Imagine: you are a foot soldier in a paramilitary group whose purpose is to remake America as a Christian theocracy, and establish its worldly vision of the dominion of Christ over all aspects of life. You are issued high-tech military weaponry, and instructed to engage the infidel on the streets of New York City. You are on a mission - both a religious mission and a military mission -- to convert or kill Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, and anyone who advocates the separation of church and state - especially moderate, mainstream Christians. Your mission is "to conduct physical and spiritual warfare"; all who resist must be taken out with extreme prejudice. You have never felt so powerful, so driven by a purpose: you are 13 years old. You are playing a real-time strategy video game whose creators are linked to the empire of mega-church pastor Rick Warren, best selling author of The Purpose Driven Life.
Is this paramilitary mission simulator for children anything other than prejudice and bigotry using religion as an organizing tool to get people in a violent frame of mind? The dialogue includes people saying, "Praise the Lord," as they blow infidels away.
I have to admit that when I first heard rumors about this game a few months ago, it triggered my bullshit detector. After all, it sounds like something The Daily Show would have dreamed up on "This Week in God". It's all too real, unfortunately. This game, called Left Behind: Eternal Forces, glorifies violence as Christian virtue, and it adds a darker twist of bigotry and religious oppression to the mix as well.
The entire concept of this game is wrong on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin. Maybe my memory's faulty, but I seem to recall that it's been the Religious Right up in arms for years about the violence of video games. Some games are awfully violent and I find it a little distressing that violent war games are marketed to young people. Video games do glorify violence without consequences, which is why some are inappropriate for children.
I can't understand how any actual Christian would want to own this game, or even defend its gameplay. The whole premise of the game is frightening on a gut level. Eternal Forces appears to be a recruiting poster for a violent kind of Christian Dominion theology, which is not, as I've been told, a goal of which conservative Christians approve. Given the deluge of legislation in the past six years designed to make conservative Christian morality the law of the land, I'm not sure I buy the distancing from Dominionism claimed by the conservative Christians with whom I've spoken, but that's what they claim none the less. Beyond the Dominionist plotline, there is also a very jihadist flavor to this game; the in-game dialogue of "Praise the Lord!" following a swift kill is chilling. How much of the Christian majority is Eternal Forces representing?
I hope the conservative evangelical community thinks very carefully about how embracing this kind of message reflects upon the Christian faith. There is no way to morally justify a video game that glorifies executing people because of their religious beliefs or sexual orientation. Few forms of media are more "mainstream" than video games and this sort of game presents a very ugly side of human behavior as acceptable entertainment. Would the same groups embracing this game, such as Rick Warren's Purpose Driven evangelist network also embrace a video game replaying the Inquisition? How about a game re-enacting lynchings and cross-burnings? After all, once you've crossed the line that Eternal Forces crosses, you've embraced an evil that changes only by degrees. If killing gays or killing Catholics is good Christian morality, then what kind of killing is not?
As a side note, I have to take this moment to mention my abject hatred of Rapture eschatology. I grew up in a Pentacostal church and was taught from a young age that mankind would end in tribulation. I even watched movies about it as a child; movies about nuclear war, beheadings and my family disappearing as I was "left behind". It's a sick and twisted theology that gave me nightmares into adulthood. Perhaps, because of this, I see more danger in this "Left Behind" garbage than what really exists.
Then again, perhaps not...