and Gaia, the sky and the earth who both sprang up, for no reason given, from Chaos. Babylonian creation myths also have God springing from Chaos. But the Judeo-Christian God is firmly divorced from the earth. He is not of it, he created it, seemingly out of nothing.

In the age of Descartes, his contemporary Galileo, and Newton who followed them, thinkers liked to think of God as the watchmaker who created the Universe and set it in motion, but has had little to do with it since. It was generally believed that the Universe, once created, would last forever.

In the 19th Century, when God was discredited as a bourgeoisie conspiracy by Marx and pronounced dead by another hirsute German, Friedrich Nietzsche, physicists engaged in thermodynamics began to worry that as heat flows from hot to cold, then the Universe, wherein heat and cold are unevenly distributed but nonetheless strives towards equilibrium, cannot have been around forever. Otherwise the hot parts would long ago have flowed into the cold, resulting in “heat death.” In other words, all the suns would have burned out an eternity ago.

In the 1920´s astronomers realised that the Universe was in fact expanding, leading to the Big Bang theory. But a Big Bang does not exclude a creationist God, and Pope Pius XII acknowledged the theory in 1951. The Devil may be in the details, however, as according to astronomers the Universe has been 15 billion years in the making rather than six days, but still, there is nothing here yet that says the Universe was not created by God.

So did God set off the Big Bang? According to Einstein’s´ theory of relativity, matter cannot be divorced from space and time. Before there was matter, there can have been no space or time for God to exist in. If there is a God he is situated entirely not just outside matter but outside time and space too. Which makes you wonder what he’s got to do with anything.

But one problem still remains. If not God, then what caused the Big Bang? If the ultimate reason behind everything leads us back to the beginning of the Universe, how did the Universe happen? At what point did something come out of nothing?

According to Stephen Hawking, the Universe did not have a starting point. Which is not to say it has always existed. There are in fact four dimensions, as Einstein pointed out and HG Wells utilised in The Time Machine. There are the three dimensions of space and then there is time. If we go back to the beginning of the Universe, we will not find a single point of beginning, but rather an ellipse. Hence it is impossible to go to the beginning of the Universe as it is impossible to go to the ends of the earth. There is no starting point to the earth, the Universe or anything. I will not go any farther into quantum mechanics, partly because I don’t have space (or time), partly because I don’t understand them. But God has been pushed out of the Universe farther and farther until he now resides merely as creator. And even there he is currently under attack. Without a definitive starting point to creation, there is no need for a creator God.

Where does God go from here?

God has returned to the realm of politics more than he has to the realm of ideas. True Believers today more often than not seek to set science aside, and even reason itself, dismissing it in favour of religion.

Just as the Second World War was a three way battle between Central European fascism, Anglo-American capitalism and Soviet communism, the two winners then having it out with each other, we’re now witnessing a three way struggle between the Islamic Middle East, Secular Europe and a Christian controlled United States. So far, the two parties most prone to resorting to violence happen to be the ones that believe in a God.

Science may in the end provide the ultimate answer as to how everything happened. But now that we’re here, what do we do about it? It is here that we reach the true limits of science. But it still stands to reason.

Descartes, who professed to believing in God, wondered why there is evil in the world. God may be intangible and unquantifiable, but the results of evil are too apparent. Man has a will which is not limited in the way reason is. When will surpasses reason, evil results. Why did God then give us more will than reason? Because we have needs which need to be fulfilled, needs without which the body does not function. Needs create will, but our will often surpasses our needs.

There may be no being with horns that tempts us to do evil, and no God to punish us if we do, but there is the very human trait of greed. Whether we believe in God or not, we would be wise to think more about what we need and less about what we want. Which may be more reasonable.

 

God: The Interviews

Six spiritual people speak about their beliefs.
Interviews by Paul F. Nikolov


Hákon Atli Halldórsson, member of the Bahá’í Faith
What do you consider proof of God’s existence, or do you operate on faith alone?
My belief in God has to do with happiness. True happiness is not in material things. I’ve felt happy for reasons I couldn’t physically explain.

Is it possible for otherwise good people who don’t believe in God to go to Paradise?
I believe that this life is like a child’s life. When we are truly born, it is because we have developed self-knowledge, which leads to independence. It’s not about what club you get into. I don’t think anyone is punished for not believing, but believing does open up your heart.

Should Scripture be interpreted literally, allegorically or both? If both, how does one decide what to take at face value and what to consider “open for interpretation”?
Basically there is a Universal Hall of Justice which devotes itself to answering believers’ questions. As it always turns out, the answers to these questions are found in the writings themselves.

If God is all powerful and all good, why do bad things happen?
It is necessary sometimes for bad things to happen so that we learn how to grow. We must realise that there are consequences to enjoying freedom – without them, there is no real freedom.

Is there only “one true faith” or are there many? If there is only one, how do we know which one that is?
Our sacred writings refer to “the searcher.” Bahá’u’lláh encourages us to study the writings of all the prophets, and says that truth is spoken from heart to heart. When the truth reaches you, it goes beyond words; it is felt.

Why is it that bad people tend to enjoy great earthly success, while good people tend to live meagre existences?
I think that question answers itself.

Should children be raised in a faith, or should it be left to them to decide as adults what, if any, faith they will follow?
Parents are encouraged to teach their children the writings of all the prophets in order to understand where Bahá’í came from. I couldn’t imagine talking to my kids about God without mentioning Bahá’í.

Do we decide our ultimate fate, or has God already done that for us?
We have free will. If I drop a cup, the moment I let go of the cup it’s destined to fall. So some things are destined to happen – you can delay them, but you can’t stop them.

Is violence in God’s name ever justified?
No.

Who do you think God sided with during the teacher’s strike?
I can never imagine a human argument where God is taking one side.

 


Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, chairman of Ásatrúarfélagið
What do you consider proof of the Gods’ existence, or do you operate on faith alone?
I believe in the Gods, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I think Odin is up there making thunder. I think that the Gods are truth conveyed through poetry.

Is it possible for otherwise good people who don’t believe in the Gods to go to Paradise?
Warriors of course go to Valhalla to help the Gods in their fight against chaos, but most people go to Hel. Even though this name has been taken today to mean some horrible punishment, Hel is actually a rather nice place. But people mostly choose their own afterlives. Some people “die into” stones, their families, or sacred mountains like Helgafell, which is basically a 24-hour party place.

Should Scripture be interpreted literally, allegorically or both? If both, how does one decide what to take at face value and what to consider “open for interpretation”?
We have a number of sacred texts, like Hávamál, which discuss honourable action, how to handle enemies, and how to deal in business. These texts are practical guidelines for living and we take them literally. But we also have the Poetic Edda and Völuspá, which concern more cosmological things, and these are taken allegorically.

Are the Gods all powerful and all good, and if so, why do bad things happen?
No, the Gods are not all powerful. But we have this idea of fate, that bad things happen because they were meant to.

Is there only “one true faith” or are there many? If there is only one, how do we know which one that is?
I don’t think there is just one true faith. You can choose a God or Goddess for just about every occasion or day of the week. Life is too big and wonderful to confine yourself to just one set of beliefs.

Why is it that bad people tend to enjoy great earthly success, while good people tend to live meagre existences?
Being an asshole has it’s advantages, but I have yet to meet a happy asshole. Being unhappy is what makes them assholes.

Should children be raised in a faith, or should it be left to them to decide as adults what, if any, faith they will follow?
I think they should be left to make their own minds up, but I think children should be taught different belief systems, as I think there’s a primordial truth behind all of them. Doing this has never been more necessary than today, with all the ideological clashes which we’re seeing.

Do we decide our ultimate fate, or have the Gods already done that for us?
We do choose our ultimate fate, but the Gods have also set down the idea of honourable actions which are aligned with nature. I think as long you align yourself with nature you should lead a happy life.

Is violence in the Gods’ name ever justified?
That’s kind of a trick question, as the Viking way of life has often been associated with violence. But actually the old religion sought to maintain order and keep fighting to a minimum. The good fight is maintaining order, which doesn’t necessarily have to be done with weapons.

Who do you think the Gods sided with during the teacher’s strike?
The teachers. Knowledge is fundamental, and Odin is the god of wisdom and poetry. He’s all for the young being instructed in the best possible way. I’m sure there’s a god of bureaucracy, but I wouldn’t dare guess who that is.


Anonymous
(Two Jewish people living in Iceland who asked that their identities not be disclosed, stating in part, “Sometimes you’re friends with someone, then they find out you’re Jewish, and suddenly you’re not their friend anymore. But these are very few people. Icelanders on the whole are worldly, open, nice people not ruined by a few bad apples. I like to focus on the positive.”)

What do you consider proof of God’s existence, or do you operate on faith alone?
If your belief is strong, you don’t need proof, but in the Bible there is certainly proof in the form of miracles. Also, any scientist will tell you that the conditions required to create human life are tremendous, that it’s impossible that life just came out of nothing.

Is it possible for otherwise good people who don’t believe in God to go to Paradise?
Yes, I think so. The Old Testament says, “There is a place in Heaven for all righteous men.” It doesn’t say “only Jewish men.”

Should Scripture be interpreted literally, allegorically or both? If both, how does one decide what to take at face value and what to consider “open for interpretation”?
You can study the Old Testament all your life and, with a lot of effort, you might come to know one thing. You can’t just read the Scriptures so easily and say you can understand – you have to read through it to get the whole message.

If God is all powerful and all good, why do bad things happen?
Sometimes the Israelites aren’t listening, and they need to be tested by God. Sometimes God has a plan. The Old Testament says that once there was a famine in Israel, so the Israelites went to Egypt, where they did pretty well. Then some new people came along and made them slaves. The Israelites cried out to God, and He sent them Moses. God has a major plan for everyone. We might not understand it, but we can choose what we do with it.

Is violence in God’s name ever justified?
No, never.

Why is it that bad people tend to enjoy great earthly success, while good people tend to live meagre existences?
If evil people are more successful, that’s one thing. But when Judgement comes, the evil person will have no chance.

Should children be raised in a faith, or should it be left to them to decide as adults what, if any, faith they will follow?
Nobody is ever forced to be Jewish. Religion is an integral part of any culture, whether you´re talking about holidays, the clothes we wear or the food we eat. But it also teaches us how to live. If I think my religion gives me good tools for how to live, I’ll want to give those tools to my child.

Do we decide our ultimate fate, or has God already done that for us?
There are points in our life that God has reserved for us already. How we get from one point to the other is up to us, but in the end, we always end up at those points that God has reserved for us.

Is there only “one true faith” or are there many? If there is only one, how do we know which one that is?
In all religions, what you have are people believing in something greater than themselves, working towards something higher than themselves. The most important thing is to stay simple and respect others. I can sum up the entire Bible for you in one sentence: “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” That’s it.
There’s a story I know about a man, not a Jewish man, who went to visit a great rabbi. He told the rabbi, “I’m a good person, I donate money to charities, and I’m kind and respectful to others. If I convert to Judaism, will I be a better person?” The rabbi replied, “No. You’re fine just the way you are.” I think if you can do that, you understand everything.


Toshiki Toma Lutheran Minister, councelor to immigrants
What do you consider proof of God’s existence, or do you operate on faith alone?
Many people have tried to prove – or disprove – the existence of God, but in the end it all comes down to a matter of faith. For me, I receive proof on a personal level. My life changed for the better when I first believed in God’s existence. I think it works the same way for others.

Is it possible for otherwise good people who don’t believe in God to go to Paradise?
This is just my personal view, but I think we all go to Heaven, even bad people. I find it strange that there’s the belief that only people who believe in Jesus Christ go to Heaven. If the only reason why someone would follow His teachings is to go to Heaven, then that takes away the real purpose of following the teachings.

Should Scripture be interpreted literally, allegorically or both? If both, how does one decide what to take at face value and what to consider “open for interpretation”?
While the church exists for that purpose, I think that we always have to have an open discussion about what’s written there. I don’t believe in a strictly literal Bible. The reason why I think the church’s teachings always keep changing is that the knowledge of a thousand years ago is of course different than what we know today. As humankind develops, we have to look at the Bible through this knowledge. Only the main message – the words of Jesus Christ – remain unchanging.
One example I can give you of this is homosexuals and marriage. A long time ago marriage only meant a union between a man and a woman. Now times are changing. If there is love between two people, it’s more valuable than some formula.

If God is all powerful and all good, why do bad things happen?
I think that this adjective we apply to God, “almighty,” is one of the things we use to describe Godness. It’s sort of our wish to God that He’ll always protect us. But on the contrary, I don’t believe that God is looking down on us, controlling things, working as some great protector. I once knew an Italian priest who was supposed to get on a train one day but for some reason didn’t make it. That day, that train was blown up by a terrorist’s bomb. The priest told me God had protected him. I think this is a shabby thought; what about the other people on the train? Were they less deserving of God’s protection? We pray that God will protect us. It’s our natural feeling. Disasters can happen to anyone and we don’t know why, but the disasters remind us that life is valuable. We go on living.

Is there only “one true faith” or are there many? If there is only one, how do we know which one that is?
I don’t think that there’s any fixed conclusion. I became Christian in Japan. I have respect for Buddhism, the faith of my parents, but Christianity fit my own reality. If the question is, is there one faith for me, just one and no other, I’d say Christianity is 100% for me. Others can say the same about their faiths. If a Christian born in Iceland discovered the Buddhist faith and it fits his reality, how can I compare which faith is true or not true?

Is violence in God’s name ever justified?
No. Unfortunately, there are fanatics in all religions who use God as the purpose of their actions.

Why is it that bad people tend to enjoy great earthly success, while good people tend to live meagre existences?
The Bible makes it very clear: no one can take property to Heaven. I pity those who don’t see the real value in life. I think it’s really tragic.

Should children be raised in a faith, or should it be left to them to decide as adults what, if any, faith they will follow?
Parents try to give their best to their children, teach them how to behave and have respect. I pray with my kids. I try to make them understand how I respect my faith. When they start to think more on their own, they might think differently. It’s their decision; not mine. My parents were Buddhist and I became Christian. Kids should choose what’s best for themselves.

 


Karl Sigurbjörnsson Bishop of Iceland
What do you consider proof of God’s existence, or do you operate on faith alone?
“God does not sign his sunsets,” someone said, but still the whole world does in a way witness the existence of God, the beauty of creation, the wonders of life, the joy of love. The eyes of faith see od’s signs, or signature, or footsteps if we put it that way, and I believe.

Is it possible for otherwise good people who don’t believe in God to go to Paradise?
Paradise is to be in the presence of God and enjoying Him forever. I believe in God who’s limitless in His love and mercy. The only thing He cannot do is to force anyone to be with Him.

Should Scripture be interpreted literally, allegorically or both? If both, how does one decide what to take at face value and what to consider “open for interpretation”?
The Bible is not cut in stone, it is a collection of texts from different periods, containing the story of God and humans. The different parts of the Bible interpret each other. The word of God is not just the letters of the written word, it is to be read and heard by body, soul and spirit. Reading or listening to the word requires an open heart to the voice of God who speaks through the texts.

If God is all powerful and all good, why do bad things happen?
The world is a fallen world where sin and death are “on the loose”. God has in Christ saved the world from sin and death and has in various ways healed and helped us to overcome it, leading the world to the perfection where sin and death are no more and every tear is wiped from our eyes, except the tears of joy and happiness (ok, –ed).

Why is it that bad people tend to enjoy great earthly success, while good people tend to live meagre existences?
That is a tough question. In the Bible, Job for instance struggled with that. His answer is to trust in God and his blessings. One thing is for sure, God’s blessing is not evident in material things.

Should children be raised in a faith, or should it be left to them to decide as adults what, if any, faith they will follow?
In a similar way as the mother´s language, which is fundamental to the development of language skill and understanding, teaching children to pray and respect that which is holy is an invaluable foundation of their spiritual maturity.
No child can be raised in a spiritual vacuum.

Do we decide our ultimate fate, or has God already done that for us?
Even though we have a free will and can in numerous ways decide on which way to go, life does often lead us into unexpected paths and unknown territories. This is one of the great mysteries of life. I believe in God as I have learned to know Him in Jesus Christ. I love Him and put my hope in Him.I respect other peoples’ faith and know that God has many ways to reach His children.

Is violence in God’s name ever justified?
No.

Who do you think God sided with during the teacher’s strike?
God sides with truth, love and justice. I believe that was found on both sides.

 


Salmann Tamimi chairman of the Icelandic Muslim Association.
What do you consider proof of God’s existence, or do you operate on faith alone?
I consider myself proof of God’s existence. I look in the mirror, see eyes, ears, a tongue. In examining myself, I see that there was a power that created me; God. It can’t be anything else.

Is it possible for otherwise good people who don’t believe in God to go to Paradise?
Nobody knows who’s going to Paradise except God. I think that if you are a good person, you believe in one God already, you believe in something higher than yourself. But of course this question is all in God’s hands.

Should Scripture be interpreted literally, allegorically or both? If both, how does one decide what to take at face value and what to consider “open for interpretation”?
In Islam, we know that the Koran is exactly what Mohammed brought us from God, so we follow it literally. Of course the Koran doesn’t cover every single aspect of life, but it gives us guidelines to work from. For example, the Koran tells us we have to wash before prayer. However, if there’s no water around, we just make the motions of washing.

If God is all powerful and all good, why do bad things happen?
God wants us to do good things. If we were supposed to be like angels, we wouldn’t be human. God created sin and goodness, and gave us a mind to decide for ourselves. As for things like natural disasters, death is no big deal. We are practically born knowing that we will die someday. Maybe these things happen just to remind us that there is a creator who has this power.

Is there only “one true faith” or are there many? If there is only one, how do we know which one that is?
For me, I have complete belief in my faith. A Christian has complete belief in his faith. But we believe in one God, and that one day we’ll go back to him. That’s what makes us one. In the end, of course, only God knows which faith is the “right” one.

Why is it that bad people tend to enjoy great earthly success, while good people tend to live meagre existences?
These people who think only about material success are only concentrating on one thing so of course they’re going to be good at it. But a good person, he’s thinking about helping the less fortunate, being good to his neighbor, and this costs something.
Should children be raised in a faith, or should it be left to them to decide as adults what, if any, faith they will follow?
I think that children should be raised in a faith, but I think that they should have knowledge of other faiths as well. When they get old enough, they can decide for themselves which religion they want to follow.

Do we decide our ultimate fate, or has God already done that for us?
I think we decide our fate. God gave us the power to make our own decisions, to use our minds and follow the right path. In Islam we believe that we are representatives of God on earth, and you can’t be a good representative without a mind of your own.

Is violence in God’s name ever justified?
Never. I think all religions teach that we are all one people of one soul. To use religion to justify violence degrades God. God is mercy and love, otherwise He wouldn’t be God. But the problem is, there are people who believe that they have the same power as God and can decide who to punish, who’s good and bad, and we have a name for these people. We call them fanatics.


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May Day Mayday: Iceland’s Ongoing Doctor Strike

May Day Mayday: Iceland’s Ongoing Doctor Strike

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Following a round of unsuccessful negotiations, doctors in Iceland commenced their first ever strike in late October. In the wake of the banking crisis, so as to share the burden, doctors not only accepted a 5% wage cut, but also ceased seeking pay raises with as much fervour as before. As a result, their wages now lag far behind other public sector professions and the consumer price index. Compensation in the Icelandic healthcare sector is no longer competitive with those in our neighbouring countries, both in terms of salaries and holiday allowances. Now that the economy is purportedly in better

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Iceland’s University Hospital: The Director Speaks

Iceland’s University Hospital: The Director Speaks

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Throughout the whole healthcare debacle, one man has consistently remained focused on the big picture:the National University Hospital of Iceland (LSH) director Dr. Páll Matthíasson, PhD. Educated as a psychiatrist, Páll worked in London, England, from 1997-2007 before returning to Iceland, where he served as a senior physician before becoming the Chief Psychiatry Executive at LSH in 2009—and director at the end of 2013. Despite the tremendous pressure he faces with the ongoing strike, Páll still finds time to sit down with me in his office to discuss LSH and the future of medicine in Iceland. “Off the cliff” Up

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Down To The Bone: The Healthcare System, Post-Austerity

Down To The Bone: The Healthcare System, Post-Austerity

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Following the economic collapse of 2008, the Icelandic State’s debts skyrocketed, reaching 126% of the country’s GDP in 2011. At the same time, State revenue sources ground to a halt, and property devalued. The consumer price index shows price levels on consumer goods increased by a whopping 18.6% from 2008 to 2009, and strict capital controls were put in place to stop funds from funnelling out of the country. In a desperate attempt to avoid national bankruptcy, the State underwent hefty austerity measures, and called in the IMF. Although these facts are readily available, a myth persists to this day

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Prescribing Trouble: Iceland’s Social Insurance Explained

Prescribing Trouble: Iceland’s Social Insurance Explained

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Prescription drugs used to be either completely, partially or not at all covered by the insurance system, sometimes arbitrarily. On May 4, 2013, a new system was implemented, which was meant to be simpler and more just than the old one. The new arrangement entails three payment steps, where patients must progress from paying the full price of medication, to 15% and then 7.5%. Once the total costs reach a certain cap, patients can request a medical exemption licence that sees their medication fully subsidized. The system resets every year, making patients go through the three steps again. Medical professionals

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Iceland’s Healthcare System: How Does It Work?

Iceland’s Healthcare System: How Does It Work?

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Iceland maintains a universal healthcare system, under which all legal residents are covered by the Icelandic social insurance system. All hospital admissions are paid for by this system, as is the majority of the cost of outpatient appointments. There is a token fee to see General Practitioners (GPs) and specialists, with fees for the latter considerably higher, particularly after the economic collapse of 2008. Iceland’s primary healthcare is split up into hospitals, health institutions and healthcare clinics. There are two hospitals, Landspítalinn, the National University Hospital of Iceland (hereafter referred to as LSH), which is located in Reykjavík and serves

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