The New York Times has an interesting article on churches that use violent video games to draw and engage teenage boys as part of their outreach and service to youth. Of course, the use of such games has those on both the far right and far left balking, and even Focus on the Family is “still trying to figure out…our official view on it.” But look, it’s not a big deal, OK? Put your religious hackles down and pull up a chair, ’cause I think I’ve got it mostly figured out. We need to examine
- Part I: The Christian view of war, aggression, and violence (this post)
- Part II: Specific objections from the political left and right
- Part III: The real issue – what ends and means to those ends are really appropriate for Christian youth groups?
Before we can actually answer the question about whether or not it is OK for Christians in any arena to play violent games, or enjoy violent movies, or use such to instruct or draw boys and men to church functions, we need to do some theological introspection. Let us, therefore, examine the biblical theology of war, violence, and aggression
1. The Kingdom of God can not be ushered in through physical warfare or political insurrection.
Jesus clearly taught that His kingdom can not be ushered in by political or military means:
Jesus answered [Pilate], ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.’ (John 18:36)
Paul the Apostle echoes this theme when he teaches that our enemies are not people, but ideologies and spiritual powers:
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)
In fact, if people do not receive the message, or torment you, Jesus’ clear instruction is not force or retaliation, but rather, patient endurance, forgiveness, and moving on to the next group of people who need to hear.
And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city! (Matthew 10:14-15)
These ideas ought to allay fears that any pro-war or pro-justice biblical stances have nothing to do with spreading the faith, and all to do with applying biblical views on justice.
2. Human government was established by God for executing justice, which includes war
As discussed previously, pacifism in public policy is neither biblical nor just. While peaceful resistance is appropriate, even desirable over armed action, there are times when despots and evil men must be put down by the righteous with force of arms – cf. Hitler and WWII.
Not only do the Old Testament laws show ample evidence of God’s desire to execute justice through government, Paul the Apostle intones the forceful implementation of justice by civil government.
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. (Romans 13:1-4)
While not all wars are just, there are just wars, not to mention just uses of force in law enforcement, and the Christian world view does not preclude using force in such situations to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. “Turn the other cheek” is for personal interaction, and reflects the fact that we are to forgive evil done – but it does not mean that we should fail to love the weak by not protecting them from wicked men.
3. Men are biologically designed for aggression and warfare, which should be channeled, not suppressed
This point can not be made very strongly from a biblical point of view, but there are some scriptures to back this view (e.g. 1 John 2:13), and common sense and physio-psychological studies confirm that natural levels of such hormones as testosterone make men more aggressive, and even cause them to enjoy physical competition and conflict.
There is nothing wrong with these characteristics, as long as they are applied righteously. As described in Healing Injured Masculinity: The Warrior, there is a false, macho masculine, and a true, noble warrior masculine that we must encourage in order to have healthy manhood. You can read more about biblical manhood at The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (you gotta love or hate organizations with names like that).
Such recent titles as those below examine the subject of biblical manhood:
- No More Christian Nice Guy
- The Way of the Wild Heart
- Why Men Hate Going to Church
- The Real Man Inside (an out of print classic that every man should read)
4. Warfare games provide the perfect metaphorical teaching tool for describing the ideological and spiritual battles between good and evil that Christians are to be involved in.
Like it or not, scripture pictures us as engaged in a spiritual battle. Metaphors of spiritual warfare are throughout the New Testament, and even Jesus referred to spiritual warfare and conflict that would come as part of his message.
‘Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he
who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.’ (Matthew 10:34-37)
Paul the Apostle, as shown above, used war metaphors for the Christian life, and let’s not forget that Protestant theology has long accepted the war metaphor, among others, for describing the Christian mission, as in the famous hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers:
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
with the cross of Jesus going on before.
At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;
on then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
brothers, lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.
Please note, liberal fear mongers, the target of such war anthems is Satan, the gates of hell, etc. This is not even close to jihad-like language, and such attacks miss the entire point that we are in a spiritual battle for truth and the souls of men. Those who deny such are merely pawns of the darkness, content to live in it and allow others to perish in it.
The point is, since we are in a battle, such games as Halo, with its obvious spiritual overtones, are a great illustration that can be parlayed into a discussion of the Christian life.
5. Jesus was not just a man of gentleness.
When we project a milk-toast Jesus, one that never got upset or angry, and who was only interested in love and peace (and not righteousness and justice), we are basically telling a half truth, and neutering both the spiritual life and biblical manhood. Let’s not forget that he openly and angrily called religious hypocrites names (Matthew 23), glared at them angrily (Mark 3:5), and on at least one occasion, in a premeditated fashion, made a whip, and then turned over the merchant’s tables and forcefully drove them out of the temple in a threatening manner (John 2:14-16).
So let’s dispense with the peace-nik hippie version of Jesus, and see Christianity for what it is – militant for truth in the ideological and spiritual realms, but gentle towards people. As Jesus said “be wise as serpents, harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16).
6. Violent video games may have downsides to manage and be aware of.
Studies have shown that violent video games do seem to increase aggression in gamers, are socially isolating, and desensitizing. Not to mention, long periods of adrenaline are bad for the major organs of the body, and may negatively affect organ and body development. Are they deadly, or dangerous enough to be avoid, like smoking? Probably not. But they are not harmless.
I think that I have made it clear that we can not discard Halo 3 based on a pacifist, milk-toast version of Christianity – metaphors of war, and the right use of force and aggression are entirely at home in Christian theology.
But there are still questions to answer. In Part II, I address some specific objections that people from the political and religious left and right are making.