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Game of Thrones, Sansa Stark, and Matt Walsh

Recently, Matt Walsh told Christians that now is probably a good time to stop watching Game of Thrones. http://themattwalshblog.com And he may be right. But I still disagree with him.

I’m not a prude when it comes to books, movies, and TV shows. But there comes a time when I feel like the producers, writers, and directors are making things as graphic as possible just because they can. I gave up on American Horror Story, because the sex and violence was gratuitous, sensationalist, and the story appeared to be centered around characters who were devoid of a moral compass of any kind. It started to feel unhealthy and salty (as addictive and empty as Cheese Puffs) and I couldn’t find a single thing pointing to God. In other words, the show was going to starve me spiritually. And, as a wise woman once said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

The reason Matt Walsh may be right is because Game of Thrones has gotten lazy about throwing in the perfunctory nudity/sex scene, and it has nothing to do with story development. However, it’s not titillating to someone like me. It feels more like the show has paused to show a commercial on how nameless, faceless men and women living in the gritty reality of something like the middle ages can still have flawless skin, flat stomachs, and no hair below the neck. It takes away from the fictional realism and removes the audience from the show. In other words, it’s bad art.

The reason I (somewhat) disagree with Matt Walsh is because the scene in question, the rape of Sansa Stark, was not in any way gratuitous. Only her bare back from the waist up is exposed (she’s fully clothed otherwise), and the act takes place off screen. It was not pointless sensationalism, either. In fact, it was the exact opposite. For the first time–after watching women raped and brutalized through five seasons–the woman/girl in question is humanized so much that seeing her humiliated and reduced to nothing but a vehicle for pleasure by the villainous Ramsey Bolton struck a chord with many. But this is exactly how rape works. It’s the reality of rape, and it’s about time someone has the guts to show it in front of such a large audience.

It’s telling, however, that our culture is more horrified that it’s made to feel horrified, because it’s harrowing to see the daughter of the beloved Eddard Stark abused in such a way. But that same culture is unconcerned with all the other young women treated as slabs of meat in pornography, magazines, music videos, and Game of Thrones itself. It’s not a big deal, though, because…well, we didn’t watch them grow up. We can’t see them as their fathers’ daughters. And….so….it doesn’t matter.

But isn’t that the definition of “gratuitous?”

I still love Game of Thrones, because I believe that all art, all good art, all art that simply strives–not to push an agenda–but to be excellent, points to God, no matter how gritty it gets. (The honest frustration expressed in A Perfect Circle’s “Judith” has more richness than the fluffy generic references to the joy of Christian-hood churned out by some Contemporary Christian artists.) Likewise, in Game of Thrones, every time a man believed to be hopelessly wicked starts on a path to redemption, it points to God. Redemption, after all, is a story only Christianity can tell. Those who tell it while rejecting Christianity are quoting a Master without referencing the source, but the Master’s work is still evident. (God always wins.)

Every time a man lays down his life for the sake of others in Game of Thrones, it’s retelling the story of love, the story of Christ. Every time the lofty goals of the heroic are cut short by treachery, it reminds us of how confusing and hopeless life can seem at times, that all our aims and expectations can be cut short by unforeseen circumstances. It reminds me of my own smallness, how I am just a grain of sand in the vast ocean, in a world that is merely a dot in the galaxy, which is merely a speck in the universe.

It reminds me of the immensity of God and his creation and how much of it I don’t understand.

So, no, I won’t stop watching Game of Thrones. But I respect the warning that Matt Walsh gives. It reminds me to slow down and consider what I’m consuming, what I’m putting into my head. I have stumbled many times in this area. The concern of fellow Christians, even if the initial sting of criticism is always unpleasant, has helped me say goodbye to several less-than-savory movies and TV shows, even books.

My advice to other Christians who are also Game of Thrones fans is to take Walsh’s warnings to heart, and with a grain of salt. Evaluate why you are watching the show. Is it enhancing your life, your walk with Christ? Or is it hampering it?

Then, if you will, remind yourself that criticism, something this culture fears and rejects beyond anything else, is actually a useful societal tool, something we all sorely need now and then.

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Insufferable Christians Part II – Christianity and Pop Culture

Most people don’t care for Pop Culture, and yet most people adhere to it. It’s impossible to avoid, in fact. Even those who make a point of hating everything that comes from Pop Culture are still affected by it, even ruled by it.

So what is Pop Culture? We know it’s not controlled by an individual or even a group of individuals. There may be record and movie company executives making decisions about what they think people want, but even they get side-swiped by unexpected trends in Pop Culture.

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image by sattva at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pop Culture is not a single entity. It’s a collection of ideas and trends, opinions, faiths, persuasions that could come from an individual, but they don’t. No one person controls these ideas. They are moved by emotions, by gossip, by wanting to know what everyone else knows, by wanting in on what everyone else is in on. Pop Culture, in essence, is a mob.

And there is nothing so mindlessly destructive than a mob. They can range from bad to worse, from property destruction to lives lost, to homes burned and physical altercations. A mob is incredibly emotional, incredibly violent, and virtually mindless.

But don’t jump the gun on me yet. Pop Culture isn’t quite the physical monstrosity of a well-inebriated post-super bowl crowd. It doesn’t commit acts of violence (not really), but it does have the same emotional mindlessness associated with a mob. And it makes things happen, for better or worse.

So where does Christianity fit into all this?

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Image provided by luigi diamanti from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Christianity, the religion of old white ladies with pursed lips, disapproving eyebrows, and a long list of DO NOTS (thank you, Dana Carvey) is bound to put a damper on any Pop Culture party. A mob ruled by emotions and basic, animalistic cravings is not going to put up with something telling it to stop.

But Pop Culture doesn’t hate Christianity for that reason. If that were the case, Pop Culture would hate all religions, all calls to self-discipline and restraint. Other religions like Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism also have a strict set of standards and often require far more self-restraint than Christianity. But these religions differ from Christianity in that they have a sense of otherness that’s easy to romanticize.

Christianity does not, however. Why? Because Pop Culture was birthed from Circumstantial Christianity.

What started as a subversive religion eventually conquered the world, becoming a pandemic that spread from nation to nation and–perhaps–suffered from the Bilbo Baggins lament of “butter scraped over too much bread.” Perhaps not. Perhaps it was spoiled by the sinfulness and laziness of its followers. Either way, it is now understood to be something that more closely resembles American prosperity than a radical, revolutionary faith that challenged–and changed–the world.

In place of that faith is Circumstantial Christianity, which has led us to a generation of people who have just enough knowledge of Christianity to own it but never truly understand it.

And like any petulant, overly-privileged offspring, Pop Culture wishes to undo Christianity, to overthrow it, to make up its own religion, one that doesn’t judge its wrongdoings. It has embraced all the forbidden things Circumstantial Christianity condemns and rages against that which brought it into existence. It is the byproduct of Christians of circumstance, the fruit that withers on the tree, the monster we continue to feed.

Aside

Insufferable Christians Part I – Christians of Circumstance

Please note: This entry is aimed at Christians only. My goal right now isn’t to proselytize non-Christians but to challenge those who identify themselves as Christians.

It’s no secret that a large portion of the American population considers itself Christian, 75% in fact. And yet I doubt 75% of Americans agree on more than one or two things. So how can one religion inspire so many diverse thoughts and ideas, so much so that it’s hard to distinguish some Christian activity and practices from secularism and pop culture, while other Christians are utterly immersed in their faith?

We all know there are a thousand different interpretations of the Bible, many that have led to split-offs, then more split-offs, to split-offs from those split-offs. Eventually, we landed here, with a vast number of Christian denominations sinking under religious bureaucracy. But what really matters, much more than any interpretation of a single Bible verse, is how each individual Christian got to his or her Christianity. By purpose or circumstance?

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Circumstantial Christians were born to a Christian family. They went to church. They read the Bible. And now that they’re adults, they take their families to church. They celebrate Christmas. They even pray.

But what they’ve never actually done is made any of this personal. Personally, at the heart of who they are, Christianity isn’t there. There’s a lot of other things, like familial connections, material desires, a need to please others, a desire to appear a certain way, to achieve certain things. But there isn’t room for anything else. Christianity is like the suits they wear to work on Monday morning, except they put it on on Sunday instead. It’s an outer layer meant to speak to those around them about who they are. It’s part of their identity, like the color of their hair or skin. It is not, however, at the core of their being.

Purposeful Christians come from all kinds of backgrounds. Some used to be atheists. Some used to be Muslims. Some used to be Satanists. Many were drug addicts, prostitutes, cheaters, liars, thieves. Many were in prison. Some were rich. Some were poor. Some had exciting lives, hard lives, easy lives, and normal lives.

But Purposeful Christians have all come to terms with themselves. They have all been to the place of death to everything they held dear. They’ve watched their lives collapse. They resigned themselves to the authority of God. They’ve witnessed their lives rebuilt from the scraps.

They are Christians at the core. It’s not an outer identity, as inconsequential as the color of their skin or eyes. It is who they are.

The important distinction between Circumstantial Christians and Purposeful Christians is that one is a passive condition while the other is the result of action. I’ve talked at length about the importance of being a Do Woman, not an Is Woman, and this isn’t much different. Do you consider yourself born into Christianity? Raised as a Christian? Are you a Christian because that’s what Americans are? Or are you a Christian because you’ve taken the burden of Christianity onto yourself and have actively pursued the faith?

Purposeful Christianity is a hard sale. It’s not going to solve all your problems or make you rich or good-looking. It will not help you lose weight or find love or cure arthritis. It will change you, however, what you desire, what you prioritize, what you love. It will not change your circumstances, and that makes it difficult to persuade others to pursue it, understandably so. Most of us want to keep ourselves and change the world around us instead. Because losing oneself is a kind of a death.

The price is worth it, however, because death is inevitable anyway, and there’s no hope of life for those who have not actively pursued Christianity. It is also worth pursuing, not because of a Heavenly reward–and if you’re clinging to Christianity just to get to Heaven, you’re doing it wrong–but because Purposeful Christianity leads to a life that doesn’t deteriorate and wither into dust.

Circumstantial Christianity is safe, yes, and easy, but it is also a deadly trap. A Circumstantial Christian is convinced of his righteousness and never questions it or himself, which leaves him virtually unreachable and lost.

Finally, it may be a stretch to say it, but I will anyway. Most modern Christian churches are built on members who are Christians by circumstance, not by action. Christianity is so embedded in American life, so widespread, so connected to wealth and privilege, that it has been watered down into a vague shadow of its former self. This may explain why many churches are failing. They spend time arguing what is and isn’t righteous, what is and isn’t sin, what is and isn’t justified. They spend time selling Christianity as a cure-all and ignore what’s at the heart of their members.

Insufferable Christians Part II, Pop Culture and Christianity