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Should People of Faith Watch Game of Thrones?

Eyes Wide Shut: When Christians oppose art.

by
Andrew Klavan

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June 9, 2013 - 9:00 am
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An excellent article by John Stonestreet at Breakpoint led me to an excellent article by Philip G. Ryken at The Gospel Coalition. Ryken asked Christian artists how the church discouraged them and they gave him some very precise and, I thought, accurate answers. Here’s Stonestreet’s summary:

First, they said, treat the arts as window dressing for the truth rather than the window into reality it’s intended to be. Second, embrace bad art just because it’s “Christian.” Third, value artists only for their artistic gifts, but not for the other contributions they can make as thinkers and servants with a unique perspective. Fourth, demand that artists only give answers in their work, but never raise questions. Fifth, never pay artists for their work—take advantage of them in ways we would never do with plumbers or accountants. And finally, only validate art that has a direct salvation application.

These complaints seemed to be highlighted and exemplified by a well-intentioned but, to my mind, utterly wrong-headed essay by David Gibson of the Religion News Service entitled, “Can A Christian Watch Game of Thrones?” (which happens to be my favorite show at the moment):

Is there anything morally redeeming about “Game of Thrones”? Does the hit HBO series even have a moral vision…?  The appeal of the series seems bound up in the senseless violence and amoral machinations – not to mention the free-wheeling sex – that the writers use to dramatize this brutish world of shifting alliances and dalliances.

I call this wrong-headed not for its description of the show, but for its inherent concept of Christians as delicate flowers who have to be protected from a vision of life as it is. Gibson says GOT may be “depicting how the world would look if Christ had never been born – or what it could look like if Christianity disappeared tomorrow.” But that’s just silly. Does he mean now that Christ has shown up, people live long and prosper in honesty and evil never thrives? Is he demanding to be lied to about the nature of this world?

The very power of Game of Thrones derives from the fact that the author of the source novels, George R. R. Martin (an atheist, I believe), treats his characters as harshly and heartlessly as the real world treats the rest of us. If Christians can’t look at that without losing their faith, they better not watch the news either, or look out their windows, or leave their rooms.

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Top Rated Comments   
You and Egil said it very well: we are asking the wrong question. Does this program (which I admit I have yet to watch) help me love my neighbor, display more compassion or empathy to others, or deepen my relationship with Jesus in any way? It's a rhetorical question...we already know the answer. But it does make me feel better that I cancelled HBO months ago.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Well said, Recovering Lutheran. You are right to characterize "Game of Thrones" as 'what would have happened if Hugh Hefner had tried to make "Lord of the Rings."' For that reason, I would not recommend it to anyone.

I admit that I enjoyed watching "The Sopranos." I thought it had good characterizations and stories, and I liked how it was often politically incorrect. Yet I would not recommend it to anyone who would be offended by graphic sex or violence. I think "The Sopranos" would have actually been better without those graphic parts. And, as a Christian, I might have made a mistake in watching it because of the way that graphic sex and violence can effect us negatively. Art does not need to show every aspect of our lives in order to be good or great. Many American movies during the period of self-censorship provide good evidence of that. Just look at the many great movies which were in the theaters in 1939, and compare that year to any recent year of movies.

Lots of Christians today are overly concerned with embracing popular culture. They say that Christians need to do this in order to reach out to the world, or understand the world. But usually those are just excuses for them to continue to enjoy pop culture. I think in the long run churches decline and move away from Christ because they embrace parts of pop culture which they shouldn't. Jesus Himself said that He came not to bring peace, but a sword. He did not accommodate the popular culture of the time.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
First, let's get the obvious out of the way. "Game of Thrones" is not art. It is "Dungeons and Dragons" crossed with Playboy magazine, with a dash of "Days of Our Lives" thrown in. The plot is meandering and often pointless, the dialogue is tedious and sometimes predictable, the acting is mostly wooden, and the only thing that keeps much of the audience from tuning out is the prospect of a shapely actress doing the Full Monty. Most of the things that make science fiction and fantasy absorbing are diminished or absent in "Game of Thrones". If you ever wondered what would have happened if Hugh Hefner had tried to make "Lord of the Rings", you need not wonder any longer.

Klavan errs when he characterizes David Gibson's criticism of "Game of Thrones" as promoting the view that Christians are "delicate flowers who have to be protected from a vision of life as it is." Really? To be a faithful Christian is to face daily assault for his or her faith (Jesus was very clear on this point when He urged us to "count the cost" of being one of His followers). Usually, the very best a Christian can hope for is merely to be laughed at. In many parts of the world torture, imprisonment and murder of Christians is common. In public higher education - my gig, so to speak - you can proselytize on behalf of global warming, feminism, gay/lesbian lifestyle, and even Islam - but don't you dare mention Jesus. If you are an environmentalist, feminist, homosexual or Muslim on campus you can rest assured that if anyone makes you feel "uncomfortable" there is a vast educational bureaucracy to serve as the hammer to bludgeon your enemies with. But if you are a Christian you are pretty much on your own, with anything others may say about you taken down and used as evidence against you.

Instead of asking, "Should people of faith watch 'Game of Thrones?'", a better question for Klavan to ask would be, "Should people of faith even bother to watch 'Game of Thrones'"? I for one do not see any benefit in having my Christian faith constantly mocked and ridiculed by Western culture and then deliberately inflicting more of the same punishment upon myself in my own free time by watching "Game of Thrones". The Hollywood fatcats who make this tripe don't need my approval - or my dollar - to go on churning out this rubbish, so why should I help them pretend it is art? Wake me when they come up with a more inventive plot than Emilia Clarke getting her kit off.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (62)
All Comments   (62)
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What's going on here? I've always appreciated the way PJ Media was focused on presenting a conservative point of view on our life and times. This Klavan article, however, seems to me to be but the most recent in a creeping series dealing with matters religious. Please honor the separation of church and state in your editorial policy; there are conservatives out here who not only abhor liberal politics but despair at amateurish exegeses that see, through 'holier than thou' spectacles, the hand of God everywhere.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
@Egil
First, I limited the scope of my remarks to Western Art ( your original remarks concerned Western Art, not Byzantine or other Eastern approaches to art). So you remarks about Orthodox Church art are inept. They don't belong in the discussion. As for Protestant church architecture, there are a few good ones. But I admitted the rare instance, while pointing out the general rule that there is nothing much of significance. So again, you have not really contested what I wrote except in a specious manner. Merely bleating about "many beautiful buildings" rings an empty clang. Lastly saying that you don't like what you term "feminine-looking Jesus depictions" merely betrays your own taste. You don't like what seems to you to be "feminine-looking" stuff applied to Jesus. You certainly are entitled to like whatever you like. But if you dislike something, you need to come up with a better aesthetic argument than "it's feminine looking". That's another empty clang.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
“An artist’s job — even if he’s a Christian artist — is not to sell Jesus, it’s to depict life truly.”
I was glad to read this post and it has some very interesting points. My question is that there seems to be a dichotomy between truth and reality. The world shows plenty of examples of sin and humans as fallen creatures. However, truth and ultimate reality; God’s reality is a story of mercy, justice, and love. God is truth, but his presence is not always represented in the reality of our lives.
Should our depiction of reality be limited to what we have experienced in our personal lives or the state of our country? Or should we try to include God’s truth: stories of mercy and redemption, as true in our lives? Are reality and ultimate truth equally important?
(For the record, I think Christian’s should be concerned with portraying truth, not religion, in art. But I would like to know more about what that looks like.)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
(NKJV) Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things.

This is how I try to judge what I consume. I admit to failures of judgment sometimes (e.g. House of Cards) but I always feel slimed afterwards, and regret it.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I always hate it when someone applauds a show or art for "raising questions." We don't need more questions. What the world needs are some answers and a word from on high.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I was with you until you used the words 'on high'. What are you talking about?! We've been getting a word from 'on high' for 2000+ years and the only effect that's had is dogma-based interference in scientific progress. We're on our own and we're the only ones who care about us in a world in which "God did it" is too readily quoted if we don't know the answer to something. But if God is the answer to all matters beyond our understanding, then there's no need for questions, is there?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One last note, GoT isn't really for a Christian audience, it sources do not strike me as Christian and its ethos is not Christian. It's a great show, up there with Deadwood and The Wire (also not Christian series), but owes little to nothing to an explicitly Christian point-of-view. The worldview of GoT is largely pagan, or quasi-Zoroastrian, or flatly atheistic; I see nothing for a Christian family here and if I were a Christian, I would question the value of this message, and be very careful about bringing it into my home. No way I'd let my kids watch this bloodbath. It's a series for adults, with a complex and ambiguous message about the nature of man and the political structures that best compliment that nature. There are some serious ideas in this show; it's not just dungeons and dragons.

If a good Christian man takes ideas seriously (Alan Blooms whole message) then he does not just accept ideas just because the wider culture doesn't think twice about what trash drips into it's head. So I fully support religious people who flatly reject some forms of entertainment that they find objectionable. I personally think the show is riveting, but I fully get the line that has to be drawn, especially when raising a family.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I've noticed over the last few decades that there are Sacred Cows in pop culture which you criticize at your peril. Allan Bloom, who was a very smart, reasonable guy, criticized rock and roll in his book The Closing of the American Mind. And Wow!, was he raked over the coals for that! Not only by "regular people" rock fans, but also by huge numbers of academics and professional critics. Its funny how lots of relativists get very, very sensitive if you criticize some of their beliefs.

And many of those who are into "contemporary Christianity" also seem to be extremely sensitive and hostile about any criticism of their tastes. You are usually attacked as "narrow-minded," etc. if you point out that a female "worship leader" wearing very revealing clothing might distract many males in the congregation from more spiritual pursuits, or if you point out that contemporary-style "praise songs" don't have much substance compared to the old hymns. But Jesus made it very clear that as Christians we are to be in the world, but not of it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You're right about Bloom. BTW, I think he'd enjoy GoT, right up his alley. Actually, I think of his essays often when watching, especially those that comment on the relationship between Hal and Falstaff and the disavowal that follows as Hal becomes king. Bloom spent a lifetime thinking about Hobbes and Machiavelli, Aristotle and Plato--the contest between a political understanding of man as he is vs how he ought to be. Frankly, I think Machiavelli demolished the ancient argument so thoroughly, most have failed to even try and refute him; J. Maritain did, and not very successfully, but he did try. Game of Thrones has Hobbes and Machiavelli's fingerprints all over it.

One of the reasons I have little to nothing to do with any form of Christianity in my part of the world is the high tolerance for sheer ugliness among most churchgoers; it is a godawful hodgepodge of poor taste in almost everything: bad music and bad art; mawkish, sentimental, and intellectually insulting, the sublimation of ugliness. There is something terribly rotten in a religious expression of such low expectations--and the congregation hasn't a clue there might be something amiss.

I grew up in such a place: no one read anything, no one made anything beautiful, no one wrote or sang well, the music was ho-hum, and if there was any art, it was kitch. Their flag was the flag of bread. I left that protestant dead-zone and never looked back. From what I see here north of Atlanta, not much has changed; it's still an artistic wasteland; you can have no talent whatsoever but still be a Christian artist simply because you are a believer. I'll take that great, violent, pervert Caravaggio over every evangelical Christian painter America ever produced.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I understand what you're saying, uboroi. You make a great point about how "there is something terribly rotten in a religious expression of such low expectations..." Ugliness and, as you said, sentimentality, anti-intellectualism and mawkishness has taken over a lot of churches. The anti-intellectualism of some churches is an especially big problem for me too. When I lived in Savannah I was in a great Anglican church which was very Bible-oriented and also very intellectual. The two priests consistently gave thoughtful, interesting and substantial sermons, based on God's word. And the congregation highly valued beautiful, traditional music. That combination seems impossible to find elsewhere.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There is a profound artistic tradition within the Christian religion, unfortunately, most of it belongs to the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches. Ever since the protestors turned iconoclastic, they have created very little in the way of enduring art. Who needs art when you're going to heaven? Their idea of paradise is a buffet table with Thomas Kincaide painting of a bucolic little cottage and Amy Grant songs of praise playing in the background. Yikes. I hope there is segregation in the afterlife so I can choose to life someplace else.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The greatest music is probably Protestant hymns. Consider that People Get Ready wasn't written all that long ago.

With regard to Thomas Kincaide and Amy Grant have you considered the contemporary state of secular art/music/literature?

With regard to Christian literature, well . . . http://www.christianpost.com/news/harry-potter-author-reveals-books-christian-allegory-her-struggling-faith-29749/
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If you compare small, modest medieval church buildings with today's church buildings, the difference is incredibly striking. Not only were the great medieval cathedrals fantastic works of art, but also the small church buildings offered so much beauty to the glory of God. And a wide range of community members, from the very humble to the nobility, contributed to the building of the medieval churches and cathedrals, along with the skilled craftsmen.

Most of the churches built since World War II are modern or post-modern monstrosities. Thriftiness is a good quality, but constructing a metal, windowless, dreary box and filling it with childish banners is not inspirational, and does not offer up much to the glory of God. Its true that the Church is not a building, but in America we all have so many resources that we can contribute to a church building--if we're not artists we can still contribute money and/or time, and help create something of beauty, to reflect God's beauty.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The simple truth is that nihilism is boring. The depravity of man is boring. Evil itself is predictable, everyday, and unimaginative. I don't watch Game of Thrones because it offends my Christian sensibilities. I don't watch it because I find it tedious. Vanity, vanity. All is vanity. Where are the higher ideas? Where is the life that will live beyond the person? Nihilism is like food full of empty calories. Sure it may taste good every now and then, but in the end it leaves you as empty as it found you. That is not art.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Captain Future and the Space Emperor is pretty uplifting. There are some narrow escapes for the Futuremen but good triumphs and there is no sex of any kind.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I do not always have to have a happy ending but I do have to have a sense of something great / larger than just worldly ambition. I have to have something of the eternal.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And do you walk around with your hands folded in abject humility and anticipation of this requirement? All this 'eternal' guff is only in your head - for diversity, Man is the most interesting species on this planet - and your delusion and its causes are part of the proof.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Just about every serious artist and philosopher from the ancient Greeks onward seems to disagree. Who are the most scintillating and interesting characters on Shakespeare's stage? Edmund, Iago, and Richard III, closely followed by Falstaff, Hamlet, and MacBeth. The nihilists are the most entertaining lot.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think, that by now, we can agree that the devil has all the best tunes.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think it can be entertaining in small doses - a play, a short story etc. (See my last three lines.) However, a steady diet of that fare often leaves one empty. Seinfeld was a nihilistic show - a show about nothing. I can enjoy an episode every now and then but I cannot watch it for any period of time. I just find it mundane. Perhaps I am a bit odd in my tastes.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Good article. Mostly in concurrence.

You state however...

"Or should he ask himself whether Macbeth’s actions have not created this vision, whether Macbeth’s nihilism is not, in fact, a direct result of his immoral life, his violation of the rules of the moral universe?"

Although vice can lead to the ideology (nihilistic vision), you might want to consider that ideology more often leads to the vice.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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