Game of Thrones and the Bible—a thought about violence

Posted by PeteEnns on May 6, 2016 in Old Testament The Bible Tells Me So violence of God 11 Comments

GoTYes, I watch Game of Thrones. So do you.

It’s a great storyline especially if you can get past the first 2 seasons, which are basically pornography—although, I also get how all that sets the scene for the rough and tumble world of Westeros and the corrupt run for the Iron Throne. But I digress.

I like good stories that, without your control, place you in another world where you become part of the story. You know what I mean. You identify with characters, imagine yourself as him or her, and wonder what you would do in this or that situation.

Good stories present us with an alternate world that we can enter and then, from a fresh vantage point, look back on our own and evaluate it.

So this is a small thing, perhaps, but nevertheless it entered my brain somewhere as I was rewatching seasons 1-5 to get up to speed for season 6.

You may have noticed [spoiler alert] that there is a tad amount of violence on this show. People are getting hacked to bits left and right as the normal course of things. Families are [spoiler alert] getting massacred at weddings, streets running red with blood, etc.

Violence is just normal, expected, like going to work in the morning and getting stuck in traffic.

And they are always calling upon their gods to crush their enemies, etc. It may be [spoiler alert] sacrificing your child to the Lord of Light (“the one true god”), or swearing “by all the gods, old and new”—just for good measure and to cover your bases.

All of this reminds of me of the military conflicts in the Bible, mainly the Old Testament.

Game of Thrones isn’t necessarily lifting biblical themes (and if it is I don’t know it) but more likely appealing to a genre of storytelling and to geopolitical realities as old as recorded civilization and, I would say, the norm for most of world history—”one of us has to die and we invoke a higher power against you.”

Watching all this on HBO GO (“It’s HBO. Anywhere.”) put the biblical stories into some perspective for me, though not for the first time.

I got outENNS_BibleTellsMe of my head for a brief moment and looked with more sympathy at the persistent geopolitical violence we read in the Bible. I “felt” how I would probably want to go to war with God on my side too if I lived in a world of mad kings and armies grabbing for land, where injustice can only be protected against by violence—and I would assume the same of God and think of God in that way.

This is why, when engaging biblical texts on violence, I’m not interested in judging their value or morality. Rather, I am interested in understanding why stories are told as they are.

Culture, one’s place in time, affects how we talk about God.

I really think it’s that simple.

Humanizing the Bible like this may introduce some theological challenges, at least for some, but so be it. That’s the down side (so to speak) of what C. S. Lewis calls “an incurably irreverent religion.”

This is part of the deal with a religion that has at its center an incarnating God rather than a lofty and distant one: our human cultures and limitations are the very categories by which we speak of a God who is not bound that way.

11 Comments

  • One of the season Blu-rays included a special feature on the religions of Westeros. Fascinating. I think it did say something along the lines of the “Lord of Light” religion being lightly modelled on medieval Christianity: monotheism, some stuff about resurrection, light and fire imagery, maybe even child sacrifice of a sort if you factor in the satisfaction/penal substitution view of atonement.

    I also loved two of the arcs in season 5 and how they could tie into Christian themes:
    – the breaking down of walls (almost literally) between two groups that hate each other, leading to a murder by people who could not accept a more inclusive reality
    – the alliance between church and state that backfires horribly

    • The Ironborn refrain regarding their god is “What is dead may never die”, which always makes me think of Rom 6:9 “knowing that Christ, having been raised up out from the dead, dies no more.”

    • I’m going to guess that yaddamaster is disappointed with your endorsement of you define as “basically pornography.” This is why I do not watch GoT – I find this aspect too incompatible with trying to follow Jesus. The cognitive dissonance I am experiencing has to do with the fact that I respect you as an interpreter of the Bible so when I see you having no problem with GoT’s blatant overuse of sex and rape, I have to join yaddamaster in counseling. In a time and place where addiction to pornography is reeking havoc in the church, in families, and on an entire generation, your flippant attitude towards it seems dangerous. What am I missing? Respectfully, JP

      • If the biblical stories were accurately represented on TV, it would hardly be any different than Game of Thrones in terms of sex and violence.

        Ever read Song of Solomon? Whoever wrote that liked thinking about breasts. A lot.

        “I find this aspect too incompatible with trying to follow Jesus.”

        I seem to recall a little comment (Mark 7:15) about it being what comes out of a man that defiles him, not what goes into him. You are, of course, free to obey your own convictions. Shaming and judging others for not acting the same way as you do is another matter.

        • “If the biblical stories….” >> yes, but does mean we should put David’s affair with Bathsheba into a movie and celebrate? Solomon, the Lord’s anointed, sleeping around and killing thousands – again – something to be read as a cautionary tale, not to be used as salacious entertainment.

          “Ever read Song of Solomon?” >> yes, but it’s generally in the context of speaking to one’s lover within matrimony. Not a brother folding his sister and penetrating her while the corpse of their illegitimate son lies next to them. (No, I have not watched)

          Regarding Mark 7:15 – Jesus is overturning the idea that food is what makes one unclean. It seems that Philippians 4:8 would be a better verse.

          I’m not trying to beat anyone up. I’m not trying to by difficult. But Josh stated my feelings exactly. There is an incongruity at play. I would not attend a church where a pastor admitted to watching GoT. A Christian scholar in many ways is a pastor to pastors – what scholars teach trickles down to pastors which then trickles down to congregations. So when a scholar I have followed for years, one whom I admire, seems to dismiss pornography when it is indeed wrecking havoc in our churches…….I’m honestly troubled.

          Am I wrong?

          • How much Game of Thrones have you watched? It doesn’t “celebrate” the misadventures of its various characters. It simply depicts them and allows us to see all their moral failings.

          • I appreciate your concern, here but it seems this is a very personal issue. For years, I was in churches which insisted all alcohol was sinful, in spite of verses where Israel is commanded to drink wine and strong drink before God with gladness. Often, to make this easy, blanket rules are put in place and called “holiness” and this will vary depending on the Christian group. This also goes for a host of other things relating to modesty. For some, a temptation to sin comes with the mildest exposure to a certain stimulus. I may experience no sense of temptation to things which the guy next to me cannot even think about. For an adolescent boy with raging hormones, and a 50 year old couple who has been married for 30 years, GoT may be an entirely different show. (I have not seen the show, only season highlight videos). Some refuse any exposure to the depiction of sexuality or innuendo, while others have no problem with that but shrink at any depiction of violence. As has been mentioned, the scripture is written to place images in the mind, and it can be brutally graphic in its depiction, even unnecessarily so.

            Also, the scriptures were read publicly, with all their sordid depictions, before the whole congregation, the children were not sent off to the children’s room

            • The apostle Paul would seem to disagree. As Christians, we live in community. Our sanctification is “worked out” in community – not on our own.

              I too grew up in a holiness movement. I was a pastor in a holiness-type church. I had recovering alcoholics in my congregation .While I personally have no issue with drinking alcohol and imbide somewhat frequently myself. But I would never do so nor advocate this in front of others. It’s not a sin – but it’s an occasion to cause others to stumble.

              But it would seem to me that GoT brings this to another level. It’s violence porn wrapped in a great story. Yes, I watched a few scenes I accessed. Full frontal nudity during rape. Incest between brother and sister. It didn’t take long after reading a few plot summaries the entire series is full of this stuff.

              This is simply astounding to me that Christians would defend this when even non-Christians have said this is enough and publicly disavowed. http://www.ew.com/article/2015/05/19/senator-quitting-game-thrones

              I appreciate your thoughts – I really do. I was genuinely curious as to Enns thoughts on this and how he justifies watching. But he’s not engaging so I’m going to leave this thread alone.

              Cheers

              • hmm…so you found out a dirty little secret about your admired teacher/scholar, eh? I know that feel…I was raised/conditioned to believe that drinking was a terribly unwise thing to partake in. Imagine my shock, when I discovered that my youth pastor was accustomed to imbibing on the regular…I wondered at that time if I should I have shamed him for partaking in something he apparently felt no condemnation for? I imagined as you do that, surely if anyone else found out about this scandalous detail of my pastors private life, why, his witness would be ruined! People would take license to do like wise, or perhaps even worse!

                Meh…I wouldn’t worry about, people are ultimately responsible for themselves. Of course, its only right to abstain from something if someone you know has a weakness to it, and is present. But uh…don’t you think admitting that you drink on here is gonna cause someone go on a binder? No, of course not, how can you be held responsible for such a remote incident? So why should Enns admitting that he’s a GoT fan cause someone to stumble….I dunno, I just don’t really think that fair idea. Further more…I’d be more concerned if this was an aspect of his life that he was NOT comfortable talking about. And anyway…before you knew he watched GoT, was his blog any less edifying and enlightening? I still don’t drink by the way…and not because I still think its an evil practice, but because I’ve decided for myself that it just isn’t for me.

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