The Not-God Problem
A Netflix TV series reveals the problem in vivid color. It is a vexing problem that has plagued humankind from day-one.
The Last Kingdom is set in the 9th century when the Vikings (the historically-accurate term Danes is used in the episodes) invaded and are attempting to take over the pre-England four kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia, and Northumbria. A sub-theme of the series is the contrasting allegiance to the gods of the Danes and the God of the Christians. In either case, it’s not a pretty picture.
The Vikings had an extensive pantheon of gods that they sought to appease. Most of them were dark and unpredictable, a primary one being Odin. In their theology, Odin was the giver of wisdom, but he had little regard for communal values such as justice, fairness, or respect for law and convention. He was the divine patron of both rulers and outlaws. Most importantly he was a war-god to whom any Viking warrior had to cleave. As a war-god, Odin is principally concerned not with the reasons behind any given conflict, but rather with the raw, chaotic battle-frenzy that permeates any such struggle. One of the ways to placate Odin was human sacrifice. This would strengthen the Norse warriors to slaughter, plunder, rape, and kill at will.
By the ninth century the four kingdoms were officially “Christianized” with leadership demanding allegiance to the “one true God.” Those who were not baptized and did not give the appropriate lip service (most especially the invading Danes) were considered heathens. Put simply, heathens were considered evil and were slaughtered with the same fervor that Danes murdered Saxons.
Vikings and Saxons were motivated (theoretically) by their god-concepts. To repeat myself, it’s not a pretty picture.
Many would say the problem is with God or the gods. Not so. The problem is either the human god-concepts and/or using “god” to reinforce a personal desire for gain, i.e., power and wealth. Compare gravity. If someone leaps off a cliff believing that nothing bad will happen, the fault is not with the power of gravity but with the misunderstanding (or stupidity) of the leaper.
The key question: Does one’s concept or understanding of God lead to peace, justice, harmony, goodness, etc. or does it lead to killing, injustice, discord, and evil? Embracing one God or the other can depend on what kind of world in which one wishes to live.