Trolling Christianity

Today is the twelfth day of Christmas, so it’s my last chance before taking down the decorations to reflect upon what The Guardian drummed up for the holiday season.

One of its most distinguished columnists, Polly Toynbee, who is also a vice-president of Humanists UK, contrasted the joy of the festive season with the “loathsome” barbarity of Christian beliefs. She is especially shirty with Christian members of Parliament who oppose assisted suicide. “Christmas comes with good cheer, enjoy it,” she concludes. “But know that it comes with religious baggage we should shed.”

I was thinking of Ms Toynbee as I watched Troll, a Norwegian monster movie released in December on Netflix. Norwegian monster movies are not a well populated genre, so Troll, directed by Roar Uthaug, is well worth watching. (It scores 89% on Rotten Tomatoes.)

Here’s the skinny.

Environmental activists inadvertently awaken a sleeping troll in the remote Dovre mountains. The Prime Minister and her advisors are understandably reluctant to believe in this fairy tale creature. But the troll – incredibly ugly, made of rock and 50 metres tall – stomps on towards Oslo creating havoc everywhere. However, Nora Tidemann, a clever young paleontologist, remembers folklore that says that trolls are killed by sunlight. She manages to keep it busy until sunrise – and the troll is toast.

Whether or not the producers of this absurd and hugely enjoyable film intended it, the figure of the sleeping troll is clearly a symbol of the pre-Christian paganism that Ms Toynbee is so nostalgic for.

According to snippets of history I gleaned from the dialogue, Saint Olaf II Haraldsson was responsible for slaughtering all – except for our friend!-- of Norway’s trolls back in the 11th Century. It was part of a savage campaign to Christianize his kingdom. It turns out that this troll is the last of his kind. He is deeply attached to his family and wants to find the bones of his children in Oslo. Like Ms Toynbee, he loathes and fears Christianity.

Trolls, apparently, can even smell those hateful Christians. In one scene, as the troll ramages at night through a forest, a terrified soldier clasps a crucifix and recites the Lord’s Prayer. The troll sniffs him out, grabs him and scoffs him (see photo above for details). The other characters, safely secular, are unharmed.

And trolls hate church bells. In the most hilarious scene, four helicopters encircle the troll, not shooting missiles, but ringing church bells which hang from the undercarriage. Their peals almost kill the enraged troll -- but he plucks the choppers from the air and shreds them into scrap.  

Delightfully silly. But Troll is also two parables about the secularisation of Western society.

The first, for the woke, is that Christianity has alienated us from the environment. Although the troll is dangerous, the paleontologist sympathises with its loneliness and the deaths of its kin at the hands of Saint Olaf. Christianization divorced Norwegians from nature and from fellowship with other animals.

The second, for Christians like myself, is that the neo-paganism of the secularised world symbolised by the rampaging troll is implacably hostile to Christianity. (Exhibit A is Polly Toynbee.)

But post-Christians should consider what kind of world they will live in if Christianity is expunged from Western culture. Morally and socially, it would be the equivalent of Oslo after the troll has trashed it.

Do we really want to give up our belief in reason? As the troll's namesakes on social media demonstrate every day, post-modern discourse no longer accepts that truth exists. Arguments are settled by the last man standing in a shouting match. Perhaps the greatest contribution of the late Pope Benedict XVI was to show that without God, specifically the Christian God, the universe becomes unintelligible and irrational.

Do we really want to give up our respect for human dignity? From its earliest days, Christianity has affirmed the value of human life, all human life, and the fundamental equality of human beings as children of God. The pagan Norsemen used to expose their children; in a post-Christian society we abort them.

Do we really want to give up the search for beauty? The misshapen ugliness of the troll exemplifies the ugliness of a culture which builds art out of passions, sensations, and ephemera. The Christian Renaissance produced Raphael; post-Christian modernism produced Lucien Freud.

Do we really want to give up on our commitment to the rule of law? The Christian view of society is that law ultimately derives its authority from eternal, unchanging, truths about the nature of man. Post-modern neo-paganism regards power as the source of law. There is no appeal beyond the “dictatorship of relativism”.

Do we really want to give up being Good Samaritans? The Vikings invented longboats; Christian monks invented public hospitals. In a radically secularised society medicine is increasingly at the service of death – approaching one in 25 deaths in some countries – while palliative care comes second.

A world without Christianity would be far more inhumane and destructive than a gigantic troll going berserk in the quiet streets of Olso. Be careful what you wish for, Polly!


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