This summer I am going to dedicate each Friday to questions that students have asked me about God, faith and such. Some of these questions come were forwarded to me from Christian students or their skeptical friends. Others are questions that I have been asked in some way, shape or form many times. I do not claim to offer the final answer on any of these questions, though I do hope to offer something helpful.
Game of Thrones is a gritty television show filled with violence and sex, as well as some fantastic storytelling. Whenever I talk with students about shows and movies we are watching, they are a bit surprised that I watch Game of Thrones.
My usual retort is that I read the books before they were cool! I remember heading to the campus bookstore to pick up A Storm of Swords during my senior year. That was not only the last good book in the series, but that was quite a long time ago! Little did I know at the time that this fantasy series I was slightly embarrassed to be seen reading then would become tremendously popular in my thirties.
But the nudity! Shouldn’t that be enough to preclude Christians from watching Game of Thrones?
(Interestingly, the violence is never really an issue as we American Christians love our violence. But anyway.)
The nudity and sex was the big reason John Piper recommended not watching the show last year. Much of the nudity is unnecessary and, I assume, just there to further entice people to watch. My evidence for this is the comment section of any review of the show, especially ones without any nudity, as person after person complains about the lack of skin. Shouldn’t the story be enough to get viewers?
At the same time, this way of critiquing art seems a bit too simple. When Christians approach a movie or show our response should be more thoughtful then counting bodies (nude or dead) and cuss words. To judge a piece of art as good or bad based on such tallies misses so much.
An example of a better way to judge art is seen in this great article: “Think Religion is Dead? Just look at Game of Thrones.” The author looks at what the story says about religion and how this reflects thinking about religion in our world:
What academics loftily call “the secularization thesis” is by now so dead it is almost disrespectful to speak ill of it. Here are its contours: Back in modernity, it was taken for granted that religion would gradually die away, replaced by the logical matters of reason and politics, something we should have managed by now. As we became more enlightened, we’d obviously become less religious, right?
But here we are in the 21st century, and religion shows few signs of slowing. People channeling and claiming the raw power of the gods is barely even surprising anymore. ISIS, for instance, is just our backdrop.
North Americans have an entertaining habit of working out our anxieties about religion on TV. And this season of “Game of Thrones” is as great a catharsis as secularization zealots can hope for.
The world of “Game of Thrones” definitely doesn’t seem secular: There are dragons, curses, undead frozen zombies, magical beasties of all sorts. But those things have only recently reemerged into Westeros and its world that was, until the beginning of the series, a rather reasonably secular age.
The political drama in “Game of Thrones” actually neatly parallels what goes on in the secular West. The capital lives in a kind of cloistered secular innocence, where games of power, intrigue, sex – oh, so much sex – have an almost innocent secular quality.
While the capital whores and gambles and drinks itself into comfortable complacency, the “White Walkers” (frozen zombies, for real) ride. Government, absorbed in an apocalyptic liquidity crisis (the parallels to our world getting eerie), dismisses reports from North of the Wall of this resurgence of presumed-dead religion.
When you watch a movie or show (or read a book or listen to music) do not turn your brain off. Think about what the message is, what this story is saying and how it may relate to the real world. This is part of what it means to “love God with all your mind.”
So, should a Christian watch Game of Thrones? I do not recommend it to people for reasons far beyond the sex scenes – it is an incredibly dark and disturbing show on many levels. Ultimately though, I cannot answer whether you should or should not watch this or that show. Every person is different. Some Christians are so disturbed by violent images that they cannot watch many popular shows today that other Christians are okay with. There are some things that are totally out of bounds for Christians, such as pornography. On the other hand, much “Christian” art is totally absent of sex and violence but the stories are banal and just bad.
The choice is yours. I think Matthew Paul Turner, in a response to Piper’s post, sums it up well:
Should Christians watch Game of Thrones? That depends on the Christian. It’s certainly not a show for everybody. At times, it’s violent. Sometimes it’s dreadfully slow. On occasion, it’s sensationalizes the sexual deviance of its characters. And there are dragons. But it’s also quite self aware. Many of its protagonists are very much aware of their demons. Sometimes they fight them. Sometimes they let them have their way. It’s very much a story about humanity (with dragons and zombie-like creatures called white walkers). And like most stories about humanity, there’s a lot of chaos, and occasionally, in the middle of chaos, clothes are optional.