I try my best to stay current and aware of what's happening around me, but when it comes to the Game of Thrones cultural phenomenon, I've fallen way behind. To date, I've watched a total of a few minutes of one episode while on a plane - that's it. It feels like I might be the only one.
Everywhere I turn, people are talking about this show. As someone who likes to be "in the know", this has been difficult for me. What's more, GoT's mix of fantasy and medieval era battles is right up my alley. So despite it being eight seasons in, I thought, "Why not give it a try?"
Before watching a show, I've made it a habit to run a quick "Common Sense Media 1” search to know what I'm getting myself into.
This is what I found when typing "Game of Thrones" into the search bar:
Game of Thrones is a big-budget fantasy series that frequently depicts brutal battles and graphic, detailed acts of violence (including those against children and women), as well as lots of nudity and no-holds-barred sexuality. The latter is portrayed in an especially iffy manner, with explicit discussion and depiction of incest, adultery, and rape. Strong language, including "f--k," is frequent.
I was shocked. I had heard rumors, but this was worse than I had imagined. What possible justification could I give for watching a show like this? And yet, my social media feed is filled with unapologetic declarations of love for the show by fellow believers!
Forgive me for sounding self-righteous but this is mind-blowing. How have our standards become so low? To be clear, I am not elevating my own standards nor proclaiming my moral superiority - I struggle daily with sin and need God's grace as much as anyone. There have been many times when I have succumbed to the flesh and watched things I shouldn't have - and I am not proud of those moments.
As a follower of Jesus, I strive to obey Him. I am convinced that His blueprint for life is not an arbitrary imposition on my freedom, but a guide given for my joy and flourishing.
That said, Jesus’ position on this is clear.
In Matthew 5:27-28, He eliminates any grey area in His standards for our sexual behavior. He says, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I tell you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
This revolutionary redefinition of sexual purity has left us with very little wiggle room or ambiguity on the issue. Sexuality is intended within the boundaries of marriage. Participating in, or viewing sex outside of the confines of a covenantal relationship is off limits and destructive for both those watching and those creating this content.
So, what is it that allows us to shrug our shoulders at the evident incongruence between what Jesus taught and the things we watch?
The most basic answer is that we are fallen human beings, living in a fallen world. We will be tempted, and sadly we will fall.
But I want to address a very dangerous, underlying mindset that I think explains much of the compromise in this area.
It's the "that's between God and me" defense.
Perhaps the most dominant idea in 21st Century western culture is relativism. Post-modernity replaced the deification of rationalism characterizing the post-enlightenment west, and challenged every view, every truth, and every assumption. Entire generations have now grown up skeptical of traditional authority (especially of priests and politicians) and believing truth to be a subjective preference.
The Church has not escaped society’s abolishment of absolutes unscathed - and how could it when our schools, workplaces, and entertainment continually reinforce this message? It's not hard to understand the popularity of this perspective. Who doesn't want to be in control?
In light of this view of morality, any claim that a particular behavior or attitude is "right" or "wrong" is met with a flood of anger - not only from secular culture but from within the Church.
Shockingly, moral absolutes are increasingly unwelcome even Christians.
The harshest criticism is not against the moral issue at hand, but the audacity of someone claiming to know the truth. You'll hear, "That's between God and me" or "That's a matter of personal conscience."
This is simply relativism packaged in Christian language. The subtext is clear: "You don't get to tell me how to live!" And this is true - I am not God, I didn't write the Bible, and it isn't my standard that is being violated. But where do we get the idea that our faith is strictly private, immune to outside perspectives?
Ultimately, God is the judge, and we will have to answer to Him, but the notion that our brothers and sisters in Christ play no role in keeping us accountable and helping us discern biblical truth is itself unbiblical and dangerous.
In Ephesians 4:11-16, Paul lays out the case for the role we ought to play in each others sanctification, and it's worth quoting at length. He says,
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
We are not spiritual islands determining our path. We are inextricably linked together as many members of the same body and should strive, with grace and humility, to help each other better understand and follow God's design for our lives.
To me, this includes our entertainment choices. We are called to build one another up and to speak the truth in love. The loving truth is not always easy to hear, and in the case of Game of Thrones, it cannot be argued that its pervasive depiction of sex, and violence for that matter, is honoring to God or even to human life.
As followers of Jesus, it should be our desire to know the will of God, and not to be "conformed to the patterns of this." We do this by renewing our minds, a process that can be subverted by the content we choose to watch or the subtle mindsets that we use to justify it.
It comes down to believing that following God's plan for your life is for your greatest good. Will we choose His path and the freedom that comes with it?
I am sure that my viewing habits are not always pleasing to God, and this is a work in progress, but I am starting to realize that when it comes to much of modern entertainment, I’m better off being “out of the loop.”
1Common Sense Media is a non-profit website that reviews the content of movies, books, and games in the hopes of allowing parents to make informed choices about what their kids are watching.