Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fred Phelps is Scarier Than Necromorphs

For the record, no, I still don't own
Bioshock Infinite, even though it's
only $29.99 at!
I’ve mentioned before that I rarely have the luxury of playing games anywhere near their release date. Given that the price drops from $60 to $40 and eventually to $20 within months and years of the release, and given that I really don’t have a budget for video games and thus get all of mine as either 1) presents at birthday or Christmas or 2) rentals via the occasional short burst of Gamefly membership, I tend to settle for “new-to-me” rather than genuinely new. Which is fine, even though it puts me a bit behind the conversation when it comes to the robust gaming community, which I really don’t have a great deal of time to spend on anyway.

All of this is simply a prelude to explain why I’m currently playing Dead Space 2, a gory, survival horror game that came out back in 2011 and which has already spawned a full sequel. That’s what I’m playing right now and that’s what I’m writing about today.

Given the genre, it’s certainly no surprise that this game has monsters, and they’re pretty scary monsters too: necromorphs, grotesquely twisted corpses reanimated via some sort of alien infection, seem to exist solely to terrorize engineer Isaac Clarke, leaving a very bloody path in their wake.
Pictured: Isaac Clarke (left) and a necromorph (right).

Of more interest than the monsters themselves, however, is the fact that they are practically issued an open invitation to kill, maim and disembowel by the powerful religious cult that worships the alien artifact called the Marker that connects to the beasties. Of course, those that worship the Marker do  not see clearly the horrific mayhem that their devotion will lead to, but they are persistently pious in their belief nonetheless.

An early portion of the game sends Isaac through a Church of Unification worship center, a religion that seems to be at least partially inspired by Scientology. The devout here are clearly kooks—but are also manipulative, greedy and oh-so-willing to deceive. And they actually come right out and call conversion indoctrination. So at least they’re honest on that front.

I have no idea why Mad Men's Betty Draper
showed up when I did a Google image
search for creepy preachers, but I decided
to run with it anyway.
Of course, using religious villains is nothing new. I feel, for example, that Stephen King has overused the crazy Christian character to the point where I sort of roll my eyes when we get another one like the Mom in Carrie or, more recently, Big Jim from Under the Dome. He’s far from the only offender. Creepy fictional cultists may or may not be affiliated with Christianity, but there’s something appealing to authors and screenwriters (and video game writers, clearly) about religious devotion, especially if it’s misguided, dangerous or downright evil.

You never see evil crazy cultists who are sort of nominal or lukewarm in their faith, do you? Like, “Oh yeah I’ll go to the evil meeting and do the evil chanting and all but I really don’t feel like sacrificing the protagonist to my evil god and eating his liver because I’m really busy and I don’t even care for liver.” I suppose that’s not as scary.

But at least these villains do tend to be kooky and misguided. The Christian cultists are not generally presented as average, mainstream believers. I don’t see the implication that these portrayals are really intended to reflect poorly upon Christianity as a whole, because the villains being portrayed have clearly not gotten it right. Their doctrine is twisted and clearly contradictory to what Scripture accurately teaches (even if they can pull a few verses out of context to defend their chanting and liver eating).

Where am I going with all this? We live in a world that is increasingly hostile to all religion, but especially toward Christianity. Slowly but surely, the attitude that Christians are stupid and maybe even dangerous is permeating the perspectives of secular society.

If we really want intelligent discourse, of course,
we need to look to t-shirts.
The “stupid Christian” has been a character in poorly written movies and TV shows for years, of course. But I’ve never seen the stereotype really hit the mainstream until more recently. Part of it is symptomatic of an attack on religion wherein Christianity is the obvious leader and best scapegoat. It’s too politically incorrect to attack Islam in the wake of the response to 9/11 and other terrorist attacks; Jews have really had it pretty rough through the years and now make up such a hefty percentage of entertainers and performers that Hollywood wouldn’t know what to do without them; Scientology is always an easy target, of course; many other religions aren’t well enough represented in the United States to take the bulls eye so naturally. If you’re going to attack religion, Christianity sort of makes sense to go after, from a certain perspective.

And I have to say that a growing animosity toward religion kind of makes sense. John Lennon’s idealistic dream world from Imagine, which lists religion as one of many ills that divide humanity, is resonating with more and more people. What we’re seeing are greater numbers that have been brought up being consistently fed evolutionary theory as fact—and they’re cynical enough or detached enough or simply calculating enough to follow that through to its natural conclusion. Whereas many believe in Darwinistic evolution because they’ve been taught that science has proven it conclusively, their lives don’t tend to match up with that head knowledge. If mankind is a cosmic mistake, then the notion of any sort of afterlife pretty much has to come off the table. You’re pretty lucky you accidentally got this much, after all. But, in my opinion, most people don’t tend to live like that.

It's a metaphor. But it seems about right.
(And, yes, some try to squeeze and shove their faith into what they’ve been taught about evolution, trying to reinterpret the words of God Almighty through the lens of man’s opinion, but we’ve dealt with that in a prior blog post. Anyway, if you’ve decided God can’t be trusted on the topic of Creation, why are you so sure you can take His Word on heaven and hell?)

But more and more people, from my generation and younger especially, are accepting the consequences of evolution, and a blowback against religion is part of that. Think about it. If your worldview absolutely did not allow for the existence of God, would you appreciate those who wanted modern policy to be guided by an ancient book written by human charlatans feigning divinity? So, yeah, you’d probably come to the conclusion that Christians are stupid and that’s being generous. Factor in all the horrible things done in the name of God throughout the years, as well as current crusades against homosexuality and the like, and you might even conclude that Christians are downright dangerous. There’s a consistency to the viewpoint—and it’s been brewing for quite a while.

Of course, those who loudly decry the fact that Christians get the same vote that the rest of us do seem to sort of forget the democracy and free speech aspects of this nation of ours—but isn’t that the way it often is? We’re all for equality and free speech so long as everyone else is saying what we want to hear. I’m reminded of Jerry Falwell’s lawsuit against Larry Flynt because of his filthy parodies in Hustler, with Flynt attempting to explain that the same first amendment that permitted his magazine to parodize public figures like Falwell allowed the preacher his platform. But that’s really getting off topic.

A typical Westboro Baptist Bible study.
My point is that the increasing vilification of Christianity has been a long time coming and that it’s consistent with a secularist worldview. Much good has been done in the name of Christ, but so has quite a bit of bad: bloodshed, slavery, genocide, discrimination, and so much more. Of course, a detestable, godless little hate group known as Westboro Baptist Church eagerly follows the spotlight so they can attempt to be as
despicable as possible in the name of Christ. We might rightly argue that most of these vile actions are completely indefensible from a biblical point of view—especially taken as a whole, since passages out of context can be twisted ad nauseam—but I fear that means very little to those who see Christians as a hindrance to true progress and enlightenment in our world.

In fact, if I’m being perfectly honest, there’s quite a bit that I agree with some of those on that side of the aisle about. Fred Phelps and company at Westboro make them sick? Great. They make me sick too. Even sicker since they blaspheme my Savior and God in the process. They think it’s ridiculous to try to restrict the rights of homosexuals because of the book of Leviticus? So do I. This is really a longer conversation for another time—oh, and probably a future book, although I’m not sure when—but we’re not under the Law anymore (Rom. 10:4; Gal. 2:16, etc.) so I’ll point to Rom. 1 when talking morality, but I think that all citizens of a nation should be extended the same rights. They think we have a responsibility to be good stewards of this environment and our world? I absolutely agree with that. They think that religion leads to problems when people check their brains at the door and blindly follow it? Yeah, I think that too. I also think the same thing about political parties, for what it’s worth. But I agree that religion has led to some horrible things. I don’t think that people should be forbidden from being religious, of course—what sort of freedom is that?—but I think that following a religion blindly is horrible.
His yoke is easy and His burden is light;
religion sure as heck can't promise that!

I recommend following Jesus Christ instead, personally.

So if the attacks on religion have a certain logical consistency to them and all that, am I quite sure I’m standing on the side I ought to be here, as a follower of Jesus Christ, a Christian author and speaker? Why, yes, of course. And it all comes down to one word: truth.

My, that’s a powerful word. It’s a powerful concept, although I fear it’s lost a lot of its bite in modern times. Well, that’s not quite right. Truth is as powerful as ever, but people do not believe in it like they once did.

Of course, one’s belief in something has very little impact on...well...anything, does it? Whether unicorns exist is not contingent on whether I believe in them or not. I can choose to believe, as hard as I can, that
Just imagine if unicorns stopped existing
just because some people say they're a myth!
Preposterous! They frolic; therefore, they are.
Barrack Obama is not the President of the United States, that the capital of Georgia is not Atlanta and that three plus three does not equal six, but all of these things continue to be so, quite oblivious to my very sincere belief to the contrary.

So the concept of genuine truth may be quite toothless in the view of many today but that does nothing to make it, well, truthless. Sorry.

It may not make much sense to let a 2,000-year-old book shape modern decisions. Unless that book is Truth.

The horrible things done in the name of Christ over the years build quite a damning case toward countless of His would-be followers. And yet, if He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, He remains so despite the atrocities.

And the fact that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life trumps those atrocities. The fact that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life trumps everything. Period.

Seriously. Right?
I remember Francis Chan saying something along these lines in his book Erasing Hell. You’ve probably heard people say that they don’t believe in a loving God that would send anyone to hell. Believe it or not, it’s the truth: God is love (1 John 4:8), His love for us is so strong that He gave His Son to die to save us from hell (John 3:16), but those who reject Him and His sacrifice will spend an eternity in hell (John 12:48; Rev. 20:15).

It all comes down to truth. A world that rejects absolute truth will naturally reject the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Because truth is more powerful than feelings, more powerful than majority rules, more powerful than belief.

And this, by the way, is why I disagree with those who preach that the way to lead this country in a direction
toward God is through voting or lobbying or debating or through politics at all. If you’re not happy with the direction your world is heading, then spend your time doing something of lasting value: introduce your world to the Truth. You want genuine change? That’s how you do it. That’s the business the Holy Spirit is in. Washington? Not so much.

Make disciples of all nations. That’s the way to open people’s eyes. As Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).