The Corner


No, Game of Thrones Won’t Corrupt Christians

In response to Official Arnold

Michael, thanks for posting about Christians and Game of Thrones. Your question — should Christians watch? — goes to something important about how we view morality, virtue, and sin. I grew up in a truly fundamentalist church, where the answer to almost any “should” question was a swift and decisive, “No!” And that was especially true regarding entertainment. Our youth minister placed so many shows off-limits that it’s easier for me to remember the shows I could watch than the shows I couldn’t. But as I grew up, I realized how bad theology not only stifles our moral development, it unnecessarily strips us of joy in this world. Much legalism stems from the belief that the world can corrupt us, that without exposure to the world’s fleshly pleasures, we’d safely live thriving, virtuous lives.

But this is exactly wrong. We’re already corrupt — before viewing one second of nudity, before exposure to a single incident of television violence, or before our first drop of alcohol. Christ couldn’t have made this more clear:

“What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Or, in Christ’s summary, we’re “evil.” I’m not saying, “Well, we’re evil anyway. Might as well enjoy it.” Rather, the “corruption” analysis is not only mistaken, it represents a short-cut to false, one-size-fits-all religious lives. We’re corrupt, yes, but not all in the same ways and thus not all vulnerable to the same temptations in the same way. There are some people who should not drink. There are some people who should not observe some of the things featured on a typical episode of Game of Thrones (or numerous other shows), either because the material is too disturbing to absorb or to tantalizing to watch. Others can not only watch the show for the sheer enjoyment of it (yes, it’s possible to do something just because it’s fun) but also for the truly fascinating way in which the author and the showrunners work through a thoroughly fallen world.

So, each spring for the past five years, I’ve enjoyed a Sunday night ritual that includes a glass of bourbon and Game of Thrones in all its high-def, surround-sound glory. I’m no more or less corrupt for the experience, but I’ve enjoyed many good hours of great television, have learned a few things about storytelling, and I’ve admired the intellectual fortitude of artists willing to take a good, hard look at the reality of human nature. I’ve even learned some interesting moral truths about the risks of foolish honor. That doesn’t mean I’m better or worse — stronger or weaker — than any other Christian. I’ve got more than my share of vices and weaknesses, and God reveals more almost every day. But I do think there are Christians who are losing more than a little enjoyment and knowledge by categorically rejecting even the darker shows and movies. There’s truth in there, and for some it’s truth worth seeing.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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