By Alexander Carpenter
According to Matt Richtel at the New York Times: "First the percussive sounds of sniper fire and the thrill of the kill. Then the gospel of peace. Across the country, hundreds of ministers and pastors desperate to reach young congregants have drawn concern and criticism through their use of an unusual recruiting tool: the immersive and violent video game Halo."
I strongly suggest reading the aforementioned article as it raises crucial issues surrounding the sloppy-headed approach to youth ministry that has pervaded evangelicalism and even Adventism of late. (My favorite: our Center for Youth Evangelism's Jesus Loves Jeans.) Mainstream Christian moral priorities have been warped pretty bad when it's the Times and secular blogs that raise concerns about church youth groups' uncritical use of popular culture.
Apparently reacting to the history of evengelicalism's rejection of popular culture, now mainstream Christianity seems too hip to engage in much moral critique, except for telling kids that making out or drinking WILL mess 'em up, but remaining pretty mum on the effects of consumerism and martial imperialism. As the article notes, Halo 3 is rated "M" which means it cannot be sold to anyone under 17 and yet twelve-year-olds are encouraged by their churches to play on site. Of course the arguments pro include meeting people where they are and the constant need to save souls. However, except for talk about "good and evil" -- a tacked-on point accessible to any 3rd rate gamer -- it seems pretty clear that mainstream Christianity has sold its soul to the false marketing idea that we judge Christianity by its growth, not by its witness.
Without dipping into questions about virtual life vs."real" life, it seems that Christianity loses it's prophetic voice and moral clarity when it fails to distinguish between market-driven entertainment and serious questions about human existence -- not to mention this festering failure to foster Christianity-based, critical thinking skills. Or to interrogate at the teenage level the real issues of evil, not killer monsters, but like, ahem, the morality of killing through occupation. Did Blackwater really need to shoot thousands of Iraqis, hundreds of whom are innocent, in order to keep evil from catching a ride to America?
Furthermore, I'm not interested in the unprovable argument about whether killing in a video game dulls human empathy. What's happening as reported in the Times raises deeper questions about the small-mindedness that creeps into Christianity when we reduce faith to winning souls and growing churches. If the single highest goal of Christianity is to save as many souls as possible then the logic follows that any means to accomplish that highest of ends -- whether video game community killing or stretching people on racks -- can be justified if the score goes up. It's time that the evangelists and the growth gurus start thinking less about means and more about ends.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4093