Friday, April 26, 2013

Sex, Sex, Sex, Sex, Sex, SEX, Sex, Sex, Sex, Sex (and a Video Game called Catherine!)

Pretty much a currency in my house.

It has been pretty typical, in the past, when birthdays or Christmas come around, for us to want to get each other more presents than we really have money for. I doubt my family is unique in this regard! In fact, there have been a couple of years where my wife and I haven’t gotten each other anything for Christmas, instead buying gifts for each other whenever we get our tax refund in a couple of months later.

In line with this, there have been a number of instances over the years when I have been gifted or traded vague future promises of a subscription to video game-by-mail rental service Gamefly for this or that. If my wife wasn’t able to get  me much for my birthday, I’d get a month of Gamefly. Or sometimes she would trade me a month or two in exchange for taking her to Olive Garden or something. I can’t possibly tell you now how many months of Gamefly I am “owed.” I think that’s partially the point. But I was just able to cash in on a few months of it, and play a handful of games I was curious about or simply hadn’t received as a present (the manner in which I receive virtually all the video games I own; my Dad loved the commercials for Assassin’s Creed III so much that he was as excited when he got it for me as I was!). There was one game that I knew was going to be added to my rental queue the next time I got to cash in on some Gamefly. It’s called Catherine, it came out in 2011, and it is the inspiration for today’s theofictionology post.
Not pictured: Custer's Revenge.
Pictured: Butterflies.

If you’ve seen the cover art or any of the advertising for Catherine, you’re probably thinking it’s an odd choice for a young man of God to want to play. The marketing for the game is very clear about having sexual themes. Honestly, that’s one of the reasons I was interested in it. Now, of course, pornographic games do exist. One of the most famous is an old game called Custer’s Revenge; in it, the player controls General Custer who needs to evade arrow so he can get to a naked American Indian woman tied to a post and rape her.


You know, it sounds pretty bad when you lay it all out like that.

Yes, I will show you the Catherine cover art,
but with the understanding that you had
better not enjoy it.
And, no, I haven’t played it. But Catherine was nothing like this. Despite the cover art—and the frantic, almost cheesy anime aesthetic that the game sometimes indulges in—reviews praised it as a mostly mature attempt to explore adult themes in a video game. I even read an article in which playing the game inspired one gamer to come clean about infidelity in his past. And as a pretty hardcore gamer, there was no way I could ignore a game that was making a serious issue to take on a subject that games too often take a juvenile stance on, if at all.

I hope this goes without saying, but the movies, books, TV shows and games I discuss on this blog are never intended as an endorsement. Well, unless I recommend you go out and get them, and I do that sometimes with the books I read. But I’m not suggesting you rush out and buy Catherine and I’m sure as heck not suggesting you rush out and buy it for your teenage son. On this blog, our interest is in seeing what spiritual conversations can arise from fiction of all stripes. If you’re interested in the moral content of something like Catherine, I recommend checking out a site that specializes in that, such as CommonSenseMedia.org (here’s their take on Catherine). There are also Christian sites out there that do the same, but I’ve found some of them that get pretty darn silly and incredibly petty. Now back to our regularly schedule blog post.

Seriously, the game was a lot of fun to play!
Catherine features Vincent, a 32-year-old man who has been in a long-term relationship with his girlfriend Katherine but is very squeamish about committing further. No sooner does she start pressuring him for a more formal commitment than he suddenly finds himself waking up next to the buxom, perky Catherine after a night together he doesn’t even remember. His newfound relationship corresponds to intense, vivid nightmares in which he has to use a variety of tricks to climb to the top of a tower. The bottom floors start
dropping on a regular basis and sometimes monsters chase him. It’s a strange game.

It’s also a game in which the player is forced to deal with infidelity. They are not given a choice whether they want to stay faithful to Katherine—at least, not initially—so they need to deal with it. You can encourage or discourage the sexy Catherine (who, initially, I liked a lot better than Katherine, personality-wise). You can be loving or cold to your girlfriend. The choices aren’t nearly as pronounced as they are in Mass Effect or Skyrim, for instance, and sometimes I was annoyed that none of my options really lined up with what I wanted to say (or text someone, more likely), but I got over that. Plus, the climbing puzzler gameplay was surprisingly compelling—and difficult! But it was very satisfying to make it to the top. I enjoyed the game, and it gave me a taste of something that I never intend to sample in real life: I walked in the shoes of a cheater.
So you don't feel cheap, I've even invited Barry White
to swing by and set the mood with a little music.

So where are we going with this? Well, where do you think? Let’s talk about sex. 

I’ve noticed something in regards to TV shows and movies. I think we all can agree that Christian characters are often established simply to make fun of them. I would point out that real life is like that sometimes too; otherwise, why is Fred Phelps around? But sometimes a writer does explore someone with faith in a manner that goes beyond easy punchlines. The Shield has one of the best examples I can think of, in which police officer Julian struggles to balance his faith with his homosexual feelings. The writers treated him with respect and his personal battle added some real depth to his character and the show. Other TV shows that have treated Christian characters with respect include The Middle and Firefly.

But even when writers decide that Christians are people too and want to write them with sympathy, I have noticed that one of the concessions they often seem to make is that the believers in the show have no problem with premarital sex. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but the message that I’m taking away is that, if we’re going to accept Christians as a decent human being, they need to consider the biblical prohibition against sex outside of marriage as antiquated and not relevant.

I would argue that it’s very relevant.

They decided to wait to have sex.
And, no, the fact that she is now a
Maxim cover girl does nothing to negate that.
When I was growing up—and some of you youngsters are going to think I’m yanking your yank-chain—it was normal for a teenage couple on a television show to struggle with whether they were going to actually have sex or not. The times were a-changing so they didn’t all opt to abstain, but it was a question, not a given. Cory and Topanga wrestled with it on Boy Meets World; even Angela Chase and bad boy Jordan Catalano struggled with the question in the acclaimed and aptly-titled episode “Pressure” of the quickly-canceled My So-Called Life. This wasn’t that long ago. How things have changed in our fictional worlds.

We would be naive to think that Christian culture doesn’t change with the rest of the world. Barna Group research indicates that nearly 60% of born again believers do not see a moral problem with premarital sex or living together outside of marriage. For those of you who aren’t taking a stats class right now (I have to mention that because fellow author Cynthia P. Willow, whom I interviewed a couple of months ago, is taking one and hates it), that means a majority of Christians in their twenties and thirties do think biblical prohibitions on premarital sex are antiquated and not relevant. Which I guess means I owe TV writers an apology! Their portrayal of modern Christians is right on the money.

I’m not going to belabor this point. I just want to make a couple of arguments, and then you can go on your merry, sexy way. Or your married, sexy way. That’s even better!

First argument: The Bible is very clear that you do not mess around when it comes to sex. I love to draw this comparison. When it comes to the Prince of Darkness, the devil himself, have you noticed the Bible’s instructions on how to deal with that old goat?

“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” - James 4:7

Of course, if the devil comes at you with sex,
things do get a bit confusing.
I love that! It’s wonderful, isn’t it? Let’s drop all this “the devil made me do it” crap. As a follower of Jesus Christ, your Master defeats ol’ Belial handily. You resist him, he flees. It’s wonderful.

But when it comes to sex, our instructions are a bit different:

“Flee from sexual immorality!” - 1 Cor. 6:18

Hold on. The devil was just fleeing in the last verse. Now we’re the ones who have to flee? What’s up with that!?

Satan comes at you with both barrels, resist him. With the Holy Spirit, you are stronger than him. A sexy lady or hunky Christian author starts giving you the googly eyes? Get the heck out of Dodge. You can’t handle this. When it comes to sexual temptation, get out of there. It will destroy you.

Second argument: Sexual sin can never be taken back. Of course, there are other sins like this—murder comes to mind—but often it is possible to make amends. If you lie, you can turn around and tell the truth. If you steal, you can return what you stole, or the value of it. I’m not saying it’s as cut and dry as that and there are always consequences, but sexual sin is not something you can ever go back on.

Let me give you a scenario. You’re a young  man who grew up in the church. You know what’s right and wrong but you’re super horny so you go ahead and have sex with your high school girlfriend. When you get to college, you get involved with Navigators (they disciple you!) and decide to really stop screwing around—
How can you even think about
letting her down?!
both sexually and in your faith. You repent, of course, and God forgives you—there is no doubt about that!—and you start living life for Him. Of course, as a man of God, you find your eye caught by a woman of God. And she’s been doing this longer than you, so she will be pure on your wedding day, never having been intimate with another.

You cannot give that to her. It’s too late. You two can get past it, of course, and I think you will. You and God already have, you might recall. But I guarantee you that the grief and regret you feel on your wedding night will overwhelm the temporary pleasure you got from getting frisky in the back of your Dad’s Subaru. No contest.

The third argument plays off the second. I think I first got this one from the youth ministry curriculum guide The Seven Checkpoints by Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall (a book I really liked when I did youth ministry). I’m bringing it up here because the response I hear most often is, “Huh. I never thought of that.”

Not pictured: Unspecified sex act.
Pictured: cute puppies in a basket.
Most of the people I know, Christian or not, desire a healthy, committed marriage someday in their future. Unless you really make your wife mad a lot, sex is one of the benefits of a healthy marriage. But sex outside of marriage corrupts your relationship in a way that you’ve probably never considered. Your sexual relationship with your spouse can never really stand on its own, because it is pretty darn near impossible to never bring in comparisons. You can’t help but think, to some extent, “Oh, I liked it better when [random ex-girlfriend] did [unspecified sex act] than how [random current wife] does it.”


Are you feeling romantic yet?

Now think about your spouse having those same thoughts. If you follow God’s plan, your relationship with your spouse will be great and satisfying in part because you’ll have nothing to compare it to. The more sexual partners you’ve had in the past, the more room there is for comparison. Is that something you want?

Of course, if you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance that you consider yourself a follower of Jesus Christ. Sin in our life always separates us from God. We all struggle with different sins, too, and it’s quite possible that I struggle with sexual sin more than you do. Well, whatever your poison is, letting that in your life hinders your relationship with God and prohibits you from doing what you were put her to do: to be salt and light, to reach others for the Kingdom of God. That’s a big deal.

In the spirit of full disclosure, our soap
doesn't even come in a box.
I know I need to get off my little soapbox. We’re supposed to be talking about a video game after all, a video game in which the blanket assumption is sex outside of marriage because that’s the world in which we live (I can’t even say “culture” since this Catherine is a Japanese game). When we are so completely inundated with the same message—for example, that sex is not designed to be enjoyed only in a marriage relationship—we tend to start to believe it, just from the sheer repetition. Even if it’s a lie.

So thanks for listening to me chat about sex. My advice to you? Chat about it yourself. Christians need to get past their discomfort with this issue and bring it out in the open, because the enemy is not squeamish about it which means theirs is the loudest voice being heard (and sorry for being so melodramatic, but that’s the way it is). If we let the media do all the talking, then Christian young adults are going to internalize its message, not the truth of Scripture. This is true in all areas, but I don’t think I know another topic where so many believers are too embarrassed to speak up.

Heck, play Catherine side-by-side with your  kid if it helps. Pause the game and talk about how the sexual situations in it differ from what the Bible has to say. Give them solid reasons to follow God instead of the world. Be open about your own failures in this arena and they heartache that it has caused. But whatever you do, address it.

"I am so turned off right now!"
"Not as turned off as I am!"
Who knows? Maybe having all these old people talking about sex a lot will make the young ones so
embarrassed that they can never get in the mood again! Sure, the human race would die out without anyone procreating, but it’d still be a win for morality! Huzzah!

Oh! I just got a thought. I wonder, if I let my wife pick where we go to lunch tomorrow, if I might get another month of Gamefly out of it...it’s worth a try...

Addendum: I realized after writing this that there were times when I implied that I thought this was a teen or young adult issue. It’s not. It’s a spiritual issue. God designed sex for marriage whether you’re seventeen or seventy. Violating His principles will always hinder your relationship with Him, no matter your age; more than that, I would argue that going against your Creator will almost always have negative consequences as well. He made you. He knows how you work. He made sex. He knows where it belongs. Are you going to tell Him that you know better? Huzzah!

6 comments:

  1. One of the things I want to comment on about this topic is the damage done psychologically by the opportunities to see and experience sexually suggestive stuff online. You don't have to pay for anything. And the memories never go away. You don't have to "have sex" to get your head ruined.

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    1. You're absolutely right. I didn't really get into stuff like pornography or erotica in the post, but I think there's a brilliance in how the command in 1 Cor. 6 is worded: "Flee from sexual immorality!" See, if it just said, "Do not have sex until you're married (oh and then only with your spouse)," the field would be wide open to all sorts of interpretation. If that was the only word on the subject (and it's NOT), maybe we could agree that premarital sexual intercourse is wrong, but otherwise have fun!

      But that's not what it says. Purity is prescribed, not simply to avoid vaginal intercourse. "Flee from sexual immorality" applies far wider than to the actual act of having sex. Without doubt, it covers porn and a slew of sex acts and the like that stop short of actual intercourse. But engaging in that crap is *not* fleeing sexual immorality. It's playing with it. It's trying to edge up to the line. I would suggest that you have already failed to flee sexual immorality long before you get to a bedroom or supply closet somewhere.

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  2. "When we are so completely inundated with the same message—for example, that sex is not designed to be enjoyed only in a marriage relationship—we tend to start to believe it, just from the sheer repetition. Even if it’s a lie." brad, you certainly hit the nail on the head here!

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    1. Thank you, Dave - and thanks for coming by.

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  3. I've learned so much in counseling training about sex. It has become so perverted. It has been for a long time, but with the internet, it's just out of control. There's probably nothing that bothers me more than pornography. My definition of pornography seems to be different than some, but that's okay. I taught a class to a group of girls a while back about remaining pure. Porn was brought up. It used to be something only males were watching, but girls are getting sucked into it as well. The worst part of it too is now it's not just willing participants. According to some statistics that were given to me in a class a while back, the majority of porn on the internet now is snuff. Girls and women are kidnapped and drugged and then raped over and over again to make a movie. Most people who are watching this don't realize that either. They think it's all acting and that people are getting paid. I'll get off my soapbox now. And yes, I realize the people in the video games are not real people, so that doesn't apply, but the people who play these games can easily get sucked into an addiction of wanting to watch more. Not everyone has this temptation. But it's very easy to fall into, so guard yourself if you're going to play these types of games. Satan can use it. Satan is after marriage, and that's one of the biggest problems in marriage. Fireproof showed a great example of this. Even pastors and ministers struggle with it. I cringed when I read the statistics from a survey taken of the numbers of ministers who watched porn on a regular basis.

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    1. It saddens me greatly when I see how many young ladies in our culture are lied and tricked into believing that it's normal and permissible for their boyfriend or husband to look at porn. I don't believe they're really okay with their loved one being sexually stimulated by other women, but society makes them feel that they cannot express that view. Once, as a youth pastor, a young man in the group asked to speak to me. He tearfully admitted his addiction to porn. He tried to confess this sin to his Christian girlfriend, to apologize and tell her he was going to stop, and was shocked when she shrugged and told him it was no big deal. He still knew it was wrong. But, again, when a lie gets repeated ad nauseam it becomes pervasive and people accept it as truth. (Incidentally, this is the only way I can possibly explain how so many people support abortion rights; I don't see how intelligent, discerning people can possibly support the murder of unborn innocents *unless* it's because they have been lied to so often and made to feel that there is something wrong with them [such as being a religious fanatic or, worse, a FOX News fan] if they dissent....amazes me...)

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