The Sale of Christianity
When reading Beowulf, one must carefully consider the time era with which it is associated with. Consider, if you will, a life that has been based upon numerous fictitious Gods and Goddesses. Your life was truly fated to be whatever the Gods wanted it to be, anything could be blamed on, ?fate.? The afterlife could have been possibly the hardest bit to swallow. Only soldiers dying in battle could gain admission to their form of salvation, named Valhalla, which was only a place to sit and wait for the coming of the end of everything. You die to get somewhere, and then when you get there you just have to sit and wait until the infamous battle comes that will eventually lead to the destruction of everything. It?d be hard for anyone to take that into their beliefs. For reasons like this, and others, the Anglo-Saxons were a prime people to receive Christianity. Christianity seemed to be a much more people friendly belief. The real turn of religion, came with the conversion of King Edwin. The missionaries knew that if they could turn the heart of a king to Christianity, his people would soon follow. That?s just what it did too. Not everyone though was ready to sign right up. The conversion of a people would take longer than it did just the king. That is why we have pieces of Old-English literature that contain hints of both Christianity and pagan principles. Changing the hearts of the people would mean changing literatures stories also. In this way pieces like Beowulf might seem like a slow sale of Christianity to the pagan people, containing a little of both the beliefs.
One of the issues debated, was most likely, the origin of the earths beginning. ?The Almighty making the earth, shaping-These beautiful plains marked off by oceans.? (Ch.1,7-8) It seems like a far stretch going from their pagan ways and Gods to say that just one God created all this. The pagan followers would have probably not liked to see their Gods put out like this. On the other hand, the story contains many non-Christian demons like Grendel and the dragon, ?Into a thousand forms of evil-spirits-And fiends, goblins, monsters, giants.? (Ch.1,26-27) A type of appeasement for the pagans beliefs, I believe. That point seems to be apparent throughout the whole works, every time a Christian reference is given, a pagan reference is not to much later surfaced in the story.
With all the consistent and inconsistent references to both the Christian and pagan beliefs, at some time there would have to be a perplexity of some sorts. This seems to be evident in the quote, ?But God?s dread loom-Was woven with defeat for the monster.?(Ch.1,150-151) This statement had to make someone think blasphemy. God and the Fates? loom together seems to be a major juxtaposition. God and fate are mixed throughout the story complexly. In one of his battles, his victory is Gods? will (Ch.2,23), but in his final battle he has to fight, ?With fate against him.?(Ch.3,79) There is extreme inconsistency in this. Is he willed to succeed by God and yet doomed to fate? It seems though the new God is with him yet there is still some overwhelming power that drags him down. This could be one of the ways the literature was written, to make the many Gods seem more unforgiving, and the one God loving.
One point, that is quite interesting, are the words that flow out of Beowulf?s mouth. ?It is better for us all-To avenge our friends, not morn them forever/ he who can earn it should fight-For the glory of his name; fame after death-Is the noblest of goals.? (Ch.2,56-61) This seems to go against the, ?turn the other cheek,? method. Pride was probably something also the Anglo-Saxons couldn?t do without just yet, so the author probably thought it best to have his hero supported by God and seeking glory and vengeance.
All these variables of religion make the story quite interesting. Never quite does the story ever say anything is particularly good or bad. This text way of, ?Riding the fence,? makes this epic, a great one. By never conversing the exact rules of either side, the recipients were free to fall in wherever they liked to in between the two beliefs. It seemed like the best of both worlds. In this way, the story of Beowulf seems to me to be a slow sale of Christianity to the Anglo-Saxon people, where the people are free to chose the benefits of both values due to the consistencies and inconsistencies of pagan and Christian elements.