3 REASONS WHY “VIKINGS” IS THE MOST RELIGIOUSLY INTERESTING SHOW ON TV
by Bishop Robert BarronJuly 26, 2016
“At the prompting of some of my younger colleagues at “Word on Fire” I spent time during a recent vacation getting caught up on the History Channel show Vikings. My friends had told me that Vikings, curiously, is the most religious show on television. They were right. Don’t get me wrong, there is enough violence, pillaging, plundering, sword-fighting, and political intrigue to satisfy the most macho viewers; but Vikings is also drenched with religion—and for that I applaud Michael Hirst, its sole writer and director. For this emphasis is not only historically accurate, but it also resists the regnant orthodoxy in much of the entertainment industry that characters should be presented as though they are indifferent to the world of faith.
First of all, everyone in Vikings is religious: the Northmen (and women) themselves, the English, the French, and visitors from distant lands. To be sure, they are religious in very different ways, but there is no one who does not take with utter seriousness a connection to a higher, spiritual realm. Moreover, their spirituality is not an abstraction, but rather is regularly embodied in ritual, prayer, procession, liturgy, and mystical experience. The ubiquity and intensity of faith in these various peoples and tribes calls to mind philosopher Charles Taylor’s observation that, prior to 1500 or so, it was practically unthinkable not to be religious. That God exists, that spiritual powers impinge upon the world, that we live on after we die, that a higher authority judges our deeds—all of this was simply the default of the overwhelming majority of the human race prior to very recent times in certain pockets of Western civilization. Taylor speaks of the “buffered self” that has come to dominate today. He means the identity that is closed in upon itself, oblivious to a transcendent dimension, committed unquestioningly to a naturalist or materialist view of reality. I must confess that it was enormously refreshing to watch a program in which every single (Continued)