Cults
M. Joseph Young
February 2002

  Some time ago while on an afternoon picnic with my wife the subject of my writing arose.  (I write for the gaming industry, as my biographical information attests, so in a sense we were talking about my work.)  The talk took a turn toward my responses to criticisms of role playing games and discussions I had had with others about this, something on which I am perennially working as well-meaning Christians send me scathing, offensive, insulting, hateful letters of condemnation for this "wickedness" in which I am involved and which I promote.  One point I mentioned was the circular support created between "cult experts" and "police authorities".  These self-appointed and self-educated self-titled "experts" on cults have concluded that Dungeons & Dragons in particular is a cult; and when particularly bloody crimes occur they become involved, looking for evidence (no matter how remote) that there is a connection (no matter how tenuous) between these events and anything on their "cult activities" list.  If they find an old Dungeons & Dragons book in a closet somewhere, they inform the authorities that they are "convinced" that the "Satanic influences" of the game played a part in the events (usually murders and suicides).  The police then, relying on the claimed "expertise" of the cult investigators, announce this as a conclusion of their investigation; and the cult "experts" then cite those police conclusions (which were only what they themselves told the police to say) as proof that the game is a dangerous tool of Satanism.  The so-called "cult experts" are in essence using their own decision that gaming is a cult as proof that it is so.

  But are we certain gaming is not a cult or Satanic activity?  Demonstrating that the arguments raised against something are false is not the same thing as proving the antithesis.  It is not enough for us to claim that there is no proof gaming is wrong; we must be able to assert that it is a good thing.  And as my wife observed, there we were on a fine summer afternoon talking not about God and His goodness, but about a game, and one that had been called into question by sincere Christians.

  In my case, it is a foolish argument on several counts.  As mentioned, I work in the gaming industry, and I write articles publicly available.  To discuss games and to discuss the things people write to me about that which I have written and the arguments into which I am called and the pages I write about gaming is really just discussing my job.  She doesn't really think it's a cult, any more than she thinks nursing might be a cult taking over her life when she comes home from the intensive care unit and speaks at length about what a bad night she had trying (and usually succeeding) to keep people alive against the odds.  Her job is of course more important than mine in that sense.  I have over the years brought enjoyment and intellectual challenge and enlightenment to at least thousands and possibly millions of readers and gamers, but she actually saves the lives of dozens of people every month.  But if I were a plumber, or an auto mechanic, or an accountant, or a cancer researcher, or even a Bible teacher, talking about work at home is a natural part of life.  It is in fact a very important aspect of a good marriage, I suspect--the ability of a couple to share between them what happened while they were apart is a valuable tool in building that relationship.

  On top of that, I am often forced closer to God by my game-related activities.  Just in writing this column over the past months, I have been driven back to the scriptures again and again to see if what I believed was correct.  You may have benefited from this, particularly if you read Bad Things, Weaker Brothers, Magic, Appearances, and last month's Walking in Darkness, articles which forced me back to the Book (and sometimes further back to the Greek) to check my answers.  But even when I wrote Preliminaries, Fundamentals, Mechanics, Settings, and In Vain--even as I write this article you are reading--I am driven back to consider Biblical and spiritual principles and to again consider how they apply to my life.  You might argue that this is only because I'm writing a Christian defense of games; but I could go back to times in the past when my involvement in a role playing game has encouraged my spiritual growth, driven me to scripture, or given me faith and insight into the things of God.  Even when I write game-related articles for secular publishers, such as my Game Ideas Unlimited series for Gaming Outpost, I am often driven to consider how my faith infects what I do.  Gaming for me has been a very positive, very spiritual, very Christian influence in my life.  (I do not say that it has never had any negative impact; I have elsewhere expressed the temptation inherent in all hobbies to sap time and money from other things, and I have at times in my life put more into a game than was good for me.  But on balance it has been far more good for me than bad.)

  But even for those who do not work in the gaming industry and who do not write articles which attempt to integrate faith and gaming or who do not give any serious consideration to the questions of what God expects of us when we play games, talking about games instead of God is hardly evidence of some sort of demonic influence.  People have hobbies, and they talk about them.  Were I to talk about a movie or television show I'd recently seen, or a book or web page I had read, that would not be any more or less a Christian activity than talking about games.  I never talk about sports, but I know some who rarely speak of anything else, and no one thinks that being an NFL quarterback is the equivalent of being a High Priest of Satan.  We talked that afternoon about getting the kids to cut the grass, spraying the roses and watering the flowers, waterproofing the deck before winter.  We discussed which local deli makes the best sandwiches, and what made them good, whether the kids liked egg salad sandwiches (which I enjoy and she despises), and how much physical affection can be displayed in front of them.  We talked of our love for each other, and how to continue to build our future together.  We talked about the last time we picnicked in the park, when the loud foul-mouthed woman in a large group of other picnickers cussed at the children as she herded them to the car, and other more moderate members of that group chided her in hushed voices not to talk like that in front of the youngsters.  Preparations for school, preparations for the upcoming visit of a friend, preparations for a trip to a family gathering, preparations for a company party at our home were all subjects at some time that day.  We spoke of many things that were and are part of our lives, and at no point did we think that they might have indicated demonic influence over our conversation or our lives merely because they didn't all mention God.  (I did joke that the foul-mouthed woman was the leader of the church youth group, but that hardly counts.)

  And in a sense our talk of gaming did have us talking about God.  I was speaking of the kinds of foolish arguments some narrow-minded Christians raise against role playing games and praising the excellent comments and careful investigations of some members of the Christian Gamers Guild in answering these.  One guild member in particular had examined a list of murders and suicides which were alleged to have connections to such games, and discovered it to be very suspicious.  Apart from anti-gaming literature, there was no evidence for some in newspapers or in biographies that they had ever had any connection to such games (although one was said to have been an avid Bridge player).  One cited case was reported by the literature as having occurred (the same individual and the same events) in two different states on opposite sides of the country a year apart, again not appearing in any newspaper archives that could be traced.  Several gave no verifiable information, being along the sort of "an unnamed young boy who lived somewhere killed himself because of a game".  In at least one instance for which gaming involvement was credited with the death of a boy, a letter from his mother to a national magazine declared that this was not so.  Many of the supposed game-related deaths are not found in any public records, yet the critics quote these examples from each other without verification.  And I was impressed with this; her efforts had shown that what had been put forward as truth by well-meaning Christians was so completely without support as to be an embarrassment to the Church.  We are to dwell on things worthy of praise, and this effort to reach the truth behind the errors was certainly worthy of praise and glorifying to God.

  There are some people who will tell you that Satanists in America are murdering hundreds of people every year, and covering their tracks so completely that the police are not even suspicious.  They will tell you that women are kidnapped and kept hidden, used to breed infants for sacrifices, and that no one is ever aware of this.  Their strongest evidence for all this is that there is no evidence; it suggests to them that the conspiracy is so vast that it involves all law enforcement officers, all government investigators, all media reporters--everyone perhaps who does not attend their church.  If you choose to believe them, it is difficult to argue--the absence of evidence is the evidence, and evidence to the contrary must be part of the cover-up.  But there is no evidence that Dungeons & Dragons or any other role playing game is a cult activity but that which has been invented by those who desperately want you to believe that it is so.  I recommend that before you decide something is a cult you permit it to defend itself, hear what it is really saying and not just what others claim.  Cults are groups of people who believe things they are told because they trust the people who tell them, and so they never give thought to whether it might be untrue.  So which group of people is more like a cult:  the millions who think that their favorite pastime is "just a game", or the handful of critics who want you to believe it is something dark and sinister based on spurious and conflicting evidence?

  It is in some ways not easy to know which things in our lives interfere with our relationships with God.  Everything mentioned in this article, from sports to jobs to church youth groups, has the potential to do so.  That is not because these things are evil; it is because we are sinful.  Similarly, role playing games are just games.  As with anything else in life, you can let them stand between you and God; but as with most things, you can also enjoy them with thankfulness and allow them to enhance your walk with God.  Learning to turn all things to the glory of God is part of our maturing.  We are called to go into all the world and preach the gospel.  Should we leave this part of the world unreached?

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