Signs of the Apocalypse: Smack That!


Love your enemies, do good to them that persecute you, turn the other cheek, yatta yatta yatta. Who cares what the Bible says? Just getting our children into a church building has the magical power to save their souls. Let’s not scare them off with all that boring content about, like, Jesus and stuff.

From Sunday’s New York Times:


First the percussive sounds of sniper fire and the thrill of the kill. Then the gospel of peace. Across the country, hundreds of ministers and pastors desperate to reach young congregants have drawn concern and criticism through their use of an unusual recruiting tool: the immersive and violent video game Halo….

Those buying it must be 17 years old, given it is rated M for mature audiences. But that has not prevented leaders at churches and youth centers across Protestant denominations, including evangelical churches that have cautioned against violent entertainment, from holding heavily attended Halo nights and stocking their centers with multiple game consoles so dozens of teenagers can flock around big-screen televisions and shoot it out….

Far from being defensive, church leaders who support Halo — despite its “thou shalt kill” credo — celebrate it as a modern and sometimes singularly effective tool. It is crucial, they say, to reach the elusive audience of boys and young men.

Witness the basement on a recent Sunday at the Colorado Community Church in the Englewood area of Denver, where Tim Foster, 12, and Chris Graham, 14, sat in front of three TVs, locked in violent virtual combat as they navigated on-screen characters through lethal gun bursts. Tim explained the game’s allure: “It’s just fun blowing people up.”

Once they come for the games, Gregg Barbour, the youth minister of the church said, they will stay for his Christian message. “We want to make it hard for teenagers to go to hell,” Mr. Barbour wrote in a letter to parents at the church.

But the question arises: What price to appear relevant? Some parents, religious ethicists and pastors say that Halo may succeed at attracting youths, but that it could have a corroding influence. In providing Halo, churches are permitting access to adult-themed material that young people cannot buy on their own.

“If you want to connect with young teenage boys and drag them into church, free alcohol and pornographic movies would do it,” said James Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a nonprofit group that assesses denominational policies. “My own take is you can do better than that.”

Daniel R. Heimbach, a professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, believes that churches should reject Halo, in part because it associates thrill and arousal with killing.

“To justify whatever killing is involved by saying that it’s just pixels involved is an illusion,” he said.

Focus on the Family, a large evangelical organization, said it was trying to balance the game’s violent nature with its popularity and the fact that churches are using it anyway. “Internally, we’re still trying to figure out what is our official view on it,” said Lisa Anderson, a spokeswoman for the group….

Players of Halo 3 control the fate of Master Chief, a tough marine armed to the teeth who battles opponents with missiles, lasers, guns that fire spikes, energy blasters and other fantastical weapons. They can also play in teams, something the churches say allows communication and fellowship opportunities.

Complicating the debate over the appropriateness of the game as a church recruiting tool are the plot’s apocalyptic and religious overtones. The hero’s chief antagonists belong to the Covenant, a fervent religious group that welcomes the destruction of Earth as the path to their ascension.

It’s a sad day when the secular-liberal New York Times recognizes the irony of this scenario, while Focus on the Family is still unfocused. Funny, disturbing, yes. But also revealing of serious flaws in American Christianity: First, the extent to which it’s become corrupted by the violent, consumerist, jingoistic elements of our national culture. Second, a superstitious, formalistic theory of salvation, which sees conversion and church membership as akin to sprinkling magic fairy dust (oops, make that magic hetero dust) over the “unsaved”. It seems we’re in a race to the bottom to see how little character-transformation and spiritual reflection we can demand of people yet still count them in our tally of souls-saved-per-day.

Meanwhile, for a creative interpretation of “turn the other cheek”, the good folks at Christian Domestic Discipline offer some easy steps to introducing “Loving Wife Spanking in a Christian Marriage”. (Hat tip to the commenters under Hugo’s excellent posts on BDSM, Christianity and feminism. First one here, follow-up here.)

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