Game Of Thrones: Should Christians watch it?
Game of Thrones divides opinions like few other contemporary TV shows. Some never miss an episode, devour the books and we're told that people are now naming their babies after characters.
Others seem at pains to point out that they're not watching it, have never seen it, and wouldn't even dream of watching it.
To an extent it's a common theme – any popular programme will inspire devotion and bafflement. But Game Of Thrones seems to inspire partisan feeling on both sides.
The latest example came this week when a short article on The Gospel Coalition website expressed the author's surprise that Christians would ever watch it. 'For conservative Christians who care about marriage and immorality and decency in so many other areas, it is baffling that Game of Thrones gets a free pass,' Kevin DeYoung writes.
His concern? 'It seems to me sensuality – of a very graphic nature – is a major part of the series.' He goes on to advise against Christians ever watching it.
Ok, let's leave aside the fact that DeYoung admits he's never actually seen the show, and concentrate on his argument. He says the show is too sexualised and therefore is a no-go. To an extent he's correct – there are elements of the programme that some Christians will find distasteful and it certainly isn't suitable for children.
The show portrays a world in which women are subservient to men (to an extent), and in which power is incredibly imbalanced. Sex is used as a power play and there are a couple of disturbing rape scenes that have been the subject of heated debate.
There is also the portrayal of consensual sex that is similar to that which many mainstream Hollywood films might include. It's something a lot of Christians choose to avoid and that is a perfectly reasonable position.
But there are a couple of reasons I think DeYoung's dismissal of the show might be over the top. Firstly, as I've written before, there is a deep theological core to Game of Thrones, as with many currently popular TV box sets.
It shows the consequences of a world where power is the ultimate arbiter in deciding who is in charge and what the rules are. Some characters have a moral hinterland and there are moments of grace, but the overall plotline takes place in a world ruled by seemingly absent or capricious gods, where humans are left to fight among themselves for the titular throne.
This reminder of what a world based on power alone would look like is actually a good thing. House of Cards is another show which demonstrates the terror that lies beneath a world without grace, compassion and goodness. Of course, didactic representations of our need for goodness and for God didn't arrive with TV – they've been around since the Bible and even before that. But there is something more immediate about seeing this world portrayed on TV than is presented by reading Nietzsche.
Game of Thrones is a good watch because it presents the stark reality of a world without God and without grace.
Secondly, while I understand the complaints about the sexualised nature of the show, it's interesting to see other elements of Game of Thrones not being singled out. There is an awful lot of violence too. In one episode there is a battle scene so realistic and grisly that it almost made me feel sick. As a Christian, I can choose to ignore that, or I can engage with it. It showed me a little of the grim reality of war that actually reinforced my God-given desire for peace.
Interestingly, though, DeYoung offers no criticism of this violence in the show. Is violence OK, for conservative Christians? Or is it just not 'as bad' as sex?
In a country where racial prejudice remains fierce, nuclear war is back on the agenda and in a world where the climate is changing to threaten the lives of millions of people, maybe Game of Thrones isn't the biggest threat we face.
Anglican Bishop John Robinson testified at the infamous Lady Chatterley trial in 1960. When he declared sex 'an act of holy communion' after he was asked whether Christians should read Lady Chatterley's Lover, the controversial text by DH Lawrence, he received a good deal of press attention. I'm not seeking to be controversial or edgy.
My plea here isn't that Christians should watch Game of Thrones, it's just that they might have good reasons to do so, just as others might have reasons not to.