Book Review: The Ethical World-Conception Of The Norse People

The Ethical World-Conception Of The Norse People, by Andrew Peter Fors

As someone with a bit of Scandinavian heritage and a great deal of interest in the history and culture of the area [1], I found this to be an interesting book.  That is not to say that I agreed with everything in it–far from it–but I certainly found it to be interesting, without a doubt.  It is clear from any serious reading that this book is written by someone who wishes to defend some sort of originality and nobility for the Norse religion as an example of ethical dualism of a kind very similar to that of the Persians.  Despite the author’s special pleading, this book comes off as overselling.  Contemporary readers may not be particularly fond of the way the author speaks of Aryan ancestry either, given the disrepute such views suffered after the middle of the 20th century, which explains for why this book has been largely forgotten.  Even so, for those readers who are able to treat with the book with a modicum of charity, this is a volume that certainly brings with it a good deal of insight at least into the way that the Norse people saw themselves and saw their world, and in that it largely succeeds in its goals of being a doctoral dissertation in comparative religion.

Coming in at 58 pages, this is not a particularly long work in the least.  The first chapter introduces the question of a worldview and introduces the Norse worldview in broad outlines.  In the second chapter, the author looks at various mythological figures within Norse mythology like Odin, Thor, Loki, and the obscure Norns, and examines their ethical implications.  The third chapter takes as look at the Norse ethical worldview, looking at the importance of courage and wisdom, sincerity, keeping oaths and promises, as well as the importance of vengeance and retributive justice as well as arbitration and sexual purity.  The fifth and final chapter looks compares the Norse system with others, namely the Persian system and to a lesser extent the more obscure moral worldview of the ancient Mordvinians, and deals with the question of how much borrowing of the Christian worldview was done by the Norse of the eddas.  On this question, at least, it is safe to say that the author’s desire to burnish the nobility of the Norse worldview certainly leads him into a great deal of bias.

Overall, judging from a biblical worldview, the nobility of the Norse worldview may be seen as a small hill that rises above the common plain but is a mere foothill to the massive mountain that is the morality of the biblical worldview.  This book compares the Norse worldview with the decadence of Late Roman heathen culture and gives a great deal of attention to the grudging praise given by half-heathen Catholic priests to the virtues of the Norse, and claims the high ground of the Norse as refuting the rather low view that the clerics of the British Isles had of Viking pillagers.  In doing so, the author shows himself somewhat unaware of the full peaks of the biblical moral worldview, and is too quick to label the tension between free will and determinism as a contradiction, a problem that can certainly befall many critiques of other worldviews.  This book is useful for those who wish to read a sympathetic account of the Norse worldview and gain a better understanding of those virtues that can be practiced and extolled by noble heathens unaided by divine special revelation.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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