Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

I had planned to share this beautiful cover of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” at some point, but quixotically decided to record my own cover of the hymn instead. You see, kids, this is why we don’t let Adam near microphones.

My wobbly vocals are propped up by a dynamic piano arrangement from Silas Rosenskjold, who made it freely available on his YouTube channel. The photo in the video, snapped by my dad quite a number of years ago, shows the Basílica del Voto Nacional: a cathedral in Quito renowned for its architecture and hideous gargoyles.

I discovered this lovely hymn in a violent video game, of all places. BioShock Infinite, a first-person shooter, offers the most fascinating take on Christianity I’ve ever seen in a video game. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” is part of the game’s soundtrack.

Around the time I shared of how I almost left my faith last year, I found myself often listening to this hymn. Some of its questions seem to be aimed squarely at wavering skeptics like me.

There are loved ones in the glory whose dear forms you often miss; when you close your earthly story, will you join them in their bliss?

You remember songs of heaven, which you sang with childish voice; do you love the hymns they taught you, or are songs of earth your choice?

One by one their seats were emptied, one by one they went away; now the family is parted—will it be complete one day?

One question, the question, stands above the rest: Will the circle be unbroken? Will that legacy of faith, cherished by your loved ones, upheld by generations past, live on in you—or will you break the circle? Will you be the one to shatter this legacy of religious faith?

I know people who’ve broken the circle. I know people who’ve kept it whole. For my part, the circle remains unbroken.

As I work with the elderly, I face regular reminders of the transience and frailty of human life. As James Thurber flatly expressed it, “Even a well-ordered life can not lead anybody safely around the inevitable doom that waits in the skies. As F. Hopkinson Smith long ago pointed out, the claw of the sea-puss gets us all in the end.”

While the skeptical part of me can’t help but question the notion of an afterlife, I rejoice that death is a temporary separation, not a permanent one. I can hardly bear the thought of losing loved ones forever.

When my family is parted, it will yet be reunited one day—thank God.


This post was originally published on June 3, 2016. TMTF shall return with new posts on Monday, September 5!

Three Great Novels About the Silence of God

I could write pages about the silence of God, but it would all boil down to just a few words.

I don’t get it, and it troubles me.

Some of my doubts and questions about the Christian faith have been resolved. Some have not. Why does God let kids get hurt? Why does he allow us to make innocent mistakes? Why does he permit headaches and cockroaches and Fifty Shades of Grey to exist? Why, God? Why?

Yes, I know about sin and death and the fall of humankind. I know, darn it! Those things still don’t explain why God doesn’t, well, explain. Couldn’t he at least make his existence more clearly known? It seems unfair for God to penalize people for failing to believe in him when he seems intangible, invisible and… silent.

I don’t know why God remains silent. In the end, I believe because my evidence for God outweighs my evidence against him. There remain dark doubts and unanswered questions.

Since I don’t have any answers regarding the silence of God, here are what three great novels have to say upon the subject.

Be ye warned: Here there be spoilers for SilenceThe Chosen and The Man Who Was Thursday.

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

The Man Who Was ThursdayThe Man Who Is Thursday is the exciting tale of Gabriel Syme, a poet-turned-detective, and his attempts to stop a band of nihilistic terrorists. There’s a sword duel, and some thrilling chases, and at least one good discussion of poetry.

The novel takes a turn for the surreal in its final chapters, in which Syme and his companions realize their elaborate intrigues against the terrorist organization were actually orchestrated by its leader, the enigmatic man known only as Sunday.

Syme and his friends demand to know why Sunday, who is apparently not an evil man, allowed them to suffer so much pain and fear in their pursuit of him. One of Syme’s companions says, with the simplicity of a child, “I wish I knew why I was hurt so much.”

Sunday does not reply.

The silence is broken by the only sincere member of the nihilist organization, who accuses Syme of apathy and ignorance. It is then Syme realizes that his pain qualifies him to refute all accusations. He and his friends suffered by Sunday’s silence. No matter how wretched or tormented their accuser, the agonies they endured bought them the right to reply, “We also have suffered.”

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

The Chosen

The Chosen tells the story of two young Orthodox Jews in New York during the final years of World War II. During a baseball game, Reuven Malter meets a gifted student named Danny Saunders. They become friends, despite their dissimilar cultures and upbringings within the Orthodox Jewish community.

Reuven is astonished to learn Danny’s father, Reb Saunders, speaks to him only during religious discussions. At other times, Reb Saunders says nothing to his son. This cold silence baffles Danny and Reuven. What kind of father refuses to talk with his children?

The novel follows Danny and Reuven as they grow up and progress in their studies. In the wider world, the horrors of the Holocaust are revealed and Jews fight for the restoration of Israel as a nation. At last, as young men, Danny and Reuven learn the truth behind the silence of Reb Saunders.

Reb Saunders knew his son’s intelligence outweighed his concern for others. In order to teach Danny compassion, Reb Saunders distanced himself from his son. Silence, he hoped, would give Danny an understanding of pain and a greater empathy toward other people.

Danny had learned compassion, and so the silence was broken. Speaking of Reb Saunders, Danny tells Reuben at the end of the novel, “We talk now.”

Silence by Shusaku Endo

Silence

This is it: the definitive novel about the silence of God. Heck, the book is even titled Silence. This gloomy masterpiece tells of Sebastião Rodrigues, a Portuguese Jesuit sent to seventeenth-century Japan. He hopes to encourage the tiny population of Japanese Christians, and is willing to die for his mission.

What he doesn’t expect is to watch others die for his mission. When he is captured by Japanese authorities, Rodrigues is not martyred. Instead, he watches as the authorities martyr other Christians because of his religion. Rodrigues expected to suffer for his faith. He did not imagine he would cause others to suffer for it.

In this darkness and brutality, God says nothing. There is only silence.

At last, as Rodrigues recants his faith to spare the lives of other Christians, the image of Christ he is forced to trample seems to break the silence: “Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample! It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.”

For me, this is the most powerful answer in these three novels to the question of God’s silence. God may seem silent, but he has shattered the silence once for all with a single word—rather, a single Word: the Word who became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Whatever the sufferings in this world, Jesus shared them. However little God may seem to say to us now, Jesus said plenty.

Do I understand the silence of God? No. I do, however, find great comfort in these books, which offer tentative answers to a great and terrible question.


This post was originally published on January 3, 2014. TMTF shall return with new posts on Monday, September 5!

465. The Five-Step Writing Conference

I recently attended a professional writing conference. It was… well, it was a lot of things. I’ll outline my experience at the conference in five steps.

1. Early Misgivings

I hit the road a few days ago. My car, Eliezer, is dependable but dilapidated—after all, you can’t spell trusty without rusty. Eliezer lacks such vain frills as air conditioning. I call it a car, but it’s more like an oven on wheels. Thus it was a hot, disheveled Adam who arrived at the conference, sweating like a traveler in the mighty Kalahari, and having second thoughts.

Kalahari

Artist interpretation of writing conference weather.

I should also mention that my jeans kept creeping stealthily toward my ankles. This utterly baffled me. These jeans had previously fit me just fine, and their tag claimed they were my size. They insisted nonetheless on their downward trajectory. I found myself frequently hitching up my jeans until I was able to change into another pair in the privacy of my room.

The conference was held on the campus of a university. It gave me repeated flashbacks to my own college career, which began with severe depression and ended with existential dread. Speaking of which….

2. Crushing Despair

As I attended the conference’s early sessions—which were excellent, by the way—I slid slowly but inexorably into depression, guilt, hopelessness, and acute social anxiety.

This really surprised me. I suffer from chronic depression, as you’ve probably noticed if you’ve followed my blog for more than five minutes, but it usually comes and goes gradually. At the writing conference, it crushed me with the steady force of a steamroller. I was also surprised by the social anxiety. I’m an introvert, but I can usually deal with social events.

The guilt and hopelessness were worst of all.

Depressed Adam

Artist interpretation of depressed Adam. (In case you were wondering, I didn’t actually make faces like this at the writing conference… I don’t think.)

I was surrounded by people with serious aspirations of professional writing, and people who actually write professionally. By comparison, I’m half a writer. I know a few things about writing as a craft, but hardly anything about writing as a profession.

In those early sessions of the conference, with their unfiltered insights into a tough and competitive industry, my bravado and optimism were quick to evaporate. I felt seriously out of my depth. I felt like a fraud.

3. Redeeming Peace

As a pragmatic (and sadly skeptical) follower of Christ, my faith leans more toward intellect than emotion. I don’t often have those moments of raw emotion sometimes called “religious experiences,” and I talk about them still less often, but halfway through the conference, I found one.

Having retreated to my room (which I had formally christened the Introvert Cave), I switched on the air conditioner, sat on the bed, and prayed. I told God that as I held on to faith in him, I had to believe he had brought me to that conference for a reason. I asked him to help me find it, and to see him at work.

I immediately felt a profound peace—a sudden, absolute conviction that everything was going to be okay. This peace carried me through the rest of the day, redeeming it, and giving me a little hope.

4. Shower Misadventures

The showers at the conference deserve a mention. They were lined up along a hallway in a communal bathroom, and guarded from the public eye only by flimsy and ill-fitted curtains. After a long day in the summer sun, I really needed a rinse. I had no choice. Casting off my misgivings, I cast off my clothes. I would not be conquered by a public shower.

I immediately ran into another problem. It was my old enemy, the Tiny Hotel Soap.

My old enemy

We meet again.

Have you ever stayed in a hotel and tried washing yourself with those itty-bitty bars of soap? It’s impossible. The Tiny Hotel Soap provided at the conference was roughly the size and shape of a saltine cracker, with the density of carbon steel. I tried to work up a lather with the Tiny Hotel Soap. It would have been easier to work up a lather with a soap-sized slab of sculpted marble.

I finally concluded my shower, only to realize I had forgotten my towel. (Forgive me, Douglas Adams.) It was a wet and abashed Adam who sneaked back to his room. It was a good thing God had given me peace, or that shower may just have broken me.

5. Caffeinated Resignation

I blundered through the rest of the conference with a kind of resigned determination, fueled by coffee. I learned a lot, actually, and took pages of notes. I also hung out with an old friend, a fellow blogger, and a couple of nice ladies from Argentina, so that was cool.

In the end, the writing conference made me seriously question my vague pretensions of someday being a professional writer. It would be a radical shift, and would take tons of hard work and research for no guaranteed payoff. If I ever make that plunge, I’ll have to go all in.

The conference also reminded me that there are so many other dedicated writers out there, many of whom are admirably ambitious, successful, and gifted. I must keep a healthy sense of perspective. I am, to echo Gandalf, only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!

Gandalf

When in doubt, quote Tolkien or Doctor Who.

A speaker at the conference made a good point: “A hobbyist writes for himself. A professional writes for his audience.” I’m a hobbyist. I write for fun, and God only knows whether that will ever change. If it does, I now have a slightly clearer idea of what to expect. If it doesn’t, I now have some idea of what I’m missing.

Either way, it’s nice to know.

I never tire of quoting the good Doctor from Doctor Who. (My readers probably tire of it, but I don’t.) As he might have put it, while the conference itself was excellent, my experiences there were a pile of good things and bad things. The good things didn’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things didn’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.

And the conference definitely added to my pile of good things.

459. That Time I Started a Church Ministry by Accident

Today’s story is a testimony, I suppose, but not mine. It’s the story of a pastor who founded a ministry, and of a congregation that supported it. My part in the story is actually very small. It’s kind of an anti-testimony, really.

Once upon a time, my laziness inspired the creation of a church ministry called Change the World. It gathers donations in the form of spare change and small bills, and then uses this money to support charity projects across the world.

At one point, when I was in college, I acquired about forty-five dollars in loose change. That’s a lot of coins, guys. Seriously, that’s like five flipping pounds of money, stuffed haphazardly into a sagging resealable bag.

Spare change

Spare change is kind of a nuisance, really.

This little fortune was more of a nuisance than a blessing. Where was I going to spend five pounds of change? I couldn’t use it at a store or restaurant—no sane server or salesclerk would accept a bag of coins. I was too lazy to put them in paper wrappers for deposit at the bank. How was I going to get rid of them?

In the end, I sheepishly handed over the bag of change to my pastor. In my defense, I was transparent about my own laziness. Giving the money to my church was the easiest option; I didn’t pretend otherwise.

My pastor—I’ll call him Socrates—accepted the coins, apparently unfazed by my laziness and ineptitude at being a capable adult. Instead, he realized how much spare change people tend to have scattered around, and decided to redeem it for the kingdom of heaven.

Together with the church’s leadership team, Socrates founded Change the World, which redirects donations of loose change toward a new charitable project every month. A number of church members supported the project enthusiastically. It continues to this day.

In college, I served that church in a number of capacities, from mowing its lawn to running its soundboard to whacking bongo drums during its worship services. I find it hilarious that my only enduring impact on that church was not only completely accidental, but openly lazy.

As Linus from the Peanuts comic once put it, “There’s a lesson to be learned here somewhere, but I don’t know what it is.”

A lesson here somewhere

Peanuts by Charles Schulz.

My accidental involvement in the Change the World project reminds me of a story from the book of Numbers. It’s the tale of the wicked prophet Balaam, who was sharply criticized by a donkey. (It’s a funny story.) That donkey probably wasn’t planning to get involved in the work of God, but then neither was I.

My legacy of laziness endures to this day. I hope it has done the world a little good.

Welp, I’m going to take a nap or something.

455. Thoughts on Extremism

A few days ago, John Cleese showed up on my Twitter homepage—a video of him, I mean, not the man himself. (That would have been pretty cool, though.) I think the video, a brief discussion of extremism, is worth sharing.

Extremism is a vague term, but it generally describes a cause or belief—or, alternatively, support for a cause or belief—so extreme as to be harmful or irrational.

In just a few words, Mr. Cleese lists benefits of extremism, which are more or less synonymous with some of its flaws:

Well, the biggest advantage of extremism is that it makes you feel good, because it provides you with enemies.

Let me explain. The great thing about having enemies is that you can pretend that all the badness in the whole world is in your enemies, and all the goodness in the whole world is in you. Attractive, isn’t it?

So if you have a lot of anger and resentment in you anyway, and you therefore enjoy abusing people, then you can pretend that you’re only doing it because these enemies of yours are such very bad persons! And if it wasn’t for them, you’d actually be good-natured, and courteous, and rational, all the time. So if you want to feel good, become an extremist!

That’s a problem with extremism, isn’t it? It’s often nothing more than an oversimplification, or a deflection of blame. It deflects the blame for vast, complicated problems toward anyone with whom the extremist strongly disagrees. This enables both wrath and pride, allowing an extremist to act like a jerk and feel like a saint: an appalling hypocrisy.

Most extremists are easily controlled. They want to deflect blame on others. If someone tells them others are to blame, most extremists are only too eager to agree. After all, it’s satisfying to point out a speck in someone else’s eye. It’s much harder to acknowledge that I might have something in my own.

Extremism is alive and well in the world today. It provokes conflicts great and small, from massive terrorist attacks to petty political insults. I like to think I’m not an extremist, but Mr. Cleese’s video touches a nerve—I understand the mindset he describes. It’s easier to blame others than to figure out to whom the blame really belongs… especially if it ends up belonging to me.

It’s so easy to point fingers, isn’t it?

I mean, just for example, I could say, “Those extremists! They ruin everything, and I have nothing but contempt for them.”

If I said this, I would admittedly make a valid point: Extremists generally make the world a worse place. However, I would also overlook a point of great significance: By griping about extremists, I’m not exactly making the world any better, am I?

It begs the question: How is my contempt for extremists any different than their contempt for others?

It’s all rather complicated. The world tends to be a mess, after all, which may be why Jesus Christ made a point of summing up so neatly: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

This doesn’t mean that I must accept every point of view. What it means is that I must do my best to respect and understand everyone, even if I don’t agree with them. Disagreement is fine. Extremism—demonizing those who disagree—is never acceptable.

On a personal note, I do tend to blame my typewriter monkeys for all of this blog’s problems. Maybe, instead of deflecting that blame, I should acknowledge that some of it belongs to me. I make mistakes, too. Maybe I should try to respect and understand my monkeys instead of assuming the worst of them.

I’ll think about it.

452. Prayer Requests?

It occurred to me lately that I’ve never invited my readers to submit prayer requests so that I could, y’know, pray for ’em specifically.

Today seems like a good day to make that right. How, dear reader, can I pray for you? There’s no catch, I won’t charge a cent, and there’s no fine print. I promise to pray for readers who submit requests, and to keep requests private. (I’ll also try to keep my use of the word just to a minimum; that’s one I wouldn’t mind seeing banished.)

I believe prayer can be powerful and effective, like a water-type move against a fire-type Pokémon. Okay, I admit that analogy is a bit far-fetched… or, dare I say, a bit Farfetch’d. (Wow, that pun was esoteric and lame. I’m so, so sorry.)

Adam used Pray

Life should be more like Pokémon… or maybe it shouldn’t. I dunno.

If I can pray for you in any way, leave a comment or tweet at me—or, if you want to keep your request private, send me a Facebook message or use TMTF’s Contact page.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get the Pokémon anime theme out of my head. Pray for me, guys.

446. Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

I had planned to share this beautiful cover of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” at some point, but quixotically decided to record my own cover of the hymn instead. You see, kids, this is why we don’t let Adam near microphones.

My wobbly vocals are propped up by a dynamic piano arrangement from Silas Rosenskjold, who made it freely available on his YouTube channel. The photo in the video, snapped by my dad quite a number of years ago, shows the Basílica del Voto Nacional: a cathedral in Quito renowned for its architecture and hideous gargoyles.

I discovered this lovely hymn in a violent video game, of all places. BioShock Infinite, a first-person shooter, offers the most fascinating take on Christianity I’ve ever seen in a video game. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” is part of the game’s soundtrack.

Around the time I shared of how I almost left my faith last year, I found myself often listening to this hymn. Some of its questions seem to be aimed squarely at wavering skeptics like me.

There are loved ones in the glory whose dear forms you often miss; when you close your earthly story, will you join them in their bliss?

You remember songs of heaven, which you sang with childish voice; do you love the hymns they taught you, or are songs of earth your choice?

One by one their seats were emptied, one by one they went away; now the family is parted—will it be complete one day?

One question, the question, stands above the rest: Will the circle be unbroken? Will that legacy of faith, cherished by your loved ones, upheld by generations past, live on in you—or will you break the circle? Will you be the one to shatter this legacy of religious faith?

I know people who’ve broken the circle. I know people who’ve kept it whole. For my part, the circle remains unbroken.

As I work with the elderly, I face regular reminders of the transience and frailty of human life. As James Thurber flatly expressed it, “Even a well-ordered life can not lead anybody safely around the inevitable doom that waits in the skies. As F. Hopkinson Smith long ago pointed out, the claw of the sea-puss gets us all in the end.”

While the skeptical part of me can’t help but question the notion of an afterlife, I rejoice that death is a temporary separation, not a permanent one. I can hardly bear the thought of losing loved ones forever.

When my family is parted, it will yet be reunited one day—thank God.

443. Good Things, Bad Things

While this blog was on break, I went to a wedding. It was splendid. I’m not the sort of person who enjoys weddings, but this one was all right.

The tables at which the wedding guests were seated were named after fantasy lands, from Hyrule to Narnia to Middle-earth. I sat at the Redwall table, drinking coffee and stacking the paper cups like a conqueror piling up the skulls of his vanquished foes. I chatted with relatives, some of whom I hadn’t seen in many years.

The whole stacking-empty-cups-like-skulls-of-slain-enemies thing is a habit of mine.

All around me rang the joyous hubbub of dozens and dozens of people, all gathered to celebrate the union of a man and a woman who really love each other. I may not care much for weddings, but heck, I’m not made of stone. It was a lovely evening made special by lovely people, and also by cake and coffee.

For a few months, I’ve struggled more often with depression, but on that evening, it all seemed very far away.


I love road trips. A good road trip is a breath of fresh air—no, a blast of fresh air. It blows away the dust and cobwebs of tired routines and lingering anxieties, making even familiar things seem new again.

My younger brother and I took a road trip to attend that wedding. (Due to scheduling difficulties, we had to miss another wedding last week, which is too bad.) We followed back roads through woods and meadows, along rivers, and past quaint little towns. An iron sky stretched over us. Rain spattered the windshield, but we were wrapped in warm clothes, with coffee drinks at our elbows, comfortably braced for our travels.

Eliezer

There’s nothing like a road trip on a wet day.

At one point, as I lounged in the passenger seat, I spread out my duster overcoat like a blanket. “If you need me,” I told my brother, “I’ll be in my duster cave.” With that, I dove into warm darkness, where I spent a few cozy minutes thinking of nothing in particular.

After the wedding, as we drove homeward in deepening gloom, I made up for lost time by thinking hard about my plans for my book project, the Lance Eliot saga. I bounced some ideas off my bro, who listened patiently and made encouraging noises.

After years of feeling stressed and guilty about my book project, I felt something different. I felt optimistic. I felt excited. “Lance Eliot’s story is going to be so much better this time,” I told myself, “assuming I ever get around to writing the damned thing.”

I don’t know whether I’ll ever finish Lance Eliot’s story, but after that trip, I felt eager to try.


Those days of rest and travel were like a strong wind, blowing away the dust, and breathing hope into my life. I appreciated the break from blogging. It was good to spend a few hours on the road, and great to spend time with family. I’m encouraged and refreshed.

However, a cynical part of me can’t help but wonder: How long before the dust settles again? In the past few days, familiar shadows of gloom and anxiety have crept up on me at odd moments. Has anything really changed? What happens when my hopefulness wears off?

I don’t know.


C.S. Lewis once wrote,

Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.

Blogging pro tip: When in doubt, quote C.S. Lewis. Works every time.

My hope and courage are more dependent on my moods than I feel comfortable admitting. When times are good, I tend to assume they’ll stay that way. When times are bad, I lose hope of ever seeing better ones. I get so caught up in the moment that I can hardly imagine the future being any different than the here and now.

TMTF returns today after a two-week break. I took that break because of some bad days, and during those two weeks I had some really good ones.

Life is full of good and bad things. I once wrote of a lesson from Doctor Who, in which the good Doctor says,

The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.

I tend to let these good and bad things dictate my moods, and thus, much of my life. I’m trying to learn to enjoy good things without becoming overoptimistic, and to endure bad ones without losing hope. As it is written, “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.”

God is there, in the good times and the bad. So are many of the people whom I love most, and that’s a comfort.

In other news, TMTF is back to updating regularly. We apologize for the inconvenience.

440. Christianity in Video Games

In my last post, I wondered whether video games can be art. They’re fun, sure, but can they be anything more?

My own belief is that video games have artistic potential. Whether they actually fulfill that potential is an entirely separate question. For the most part, they favor fun over artistic expression, leaving weighty subjects to other media.

Religion is an especially weighty subject, and its effect on art is incalculably great. Christianity in particular has inspired art for two thousand years, and some of it isn’t particularly religious.

Of course, much of the art informed by Christianity is overtly religious in nature: works by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, classics like The Pilgrim’s Progress and Dante’s Divine Comedy, music like Handel’s Messiah, and countless more. However, Christianity has also influenced many secular works—watch nearly any movie by Quentin Tarantino or the Coen brothers and you’ll see what I mean.

Pulp Fiction

The book of Ezekiel is apparently a bit more vengeful than I remembered.

Yes, the influence of Christianity has reached some unlikely places. It begs the question: If video games have artistic potential, have they used any of it to explore the subject of Christianity?

The answer is… hardly.

Christianity has informed many video games, but its influence is mostly superficial. Many games draw upon Christianity for its cultural or symbolic flair—or, if I may put it another way, its flavor.

The Legend of Zelda, one of the most important games ever made, uses Christian iconography not to make a point, but rather to convey an impression. For example, the game’s protagonist has the symbol of a cross on his shield.

Zelda NES screenshot

Is it just me, or does the hero of The Legend of Zelda look like he’s going from door to door with a Gospel tract?

I don’t know why the game’s developers put a Christian cross on the shield. Perhaps it was inspired by the cross designs on shields in medieval Europe. Maybe it was supposed to represent nobility, righteousness, or heroism. Either way, this symbol of Christianity is literally front and center in one of the greatest games of all time.

Incidentally, the game features another Christian symbol: the Bible, whose title was translated for Western versions as the Book of Magic. In the game, the Bible empowers the protagonist to throw fireballs, which isn’t something Bibles generally do. (At any rate, mine doesn’t.)

I’m going to discuss a few more games in this post, but for full disclosure, I should admit that I haven’t played most of them. I know them mostly by reputation, by reading about them, or in one case by following the game’s story on YouTube.

Christian imagery shows up occasionally in video games, many of which avoid association with the religion itself in order to avoid controversy. This has led to fictional religions that bear outward resemblance to Christianity—particularly to Roman Catholicism.

Video games such as the Final Fantasy series sometimes feature Christian (especially Roman Catholic) elements such as priests, churches, cathedrals, holy water, and baptisms.

Final Fantasy VII church

Can we take up an offering to repair the church in Final Fantasy VII? It could use a new floor. And some more pews. And a table in the back for coffee and doughnuts.

A few games even tackle the subject of religious corruption, but always within fictional religions whose resemblance to Christianity is only superficial.

Of course, some video games take a more direct approach, depicting Christianity itself (instead of a fictional religion) for its imagery, culture, or history.

The Hitman series—which, as its name suggests, is all about assassinations—uses “Ave Maria,” a song based on a Christian prayer, as its theme. It may be meant to evoke a somber mood, or perhaps to suggest an ironic parallel between the Church and the syndicate that employs the eponymous hitman. Either way, the series doesn’t have anything meaningful to say about Christianity; the games merely borrow from it.

The Assassin’s Creed series uses religion as a backdrop to its fictional history. The first game takes place in the Holy Land during the Crusades, and the second in Italy during the Renaissance. That second game apparently ends with the player beating up Pope Alexander VI, which seems weird to me. What developer, when given the limitless possibilities of game design, decided to make a game that climaxed in a fight against a fifteenth-century Pope? Did that developer just assume that all Christians are evil? Should I be offended?

There are a few games—just a few—that try to say something meaningful, whether good or bad, about Christianity.

The Binding of Isaac is an indie game named for the biblical account of Abraham nearly sacrificing his own son. It follows a young boy through an underworld of twisted imagery: much of it Christian. The game seems almost blasphemous with its lurid imagery and grotesque monsters.

The Binding of Isaac

This is, um, not a game for children.

I’m not sure what point The Binding of Isaac is trying to make. The game definitely has something to say. It may be an exploration of how religion can be abused, or maybe an outright censure of Christianity. I’m in no hurry to find out; I prefer my video games not hopelessly gloomy, thank you.

The most interesting treatment of Christianity I’ve seen in a video game comes from Bioshock Infinite, a story-driven first-person shooter. (For the uninitiated: a first-person shooter is a game in which the player shoots things from a first-person perspective, simply enough.) The game doesn’t focus on religion itself as much as on what it brings out in people.

The original Bioshock game is set in Rapture: a ruined underwater dystopia. It was built by an atheist who was convinced he could harness the potential of humankind in an enlightened society. The city fell apart, its remaining inhabitants fighting for the survival of the fittest.

No gods or kings

Welcome to Rapture?

By contrast, Bioshock Infinite is set in Columbia: an airborne city bustling with religious folks and overseen by Father Comstock, a self-proclaimed prophet. Despite its bright exterior, Columbia is also a dystopia. It reflects not a Darwinian struggle for survival, however, but the ugliest blunders of American Christianity.

The religion in Bioshock Infinite is the Christianity that excused slavery, oppressed Native Americans, reviled foreigners, and mistook love of country for love of God. It’s an exaggerated picture, but also one based on history.

Bioshock Infinite mural

Welcome to Columbia?

I appreciate that Bioshock Infinite doesn’t blame Christianity for Columbia’s problems, but acknowledges how it has, throughout history, sometimes brought out the worst in people. The game suggests the problem is not with faith, but with human beings.

Fortunately, Christianity also brings out the best in people. The game’s debt-ridden protagonist, Booker, is hired to rescue a woman from Columbia on the promise that his employer will “wipe away the debt.” As the game unfolds, it becomes clear that Booker’s debt isn’t just a matter of money. He needs to be forgiven.

Besides forgiveness, Christian themes in the game include baptism and longing. The latter is beautifully expressed in the hymn “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” which is part of the game’s soundtrack.

Bioshock Infinite isn’t a perfect game, and its depiction of Christianity is definitely upsetting. However, it’s a more ambitious and nuanced take than I’ve seen from any other video game, and I respect it for that.

While a few games offer thoughtful explorations of Christian themes, others exist simply to appeal to a religious market. They’re the worst. They often steal their ideas from other games, and they’re nearly always terrible.

What are your thoughts on Christianity in video games? Let us know in the comments!

437. My Name Is Adam Stück, and I’M FINE!

Once upon a time, three friends—a surgeon, an architect, and a lawyer—argued over which of their professions came first.

The surgeon declared, “Come on, guys, surgery was obviously the first profession. God performed surgery on Adam to remove his rib, which he used to create Eve. It’s right there in the Bible.”

The architect shook her head. “No, no, God was an architect before he was ever a surgeon! ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ It’s literally the first verse in the book.”

At this, the lawyer crossed his arms and smirked. “You’re both wrong,” he declared. “There was a lawyer before any of that.” His friends stared. “Before God made the world, there was only darkness and confusion,” he explained. “Of course lawyers came first. Who do you think caused all that darkness and confusion?”

Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson

Yes, lawyers have a reputation for dishonesty. They probably don’t deserve it, but then I don’t know any lawyers, so I’m not sure. Honest or not, lawyers are certainly a bit intimidating. It was Dave Barry who identified Fear of Attorneys as one of the six basic human emotions, along with Anger, Lust, Greed, Envy, and the Need to Snack.

My own experience of lawyers is limited mostly to Rumpole of the Bailey, Marvel’s Daredevil, and the Ace Attorney series of video games: none of which are terribly realistic in their depiction of the law.

I can think of at least one lawyer, however, whose insight I value. In Ace Attorney, an up-and-coming lawyer prepares for each trial by repeating the same statement over and over.

“I’m fine!”

I’m fine!

“My name is Apollo Justice, and I’M FINE!

(His name really is Apollo Justice; I can’t decide whether it’s stupid, awesome, or both.)

I'M FINE!

In every trial, no matter how much he wants to throw up or run away and hide, Apollo tells himself that he’s going to be okay. He reminds himself that no matter how difficult the trial, no matter how bad it gets, he’s fine.

As anyone knows who has followed this blog for a while, I live with mild chronic depression and anxiety. They aren’t severe enough to warrant medication, and they’ve improved greatly since I left a toxic work situation about a year ago, but they’re definitely a nuisance.

My malaise comes and goes. On good days, I forget it completely; on bad days, it’s hard to think of anything else. For years, I’ve occasionally felt close to breaking down or giving up—yet here I am. I’m fine. I’m fine.

As a family member once pointed out, for all the times I felt like I couldn’t make it through another day, my survival rate has been one hundred percent so far. That’s pretty good, all things considered. I’ve made it this far by God’s grace, and I have every reason to suppose his grace won’t ever fail.

For years, I hoped to figure out some perfect strategy for coping with the bad days. I’m beginning to think there isn’t one. The bad days seem just as dreary and hopeless as they ever have, and I feel just as unprepared for them. I shall probably always feel unprepared for them. There are no magic words or foolproof plans for dealing with certain problems.

Maybe I should just remind myself every so often that I’m fine. I may not feel fine, but I’ve made it this far, and today shan’t be my last. I’ll make it. With God’s help, I’ll make it. Things will get better. They always do.

I'M (also) FINE!

For the record, I don’t feel bad at the time of publishing this post. It’s just something I’ve been meaning to write for a while, and I’m only just getting around to it.

I’m fine, really!

I’m fine!

My name is Adam Stück, and I’M FINE!