House of Cards vs. Game of Thrones

Lots of discussion lately about watching sin in movies and television series.  The reason appears to be the new season of Game of Thrones.  That genre interests me not at all so I haven’t seen any of it, and I’ve only watched one episode of House of Cards (more of the original).  Too many episodes of West Wing and Friday Night Lights still to see. (And now there’s Hinterland.)

After watching last night with colleagues and students in the German literature department Run Lola Run, I started wondering again about viewing sin on the screen.  Kevin DeYoung and Nick Batzig argue for caution when watching movies with nudity and sex.  Even Katelyn Beaty finds her inner Nashville Statement when it comes to watching programs that include rape scenes.

But what about Lola and Manni from Run Lola Run? Here we have a guy entangled with drug dealers (likely) needing to pay them their money after having lost it on a subway.  And we have his girlfriend who robs a bank to help her man.  And we have a viewer (me) rooting them on.  Should I have worried about breaking the ninth commandment?

And is it more heinous to watch a movie that portrays violations of the seventh commandment compared to one that depicts breaking the ninth commandment?

Is the Larger Catechism of any help?

Q. 150. Are all transgressions of the law of God equally heinous in themselves, and in the sight of God?
A. All transgressions of the law are not equally heinous; but some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.

Q. 151. What are those aggravations that make some sins more heinous than others?
A. Sins receive their aggravations,
1. From the persons offending; if they be of riper age, greater experience or grace, eminent for profession, gifts, place, office, guides to others, and whose example is likely to be followed by others.
2. From the parties offended: if immediately against God, his attributes, and worship; against Christ, and his grace; the Holy Spirit, his witness, and workings; against superiors, men of eminency, and such as we stand especially related and engaged unto; against any of the saints, particularly weak brethren, the souls of them, or any other, and the common good of all or many.
3. From the nature and quality of the offence: if it be against the express letter of the law, break many commandments, contain in it many sins: if not only conceived in the heart, but breaks forth in words and actions, scandalize others, and admit of no reparation: if against means, mercies, judgments, light of nature, conviction of conscience, public or private admonition, censures of the church, civil punishments; and our prayers, purposes, promises, vows, covenants, and engagements to God or men: if done deliberately, willfully, presumptuously, impudently, boastingly, maliciously, frequently, obstinately, with delight, continuance, or relapsing after repentance.
4. From circumstances of time, and place: if on the Lord’s day, or other times of divine worship; or immediately before or after these, or other helps to prevent or remedy such miscarriages: if in public, or in the presence of others, who are thereby likely to be provoked or defiled.

It looks like what qualifies as more aggravating than something else has a lot to do with the person offended and the time of the offense. Watching a show of a disreputable nature on the Lord’s Day might be worse than seeing it on Wednesday night (as long as your not skipping prayer meeting, of course). And if you watch something the king thinks you shouldn’t see, that carries more weight than — sorry Kevin — your PCA pastor.

But what about point three — the nature of the offense? There it sure looks like stealing from a bank to pay your re-election campaign staff is more heinous than simply stealing from a bank. But maybe I’m wrong. I also see nothing from the catechism to suggest that sexual sins are more heinous than fiscal or false words.

If that’s true, it looks like a lot of people obsess about what is simply looking at entertainment serious art. Whatever might these people make of Michelangelo’s David? A fig leaf, please!!

17 thoughts on “House of Cards vs. Game of Thrones

  1. Very rarely do I agree with Kevin De Young, who is thoroughly New Calvinist but nonetheless is seriously smart. He betrays his Presbyterian vows by being deeply involved in the GC which puts ecclesiology secondary to ‘Gospel’, but that is another matter. However in his comments about Game of Thrones he is right. Since when has rape, slaughter, beheading and violence like that found in GFT been entertainment for Christians?

    The weird thrill of a salacious scene featuring any of the above goes completely against Scripture and all the quotes given from the carefully worded, Biblically based WLC. With these matters in mind I ditched Modern Reformation some years ago ‘cos it featured stuff slightly pro GFT, which to me in one MR article conveyed the impression that such bilge was artsy and cool.

    But on the other hand I am fascinated by US presidents like tricky dicky Nixon and ego driven LBJ and what made them tick. Is that being entertained by sinful stuff? Was Shakespeare in all his brilliance making sin into entertainment or showing the folly of mankind? And I am looking forward to watching Hacksaw Ridge and thinking through the main character’s convictions. But let’s be honest, much of what tripe is in films and tv today like rape, slaughter and torture is carefully included to give a perverse form of entertainment which we have to avoid like the plague.


  2. Paul,

    Hacksaw Ridge has violence and slaughter. So do movies like Braveheart and The Passion and Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List. I watch GoT. I don’t view its use of violence as “tripe” any more than a series focused on the War of the Roses which Martin drew from would be viewed as “tripe” – it serves the story and world, as violence does in many other highly regarded films. The nudity to some extent does as well, though I admit it is at times gratuitous, but Kevin’s simply wrong when he asserts it’s “full of lots and lots of incredibly graphic sex” – such scenes are short and compose quite a small fraction of the series.


  3. But at what point does artistic nudity become the gateway drug to hardcore pornography? At what point does viewing simulated intercourse gives way to viewing actual intercourse? No Christian watching a bank robbery or murder on Justified is ever really tempted to do the same; but how many unfortunate Christian men have fallen into the despair of unfulfilled sexual lust and have become slaves to masturbatory fantasizing after watching too many episodes of Game of Thrones?

    The sophistry used to defend watching full frontal nudity and simulated intercourse on HBO and other purveyors of moral degeneracy is truly something to behold. Some Christians are really trying too hard to fit in.

    Give me back my Ol’ Timey Religion and my Ol’ Timey Bible please.


  4. UK Paul, so graph evil is bad, but psychological evil is fascinating?

    The thing is, when it comes to pietistic calculations, I can empathize much more with Nixon or LBJ than a rapist or a killer. So I should watch the graphic stuff?

    I think your point is in synch with mine (as long as you don’t judge me for the beloved The Wire).


  5. Sex on tv just got a lot more complicated:

    I did not think I would ever see another American TV series that offered as searing a critique of capitalism as “The Wire.”

    But after seeing David Simon’s “The Deuce,” an eight-part HBO production that looks at the rise of the porn industry in 1970s New York, I have to admit I was wrong.

    Viewers of “The Deuce” will see capitalism laid bare in one of its basest forms: people selling their bodies and the bodies of others they ruthlessly control.

    And then, as the series chronicles the shift in New York City from street prostitution to onscreen pornography, viewers will see how desire is used to sell narratives, fantasies and products that come to shape our lives.

    Along with that keen sociology, “The Deuce” is accessible, entertaining and emotionally engaging in ways that none of Simon’s other politically astute and rightfully celebrated productions, like “The Wire,” have been in their first few hours.


  6. Just like all us self-justifying-mmmmeees to weigh and grade sins, and not consider that any one of them required Jesus’s excruciating sacrifice on the cross for us.


  7. Challenge:
    UK Paul wrote, “Since when has rape, slaughter, beheading and violence like that found in GFT been entertainment for Christians?”

    Shakespeare anyone?
    Often celebrated and read as high English literature…especially in conservative classical Christian schools!
    A sample summary:
    Titus Andronicus (rape, cannibalism, and murder).
    Hamlet (murder, revenge).
    Macbeth (murder).
    These three just to name a few that Christians read and go to the playhouse to see performed.

    We live in glass houses…classical, highbrow glass houses.



  8. JMJR – I understand what you are saying, but are you really going to compare George RR Martin’s drivel with William Shakespeare? Shakespeare’s plays deal with issues of humanity, and they ask us to think about what it means to be human. Game of Thrones is full of violence and sex to sell books and get viewers. Much like Harry Potter, it is poorly written pulp for da masses.

    I can understand comparing Tolkien to Shakespeare, but not Martin. Never Martin. Make it stop.


  9. DG,
    ‘Psychological evil’ as fascinating? That made me think and chuckle as I wondered if this description lent itself to the character’s of LBJ, tricky dicky or any other U.S. president in recent decades. I read about these guys to try and understand their complexity and what made them tick. Heck, I even find Ronny Regan fascinating and a
    lot more interesting than the wooden and spineless folks we have in the UK like Theresa May. However barking mad these Presidents were in some ways they were not in the same psycho. smiling cool killer mould as Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot or any other recent crackpot. I am fine with The Wire if I can get a pass for watching Spooks the movie from 2015.
    The War of The Roses may have been the inspiration for Martin’s GOT, but if the latter didn’t ramp up the carnage, bonking and all round darkness, who would watch it?
    I know Shakespeare did some bad stuff, Titus in particular. But the big difference between the Bard and modern TV is he arguably wrote to show man’s folly and weakness in powerful ways while much modern stuff like GOT is positively pagan in it’s subtle revelling in barbarism. The Bard wrote in a land still shot through with Biblical concepts if not practise.
    A final thought: does Pastor Kevin DeYoung place as much emphasis on being a faithful proponent (as a minister in the PCA) of Presbyterian polity found in the WC as he does on spending lots of time in the evangelical world which largely bypasses such ecclesiology?


  10. Bryan Morey wrote:
    “I understand what you are saying, but are you really going to compare George RR Martin’s drivel with William Shakespeare?”

    I am not sure you understood what I was saying. I was responding specifically to UK Paul’s claim that “Since when has rape, slaughter, beheading and violence like that found in GFT been entertainment for Christians?” and simply pointing out by the example that yes, these things have been the subject of entertainment for Christians. I was not making a comparison of the quality of the writing or artistic ability of the writers.

    UK Paul wrote:
    “But the big difference between the Bard and modern TV is he arguably wrote to show man’s folly and weakness in powerful ways while much modern stuff like GOT is positively pagan in it’s subtle reveling in barbarism. The Bard wrote in a land still shot through with Biblical concepts if not practice.”

    Vergil’s Aeneid, Homer’s Odyssey, and Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex are all “positively pagan” and some might argue gratuitous in their portrayal of human depravity (as well as the sins of the gods). One might even claim that they revel in their paganism and celebrate it, yet still offer some moral insights though they are not entirely consistent with a Christian ethic. These are still read by Christians today (in translations which may or may not reflect the literary workmanship of the author) who gain moral insights from a less than perfect literary creation. May it not be allowed that a Christian reader might gain something from a modern pagan writer like Martin, who also offers up something similar, like pagan writers of old, even if the depravity is gratuitous in its portrayal within a story with a morality that is not entirely consistent with a Christian ethic?

    Or maybe we just forget these silly tales and read the Bible to gain insight into a better ethic…Genesis 38:1ff.



  11. Andrew: But at what point does artistic nudity become the gateway drug to hardcore pornography? At what point does viewing simulated intercourse gives way to viewing actual intercourse? No Christian watching a bank robbery or murder on Justified is ever really tempted to do the same; but how many unfortunate Christian men have fallen into the despair of unfulfilled sexual lust … after watching too many episodes of Game of Thrones?

    I don’t have any numbers on that question, but two anecdotes help illuminate the problem with this line of questioning.

    Before sharing, I need to qualify that we have a common concern: to disciple people and lead them to “say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2.12) That should go without saying, but the last time this topic came up, Ali got very confused and thought I was offering cover for license to sin.

    Anecdote 1: A friend of mine came to Christ out of the world of the occult. Tarot cards, witchcraft, the works. As a believer, she eschewed the entire genre of fantasy — because for her it was a temptation to the old life.

    This anecdote illustrates the problem with focusing on a particular cultural item (GoT, The Wire, etc) as “inherently wicked” while failing to consider that any cultural item may be tempting to a particular individual — and not to others. By asking questions about the inherent wickedness of a particular show, we set ourselves up for dividing cultural items into “good” and “bad” piles, instead of realizing that all such items are potentially tempting, and none of them are universally tempting.

    This leads our hypothetical young man tempted by lust to think that he can avoid temptation by simply dodging Game of Thrones, but watching the NFL halftime show is OK. Or Les Mis. Or any other show that he thinks is “OK” — until he realizes that he’s already been tempted.

    As Jesus said, it is not what goes into a man that causes him to sin, but what comes out of the heart.

    Don’t hear me as saying that people with lust problems should watch whatever they want (Ali — you listening?). I’m saying that creating “blacklists” sets people up to be mugged by their own desires because they externalize temptation.

    Anecdote 2

    Caglet #2 and I talked just today about NCIS Season 2, Episode 15 “Caught on Tape.” In this episode, a SEAL lieutenant falls to his death during a training exercise. Turns out his carabiner (D-link) was faulty — made of Al instead of Fe, so the accident investigation turns into a murder investigation. In the end, it turns out that the lieutenant himself made the faulty D-link as a way to commit suicide *because* his wife caught him in an affair with another man.

    NCIS being what it is, the show took pains to praise the gay lieutenant as “the best man I ever knew”, yada yada. The Caglet was quick to see that the show glossed over the fact that he was cheating on his wife.

    But this led to the more serious question: “Can you be Christian and gay? There’s a singer with the Pentatonix who says he’s a Christian and says he’s gay and says he’s proud of both.”

    So this led to a 30-minute discussion about how

    * We don’t choose our temptations
    * Christians can fall into sin
    * Part of the work of the Spirit is to bring Christians to repent of their sin, so that
    * Christians can live for a long time under bad teaching, or even in rebellion against God’s law — but the work of the Spirit is always to bring conviction and repentance.

    Now, the point of this anecdote is that NCIS is an “OK” show in most peoples’ books. And yet, it is a much more powerful tempter to a much larger audience than GoT; it tempts people to discount God’s word in favor of intuitive ethics. This is very clear in the context of the episode. Further, that temptation is brought by characters whom we respect and like.

    In other words, Caglet #2 who would be utterly repulsed (or baffled?) by a sex scene in GoT, actually needed some guidance to think clearly about NCIS.

    Here’s the point: Splashy temptations aren’t nearly the problem that subtle ones are.

    And that’s why discussions like these drive me nuts. Whether it’s The Wire or GoT (neither of which do I watch), people get up in arms about the overt sexuality. OK, yes, that can be tempting to some. It could be tempting to me. So, skip the scenes or skip the show.

    But those same people often fail to see the temptations present in every work of culture. In fact, they frequently treat “Christian music” or “Christian shows” as pure, when much of that body of work contributes to the doctrinal confusion in the church today.

    To sum up, GoT is not a uniquely horrible show. It is the tip of a huge iceberg whose underwater mass lies in the human heart. Some shows wear their sin on their sleeves; some present it in genial form; all require discernment.


  12. Sorry, Greg, I failed to ackowledge you.

    the last time this topic came up, Ali and Greg got very confused and thought I was offering cover for license to sin.

    Fixed it.


  13. Jeff Cagle says (Ali — you listening?).

    Yes Jeff.

    Do not forsake wisdom and she will guard you; love her and she will watch over you; prize her and she will exalt you; She will place on your head a garland of grace and present you with a crown of beauty. Wisdom is better than jewels and all desirable things cannot compare with her.

    But the lips of a tempter drip honey and smoother than oil is her speech but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Keep your way far from her and do not go near the door of her house for with her many persuasions she entices; she calls to those who pass by, who are making their paths straight: “Whoever is naïve and lacks understand, let him turn in here, for he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol. Do not stray into her paths for many are the victims she has cast down, and numerous are all her slain
    Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways .

    Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals. The prudent see danger and take refuge but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.


  14. Bryan – you clearly haven’t read Martin. Do it and get back to me. Tolkien was a lightweight in comparison.

    JMJR – exactly right. What you didn’t mention is that not only do many Christians today read the Greek classics without a second thought, but the Apostle Paul did as well. People forget that Paul had a strong familiarity with pagan Greek plays, and quoted them IN DEFENSE OF THE GOSPEL, including two different plays in Acts 17 alone. Anyone with a passing familiarity of Greek literature knows they are filled with sex and violence. Was Paul wrong for reading this content and possibly viewing the productions?

    Paul – the main character in Game of Thrones is as metaphorically Christ-like as it gets. Far more than anything written by the Bard.


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