Medieval Church Perception

Medieval Church Perception

I really shouldn’t watch popular media set in the early medieval period or the medieval period generally. By this time of life, I should realize that doing so will only annoy me–but somehow I never learn…

The latest example confirming this occurred when I saw a review video of the Arthurian-ish Netflix show “Cursed.” Cancelled after a single season, this show apparently–and I say apparently because I’ve only seen the above video, the first episode, and read a brief synopsis–features as antagonists the Red Paladins, a group under the auspices of the Holy Roman Empire and directed by the Pope, who conduct a murderous campaign against the magic-wielding pagan protagonists and their fey allies.

The idea of a militant group from the Holy Roman Empire ordered around by the pope slaughtering folks in Arthurian England is so strangely anachronistic to boggle the mind. A reasonable equivalent would be a tv show about the American Revolution where the Battle of Bunker Hill is won by Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders with their laser rifles at the behest of the United Nations.

Here’s the thing…

Anyone watching the latter would question what was going on there. It’s not probable, not believable. The inaccuracies are too great compared to what the viewers know. However, the writers of “Cursed” assumed their viewers would accept the first as quite believable. Why is that?

There’s a lot that could be said here. I could talk about the historical basics–why are the aspects of this presentation so mind-bendingly wrong. I could talk about historical education–how to fix the knowledge gaps. But I’d rather identify the evangelism angle. The reality is that in this matter the historical actualities are irrelevant.

I’d wager the target audience of the show–teens and young adults–would find this portrayal of the church as a vast, powerful institution that uses force to achieve its political and social ends compelling. That’s because this show isn’t interested in getting the history right; rather the writers are taking their contemporary experience of their perspective of Christianity and retrojecting it into their fantasy-medieval past. It’s not hard at all to see the conflict as the show sets it up (at least in the initial bits I saw) as a modern parable about the social conservative campaign against all things lgbt+.

Furthermore, these sorts of portrayals inform a vicious cycle.

Americans learn their history from media. I have no doubt that many viewers could and would easily assume this is an accurate portrayal of what “the Church” is actually like. Or at least it’s a scenario they would see as plausible. And who would want to be a part of a thing like that?

Sometimes I see the challenges of modern evangelism constructed as faith vs. science or faith vs. capitalism with the chief struggle being about belief. But I sometimes wonder if a major issue might not be faith, or God, or Christ, but the perception of the Church itself.

2 thoughts on “Medieval Church Perception

  1. Fr. Bret Hays

    Distorted, negative perceptions of the church itself are indeed a major issue, and they seem to be getting worse. Less reported on than the decline in church attendance is the rise in outright hostility to Christianity, in some cases becoming full-on hate. People who don’t attend church and don’t have close ties to people who do tend to base their conception of Christianity on what they get in the news and entertainment media, most of which is negative (and often wildly inaccurate, as you point out). This, of course, becomes a vicious cycle, as the negative perception makes them less likely to seek out, or accept, a positive Christian experience or message. I have had people insist to me that all Christian leaders are all evil, power-mad deviants and all other Christians are brainwashed “sheep,” and that every bad thing ever done by a Christian or in the name of Christianity is because Christianity is inherently evil. It would be an understatement to say that people with that view of Christianity are not open to statistics, facts, or logic that challenge their hate. But well-intentioned Christians bear some responsibility by being reluctant to talk about, or even acknowledge, their faith and how it makes them and their communities better. I have made the point in preaching and other congregational communication that if the faithful, loving, and charitable majority of Christians don’t speak up, no one else will do it for us, and the rest of the world’s perception will be formed by messages that we don’t want it to be formed by.

  2. The Rev Jay L. Tillitt

    Glad to read your note. Are these ‘creators’ so desperate to make new material? We are trying to turn a page of history right now and people continue–Church and State–to keep trying to write other people off. I refer to the awful/shameful opening of the Lambeth gathering. It’s been ten years and the immaturity of a major portion of Christianity has seemingly fallen asleep at the foot of the cross. I will not give up! It’s not ‘1937’. With the blight of the Episcopal Church USA certainly all Scripture/Reason/ & Tradition hasn’t evaporated….in Anglicanism? The recent General Convention does offer some relief, but it is my concern to go forward as a Communion. I don’t see that as central at Lambeth–yet! The English Church has lost its way, Give us an International Figure as Archbishop of Canterbury! Revise the Anglican structure —- This is not High Tea!

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