Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Un-Christian American Christian

So this post is just a gesture at a bunch of more interesting thoughts that one could have if one were less harried or smarter. But I'm throwing this out for what it's worth.

Left Behind Games, the people fixing to bring you video games about the world after the Rapture (based on the popular Left Behind books), insist that their video game is fundamentally (both basically and evangelically) Christian and teaches Christian values.

There's a lot to be said generally about the ways in which religions change over time without their practitioners admitting or even noticing the changes. There's a lot to be said in particular about the tragic and sometimes poisonous encounters between Christianity and market-driven modernity and about how "Christian-themed" video games designed to appeal also to non-Christian gamers are at once theologically ludicrous and entrepreneurially inevitable. And I might say something about that when what I have to say isn't glib. This is interesting but complicated stuff.

What I do want to say here is that I've always been fascinated by the way in which the fundamental break between Protestantism and Catholicism, at the level of doctrine at least, was over who had the right and duty to study God's word and monitor his or her relation to God. For Martin Luther and virtually every Protestant after him, that right and duty was the individual's, not the church hierarch's. The individual needed no intercessor and gatekeeper between him and his scripture, him and his God. So why is it that American fundamentalist Christians--who talk about the Good Book at every opportunity--don't seem to read it all that often?

Here's what I mean: Left Behind Games co-founder Troy Lyndon insists, "The game is designed to be a classic battle between good and evil." Left Behind Games President Jeffrey Frichner told Forbes that the game shows the choices people have to make when facing danger: "Do we just lay down and allow aggressors to kill us, or maim us or pillage us? I think most Americans would answer no. We defend ourselves. To remain faithful to the 'Left Behind' series, we couldn't make a game that didn't have that element in it."

There are intricate historical explanations for much of this, but I'm still fascinated that Frichner is basically substituting "American" for "Christian" and substituting the attitude of the US armed forces for the word of the Book. "Do we just lay down and allow aggressors to kill us, or main us or pillage us? I think most Americans would say no." True enough. But Frichner isn't pitching the game as "American." He's pitching it as "Christian." And so Christ's word's might be relevant here. The following are Matthew 5:38-40 and Luke 6:28-30:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.


Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.

I'd rather that everybody in this country (and in others) put being decent, fair, respectful, and compassionate above being from a given chunk of land. But I think it's fine to place being American above being Christian. Or vice-versa. I just wish people would stop pretending that they're the same thing.


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