23 Oct Crusades 2.0
A couple weeks ago, the New York Times published an article detailing how some Christian churches are using Halo 3 as a prostelization tool. It was a good article, despite being at least two years behind the story, and failing to recognize the enormous conspiracy behind Halo youth groups.
In early 2005, Dare 2 Share Ministries International posted an article on its website about how youth could use Halo 2 as a way to minister to their friends. While the article deplores Halo’s violence and strong language, it takes a pragmatic attitude, seeing that the game’s popularity presents an opportunity for ministering, and the online play lets Christians reach out to the global unsaved. The prevalence of death in Halo is also a great excuse for evangelicals to discuss the afterlife with friends, the article says. The article also related Master Chief’s battle to save humanity from the Covenant to Jesus’ fight against Satan. But with lasers and spike guns.
According to the Times article, however, other advocates of this approach to Christian outreach think the game’s story and religious undertones are “sufficiently cartoonish” to make no impression. Excuse me, cartoonish? Have these people seen the trailers for the game? They look like clips from Starship Troopers. Responding to the violence in the game, founder of Christian Gamers Online Kedrick Kenerly said, “I’m not walking up to someone with a pistol and shooting them,” he said. “I’m shooting pixels on a screen.” Kedrick also said, playing Halo is “no different than going on a camping trip.”
Now, I’m not here to argue that video game violence makes kids desensitized and aggressive (these people will), but to say that playing video games is like going camping is absurd. A violent video game (like a violent novel or movie) espouses a particular value set: meet aggression with great aggression, violence with greater violence. It’s ridiculous to think that repeated exposure to such values has no effect on someone. Playing Halo is only like camping if you’re sharing a tent with the kids from Lord of the Flies.
What bothers me here, however, is not that Christians are using a first person shooter to spread Jesus’ message of “Turn the other cheek.” What bothers me is that I think violent video games fit perfectly with the Christian right’s worldview, and their use of Halo is actually the least disturbing example of this. As Left Behind Games CEO Troy Lydon has said, “Many people seem to have this misconception that somehow Christian means nonviolent. Look at the stories in the Bible; they’re some of the most violent and exciting epics ever written. Look at The Passion of the Christ, the most violent and most successful Christian movie of all time.”
For those who don’t know, the Left Behind book series depicts the adventures of a group of Christian converts surviving on a post-Rapture earth. The series was wildly popular among evangelicals, but in an effort to expand its reach, the authors started a game company and released a PC game version. As described in an article by The Nation:
- The Left Behind videogame is a real-time strategy game that makes players commanders of a virtual evangelical army in a post-apocalyptic landscape that looks strikingly like New York City after 9/11. With tanks, helicopters and a fearsome arsenal of automatic weapons at their disposal, Left Behind players wage a violent war against United Nations-like peacekeepers who, according to LaHaye’s interpretation of Revelation, represent the armies of the Antichrist. Each time a Left Behind player kills a UN soldier, their virtual character exclaims, “Praise the Lord!” To win the game, players must kill or convert all the non-believers left behind after the rapture. They also have the option of reversing roles and commanding the forces of the Antichrist.
The game’s release created a storm of controversy, dedicated protest websites, and a petition by a religious coalition urging Wal-Mart to stop selling them. While I think some of the controversy was overblown (in the game you do get more points for converting than for killing), and LB Games has argued the game preaches peace by making prayer is the most powerful weapon, their website also proudly states that players can “[c]ontrol more than 30 units types – from Prayer Warrior and Worship Leaders to Spies, Special Forces and Battle Tanks!” Battle tanks shooting love and peace, I assume.
In an article on 1up.com, Lydon said, “What we object to is violence for the sake of violence… games that contain gratuitous violence with no moral context.… Everyone knows that the heart of a great RTS game is all-out battle, and Left Behind: Eternal Forces includes the fast and furious combat that gamers expect to see.” If framed in a proper moral context then, violence is fine. This logic justifies the Crusades, I presume. Focus on the Family, a prominent Christian organization that is normally critical of violent video games stated the Eternal Forces “the kind of game that Mom and Dad can actually play with Junior–and use to raise some interesting questions along the way.”
The public’s reaction is also not some leftist anti-Christian scare mongering; were a Muslim organization to release a similar game, Congress would probably pass a resolution condemning it. Until recently, LB Games actually had the endorsement of the Department of Defense. As described in the aforementioned Nation article, “Operation Straight Up (OSU), [is] an evangelical entertainment troupe that actively proselytizes among active-duty members of the US military. As an official arm of the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, OSU plans to mail copies of the controversial apocalyptic video game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces to soldiers serving in Iraq. OSU is also scheduled to embark on a ‘Military Crusade in Iraq’ in the near future.” The games were to be included in OSU “Freedom Packets”, but were removed after the article sparked controversy. “Freedom Packets” include pocket copies of Gideon’s New Testament, white socks, and “Baby Wipes (suggested by Col Oliver North).”
LB Games’ reaction to its critics was also rather un-Christian. Last summer, American Center for Law and Justice chief counsel Jay Sekulow went on CNBC to defend Eternal Forces against charges it promotes religious intolerance. Sekulow spent almost the entire interview interrupting and talking over his opponent. The ACLJ was founded by evangelist Pat Robertson and works tirelessly to ban same-sex marriage and abortion. Sekulow worked closely with the White House to defend Bush’s Supreme Court nominees.
More recently, LB Games has been threatening critics with frivolous lawsuits. Writers from DailyKos to talk2action, among many others, have received legal notices ordering them to remove all mention of Eternal Forces from their websites. The lawsuits, known as SLAPPS are used to silence critics by entangling them in expensive, protracted litigation. They are also illegal in states such as California, the state from which the notices were mailed.
Despite the commercial failure of Eternal Forces, the Christian right is still deeply involved in gaming and online proselytizing, and is working to increase their presence. Just as the Dare 2 Share article advocated, online gaming ministries are becoming increasingly common. Men of God International, with their slogan, “No weapon formed against us shall prosper” uses online first person shooters to spread the gospel. They’re particularly active in America’s Army, as well as Battlefield and Call of Duty. The Apostles of War also spread the Good News in America’s Army. They’re slogan is “By the sword we conquer.”
Finally, there’s the site Christian Gamers Online, an online ministry that’s had over 8 million visitors since its inception. On their forums, member experience is displayed by military ranks. Every member’s id has name, rank, age, and at the bottom, either an American flag, or the Christian Flag. CGO is also active in America’s Army.
We can see here that there is more than a tenuous link between the Christian right and the American military. In fact, an increasing number of journalists are reporting that the military is being infiltrated by premillenial dominionists. These are evangelical Christians that believe America is destined to be a Christian nation fighting for God as the world enters End Times. Author Katherine Yurika reported on her blog that the Pentagon’s senior military intelligence officer Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin toured US churches preaching “that the U.S. military is recruiting a spiritual army that will draw strength from a greater power to defeat its enemy. In fact, he told the First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, Okla. on June 30, 2002, “What I’m here to do today is to recruit you to be warriors of God’s kingdom.” A page on the Campus Crusade for Christ’s Military Ministry website states that one of their goals is “to make US active duty service members into “government paid missionaries”. As reported by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Military Ministry receives significant support from the Department of Defense.
It is not paranoia to say this cooperation looks like a conspiracy. Such a belief is further reinforced by the existence of the Council for National Policy. The CNP was founded in 1981 as a nonprofit organization devoted to coordinating the strategies of the religious right, financiers, and conservative political leaders. It meets three times a year, in secret, and bars members from discussing proceedings with the public, or mentioning the organization by name in phone conversations or emails. The New York Times quoted a member as saying, “”The media should not know when or where we meet or who takes part in our programs, before of after a meeting.” Executive director Steve Baldwin has boasted, “We control everything in the world.”
Dkosopedia writes that, “[m]embers include corporate executives, television evangelists, legislators, former military or high ranking government officers, leaders of ‘think tanks’ dedicated to molding society and those who many view as ‘Christian’ leadership. Members in many cases are owners or leaders from industry such as lumber, oil, mining, commodities, real estate, the media, including owners of radio, television and print, with all aspects of life covered. Many are involved in education, determining to influence society’s direction by direct input with children and youth…. in-depth biographies of CNP founders and past/present officers and many members reveal that many are directly affiliated with or part of such organizations as the Knights of Malta, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon, the Church of Scientology, and other cults and organizations.”
The CNP was founded by Tim LaHaye, co-author of the Left Behind book series. Membership organizations include the American Center for Law and Justice, Focus on the Family, and Campus Crusades for Christ. Grover Norquist, former lobbyist for Microsoft is a director, Col. Oliver North is a member, and former attorney general John Ashcroft is a former member. Recent speakers have included George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer. Through his Prince Foundation, Blackwater CEO Eric Prince donated $80,000 to the CNP between 2003 and 2005.
We’re looking at a secret organization uniting military leaders, corporate elite, conservative politicians, dominionist Christians, and educational specialists. Despite any public statements to the contrary, I have no doubt that the founders of the videogame ministry movement and those who promote using Halo to proselytize support the values inherent in first person shooters. I’m sure every church using Halo is not united under the goal of dominionism, but I also doubt that the idea arose as some Christian gaming zeitgeist. I think it came from somewhere and was disseminated, and I bet that somewhere was the CNP.
Christian gaming ministries use militaristic language and organization to evangelize in America’s Army—a game glorifying the US military. A high-ranking military official toured churches in the US recruiting “warriors of God’s kingdom.” Youth-oriented Christian ministries are working in the military to both convert soldiers and spread their messages in occupied nations. Operation Straight Up, with the support of the Department of Defense, planned to distribute a game that lets players control a Christian army fighting the forces of evil. And for at least the past two years, Christian youth groups have been preaching to young people by using a first person shooter with a plot about a human fighting alien religious fanatics. This is a pattern.
Videogames are powerful. Every type of media we consume affects us, and while we aren’t programmed, we are certainly influenced. While I absolutely support a diversity of messages in videogames, and only want to see their variety of subject and types of use increase; we should be wary of their use as propaganda. Dominionists want a Christian United States waging war against the religious opponents at home and abroad. They have infiltrated the military and seek to make it a weapon for advancing their dreams of religious empire. And they are using videogames to convert the youth to their cause. This is serious. We need to pay attention.