(latest updates posted at the bottom — please scroll down)
History’s smash-hit show, “Vikings,” has, thus far, treated the subject of Christianity with a modicum of respect. I say ‘a modicum’ because the discomfort with Christianity is palpable: Athelstan seemed unsure of his faith, even as a card-carrying monk in early Season 1, and the fellows of his monastery seemed equally ill-at-ease and unappealing to any viewer. Such is par-for-the-course in big-screen or small-screen depictions of historical Christians: they are either reluctantly Christian (giving off an “Eh, I’m not really into this” vibe, so it’s OK to root for my character), downright evil Christians, or self-interested Christians (e.g., the corrupt, rich bishop). But the show has not ventured into outright Christian smearing and there is at least a sense that Ragnar’s interest in Christianity, which will develop as the show progresses, may prove to depict Christianity in a positive, realistic light (though let’s wait and see).
But in the latest episode, “Treachery,” Ragnar and his buddies didn’t only sail across the North Sea — they also sailed into Christian-smearing waters (sorry, I had to). Athelstan, former-English-monk-turned-Viking-slave-turned-full-on-Viking, goes back to England with Ragnar, King Horik, and the gang for a lil’ raiding. While pillaging a church, a bishop walks in on Athelstan. Ever the good soul, Athelstan warns him, in the native tongue, to hide. The bishop, shocked that ‘the Viking’ speaks his language, quickly realizes Athelstan was, by Athelstan’s own admission, once one of their own. To this, the bishop sneers: “”We will catch you and crucify you – for an apostate is the lowest and the vilest of all creatures in the eyes of God!”
Pause right there. Hang on. When exactly did Christians crucify others, even apostates?
And, sidenote: Did you notice the casting agent pulled the usual, predictable “find an evil-looking, permanent-scowl” actor to play the bishop? As for the other holy man in the episode? Another bishop, playing up Hollywood’s favorite stereotype of high-ranking Christians: slovenly and cowardly. We are treated to a scene where Ragnar frightens the hell out of the shaking bishop, who then cannot even mount his own horse — so fat is he — much to the delight of the onlooking Vikings and the chuckling audience.
But back to this crucifixion-of-apostates, mean-Christians business. I could not help but wonder: no, really, when did medieval Christians crucify anyone? Sorry, but no — it did not happen, particularly as crucifixion was downright sacrilegious in the Faith. I researched it a bit, just to be sure — nothing came up. Oh wait, except for an interview with “Vikings” creator, Michael Hirst, last year, in which he claims he found two instances of it. Let’s assume that’s correct (a big assumption). Out of millions of Christians, maybe, perhaps, sort of… there was one rumored case of an apostate who was crucified (at least according to Hirst), for being an apostate — so… let’s put that into the show? It’s not at all representative, even remotely, of Christians of the era (or any era) but… who cares! We can make it sound like it was routine practice to crucify apostates!
This is key example of what I like to call: the (liberal) tail wagging the (historical) dog. In the entertainment industry, the politically-correct agenda/theme/message (e.g., Christians are evil; white men, especially Republicans, are always to be cast as villains, etc) is what dictates how history will be presented. In other words, they (deliberately) do it backwards. Rather than allowing history to dictate the messages of a historical show, it is the liberal theme that dictates how/what/when/what of history will be portrayed, including what will be misrepresented, omitted, added, or embellished.
Some fools have already started buying into it (via Tumblr):
See the effect even the most subtle of smears has?
UPDATE (3/21): So March 20th’s episode, “An Eye for An Eye,” has aired. And the smearing of medieval Christians — as well as the general blasphemous nature — was worse than I imagined. Athelstan was indeed captured… and crucified. As if that weren’t about as ridiculously inaccurate as it gets, there’s more: (a) the show goes to great lengths to make Athelstan seem identical to Christ on the cross (why???); (b) as was alluded to in last week’s episode, the show (in flagrant violation of any and all historical record!), makes it seem as though Christian crucifixion of apostates was a normal and acceptable practice, when, in fact, there is no record of such ever happening. Yet there’s the bishop, along with the townsfolk, carrying out this punishment as if that was the routine punishment, and common practice, towards apostates. Christians are evil, y’all!
Here are some stills from last night’s episode (for which I regret forking over $2… I want a refund!), courtesy of a screen grab. There’s the bishop all: “Hey, we do this kinda thing all the time! Whatsa big deal???” and the images of Athelstan being crucified, straight out of “The Passion.”
If this doesn’t offend your sensibilities as a Christian, it should at least offend your sensibilities as someone who expects a remote degree of historical accuracy. You know, considering this IS the “History” Channel. To be sure, I emailed a world-renowned medieval history professor. Respecting his request not to be quoted, I’ll refrain from naming him but this is what he had to say on the matter, as well on “Vikings” creator Michael Hirst’s claim that he found an instance of an apostate’s crucifixion:
“….I know of no instance in the history of Christianity in which any Christians crucified others, even apostates. Even a document that suggests a threat of crucifixion was made has to be interpreted with extreme caution ….I think the creator of the show may have read a document designed to show the dangers of apostasy too literally. Medieval documents are replete with this kind of thing, and they require a great deal of interpretive subtlety and healthy doubt. Aside from the historical unreliability of such a source, there is also the fact that Christians would have believed that crucifixion was a “special” kind of punishment, reserved for Jesus of Nazareth (by legend, too, for Peter, who, to distinguish him from Jesus, was legendarily crucified upside down!) alone. So I think the watchwords here are circumspection and deep skepticism.”
So there ya go. As I noted earlier, the liberal tail wags the historical dog. Or, in my favorite method of explaining liberalism, the rock-paper-scissors game — where Christian-smashing always bests historical accuracy.
UPDATE (3/29): The latest episode, “Answers in Blood,” which aired March 27th, continues the Christian-smearing streak found in the preceding two episodes. This time, it’s even more heavy-handed. Consider the following scene:
A woman comes before King Egbert, seeking justice. (We are reminded that this jerk is a CHRISTIAN king because he wears a big ole’ cross on his crown, which the cameraman decides to focus on in every shot). Her face is hidden under a hood.
Woman: “I am an ex-wife of Christ, a nun. I cannot show my face to any man.” (Hmm, when, in the history (!) of nuns, have they ever been required to hide their face??? Are the show writers confusing Christianity with Islam? Are they that ignorant or just willfully malicious?)
King Egbert demands that she show her face and so she does, revealing a bruised, beaten, and scarred face. She explains her husband did this to her.
Woman: “He claimed I had been unfaithful.”
King Egbert: “And were you unfaithful?”
King Egbert turns to Athelstan for the latter’s opinion: “What do pagans say of such cases?”
Athelstan: “If she was a free woman, they would believe her word and make judgment on her behalf.” (Oh how subtle of show creator/writer Michael Hirst! Listen to how enlightened the pagan justice system was compared to that of Christians! Of course, due to the way the line is cleverly worded, the whole “if she was a free woman” — meaning pagans had slaves, in stark contrast to Christians — will escape most viewers’ grasp. Mind you, we have almost no written record from the early-medieval Vikings but it’s sweet that the show decides to make them sound as though Dershowitz lives among them. Anything to make Christians look bad by comparison, huh, History Channel?)
King Egbert: “But surely her husband has every right over her. Surely she belongs to him, to do with as he sees fit.” (Are you puking yet? In the early Middle Ages, a.k.a., 6th – 10th centuries, it was Christian Europe that led the way in its treatment of women and gender equality. Yet here we have King Egbert — THE CHRISTIAN(!!!) It’s mentioned every five minutes and don’t forget that huge cross on his head — making reference to the husband’s ‘ownership’ of his wife and how the husband can do whatever he wishes, even beat her. The line is terribly dumb, corny, and clearly forced into the script. Not only is there zero historical basis for this but it is CONTRARY to what we do know of women in the medieval Europe.)
Athelstan: “Not according to pagans.”
King Egbert: “Then pagan laws are superior to ours?”
Athelstan: “Not in EVERY case, sire.” (I am just speechless.)
Oh, and King Egbert dismisses her husband’s demand to have her branded in public. (NOTE: If there is ANY historical note of such branding in medieval, Christianized Europe, it would have been a rogue act. There was no such practice that was routine or accepted.)
When the woman thanks him, he remarks, “Don’t thank me. Thank this pagan.” (Honestly, I can’t deal.)
What treats will await us next week?!
UPDATE 4/1: Twitter user @royal_nonesuch informs me that, additionally, the show’s “portrayal of a Medieval Latin Mass last week was laughably inaccurate” which “strongly suggests they have done very little actual research on Medieval Christianity,” e.g., “the priest faced the congregation. In the 800’s he certainly would have been facing the altar (i.e. ad orientem).” This is absolutely correct. And, @TPANick notes: “reading The Saxon Stories series, the only mention of the act of crucifixion are the Danes wanting to crucify priests for fun.”
Over at Acculurated.com today, Mark Tapson has an excellent piece on the show’s use of crucifixion, and a few days ago, on ClashDaily.com, Steve Pauwels wrote about the show’s treatment of Christianity overall. Both are outstanding articles worth reading immediately. A commenter on Tapson’s piece, named “Sardoni,” really summed it up beautifully:
It was obvious from the start that the pov [point of view] of the series was going to be anti-Christian. It isn’t the point of the series, but it’s still part of how the Vikings are portrayed as attractive, noble people who are committed to their religion, and consistent to and even honorable within their own code. On the other hand the Christian monks, who assert a belief in eternal life, are each and every one depicted as shameful, quaking cowards who don’t believe their own religion, and who cravenly attempt to escape a death which their doctrine said was essentially meaningless.
In fact, while I have not watched all episodes, I have seen many, and I cannot recall a single attractive Christian character besides Athelstan, whom we’re supposed to like because he comes to doubt Christianity and instead embraces paganism. Christians are all depicted as false hypocrites, while the pagan Vikings are all true to their beliefs. In addition Christianity is shown as an entirely false and empty religion, while the Norse paganism is shown to have at least some truth and resonance in reality (the seers who repeatedly accurately foretell the future, the prayers to Freya and Odin which are shown apparently answered, etc.)
It’s one thing to not carry water for a religion: it’s another to go out of your way to denigrate it, as the producers of “Vikings” do. The show is one more example of the new wave of anti-Christian programming which is becoming more common day by day.