Religious Beliefs and Practices. The Icelandic writer Sigrdur Nordal wrote, "We have been bad pagans for a century and bad Christians for ten." During early times, chieftains were also priests. As in many other primitive societies, their offices were both secular and sacred. After Christianity was introduced, clergy refused to abide by the rule of celibacy, bore arms, and entered feuds. The higher clergy functioned as another kind of chieftain. Most modern Icelanders are confirmed in the Icelandic State Church, a major rite of passage. The clergy have social as well as religious roles. The church is tax-supported, but individuals who do not want to support the church may so indicate on their tax returns and their taxes are used for other purposes. Nonstandard quasireligious movements such as spiritism and folk concepts such as elves and prophetic dreams have some support and go in and out of fashion from time to rime.
Arts. Choral singing may be one of the most popular art forms in Iceland. Rural as well as urban areas support choirs. There is an active theater community, symphony orchestra, new music movement, and visual arts community. There are several art museums, some of which are dedicated to individual artists. There is a small film-making industry. There is a state television station, two state radio stations, and one commercial television station. Icelandic rock-and-roll bands come and go in national and international popularity. One of the problems they must face is whether to perform in the Icelandic language, thus maintaining a strong sense of Icelandic identity but limiting their appeal to the island, or to perform in English (e.g., the Sugarcubes), thus appealing to an international audience but losing some of their national identity. Iceland is a nation of poets and writers. The most internationally known writer is the Nobel Prize winner Halldor Laxness, who has written only in Icelandic. Before he won the Nobel Prize, Icelanders gave him a cool reception because of his challenges to long-held myths of egalitarianism and romantic ideas of independence.
Medicine. Iceland has a modern and advanced healthcare system. All Icelanders participate in this system, and health care is available to all.