The Gentleman Adventurer on Entertainment (Part 2)

Posted on February 9, 2010 by

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The second of three essays on entertainment. This is where it really starts getting “Down home” as we say.

Casting Down Every Idol

By Richard W Rohlin

In my last essay I showed from Scripture the importance of making sure our entertainment is God-honoring. In this essay I want to be a little more specific and address the issue of fantasy and science-fiction stories. Does God care about these things? Are they amoral gray areas about which Scripture is silent? Are the acceptable as long as they are portraying a biblical message? These are important questions and they need to be answered. Just what does Scripture say about what is and is not acceptable in a fantasy setting?

I want to make clear that the purpose and intent of this essay is not to split hairs or make a list of rules and regulations. I firmly believe that the Christian life ought to be about much more than just a checklist. Rather, I have written this essay with the desire to help others learn to glorify Christ in every part of their lives. I would prayerfully submit that anyone who truly desires a close and fervent relationship with the Lord must learn to acknowledge the supremacy of God in all of life – real or imagined. This essay was written with that goal in mind.

Harry Potter, the Lavender Brigade, and Idolatry

In his July 2005 newsletter article entitled “Harry Potter and the Lavender Brigade” (http://www.visionforum.com/hottopics/newsletters/newsletter.aspx?id=07-22-05) Douglas W. Phillips discusses a question which has far-reaching implications: is it Scriptural to favorably present immoral behavior in a fantasy setting? In his article Mr. Phillips uses the example of sodomy to illustrate the fact that God will not tolerate violation of His standards and principles in a fantasy setting any more than in reality. While the purpose here is not to repeat Mr. Phillips’ thoughtful case against the Harry Potter series of books, his basic arguments will be restated for the purposes of this essay.

  1. The seriousness of God’s prohibition on witchcraft and His declaration that it is immoral to practice dark arts make it unlawful even to pretend that witchcraft is a good thing;
  2. Man may not lawfully escape the righteous rule of God by entering fantasy realities in which the law of God does not apply;
  3. To create fantasy universes built on propositions which are immoral is to undermine the character of God Himself or establish false gods; and
  4. God holds man accountable for vain imaginations. This means that fantasy is only lawful insofar as it does not undermine the moral law of God.

In Galatians 5:19-20 Paul lists a number of sins which he calls the “works of the flesh.” “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Mr. Phillips shows in his article that man may not escape the righteous rule of God via a fantasy setting. It is the intent of this essay to demonstrate that this principle ought to apply to more than just witchcraft. This verse makes it clear that God hates idolatry at least as much as He does witchcraft, fornication, uncleanness, and hatred. If witchcraft is not acceptable in a fantasy setting, idolatry ought not to be so either.

What is Idolatry?

God makes His hatred of idolatry clear in Scripture – so much so that He listed it as the first of the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:2-5 tells us, “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God…

Scripture makes it clear that idolatry is anything that we put in the place that God ought to have in all things. He is a jealous God and he refuses to share his glory with another (see Isaiah 42:8). So far this Scriptural principle is one upon which most Bible-believing Christians will agree – idolatry is bad. Nobody except God should be worshiped. Nobody except God is worthy and deserving of all praise, honor, glory, and dominion. The worship of anyone or anything else – real or imaginary – is contrary to this irrefutable law of the universe and as such is immoral and accursed.

The Case Against Idolatry in a Fantasy Setting

If man may not escape the righteousness and injunctions of the law of God in a fantasy setting, and if idolatry is immoral and an abomination in the sight of God, then it follows that idolatry even in a fantasy setting is still an abomination in the sight of God. If the portrayal of sodomy and fornication as acceptable in a fantasy setting is immoral, the same principle must apply for idolatry. It does not matter whom the idol is – whether an ideological mindset contrary to that of Scripture or a deity inconsistent with the nature of God.

What is Idolatry in a Fantasy Setting?

Simply put, if the god of a fantasy setting – be it the imaginations and dreams of a heart or the mythological worlds given life by the pens of human authors – is not Jehovah God of Scripture it is idolatrous. If the deity of a fantasy setting is even ostensibly similar to Jehovah God but differs in the essential attributes of God’s character as revealed in Scripture, it is idolatrous. If the moral code of a fantasy setting is other than that found in Scripture it is idolatrous. God will hold men accountable for even the things in their imagination which do not glorify Him (see Romans 1:21, 2 Corinthians 10). All of these things steal from the glory Jesus Christ ought to get from those imaginations and fantasy settings. This is what makes them idolatrous.

Why Does it Matter?

When an author of a fantasy setting writes a story he essentially sub-creates a world. Of course that world is not a physical reality, but that author is really simply fulfilling a desire given Him by the true Creator of the Universe to glorify Him through imitation. God is the only being with the capability of creating ex nihilo, but He has instilled in His creation a desire to make things to glorify the Maker. The author is not unlike a craftsman. The craftsman can make something – say pottery – to the glory of God by deflecting praise to the Giver of every good and perfect gift when his work is praised. Or the potter can make articles of stunning craftsmanship to his own glory.

With a fantasy setting of any sort its author has the choice of either writing it to glorify his Creator or himself. When he denies God the glory in his fantasy setting by writing in a deity or ideological mindset inconsistent with Scripture, he is in essence stating that he – not God – is in charge of his little fantasy realm. Whether or not this decision is conscious, it erects an idol first of self and then of whatever is being inserted in place of Christ Jesus as the deity (or lack thereof).

Simply put, the whole question comes to this: who gets the glory? Does the glory even in the fictional setting of a story or a daydream go to Jesus Christ? Or does it go to some other god the author has written in as responsible for creation and life, and thus deserving of honor and glory? Anytime an author does this he essentially appoints himself the arbitrator of what is good and evil in a fantasy setting. If Jehovah God is Lord in our fantasies as well as our realities, then both must conform to His standard of morality. If a god of our own making is in charge then we get to decide what is right and what is wrong – we made the god, so we get to make the rules.

Objections

Several objections have and will ever be raised against this principle by those who are unwilling to let go of the things from which – however contrary to the law of God – they get enjoyment. Three of the most prominent are:

  • It’s just a story. It really doesn’t matter.
  • If you say that, you eliminate almost all fantasy and science-fiction stories!
  • God can still get glory out of it, even if it doesn’t have Him as the supreme deity.

The first of these objections has already been answered in full. To say God does not care about the things with which we entertain ourselves – real or fictional – is ludicrous. Scripture tells us we are to bring every thought captive into the obedience of Christ (see 2 Corinthians 10:5). The second of these objections has no validity; if something is wrong it ought to be abolished, no matter what the cost. This argument might be likened to that used against the abolition of the slave trade – people said the trade could not be abolished because it might be economically damaging.

The latter objections deserves brief consideration. It is true that something idolatrous may include that which is good and moral – it usually does. The Koran includes much that is moral, but that does not make it acceptable in the sight of God. The Koran still propagates a false religion and god which is contrary to Scripture. Mohamed is still a false prophet regardless of the fact that he may have had a grain of truth in a few of the things he said. Morals simply do not work without the God of Morality.

Furthermore, it is true that God can glorify Himself in the evil that men do. He is capable of this because He is sovereign. Even the wrath of man praises Him (see Psalm 76:10) and yet we know that the “wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). God is sovereign and will always bring glory to Himself. That is not the means of excusing something idolatrous which is in the sight of God immoral and abominable.

Practical Application

Scripture commands us to “try the spirits” (1 John 4:1). With this knowledge in mind we are obligated to examine our entertainment and prayerfully consider whether it erects false gods after the image of men and men’s ideas or gives glory to the perfect, glorious God of Scripture. This includes books, movies, daydreams, games, and any other fictional setting. If it is idolatrous, it is an abomination before God and ought not to form a part of our libraries, amusements, or desires. Be not deceived; evil communication corrupts good manners!

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