Wednesday, June 25, 2014
John Piper Is Coming: A Response To Piper and Game of Thrones
About a week ago John Piper posted 12 Questions to Ask Before You Watch ‘Game of Thrones’ in response to the enormous popularity of the HBO series that is an adaptation of the George R.R. Martin book series. As you would expect, John Piper isn't a fan of the series (although I am quite sure he hasn't seen any of the episodes) and he is pretty concerned that a lot of Christians are watching something he assumes is unhealthy. A lot of my fellow believers have been reposting his article with varying degrees of commentary including one that assumed that every single person who watched the TV series was lost, a breathtakingly arrogant and theologically ignorant statement.
Full disclosure. I own all of the published books and have read them all at least twice, as has my wife. We own the released seasons on DVD and have watched them. They are full of violence and gore and sex because they depict a world that is not a neat and tidy, black and white world but one that is full of violence and gore and sex, rather like how things probably were in a similar era in our world and ironically much like the world described in the Bible that likewise describes sex, extra-marital sex, incest, rape, war, murder, etc. No Game of Thrones is not on par with the Bible. That is silly to even say but hey this is the internet and sure enough some knucklehead would suggest I was saying that. What I am saying is that the presence of sex or violence in a book is not in and of itself a disqualifier, indeed cannot be for Christians. People have sex. War and rape go hand in hand, not just in Game of Thrones, but in World War II and Vietnam and even today. People kill and torture and maim one another. The world depicted in the storyline of GoT is a dark one but not all books can have settings like Rivendell and the Shire.
There are legitimate concerns about GoT. Like I said, Game of Thrones, both the books and the TV adaptation, are full of violence, sex and atrocious language. I understand that. I don't let my kids read the books. I especially don't let them watch the show or even be around when we are. I fully understand that this is a pastime that requires some discernment. I do wish Martin had left some of this stuff out of the books and that the producers of the show on HBO did the same. I think that the violence and sex is integral to the story even though the story is not about them, if that makes sense. In other words these aren't books about sex and violence, they are books about complicated people who live in a world full of sex and violence, kind of like our world. For a people of the Book who revere flawed men like Noah and Abraham and David and Paul and Peter, you would think that
However I reject the notion proposed by John that people watch because we want to be "hip, cool, savvy, culturally aware". I read the first book in the series long before HBO started filming the series. I don't read them because of the coolness factor nor for the titillation factor. I read them because they are incredibly compelling. The storylines, the characters (until Martin kills them off), the vivid imagery. They are some of the best written books I have read and the TV series is a pretty decent adaptation with incredible acting on a limited budget. Unlike the horrific CGI heavy The Hobbit adaptation, Game of Thrones relies on characters for the story rather than characters being props in the latest CGI excess. I would read the books whether they were "hip" or not.
I do wonder how many of the people jumping on the "Game of Thrones is evil" bandwagon would say the same thing about other cultural entertainment? It is easy for those who don't watch GoT to stand afar and cast stones. What about movies and TV shows that glamorize and glorify warfare? Christians love those. A lot of Christians love the TV show 24 where hero Jack Bauer tortures people and violates their civil rights for our entertainment. How about entertainment that subtly or not reinforces greed and envy? We certainly have a more widespread problem with that in the church than we do Christians beheading each other. Then of course there are sports which certainly rise to the level of idolatry for many a Christian and especially so with football which not only is idolatrous for many Christians but is a sport based on violence and one in which many players, from children to adults, are injured every year for our entertainment. Christian men flock to TVs to spend hours watching modern gladiators slam into one another while women in provocative "clothing" gyrate in high definition to....well to titillate because no one at an NFL game can hear them "cheer". Of course these televised games are interspersed with many advertisements extolling the virtues of alcohol or others that appeal to the insatiable need for the latest pick-up truck or car or the latest, greatest smart phone or an erectile dysfunction medication. That stuff is apparently OK. After all America is specially blessed by God with material wealth so why shouldn't I have the latest smartphone or a brand new car?
So here is my point. I think John Piper raises some legitimate concerns, some that I share and my wife and I have talked about. On the other hand I think a lot of Christians wagging their fingers at their fellow Christians might be a touch hypocritical. I absolutely think their are some cautions about Game of Thrones but I think that the writing is compelling enough to warrant reading. It is not for everyone. It is not for children. I will keep watching Game of Thrones, even if it stops being "hip, cool, savvy, culturally aware" and I will continue to exercise discernment on the issue. I appreciate John Piper asking hard questions and I have given them thought. I just don't agree on this one. Perhaps I will change my mind later on. Perhaps not. It wouldn't be the first time and won't be the last.