Tag Archives: Christian

OCCULTISM IN VIDEOGAMES

magikoopa

I have been a fan of videogames from the time Mario first stomped on a goomba. I remember fondly the first videogame that was mine, truly mine – Bomberman (1990) for the TurboGrafx-16, unwrapped on a Southern California Christmas day. Decades later, my deep-seated appreciation of the art form remains. A well-made videogame can be an experience of pure pleasure, like a continuous dopamine explosion inside your brain with very few negative side-effects. And although videogames are truly meaningless in the grand scheme of things, they offer the closest analogue of God’s creative power compared to just about anything else on Earth.

More so than any other medium, a videogame allows people to “go inside” a unique world created by an intelligent mind, to interact with that environment and often with other people, to express one’s self individually inside that artificial reality, and to live and die according to the rules and boundaries established by the creator. The creator himself can choose to bend or suspend the rules of his created world at will, and he establishes the parameters by which good performance and accomplishment of goals is measured.

I personally enjoy obscure Japanese videogames. The more obscure and “hardcore” the better. That is why I own ‘Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires’ for Xbox One… not because it is that good but because it is pretty much your only option for a semi-obscure Japanese videogame on Xbox One (I am kicking myself for not getting a PS4… there have been more awesome games released for FREE on that system than are currently available for Xbox One. Alas…) Japan is the country that has been most influential in the history of gaming, from Donkey Kong to Pac Man to Mega Man to Street Fighter to Pokémon to the Legend of Zelda and beyond.

But all is not well in paradise. Christians must face the fact that videogames are rife with occultism. Many professing Christians would likely avoid videogames that had explicit sexual or pornographic content. And, in real life, many Christians would choose not to engage in obvious forms of occult activity: engaging in seances, fortune telling and divination, transcendental meditation, praying to false gods, idol worship, human sacrifices on pagan altars, Satan worship… or any other such magical or occult rituals clearly forbidden in the Bible. But when it comes to videogames… many Christians hardly bat an eye when confronted with occult content.

disgaea

Some Christians reading this will argue for “Christian freedom” and “matters of conscience,” and I quite agree with them. But I have to recognize 2 Corinthians 7:1: “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (NIV). What can contaminate the human spirit more than the occult?

Like the country of Japan, which I deeply love, the world of gaming is neck-deep in spiritual darkness. The CIA World Factbook gives the following statistics on religion in Japan: Shintoism 83.9%, Buddhism 71.4%, Christianity 2%, other 7.8% note: total adherents exceeds 100% because many people belong to both Shintoism and Buddhism (2005). As shrines and superstition permeate Japanese culture, occultism or “magic” fills the shelves of videogame retailers.

castlevania

This can seem at times benign: the paranormal ghost, psychic, fairy, and dark type Pokemon, the sprites and Harvest goddess in Harvest Moon, the mystical tri-force in Zelda, the fiery netherworld of Minecraft, even the frigging Magikoopa character in Mario games. Other times the occultism can be striking: demonic background art in Mortal Kombat stages, summoning undead minions as a necromancer in Diablo II, learning words of power to create magical shouts as the prophesied Dragonborn in Skyrim (which is admittedly a masterpiece of videogame design).

darkstalkers

Drew Koehler at ‘Geeks Under Grace’ writes: “There certainly are things that we, as Christians, just should not partake in. Some of the more obvious ones are hyper-sexual situations or clearly occult, demonic things. There are also things that some of us have deep convictions about, and we could easily slip into sin by allowing only a little bit of it in at a time. We must guard our hearts and minds at all times so we don’t fall into these traps.”

Ultimately, every Christian gamer will have to prayerfully determine where they draw the line in their own entertainment choices, and should never be a stumbling block to others. And yes, there are some awesome games out there that avoid occultism… but not nearly enough of the obscure Japanese variety.

arcaneenchanter

LEANING LUTHERAN… OR NOT

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I have become increasingly interested in Lutheranism over the past year. It started when I read ‘Hammer of God’ by Bo Giertz and developed when I read ‘Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy’ by Eric Metaxas and Bonhoeffer’s own ‘Life Together.’ Soon after I ordered a copy of ‘Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions’ and my Amazon wishlist includes ‘The Lutheran Study Bible,’ ‘The Lutheran Service Book,’ Giertz’s ‘The Knights of Rhodes’ and Bonhoeffer’s ‘The Cost of Discipleship.’

My normal is non-denominational Christian churches. It is what I grew up with. It is what I know. My early perception of Lutheranism, if I thought about it at all, was that it was obsolete and a little strange. I had encountered a co-worker who identified her family as “We’re Lutheran,” in a cultural sense, and it struck me that she did not identify herself as a “Christian.” Also, the fact that I piously / pridefully perceived no fruit one would expect from a Christ-devoted life.

The problem with non-denominational churches is that there is absolutely no uniformity – by default. I had deep respect for the church I was raised in, but when I visited other non-denominational churches, their quality ran the gamut. There were large, multi-campus and multi-service productions catering to all ages with generic, conservative Christianity. There was a medium-sized one that advertised their “authentic” relational connections, using buzzy language like “community of faith” instead of church. There was an awesome charismatic church that met on a university campus, full of life and energy. The only way to find out the theology of these churches was to attend for several weeks; the website blurbs gave you little to go on.

Enter Lutheranism. Factious synods aside, I sense the potential for temporal and geographical connectedness in the Lutheran tradition. It is a historically rooted apostolic church. I feel that I could walk into a Lutheran church in Finland and say, “Hey! These guys accept the same confessional documents!” Presbyterians are tied together in part by their subordinate standards found in the ‘Westminster Confession of Faith’ and Catechisms. Anglicans and Episcopalians share their ‘Book of Common Prayer.’ Well, Lutherans have their own “symbolic books” that have been deemed authoritative interpretations of the faith since 1580 – the Book of Concord or Concordia. This counterbalances many non-denominational churches where the theology is “a mild wide and an inch deep” or other denominations, which shall remain nameless, which are perceived as being anti-intellectual and pastored by twangy country bumpkins.

With my increased interest in theology, the idea of having an entire, international church body versed in a unified and deeper explanation of their faith appeals to me. This is, of course, on paper. I do not have widespread knowledge of how this plays out in real Lutheran congregations. Even the idea of confirmation, which was foreign to me, is appealing in theory. I like the piety of kneeling during certain portions of the service, and of saying “The word of the Lord” after a passage of scripture is read. I like the cultural acceptance of real wine during communion, as opposed to the tee-totaling human tradition of Southern Baptists.

Another plus, I particularly enjoy how the LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) has published position statements on a variety of modern issues. I have always believed that things such as acupuncture and masonic lodges are incompatible with Christianity, but often feel like a voice crying in the wilderness. The LCMS actually has semi-official positions on these matters! Read them here and here, respectively. You can’t be a member of the Lutheran Church if you are a mason!

Alas…

There are several reasons that I do not want to be a Lutheran, despite my growing interest and appreciation. For starters, I hesitate to label myself as a particular denomination as that will inevitably create barriers between myself and others. The Apostle Paul said that he sought to become “all things to all men” so that he might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Also, labeling myself as a follower of Luther, a single human being, is like saying “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos,” behavior condemned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 3. The New Testament pretty universally denounces factions and divisions, and yet in our world today we find new splinter groups on every corner. I can recall a Catholic friend of mine sarcastically saying, “A church dispute? Time to go hang up a new shingle! Everybody does what is right in their own eyes.”

Another reason is that I have not embraced every aspect of Lutheran doctrine and practice. Infant baptism? Not for me. Amillennialism? Nope. Sacramentalism? I could take it or leave it. Funny looking robes? Hmmm… An acquaintance who had attended a Lutheran church for many years with his wife told me of a new pastor who was Spirit-filled and led small group studies, encouraging people to be born again. My acquaintance loved it. It didn’t take long before older, more traditional congregants of German heritage had him sacked. Hearing that story took a lot of wind out of my Lutheran-leaning sails.

I think that I will not become a Lutheran. Not now. Maybe not ever. In all likelihood I will continue to draw inspiration from the history and resources of the Lutheran tradition, and may even attend a few services. Who knows? I might even pursue a doctorate from a Lutheran seminary at some point in the far off future. But, for now, I will simply remain a “Christian.”

WHY CHRISTIANITY?

contradict-frontIn a previous post I discussed how I had arrived at subjective certainty about the existence of God. But in the grand cosmological buffet, there are many “higher powers” that one can choose from: Allah, Vishnu, Zeus, and even the Flying Spaghetti Monster. How did I personally become convinced that the Christian God, attested to in the Old and New Testaments, is the “One True God” – the interpretation of the Divine that corresponds to reality?

1. To start, there is no denying that my upbringing plays a crucial role. I was raised in a Christian home. But what does that mean? Many who were raised in a “Christian” home and/or grew up “in the Church” have turned away from the Christian religion. And others that have had no exposure to Christianity as children come to believe in the Christian interpretation of God. I must say that I viewed the early Christian influences in my life as trustworthy sources, people who non-hypocritically lived out their faith on a daily basis. Their personal lives and behavior did not contradict what they taught or believed – quite the opposite. I had every reason to believe what they were saying when they testified about supernatural experiences.

2. God most profoundly revealed himself to me during a Christian church service, through a scripture found in the Christian Bible, presented by a Christian pastor. Despite the historical, contextually-bound logos of that passage of scripture, I was directly and personally spoken to as through a rhema. My life dramatically began a process of transformation from that moment. I often have described this experience as an “epiphany.”

3. The inward witness of the Holy Spirit continues to affirm the central truths of Christianity and thus further bolsters my faith. “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16) and, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify about me” (John 15:26).

4. The Christian worldview, as expressed (non-systematically) in the Bible, presents a framework for consistently, accurately, and non-contradictorily interpreting all of reality, including the existence of and belief in other so-called gods. Christianity accounts for other religions and even for non-religious persons.

5. Various forms of revelation: ongoing personal experiences, the testimony of trustworthy individuals, and historical evidence all lend additional support to Christianity. I will address the nature of revelation more in depth in a future post.