By Steve Pauwels
The History Channel‘s dramatic series Vikings has just kicked off its second axe-wielding, village-plundering season. It’s apparently a ratings winner, and there’s no denying it’s an example of skillfully crafted, aesthetically high-quality storytelling. Filmed in Ireland, mostly out-of-doors, Vikings is visually compelling, well-acted by an internationally credentialed cast, and reliably boasts engaging plot-lines with dazzlingly brutal battle sequences.
If the writers of this series had more guts and creative ambition, however, and if they really wanted to take the innovative route, they’d feature an occasional Christian character who modeled strength of spirit and integrity. That is, an occasional Christian character who acted like an authentic Christian. Yeah, I get it — over the course of two centuries “the church” has provided its share of hypocrites and weaklings, too often failing to live up to its own luminous ideals. Then again, welcome to the human race.
So far, though, Vikings has conspicuously left out that followers of Jesus Christ, historically and demonstrably, have also been “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13, 14) – on balance, a palpable force for good, a beneficial influence in most places they’ve turned up: founders of orphanages, hospitals, schools, universities, and charitable organizations unnumbered, protectors of the helpless, tamers of violence (chivalry, “Just War” theory, etc.), conscience-pricking confronters of the powerful, vanquishers of slavery. On and on the favorable ecclesiastical catalogue could go.
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In his 1995 study, author Thomas Cahill even persuasively styles Middle Ages Christianity as the shaper of Ireland, civilization’s “Dark Ages” savior.
Where does any hint of this easily documentable information survive in the History Channel‘s account of Ragnar Lodbrok and his bloody-minded adventurers? Instead, the only elements of Christendom to which viewers are treated are befuddled, corpulent priests, an apparently apostate wimp of a former cleric (Athelstan) or unscrupulous, Christianized (though plainly not Christian) kings whose single concern is crass power. Again, of course such have existed over the course of two-thousand years of Christian experience. Take any sizable cohort of fallible people and you’ll find all manner of bad apples. But that’s never been all that has comprised the church’s fraternity, never the only sample of what the teachings of Jesus Christ have produced on earth — not even close. Students of honest history will discover this — so far, TV enthusiasts whose knowledge of the past is limited to Vikings will not.
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