This week I watched season 1 of Vikings, a pretty brutal TV series that follows the early Norse invaders of Britain and their way of life. I can’t vouch for the historical authenticity of the narrative, but I did see one element of the story that fascinated me and spoke to some of where I sense we are at today as Christians in this world.
In their first venture west the Vikings looted a monastery and killed almost all of the priests, with Ragnar saving one for his ‘slave’. He takes Athelstan back to his home where he lives with the family as a servant, while Ragnar milks him for more information on the lands to the west. This monk is forced to live as an exile among these violent, pagan people and slowly – very slowly his faith erodes as they accept him and he accepts them.
In time he finds himself so immersed in pagan culture that his previous identity suffocates. He eventually attends the once every nine years, temple visit, a pagan religious ceremony and an orgy of every kind culminating with sacrifice of both animals and humans.
Athelstan discovers he has been brought as the sacrifice, but as he is examined by the pagan priest to see if he has truly renounced Christ he stumbles. He is asked 3 times – ‘do you still follow Jesus?’ Each time he answers ‘no’, but on the final denial he is caught slyly rubbing his wrist and when his sleeve is pulled up a cross is revealed. He is not acceptable as a sacrifice.
It felt like a metaphor of the faith so often observed today. There has been a slow but observable seeping of pagan culture into the lives of western Christians. We have bought western paganism with its consumer Gods and hedonistic life, where new purchases and new experiences are the focus of worship. And in so doing we have lost sight of the call to die to self and follow with a cross…
But when push comes to shove, when life turns to custard, when we lose all hope and our new gods can’t bale us out, there is still a memory… maybe a distant memory of another way, a way that was once reassuring, that once rang true… and we may even be found ‘rubbing the cross’, praying or returning to church to try and recover what has been lost.
I’m still pondering the implications of this as they are disturbing…
Meanwhile for some fuller thoughts on a similar theme see Steve’s two most recent posts on the challenge of the world we live in here and here. Some brilliant thinking here and resonates with what I was feeling myself as I began to write this post.