I’ve been watching a lot of tv shows about Vikings and wizards. It reminds what Easter really represents, and how much we have to be grateful for.
So I’ve been getting into the tv series ‘Vikings’ lately. It kind of gets that part of me that loves, sword fights, and quests over dangerous mountain passes and all that – the way ‘Game of Thrones’ does.
But ‘Vikings’ has the advantage of produced by the History Channel, so it’s historically accurate. It gives me something for my history nerd to get off on.
Anyway, there’s this scene where the Vikings are ransacking a monastery, and they come across a wood carving of Christ on the cross for the first time. They stare at it for a while. It confuses them. And then they smash it to pieces with an axe.
In that moment I could really get how strange the Christ figure would have been to them. They were a spiritual people as well, but the Gods they worshiped were heroes too – great warriors and conquerors. Thor was so mighty, Hollywood had to come to Australia to find someone tough enough to play him.
So who was this scrawny dude, miserably nailed to a cross? And why did the Saxons worship him?
I think it’s easy to forget just what an unusual age we’re living in. These are exceptionally peaceful times – on any measure.
Sure there are still wars and crime and murders on all sorts of horrible things, but these are at an all time low.
If you’re an adult male, the chances that you’ll die in your sleep of old age, and not some violent death at the hands of one of your enemies, is the best it’s ever been.
Same for women. Even though one murder or rape is one too many, these violence rates are also on the way down.
In medieval England, you could go to the theatre and watch a cat, tied to a stake, set on fire.
Not a dramatization of a burning cat. An actual cat, set on actual fire.
It was part of the programming. 7.00 -7.30, puppetry show for the kids. 7.30 – 8.00, kitty torture.
Today, it’s unthinkable. But it wasn’t really that long ago that we used to find amusement in acts of shameless cruelty – that we used to think that cruel was funny.
Sure, it still goes on. But it’s no longer ok. It’s no longer the norm.
And I kind of think that’s why shows like Vikings and Game of Thrones have become so popular.
We’ve had movies and shows about dragons and wizards and all that before. Everyone loves dragons.
But at the heart of these shows is darker. They show us worlds where the nastier sides of humanity are still untamed.
Life is cheap. Murder, rape and pillage is just part of the daily grind. Greed, ambition and lust go unchecked, and killing and torture is part of every go-getter’s tool kit.
And we see ourselves there. We know that our world is not so dis-similar. We know that our murderous and selfish natures have not be cast out – exorcized from the world. Rather, they’ve just been put in a box. A fragile box.
And it’s thrilling. It’s titillating. It’s like riding a roller coaster. We give ourselves a nice old scare.
It’s like we look down and realise how high and precariously placed we are.
Exactly what is it that’s holding us up? What is it that keeps civilisation elevated above the festy swamp of human viciousness?
Not much, I reckon.
There’s a phenomenon that follows revolutions – a bloodletting. In the early days of lawlessness – when the police have gone underground because they’re afraid of the people they’ve been oppressing – old scores are settled. Violently.
Peace is an act of consensus.
It only happens because we all agree to make it happen. Maybe someone is coercing us into that agreement with a big stick, but it’s still an agreement. And everyone (sometimes grudgingly) goes along with it. Violence doesn’t automatically erupt where no police can see it.
Peace is something humans have decided to engineer. It’s one of the great human inventions – like the wheel, or cheese in a tube.
And it’s interesting to think about how we managed to pull it off. Partly I think it came once we got stable institutions we could trust (more or less) with a monopoly on violence.
Even though our states and governments have been far from perfect, it seemed to chill things out once we could see that violence was being metred out according to at least some sort of rhyme and reason.
But at some point we also became peace-loving.
We stopped glorifying war and violence. It took millennia to achieve, but now if our leaders want to take us to war, they have to do it at least in the name of peace – ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction, and bombing them into freedom etc.
That’s a new thing. In past times they could have done it simply because war is awesome and conquering others was glorious.
We have come a long way.
And the image of Christ on the cross has a lot to do with it, I reckon.
Because for the first time in history, we had a lightning rod for the best aspects of humanity, and the necessary ingredients for peace.
It was not a figure that glorified power and strength and kicking holes in the sky. It was a figure that showed us the power of self-sacrifice and commitment.
And it’s the foundation of compromise, charity, playing nicely…
… and peace.
And so this is what I’ll be remembering this Easter. We live in an amazing, peaceful age. But that peace is always and ever built on a commitment to something bigger than ourselves.
Have a peaceful and joyous Easter everyone.