I approach another weekend with some anticipation. I suppose I’ve gotten spoiled, but the last three weekends have all held good surprises for me. Three weeks ago I did the radio show with Mitch Berg and James Lileks. Two weekends ago my car broke down, which wasn’t pleasant in itself, but it allowed me to spend a blessed time with my former boss, and to get (on top of the unwelcome work) my car’s four-wheel drive fixed at a very reasonable price, so that I’ll be ready for the next snowstorm (which is surely coming). And last weekend I got ushered into the wonderful world of the Amazon Kindle.
God may well have decided I’ve had enough treats for a while. But there’s no harm in hoping.
Transposing my thoughts to lower case gods, here’s the trailer for the upcoming Thor movie:
Now I’ll admit it looks kind of cool. I may even go to see it.
But I’m an amateur Viking scholar, so I can’t help but be bugged by some things. The particular thing that troubles me most is the image of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) talking seriously about peace.
That’s no Odin I’ve ever met in the sagas.
The Odin of the Vikings was not a peaceful guy. When the Vikings wanted peace, or justice, or fairness of any kind, they went to Thor, a much more trustworthy character.
Odin was all about power. Power acquired at any cost and exercised without ruth. He was an oath-breaker. He broke his word to the giant who built the walls of Asgard, and again and again in the sagas he betrays warriors who trust in him. The poet Egil Skallagrimsson (admittedly embittered by the death of his son) calls him “That breaker of vows.”
In the poem Gylfaginning, a series of names are given for him (I borrowed the name “Sigfod Oski” in Wolf Time from Gylfaginning). Among those names are “God of the hanged,” “One who blinds with death,” “Changeable one,” “Glad of war,” and “Worker of evil.”
His constant companions—his familiars in magical terms—are a pair of wolves (named Geri and Freki, which mean something like “greedy” and “ravenous”) and a pair of ravens. What these beasts have in common is that they are commonly found on battlefields after the fighting is done, feeding on the dead. Even his Valkyries, made romantic by Wagner’s operas, originally had some affinity with vampires.
This is not a guy with a high-minded love for peace.
But when I think about it, the fact that Marvel Comics and the movie people automatically assume that a high god must want peace is a very interesting fact.
It shows how deeply our culture—for all its apostasy—has internalized Christian presuppositions. There’s no a priori reason why anyone should assume a Supreme Being would love peace. There’s little evidence in nature or in human history for any such love. The principle of peace needs to be declared. It needs to be a message from an outside source.
Modern westerners assume that everybody’s god is a god of love. This leads to much misunderstanding, particularly in our relations with a certain “religion of peace.”
Post-Christians, and all who despise the Judeo-Christian tradition, will deny it, but they’ve got Yahweh in their bones. Their knowledge of Him isn’t a saving knowledge, but however hard they try, they can’t entirely get loose from Him.