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Sorn and Low Key have led me to
re-examine my comments about Vikings in my post on the loss of America’s soul.
The Norsemen were not quite the villains they have been depicted as by
Christian historians. They suggested
Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick’s excellent Pagan Europe and a BBC interview
with Robert Ferguson on the Vikings as good sources. The podcast is well worth listening to. Ferguson is also the author of the recently released The Hammer and the Cross: A New History of the Vikings.
Prior to the outbreak of Viking raids 4500 unarmed Saxons
were forcibly baptized and then beheaded by the Christian king Charlemagne. Generally Charlemagne
enforced the death penalty against those who refused baptism. The ethnic
cleansing he initiated led to about 1/3 of the inhabitants of eastern Saxon
lands being forced out.
Because of Christianity’s imperial pretensions, his efforts to forcibly
Christianize the Saxons whether they wanted to convert or nor constituted a
serious threat to the Danes, who were next in line and who could not challenge
Charlemagne on the ground militarily. That the Saxon queen was Danish and the
Pagan Saxon ruler often fled to the Danes for safety could only increase Danish
worries they were next and Christianity a lethal threat to their lives, loved
ones, homes, and Gods.
The Danes could not take the Frankish
army on militarily, so the Viking attacks have been described as asymmetrical
warfare. Hit the enemy where he
was weakest and you were strongest, and do it over and over again. The Vikings targeted Christian
monasteries, burning the churches down and killing as many as possible. This is not what normal robbers would
do. They would leave survivors and
buildings so rebuilding could be quick, opening the target for another
lucrative raid later. These
Christians were not Franks, and many were not there by virtue of brutal
conquest of Pagans, but all Christians had imperial pretensions.
The Viking attacks went well beyond
simple looting. There seemed to be
too much hatred directed against their targets for loot to have been the only motive. The reason seems
pretty clear given previous Christian actions against the Dane’s neighbors,
it’s imperial pretensions, and what we have seen, even today in Europe, when
ethnicity and religion combine to create sharp divisions. Look at Northern Ireland, or the former
Yugoslavia where violence flared between Catholics in Croatia and Orthodox
Serbs. This killing preceded the
later Serbian attacks on Muslims.
As I read more about the Viking
raids, the possible reasons behind them were numerous, but most of these
reasons were long standing and had not led to raids. When historians asked “Why now? Why in this way?” what stands out is they
followed, and not by much, the Christian Frankish religious wars against the Danes’ immediate neighbors, the Pagan Saxons.
So, as I wrote, there was a
religious dimension to the Viking raids and I will stand firm in the contention
that the energies involved in encouraging violence and hatred are demonic, no
matter what religious banner they hide under. But what I did not realize was that these raids may very
well have had a powerful element of self-defense behind them. The problem is that killing and battle releases energy that
can become a high, and so become an end in itself. This happens over and over again in warfare, and even in verbal violence. Done long enough it comes to feel good.
Many lay Christians are wonderful
people, but more and more I believe that Christianity is incapable of being a
civilized neighbor except insofar as it followers abandon the lie that their
way is essential for salvation. A
great many liberal lay Christians and even some liberal Christian clergy have
done so. But many others have not,
and in civilized terms, are barbarians or would become such when offered the
opportunity. By barbarian, I mean
those who are unwilling to subject their actions involving others to reasoned
discussion, but hold that the intensity of their belief or who they are
justifies whatever they want to do.