Should Christians watch Game of Thrones? This is a question that's been asked since the show's inception, most recently by author Kevin Deyoung (here and here). Though the show is critically acclaimed and immensely popular, it's also filled with "lots and lots of incredibly graphic sex." So can Bible-believing Christians really watch the show with a clear conscience?
Depends who you ask. On one side are the conservative Christians who emphasize holiness and are weary about the entire Hollywood landscape. Therefore they can't fathom the idea of any Christian enjoying a show like GoT when it's filled with so much graphic nudity. Though these Christians won't go so far as to say it's sinful to watch, they'll wonder how it could ever be beneficial (1 Cor 10:23).
On the other side are the uber-cool Christians who take pride in their understanding of modern culture and criticize family-friendly sitcoms. They tend to be quickly dismissive over any criticism about their viewing pleasure and laugh off anyone who questions the validity of Game of Thrones. I mean, what are Christians allowed to watch? Are we supposed to just stream Leave It to Beaver reruns?
Then you have people like me - Christians who enjoy the show but understand the criticisms against it. So why do we choose to watch it? How is this not compromising sin? Well, let me try to explain.
I Understand the Criticism
For the most part, I actually agree with most of the critiques that Christians like Deyoung makes. I mean, holiness should be important to us. And the Bible tells us that the eye is the lamp of the body (Mt 6:22), so what we watch will shape us. Jesus warns us about looking at women with lustful intent (Mt 6:23) and Paul tells us to flee from all sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:18).
So the fact that a show like Game of Thrones contains so many graphic sex scenes should cause any Bible-believing Christian to pause. Personally, I'm not perplexed that Christians watch the show; but I am perplexed how quickly some Christians are to dismiss the criticism. To me, this smells like knee-jerk reaction that highlights liberty over love and carelessness over thoughtfulness. While criticisms may not stop you from watching the show, it should encourage you to watch with discernment.
And if you think about it, there's nothing new about this debate. Historically whether it's about paintings, theatre, or music, Christians have always argued about the legitimacy of the arts. The only difference about this topic is that we're focusing on one particularly popular show. So more than dismissal, we need dialogue - and I appreciate Christians like Deyoung who initiate such conversation.
Why Do Christians Watch Game of Thrones?
So with that being said, how can Christians watch Game of Thrones? Well, if you ever watch the show, GoT does something that any good piece of art is supposed to do - it makes you think. You see, we tend to view life from a narrow perspective that's limited to our own personal experiences. However, art is meant to wake us up from our stupor. And while some forms art are meant to inspire, other forms are meant to sober us up.
This is especially true of shows like The Wire, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad. Though their content is dark and ugly, that's exactly the point. They're not just there to entertain us - they're meant to provide us a different perspective of the world. As author Mike Cosper writes, "They help orient us to a world that doesn't work out how we expect. They help us to make sense of the ruin we see around us. They help us to know we're not alone in our sorrows and failures."
So what ugly part of the world does GoT highlight? Power. The show's entire premise is about the pursuit and corruption of power. The characters are always murdering and manipulating each other so they can get closer to the throne (hence the title). You see, naturally life is all about pursuing a name for yourself. And even though this story takes place within a fantasy-like, medieval world, the pursuit and corruption of power is applicable everywhere. We see it at work, in politics, and even in the church.
And that's what makes GoT so compelling for people to watch. Sure the dragons and action sequences are cool. But more than that, viewers are intrigued by how far these characters are willing to go in order to gain power and how they tragically lose their humanity along the way. And conversely, viewers root for the characters who resist such temptations and make decisions that restore the humanity left within them.
So as one author notes, "Just because the show contains perverse behavior does not make the show itself perverse...Yes, there is a lot of ugliness in Game of Thrones, but there is also some truth and beauty." In other words, shows like GoT are meant to break us out of our sanitized narratives while inspiring a desire for a greater reality.
But What About the Sex Scenes?
However the main problem Christians have with the show are still the sex scenes. I mean, naked is naked. And the sex in GoT is pretty bad and quite graphic. What's worse is that you see all kinds of perverse sex scenes on the show. Prostitution. Orgies. Gay sex. Incest. The show makes sex look anything but beautiful.
But I think that's the whole point.
Again, the show is all about the pursuit of power and the characters often use sex to manipulate one another. Therefore for the most part, the sex in GoT aren't there simply to arouse the audience; it's there to further show the depravity of certain characters. The scenes don't inspire lust; they instead make you viewers want to take a cold shower and shake away what they just saw.
So the whole argument about the sex scenes leading to lust seems to be an argument made by people who don't understand how the show works. The questions we ask about GoT shouldn't be same questions that we ask about porn or Playboy. Personally I think the questions we ask should be more similar to the ones we ask about movies like Gone Girl and Black Swan - should we watch films that reveal the perversity men are capable of?
In other words, it's not primarily a question about nakedness. It's primarily about what the show-runners are doing with such nakedness. It's about the message they're trying to communicate. If it's simply for arousal, then this needs to be rejected immediately. But if it's for something more, this needs to not necessarily be accepted; rather like all art, it needs to be discussed and discerned.
I know some people may see this as a sad attempt to justify something sinful and I'm sure some Christians are doing just that. But when it comes to evaluating art, I think it's not so simple as "watch or don't watch." Art is complex because people are complex. Therefore we must do what the artist wants us to do - we must contemplate and dialogue about his work before dismissing it.
With that being said, there are definitely a few take aways I have about the show. First, I think it's a mistake for Christians to flaunt their love for it. People obviously get bothered and it's a Corinthian mistake to simply disregard the conscious of others for the sake of your personal pleasures. You won't ever see me tweet about the latest episode because while it may not bother my conscience, I know it can bother others.
Secondly, as much as I understand the sex scenes, I just can't watch them. They never tempt me - they rather always disgust me. It's like watching a scene of somebody flailing another person - it's just gross and I'd rather not watch. People tell me you can't skip it because there's crucial dialogue in those scenes. But I don't care - I'd rather skip through them and wikipedia what I missed.
Lastly, I don't think this show is for everybody. One of my favorite movies of all time is Darren Aronofsky's Requiem For a Dream. However its content is so dark that I seldom recommend it for people to watch. And while GoT is not nearly as dark as that film, don't let the fantasy genre fool you. It's a show that portrays the depravity of man in very explicit ways. Therefore as Christians, there needs to be much discernment when viewing and promoting it.