God’s Not Dead – Part 2

God's Not Dead Poster #2God’s not dead, but why is it I felt I attended his funeral?

From the last sentence you might already be getting the idea my experience watching God’s Not Dead wasn’t the happiest. In fact, I was visibly angry by the time the film ended. I feel sorry for my poor mother and sister who needed to hear me rant about my problems with the film the whole way back from the theater and then during the walk with the dogs afterword. To get to the core of my problem with the film I am going to need to go into some spoilers. So those who still might be wanting to go to the movie might want to check this out afterword.

As I explained in my last post I was not looking forward to this movie. From seeing both the title and the film’s trailers I had an overwhelming feeling this movie was more interested in telling us what to think then giving us something to think about. I chose to go because I didn’t want to judge the film on preconceived ideas. To the best of my ability I tried to be open to the movie being different from it’s advertisements. As the old saying goes you shouldn’t always judge a book by it’s cover. I wanted this movie to impact me like any other movie. I was interested in the basic concept of a student standing up for what he believes in even when it might mean he would be condemned. And trailers have a hard time expressing depth. They only have a few seconds to introduce characters and concepts. A two hour movie however obviously has much more time to get into character motivations and express more nuanced ideas.

This movie however left nuance at the door. All the characters were created to represent stereotypes, both of Christians and the secular world. None of them showed any depth. People who did not believe in the Christian God were all portrayed as evil; whether it be the Muslim father who beats and kicks his daughter out of the house after she claims to love Jesus or the mean boyfriend who gets angry at his girlfriend for bringing up her cancer after he tells her about his promotion. All the Christians the film concentrated on were true servants of God. Sure, there was the pastor who kept getting frustrated about his car not starting. But none of them really faltered when it came to choosing to do the right thing in the end. The character most representative of the “selfless man of God” was the main protagonist of the story Josh Wheaton.

It was clear Josh’s character particularly represented the Christian industries expectation for a good Christian youth. He did everything right in the eyes of the Christian base. He isn’t willing to put down on paper, “God is dead”. He goes to his elders for instruction. He reads the Bible and stands up to his God hatting professor in class. I mean this guy doesn’t miss a beat. There is no attempt to allow the audience to understand Josh’s unwavering faith in God. There is no insight to when he became a Christian or why he feels the need to stand up for his faith except for the generic comment of, “I think God wants me to”. I call the comment generic because it is the same excuse Muslim extremists use to blow things up and kill innocent woman and children. Josh is a shell with no real personality or meaning outside his mission to convert the unbeliever. There are tones of opportunities for him to actually interact with the world around him yet he is too focused on his mission to convert to give a crap about anything else. The best example of Josh’s ignorance comes when interacting with a fellow student Martin Yip. Martin is actually the one who reaches out to Josh by asking him about why he is speaking up in class. Josh takes this as a opportunity to preach and tells Martin about how he believes in Jesus and doesn’t want to disappoint Him. I almost yelled at Josh in the theater to ask a question about who Martin was. Start up a actual conversation and maybe ask Martin what he believes. But no luck. As soon as Josh was done with his preaching he left Martin sitting at the table. The only time Josh really becomes interested in Martin is when Martin turns to Jesus at the end of the movie.

There were so many missed opportunities. This could have been an authentic look at the secular world and why at times it seems so against Christianity. Yet, after watching the movie you get an overwhelming feeling the only thing Christian media thinks they do wrong is stay quiet. The only open Christian in the movie who was portrayed in a negative light was Josh’s girlfriend who adamantly encouraged Josh not to speak up in class. Christians might point to this character as daring, but I thought of her as just shallow. The writers did everything but put a sign on her spelling out, “This is not a real Christian”. She never talks about God and always spoke about how Josh fighting his professor in class would make her look bad. She finally broke up with him because he wouldn’t sign the paper that God was dead or leave the class. Why do I or anyone else in the audience care she she left Josh? I mean there was nothing about her that was interesting or made me care. I couldn’t figure out how the morally unshakable Josh Wheaton would have hooked up with someone like his girlfriend in the first place?

The farther into the movie we went the more this movie looked like a carefully planned out propaganda film. Their mission was to keep the Christian base confident in their faith and reinforce a narrow view of the outside world. It reminded me of the countless messages I sat through in Church where in the end I was told to give my heart to Jesus and tell others about the good news. Quite literally the movie told us to tell people, “God’s Not dead”. It wanted me to text all my friends telling them God wasn’t dead. As if that was going to do the trick. The frustrating things is there were tons of people who did this. As I explained in my last post I saw tons of status updates declaring God wasn’t dead. Put yourself in the secular worlds shoes. What if one of your friends had text you, “God’s dead”? How would this make you feel? Would it really make you more acceptable to thinking God’s dead? Or would it get you frustrated because you are being told bluntly something you believe is not true. For many the text “God’s Not dead” are fighting words. The text is starting a debate few Christians are interested in or prepared for. Heck, I believe there is no batter proof for how unprepared we are then this very movie.

The premise of this movie revolved around Josh’s debate with his professor about the existence of God. While the atheist professor had a board with a few atheist philosophers and scientists names on it as explanation for why the class did not need to look into the idea of there being a God, Josh had a fully realized video display, he somehow found the time to put together, to help argue his case. Each time Josh made his arguments for God’s existence this display helped guide us into feeling comfortable Josh’s arguments made sense. On the other hand while some of the first arguments the professor makes feels partly thought out it becomes more and more apparent his real problem is a personal grudge against God. There was no attempt to treat the debate fairly. In the end we see the Professor show his true colors and admit his real reasons for not allowing God in his class room was because he was angry at Him for not saving his mother from cancer. For this to be the main argument in the movie for why the secular world denies the Christian God is completely ridiculous. Yet, this philosophy seems to be picked up by more and more Christians. Most Christians I listen to seem convinced the reason the secular world denies God is because they are selfish and have a personal grudge against Him.

Movies like God’s Not Dead are why the secular world isn’t interested in the Christian God. As I said at the beginning of my post I felt I was attending God’s funeral while watching this. I just couldn’t find any substance in the movie. This film claims to be a light. Yet it is a light that holds little warmth and shows no depth. The film was an encouragement for believers to go out into the world and preach with ears plugged and eyes closed. The more Christians take on this kind of instruction the farther they will find themselves from both this world and their God they claim to love so much.

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God’s Not Dead – Part 1

God's Not Dead PosterFor those who don’t know I work two blogs. One concentrates on my ambitions to understand the technique and art of storytelling/filmmaking and the other covers my views on faith and politics.  Even though both blogs revolve around my pursuit of art and efforts to understand God the subjects don’t usually intersect. However, just the other day I accompanied my mother and sister to the movie God’s Not Dead and I knew immediately I needed to write about my experience. Seeing it was a movie and concentrated on a the issue of faith I have decided to post my views about this movie on both my blogs. I am also going to break my thoughts into two posts. For this post I will try to explain why I chose to watch this movie and my next post will concentrate on what I felt about the film.

To be honest this movie never appealed to me. From seeing the very title God’s Not Dead I was afraid it was going to be another Christian produced film that never really tried to give us something to think about but rather told us what to think. There is an argument to be made I, along with many other secular audiences, had already made preconceived judgments on the movie without being willing to give it a chance. I will not try to suggest I went into the theater with a completely open frame of mind. I tried to have an open frame of mind but I couldn’t help but be influenced by the title, the advertisements, and the second hand comments I had already heard regarding the film.

Lets first look at the title. Why would the title God’s Not Dead turn me off? Well, you tell me the last good film you watched with a title telling the audience precisely what to think? I mean the movie didn’t even want me to think about the possibility God could be dead. I did not need to watch a frame of the movie to know we were going to see a story trying to prove the existence of God. It might just be a malfunction of how I was brought up but I was taught to think for myself. The teachers who really mattered to me allowed me to come up with my own conclusions about what I believed. However, this film with its very title suggested it didn’t want to trust the audience in that way.

The advertising for God’s Not Dead felt just as manipulative as the title. Here is the first trailer I had seen for the film:

Here is another example of the movie not trying to leave anything up to the imagination. Sure the movie suggest the premise is “We are going to put God on trial”. But based on the characters we see in the trailer and the Newsboys song playing in the background with the lyrics “God’s not Dead, he is surely alive” we could tell this premise is only there to thinly disguise a cookie cut message about the evils and dangers of the secular world and the need for us to choose God. The reporter in the trailer even asks about those who don’t believe and the famous Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson replies, “If we disown Him (God), He will disown us”. The secular world is represented by a power hungry professor who calls himself god. We also see another secular businessman who is asked to visit his mom and replies back, “What’s in it for me?”. They don’t want us to question the story arc of the freshman either. The trailer makes sure to show us a clean cut collage Christian who ends up standing for what he believes and confronting his power hungry professor. I felt like the trailer showed a movie aiming to make the Christian audience feel good about themselves at the expense of the rest of the world. The trailer offended me because it seemed to be further proof of a film interested in talking down to it’s audience by not even giving them the chance to discover any truths for themselves.

Now the title and the advertising of the film are prime examples of why I wasn’t interested in going to the movie. So the big question is, why did I end up going? After God’s Not Dead came out I found the reaction from friends and across the internet interesting. What was most intriguing was the difference in opinion I heard from the Christian base compared to the secular base. There were advertisements all over my Facebook wall where Christian friends were posting statuses declaring “God’s Not Dead” and suggesting I and the rest of Facebook go see the movie. I also saw flyers posted claiming the film was #2 in the Country’s Box Office. I didn’t really understand where this stat was coming from since Box Office Mojo and IMDb claimed it took fifth in the box office nationally. Absolutely none of my none Christian friends claimed to see the movie. I did look on Rotten Tomatoes and out of the few people who chose to review the movie, it received a 20% rotten Tomato rating. For those who don’t know it takes a 60% or higher for a film to receive a “fresh” rating.

So what was this huge separation about? Why were so many outside the faith criticizing the movie and so many inside the faith praising it? Why was an advertising campaign that felt manipulative and demeaning to me seem to intrigue so many of my Christian friends?  I knew I needed to check out the movie for myself to find out these answers. Rather then make this post excessively long I will leave you guys with a cliff hanger and give my thoughts on the actual movie in my next post.

Born A Sinner

Through out my childhood of being raised in the Church I was told by my pastors and Sunday school teachers  I was born a sinner. It was the great warning given to the Church. All you need to do is look at the Bible and you can see how sinful we really are. Verses like Psalms 58:3 “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies”, Proverbs 22:15 “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him”, and Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”, have all been used to prove we are sick and evil creatures. The trump card when trying to prove our original sinful nature often comes from John 8:44 when Jesus was talking to a group of Jews who questioned who he was and the truth he spoke. He said, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires”.  Gosh! It can’t get much worse then being told you are the devils child.

Knowing these verses are part of most Christians foundational beliefs you can see why they have such a hard time connecting to the secular world. The foundation of our faith tells us not to trust the world. We are told the world is an evil place full of deceit and folly. Quite literally all of you non-Christians are considered no better then the devil. Am I the only one here who sees how this is setting both sides up for failure?

Let me first explain my original philosophy on what my job was as a Christian. When I was still part of the Church my main mission was to bring people to Jesus. The world outside the Church was a world in need of salvation. It was a world all damned to hell unless I and my fellow Christians did something about it. We were God’s soldiers. We were sent into the world to invite people to our youth groups and bible studies so they could be converted to Christianity. The main mission was to see the secular friends we invited to Church raise their hands when asked if they wanted to give their souls to Jesus and go up to the front of the alter so they could accept Jesus into their hearts. The Church rejoiced with “Hallelujah” and clapping when our pastor told us at the beginning of service, “We had twenty five people give their soul to God last week”.

I believed it was my job as a Christian to protect my soul from the evils of the world. Those who did not know Jesus were enemies in the eyes of the Church. I may have had secular friends but I was careful not to be influenced by them. I was warned numerous times their hearts were evil and if I let down my guard I would fall into their sinful ways. My secular friends were those who went out drinking, disobeyed their parents, and thought only of themselves. I never cared enough to know who they were; learn about their hobbies, understand their views on life, or hear about what they wanted to do in the future. I didn’t get to know these things because I was so convinced it wasn’t worth anything unless they first accepted Jesus into their hearts. I was ignorant and naive. I had the audacity to believe they should care about me and my views without giving a crap about theirs. I pursued relationships thinking myself superior and neglecting the truth in my secular friends lives. Is there any greater sin then denying Jesus where he is evident? That is what I did for a good portion of my life. It is what much of the Church still does today.

Christians must understand when they deny Jesus in the lives of nonbelievers, they are look in the faces of Mahatma Gandhi, Tenzin Gyatso (the Dali Lama), and Malala Yousafzai and say “God does not live in you”. I like to bring up these names to Christians when discussing salvation and truth. Most Christians I know still stick to the idea God is only in Christianity. Even more Christians I know stick to the idea that “accepting Jesus” (becoming Christian) is the most important thing we can do in this life. Well Mahatma Gandhi, Tenzin Gyatso, and Malala Yousafzai are not Christian and either did not or will not convert to the Christian faith. Much of their humanitarian work is inspired by their personal faith in Buddhism, Islam, or Hindu. As a youth being raised in a Christian Church I would have been worried about these peoples souls. I would have looked past the work they have done for God because they don’t attribute their faith to the right name. I would have said I, as a 14 year old Christian boy who was mostly just minding his own business not doing anything for the poor, the sick, or the uneducated, was closer to God then these people. Can’t you see something is wrong with this picture?

I am sure a good portion of you would reply, “Nope”.  There is nothing wrong with the way I once thought. The problem I am making in my last paragraph is putting works ahead of faith. When I first began to question these things the biggest argument was always, “God does not judge us based on works but rather faith”. All the things I see non-Christians do for others is done out of their selfish sinful nature. It sure looks as if the sixteen year old girl Malala is advocating for education for all and pushing towards non-violence because of her faith and her love for the others, but in reality she is just trying to fill the empty void that only can truly be filled by Jesus Christ. Sure Gandhi might have been the main one responsible for the freedom of the Indian people from Europe and might have saved countless lives through advocating fighting with none violence, but he was a Hindu when he died and thus suffering in an eternal Hell. After countless conversations of putting up with these arguments and trying to diplomatically reply to why I don’t agree with them I want to give you a definitive answer to what I think of this line of thinking. BULL SHIT!

I am tired of needing to argue whether humanitarians who have done greater things then I could imagine are in question of damnation. I am tired of talking to Christian friends who deny God in a sixteen year old girl who was able to forgive the man who shot her, or in a man who has spent his whole life teaching the importance of living for others, or in a leader who won a war through not being willing to pick up a sword or fire a gun.  I am tired of seeing Christians constantly give sin and “the devil” more power and influence then their own God. How narrow minded is it to say our God can only be seen in one religion?!  How naive is it for us Christians to say we have a monopoly on truth?! Not only does this hurt our ability to recognize God in others, it hurts our ability to recognize His absence in ourselves. Thinking ourselves closer to God then people like Malala, The Dali Lama, and Gandhi, allows us to feel good about living a mediocre life where we go to our Bible studies and Church services but don’t live our faith out in the regular world. It is so much easier to ignore people when you see them as the child of the devil instead of a child of God. Words like, “I believe in Jesus” become more important to us then feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the poor, and taking care of the sick.

Realize when I am talking about feeding the hungry, sheltering the poor, and taking care of the sick, I am talking about spiritual growth. We mistake doing these things as physical acts of goodness. I rather believe those who are committed to these things are people who have a spiritual urge to do them. Whether they know it or not, someone has put the need to help others in their heart. I watch someone like Malala speak about her faith in God and I can no longer help but see my savior in the God she speaks of.

This I know is blasphemy to some of my friends. Many of the Christians who have stuck through reading this are probably throwing my comments out just because I have not used verses to back up my statements. I don’t want to get into a bible thumping debate. For some reasons Christians think the world should put a huge amount of weight on what they say the Bible says, even though they think very little of the other religious books of faith. However, I do want to close this post with one verse. Genesis 1: 27, “So God created mankind in his own image,in the image of God he created them;male and female he created them”. Human kind was not created by the devil. We were not created in the image of the devil. We were created by God, in His image. We are all born children of God. Let us not forget we are seeing God’s creation when looking into the faces of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Atheists. And Let us not be so naive to think God isn’t seen in those faiths. I consider myself to still be a Christian but I am not willing to limit God and His wonders to my personal faith. The more I look into other faiths and religions the more I can see God in them. I want to learn from the scientist inspired by the beauty of evolution. I want to understand the peace seen in Hinduism. I want to look upon the true face of God. The only way we will be able to do this is if we open ourselves to all of God’s creation.

Leap of Faith

I remember a few years ago having a vision. I was standing on a high cliff on the top of a mountain and a voice whispering in the wind seemed to be telling me to jump. Logic was disagreeing with the voice. Logic told me if I jumped I would fall into the abyss and never be heard from again. Logic told me I shouldn’t be anywhere near the cliff, let alone considering to jump. However, part of me felt like jumping and seeing exactly what might happen. Part of me knew I would not be free unless I jumped. For some illogical reason I felt like if I jumped I just might fly.

This vision came at a time when I was leaving organized church. I had already deserted a few key doctrines held by the church, such as woman not being able to hold a position of leadership and the belief in eternal damnation where all who were not Christian were destined to go. I felt like I had already jumped. I was in the process of falling into the abyss and wondering when God was going to come and give me flight.

The actual jumping part was not hard for me. I didn’t know where I would go if I jumped but I knew I wanted no part of where I was at. I hated how we as the church seemed to think “faith” was just about making it to a building every Sunday morning and going to one or two small groups during the week. I hated the double standards of the church, how they preached for us to help the needy and love our neighbors yet had hardly any ministries supporting those areas. We were told to rebel against abortion but did nothing to help those babies who were being born under abusive situations. We were told to rebel against homosexuals and their lifestyles without ever trying to understand who those people were. The idea we were supposed to give our offering to support our pastors salaries also bugged me. Being told this money was going to God seemed to be slightly misleading. Very little of the money seemed to be making any difference what so ever. The organized Church was just supporting the constant routine of coming on Sundays and a few nights during the week to talk and agree with a bunch of like minded people.

So there I was falling into the abyss, finally liberated from all the double standards and hypocrisy of the Church. When was God going to catch me and give me flight? When was I going to finally be free? I had been waiting, and falling, for quite a while before I finally realized, my God would not tell me to jump if he did not already think I could fly. It was up to me to choose to rise up and fly above the mountains. Then I realized, the hard part was not the jumping or “letting go”. What was difficult was the “being free” part, aka– flying.

Letting go of doctrines and organized Church has opened up many things for me. I feel free now as if I can look into any religion and talk to any type of race or class and find good fruit in them. However, the hard part is being able to choose to take advantage of this new freedom. I personally find “flying” to be quite difficult. Maybe it is because I am scared of heights and rather have something solid below my feet so I don’t need to rely so heavily on God. Letting go of doctrines and structured religions forces one to need to rely on God more. If you stop relying on God you will just fall into the abyss. Flying away from where you have felt safe and going to new places with different philosophies and views is scary. During my flights I have seen some of the pain and suffering my ignorance has created. I have seen how blindly holding onto one view can deeply effect other peoples views.

We will not get anywhere unless we choose to let go and start relying on God. Being open is the only way we are really able to be free. However, it is important we do not be rebellious of one established view only to fall into another.  We also should make sure we are not jumping off a structured view only to fall into the abyss. Where ever there is life there is also Jesus. True freedom is only achieved when you are able to fly and see life in all the places it reigns. God never wanted us to get stuck in one point of view. God is infinite and we will always be learning more about Him. I have not yet come across a person who does not have some kind of knowledge on who God is.

If you want nothing to do with this world then jump and go into the abyss. If you want to feel safe and comfortable stay on solid ground and don’t jump. If you want true freedom and to make a difference then choose to jump and fly above the mountains. You will need to see things that might hurt and offend you. You will need to rely on a God who might feel all but absent at times. But things will not change unless we stop nailing each other down and choose to search out the one True God; who can be found in every person and religion and who is whispering for you to take the leap of faith and rely completely on Him.

(This post is part of a Synhcroblog I am doing. I apologize for being so late on this post, I was supposed to have it done about 4 or 5 days ago. Anyway, better late then never and here are the links to the other synchroblogs)

The One Who Rules

I have this wood carving above the head of my bed. It was given to me on my 13th birthday. In bold font there is the word Leadership. Below the word Leadership is a phrase in smaller letters, “If you command wisely, you will be obeyed cheerfully”. And to the side in even smaller letters is a verse from the Bible, it comes from Luke 22:26, “The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves”.

I have read this Luke 22 verse many times through out the years. It is the part out of the whole wood carving that impacts me the most. Why would Jesus say such a thing? We have seen many rulers in our history show their power through the fear and aw they have created in their followers, yet very few rulers have we seen be like servants to their people. It certainly does not seem we Christians see God in that way.

What I hear from most Christians about God is how powerful He is. I hear how aw inspired and fearful of God’s holiness we should be. God actually is described as a ruler who shows his power and holiness through His magnificent acts of destroying temples, parting seas, and creating plagues. The idea of a eternal Hell is used to lift God’s holiness up. We are expressed an God who can not bear to be in the presence of sin. We are shown a God, by most Christians, who will torment us for all eternity if we do not bow down and serve Him.

The image the Western Church has created for God confuses me to be honest. I do not understand how curtain qualities of God fit with our idea of the powerful holy God who can not bear the sight of sin. For example, how does God’s everlasting love fit into the idea of His powerful and holy wrath? Can a God be loving to us all if he sends most of us to a eternal punishment with no chance of escaping? Incredibly most Christians say yes. However, none have been able to explain to me how something like an eternal punishment is loving, they just claim it is.

I wish Christians understood the message they were spreading in regards to God’s holy wrath. I wish Christians understood how the message of God’s eternal punishment counters their message of God’s eternal love. Saying God loves us even though he will send most of us to a eternal punishment, is like saying a father is still loving to his son even if he throws him into the fire to be tormented forever. Any father who punishes his son in the way we believe God will punish non-Christians after they die, would be immediately locked away and called insane. Why does our criteria to what is wrong and right change when God comes into the mix?

I believe, like any dictator, God has the power to do anything he wants. Even though I would not consider God to be loving or just for throwing us into an eternal hell, He can do it if He wants to. He is God you know. I mean, why not? Why should we expect God not be any different then the many other kings and dictators that have come into this world and ruled with an iron fist?

The reason why I consider my God to be different is because I saw His example expressed on this earth in the form of a carpenter named Jesus.

Think about this for a second. Why would our almighty Ruler’s son come to this earth in the form of a carpenter and not a king? Why was it God’s son who told us to forgive our neighbors, take care of the sick, and love our enemies? Why did Jesus go among the people and perform many miracles?  Why did Jesus, the son of our Holy and Powerful God, wash his disciples feet? And, why was it Jesus who was sacrificed on the cross and not us?

The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.

Why do I freely choose to love Jesus? Because he first loved me. Why do I freely choose to serve Jesus? Because he first served me. Jesus was the representation of his Father God. He did not come here to condemn the world but to save it. Jesus expressed to us clearly the true power of his Father and it was not shown through temples falling down, seas parting, or plagues spreading, but rather through humility. God is our greatest servant. His commandments and His punishments are in service to us. God commands us so that we may be fulfilled. God punishes us so that we may see His love clearly.

The reason why this Luke 22 verse effects me so greatly is because it represents the heart of Jesus’ message. The verse represents the core of who I should be as a leader. My parents gave me the wood carving because they believed Leadership was a strength and calling in my life. It is amazing how humbling the idea of leadership has become for me. I pray that every step I make is in service to the people I lead. I pray I can be the kind of servant my God is towards me.

I can not express how thankful I am that the one who rules over all creation is the one who is creation’s greatest servant.

Christianty’s Blind Eye

I remember going to a friends house about two years ago. It was just a time where we were going to sit down, relax, and play the new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare game that had just come out. It had been a while sense I had played video games. However, I had played an old version of Call of Duty in the past and was up for this new challenge. We played multiplayer mode. All of us were in a deserted town and our mission was to find and kill each other. It is not like I hadn’t done similar things like this before. I remember playing the game Donkey Kong 64 where we all were monkeys running around trying to knock each other out by shooting bananas at each other. I also was a huge fan of Super Smash Brothers, where you play as classic Nintendo video game characters and try to knock each other off the screen.

Unlike prier games however, when I began to play Call of Duty that night I was unusually taken back when I was shot for the first time. It was by a sniper. I got hit right through the head and I very accurately fell to the ground with blood pouring out of my characters head. “Yikes!!!”, I said to myself, “video games have gotten more realistic“.

I came back as my character a few seconds later. I was bound and determined not to get shot this time. I was determined to in fact hunt down and take out someone else. I remember hiding in a multistory building and scoping out one of my friends. I shot him strait through the head. He fell to the ground lifeless and just like my character a few minutes before blood was spilling out from his head. I felt stimulated. Even excited. I in fact felt happy that I had just KILLED A MAN… that is….a virtual replica of a man. After spending some time thinking about it later that night, the high I got from making my first kill frightened me.

We played for a few more hours and I got killed more then I was able to kill. Oddly enough we were listening to Christian music while playing. The more I played the more I felt turn. There was part of me that was really enjoying the “high” I got when finding and shooting my fellow friends. There was also a feeling deep down inside me that was saying, “this is not right”.

I can not say that I stopped playing violent video games after that night. I remember going back to the same friends house a few weeks later and playing Call of Duty and the video game Halo, which also involved a multiplayer mode where we tried to kill each other. I realized that I was not getting any fruit out of playing these video games but rather I was becoming numb towards violence in general. It wasn’t like most war movies I watched. I was not an observer, I could not make the judgment to whether I was okay or not with the killing I was seeing. There was no good reason to why we were killing each other and when we died we did not stay dead and face the consequence of what killing really does. A few seconds after being killed we would be revived and then set out to kill someone else. Also, I couldn’t help but feel the graphics of these games I was playing were adding to my “high” in a very bad way. The killings were physically very realistic, especially on the Call of Duty game. My character would react completely differently depending on how I was shot. If it was by a sniper the impact was clear and precise blood shooting out of the entrance wound and my character lifelessly falling to the ground. However, being shot with a shotgun would send my character flying, blood spattering everywhere.

After a few years of thinking about it I have come to the conclusion that violent video games are some of the worst things we can expose ourselves to. I have also found violent video games have become the drug that is somehow excepted by most of western Christianity.

I have often heard Christians complain about how lost this world is. About how the world needs to stop participating in things like drugs and pornography. However, mindless video games and violence is usually conveniently missed. It is the area where Christianity seems to have turned a blind eye.

It is hard for me to justify playing games in general now a days. They can be very addicting and time consuming. Most games I see people play do not involve much thought. Most video games actually seem to function the same way masturbating or drugs function. For most video gamers it is all about getting to the next “high“, we are never satisfied for very long it is all about getting to the next level. Graphics for video games seem to be working the same way. Just getting knocked out by bananas is not good enough anymore, we need the game to be more real and more stimulating.

Video game companies are working relentlessly at making the gaming experience more realistic. We now need to shoot someone and have the virtual person react just like a real person would react. Detail is everything. A virtual grenade needs to have the same impact a real grenade has. The more real the game feels the more worth we can give it. This is why games are giving us background stories these days. In some of the Call of Duty games for example we are given a past for our characters. We are role playing an imaginary character with kids and a wife back home. The war we are fighting is now patriotic. We now have an excuse to get a high off of killing someone because we are doing it for our imaginary loved ones back home.

We no longer need to go and interact with the real world. The virtual world is real enough. However, unlike real life we are allowed to feel more empowered with video games. Instead of feeling like everyone else, we can become the alpha. We can become a secret agent or a powerful warrior skilled in the art of killing.  And, the best part is the virtual world is void of consequence. We can make fun of and demean someone without worrying about that character knowing who we really are. We can beat someone and even murder him without being arrested or reprimanded in any way.

The problem is that when we pretend to kill each other for entertainment we begin to become numb to the real effects of violence. Just like any other drug video games can be and often are used as a wall to block us from seeing this world and even God clearly. And, just like drugs, video games are usually completely selfish-consuming things. When we become completely self-centered we are never satisfied. The reason why we need to beat the next level or move on to the next video game is because we are never really satisfied with our “high“.

Christianity must be willing to look at all evil, not just the evil we feel we are isolated from. As pleasing as a game like Call of Duty can be it does nothing to further ones faith in God. There is a suffering going on in this world which we have all but blocked out completely through this numbing drug we find in most video games. God wants us to interact with this world not escape to a fantasy land in order to avoid it. He wants us to be stopping the violence going on in this world, not be celebrating it.

God’s Magicians

Some of my greatest memories are of playing outside with my younger brother. All we had was a tree fort and some oddly shaped sticks. At least, that is all we physically had. The other thing we seemed to have plenty of was creativity. With this creativity we were able to access our imagination. With our imagination we were able to transform our sticks into great weapons and glamorous artifacts. We also were able to transform our back yard and fort into hidden cities, wild jungles, and beautiful kingdoms.

At first we did not know what to do with our imagination. We did not know what to do with these cool weapons and magnificent locations. Both of us found out anything was possible. We could run as fast as light, we could fly to other galaxies, and we could destroy armies with a shout or a swing of our sword. For a while having no limitations was fun. I liked being a warrior from a far away land who could defeat any foe and get out of any sticky situation. After a while however I found the games outside to be a little repetitive. I felt that even though I literally could do anything I wanted in the games we were playing something was missing. Maybe I was getting too old. Maybe it was time to stop playing outside and start thinking more about reality.

I would have given up playing outside pretty quickly actually if something didn’t happen one day that changed everything. I was playing outside with my brother and he shot some magical laser at me and somehow I got hurt. The imaginary laser hurt me. I don’t know how. Maybe I tripped and physically hurt myself when he shot it at me. Maybe I just wanted to see what it was like to actually get hit by a laser for a change. But for some reason this pain I felt, this consequence I experienced, intrigued me. I asked myself, what if when we played games and used our imagination we created rules? What if one of those rules was that you get hurt when you get hit? What if you couldn’t always run as fast as light? What if some of the characters we played couldn’t fly or change shape? These limitations I created actually made me think harder and use more of my imagination.

Soon after my brother and I began to work on character development. We began to have stories where we started one way and the adventure we went on changed us. We used our frustrations with each others’ creative styles for the benefit of our stories. Nothing went exactly our way, we needed to deal with each others’ opinions and egos. I needed to think even more on how my character would develop based on the story elements my brother brought to the table. My mother needed to deal with several fights. We would sometimes stay outside for an hour or so arguing about a curtain character or story point. Because of our stubbornness towards each other we needed to develop reasons to why a character would be doing a curtain thing or how a curtain story element would help develop the story as a whole.

The process of creating stories has excited and fulfilled me so much that I have never stopped. I continue to develop characters and explore new worlds. I am actually perusing a career as a storyteller. I am a writer and a filmmaker. My God has given me this amazing gift, it is called the imagination. The imagination is where creativity begins. Literally anything is possible with it. However, God did not want me and does not want you to ever stop developing the imagination. Creativity must never stop growing.

I found out at a very young age that the gift of creativity is not limited to the imagination. If we can imagine it we can create it. Our world needs to see the fruits of this great gift. At some point while playing outside with my little brother I realized that my imagination was not limited to the back yard. I realized that the characters I was developing and stories I was experiencing could effect and even help change the world I lived in.

In a sense I think of storytellers as magicians. We make the audience buy into things that are not physically real. However, no one will be able to convince me that characters such as Walt Disney’s Pinocchio, Steven Spielberg’s E. T., and Andrew Stanton’s Wall-E, aren’t alive. Artists like Walt, Steven, and Stanton were able to develop their imaginations to such a point that they created living breathing characters that both made us laugh and cry. For me these Magicians were able to change my life with their creations.

I believe that Christianity should be built on creativity. Creativity is what makes us unique. Creativity is God’s greatest miracle. Let us not waste it. We must learn to develop our creativity to the point that it begins to impact and transform people’s lives. When it comes to the imagination, anything is possible. What we need to do is figure out how to use it. When we figure out how to use our imagination, we will be the light that so many people are looking for.

(This post was part of a Synchroblog I am part of. Here are the other links. Enjoy!)