Watching Game of Thrones

& Our Missing Theologies for Understanding It

By Chase Replogle — Chase is the pastor of Bent Oak Church in Springfield, MO and hosts the Pastor Writer Podcast. A native of the Ozark woods, he enjoys being outdoors with his wife and two kids: sailing, playing the mandolin (badly), and quail hunting with his bird dog Millie.

When season eight of Game of Thrones (GOT) premiered this year, HBO estimated that 17.4 million viewers were watching. Considering GOT is one of the most pirated shows in history, that number is probably much higher. HBO has spent more than 90 million dollars marketing the final season, and experts are estimating that the finale may beat the premier’s record viewership.

There is no disputing that the show has forever changed how we think about entertainment and left a deep impression on our culture. It has captured the attention of a generation and sparked endless debates, maybe nowhere more than within the church. Just google “Should Christians watch Game of Thrones?” and brace yourself for debates as fierce as the show itself.

This article is going to have two big problems that need to be addressed straightaway. First, I have never watched 2 seconds of the show, though you would have to live under a rock to not know about it. I realize, for many, that may disqualify me from having an opinion. I’m not unaware of your concerns. As a positive, there is far less risk I’ll spoil an ending.

Second, the way these conversations tend to go is that when I admit that I have not watched the show due to my concern with its graphic nature, both sexually and violently, you tend to lump me in with, what you imagine to be, all the other stuffy-nay-sayers. You do it quite justifiably, assuming I’ve lumped you in with all the other sex-obsessed libertine Millennials. (I’m actually a millennial as well, though I hate being categorized by that title just as much as you do).

The one thing most apparent to me is that the church has no clue how to talk about Game of Thrones. The level of our discourse seems to have only been able to rise to the level of, “It’s so good!” and “It’s so bad!” What we are missing is the challenging work of theology. That is, attempting to understand how the reality of God and his revelation of Christ intervene in this world and our time, how his kingdom has come and how the decisions we now make either refect it or distract from it.

So, where I hope this conversation can go is down a less worn path. Setting aside our personal opinions on what Christians should and shouldn’t watch, I think it’s worth considering what Game of Thrones, and our culture’s obsession with it, demonstrates about you and I. If I can articulate why you find yourself so interested in it, maybe you can recognize my hesitation for it. Sound fair?

I want to look at three theologies, that due to their anemic and underdeveloped form are limiting our ability to think deeply about watching shows like GOT.

  1. 1. A Theology of Nihilism
  2. 2. A Theology of FOMO
  3. 3. A Theology of Clothes

Not your typical systematic theology, I realize.

1. A Theology of Nihilism

Game of Thrones is the kind of show that sounds massively appealing to me. Having grown up with The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition Boxed Set and having spent many hours building Lego castles complete with my own shielded warrior armies, I find the immersive medieval world of GOT intriguing, dragons and all.

Game of Thrones is based on a series of books written by George R. R. Martin. I’ve never heard Martin credit J. R. R. Tolkien with his choice of name initialism, but Martin has often spoken of the influence Tolkien had on his interest in fantasy fiction. Tolkien’s trilogy format and immersive world building are now foundational components of modern fantasy.

The themes behind The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) reflect Tolkien’s personal and horrific experience fighting in the trenches of WWI and his deeply held Catholic faith. In fact, Tolkien’s friendship is credited with having led C. S. Lewis to the Christian faith. While LOTR is not explicitly Christian, its hopeful tone and values of friendship, honor, and self-sacrifice are evident to most. You can imagine Lewis thinking of Tolkien when he wrote, “The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature.”

But as influential as Tolkien was in forming the fantasy interests of Martin, Martin had one primary problem with The Lord of the Rings: it was too optimistic and too simplistic. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Martin explained:

“Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?”

Game of Thrones is alternatively an exploration of these unaddressed questions—power and politics in its most brutal and nihilistic forms. It is a world without God, without values, awash in Darwinian survival of the fittest. Martin and the show’s producers wanted to make this not only clear but shockingly clear to their audience.

The series will always be remembered for initially leading viewers to believe it was a story framed around the heroic Ned Stark—played by Sean Bean, by far the most recognized actor on the show and known in large part for his role in The Lord of the Rings. To the surprise of the audience, Stark was shockingly beheaded in season one. The statement intended was as brutal as the act. This is not Tolkien’s story. This is not about heroes. This was a rebellion against the stories you’ve previously been told.

When asked what he thought made GOT such a success, Bean explained:

“I mean, the sheer balls of the thing. It takes no prisoners. It touches upon all those very deep emotions — anger and jealousy and love and hate. People can see themselves in it. The characters might seem out of this world, but they’re very much like all of us. And anything can happen. When you can kill the main character in the first series, everybody’s in danger! It’s pure fantasy, but rooted in issues with power — the power of the throne, the power of the families, and the lengths that they would go to to achieve this ultimate power, which is quite a curious thing.”

That topic is a curious one for Martin as well. Martin was a conscious objector to Vietnam and has acknowledged how that war led him to question the ways in which power is used and manipulated in our own world. Again, he explains his thoughts to Rolling Stone:

“Why did anybody go to Vietnam? Were the people who went more patriotic? Were they braver? Were they stupider? Why does anybody go? What’s all this based on? It’s all based on an illusion: You go because you’re afraid of what will happen if you don’t go, even if you don’t believe in it. But where do these systems of obedience come from? Why do we recognize power instead of individual autonomy? These questions are fascinating to me. It’s all this strange illusion, isn’t it?”

In comparing Martin’s Game of Thrones to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, you might not find a better line than Martin’s. “Why do we recognize power instead of individual autonomy?” While Lord of the Rings captured the struggle of Froddo to pay the personal price required to bear the ring and saving Middle Earth, GOT is a story about the lengths we will go to protect our power and defend our autonomy. It is a world in which individuals are brutalized and objectified by power claims and power grabs. Martin forces us to face the raw potential of power used for self-preservation.

Martin has resisted the idea that his story is Nihilistic though, insisting that his “worldview is anything but nihilistic.” To be fair, Martin effectively puts on display the real brokenness of humanity and reveals to us the raw potential of our self-interests. If it is nihilistic, as so many critics have suggested, Martin sees this truth as necessary to capture the realistic condition of humanity. Fantasy has long been a tool for displaying our lives in ways contemporary portrayals would never be allowed to do.

It’s this reason that has prompted many to find the show’s horrific depictions of violence, torture, and unprecedented nudity necessary to capture the nihilistic existence the show wants us to feel.

Our infatuation with these nihilistic stories is hardly new for society, though. There was the cultural obsession with Christopher Nolan’s Joker and the equally brutal and award-winning No Country for Old Men. While it may be that writers like Martin have intended their nihilistic stories to catch us off guard and shock us into seeing something of our own horrific nature, we have done something equally shocking in our consumption.

As an illustration, there are plenty of other movies which aim to depict human depravity and force us to acknowledge our manipulation of power. Consider Schindler’s List. While not as nihilistic in its final message, the show includes graphic violence and nudity which IMDB ranks as “Severe.” But the striking difference lies in our reaction to it. No one is throwing Schindler’s List cosplay parties. There’s no Schindler’s List night at the ballpark. No ones hashtagging selfies with Schindler’s List movie props. And absolutely no one is taking online tests to determine “which Schindler’s List character you are.”

You can tease out philosophical, even spiritual implications from Game of Throne’s nihilistic tone, but maybe more shocking than its content is how it has captured our culture as entertainment. That our culture can look into the horrific truth of our own depravity and find it strangely thrilling, that’s something worth thinking about—an IKEA coach, a bag of popcorn, and an evening of nihilism.

Nihilism and Our Inverted Maturity

While we host watch parties and spend Sunday nights bingeing on broken humanity with our friends, we imagine that our ability to stomach it is actually a sign of our maturity. Listen to someone try and recommend the show to a friend. “It’s so good. I mean there is a lot of bad stuff, but if you can get past that, the show is so good.” Eventually, you’ll get the, “it doesn’t cause me to sin.” Fair enough.  But anyone who suggests that the show is contrary to Christian values is quickly written-off as judgmental, stuffy, and immature in their understanding of culture, art, and the general reality of things. Being “in on it” has become the new maturity.

And it’s not just me pointing out this trend. The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor in his monumental, A Secular Age, explains similarly:

“This means that this ideal of the courageous acknowledger of unpalatable truths, ready to eschew all easy comfort and consolation, and who by the same token becomes capable of grasping and controlling the world, sits well with us, draws us, that we feel tempted to make it our own. And/or it means that the counter-ideals of belief, devotion, piety, can all-too-easily seem actuated by a still immature desire for consolation, meaning, extra-human sustenance.”

In a nihilistic world which GOT depicts, the person who stands for “belief, devotion, piety” is thought to be immature and usually quickly beheaded. Any desire for meaning or transcendent “sustenance” is a sign of naiveté. True transcendence and maturity is the man who can courageously acknowledge unpalatable truths and crush the comfort and conclusions of weaker positions.

We find the person willing to go where no one else has most courageous, and we find ourselves oddly drawn to their confidence and displays of nerve. Our heroes become those willing to repudiate heroics. And so we come to, as Paul would put it, glory in our shame, or at least what once shamed us.

This isn’t strictly a religious argument I’m attempting to make. In 1985, Neil Postman published Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. In the introduction of the book, he compares two dystopian views of our future. One is represented by George Orwell’s 1984. Orwell imagined society run by a “big brother,” a dominating governmental bureaucracy which denied human rights and controlled every detail of life. He imagined we would be controlled by force. Alternatively, Postman also considered Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Huxley saw our enslavement coming not by power but by pleasure. He imagined a world in which we were pacified by entertainment.

Postman concluded, “There are two ways by which the spirit of a culture may be shriveled. In the first—the Orwellian—culture becomes a prison. In the second—the Huxleyan—culture becomes a burlesque.” Postman warned about a world which devolves into entertainment. Where experience and shock capture so much of our attention that we forget how to pay attention to things less easily consumed. We no longer debate ideas but argue about celebrities, fads, and sitcom plots.

We imagine ourselves mature, thoughtful, and independent, but our hunger for more entertainment enslaves us to shallowness. It’s not GOT’s nihilism, which ultimately concerns me; the Bible has stories from the book of Judges that leave you feeling pretty nihilistic. The Bible depicts incest, rape, sexual exploit, genocide, and horrific violence, and it’s used for the similar effect of revealing our brokenness, but those stories never deteriorate into forms of pop-entertainment.

As Postman explained, “The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining, which is another issue altogether.”

That deterioration is happening all around us. Consider how educational channels like TLC (The Learning Channel) and Discovery have now given us Honey Boo Boo, My 600lb Life, Sister Wives, Naked and Afraid, Pawn Stars, and the Amish Mafia. VH1, once known for playing music videos, has turned to shows like Dating Naked. Even CNN has opted for bizarre food and exotic world travel. Our appetite for more entertainment continues to press producers to keep up.

Where Does This Nihilism Come From?

Our desire to entertain ourselves with shocking depictions of depravity has a motive. And it’s part of the inevitable consequence of embracing a nihilistic worldview, of rejecting moral authority. The philosopher Nietzsche defined nihilism this way, “What does nihilism mean? That the highest values devaluate themselves… ‘Why?’ finds no answer.”

You can think of nihilism as a flattening of all values. Nihilism doesn’t mean that there are no values, only that there is no hierarchy of values or transcendent authority by which values are compared. Nihilism is fundamentally the absence of any authority or responsibility to a higher power. Without the traditional expectations of submission to this authority, we are each left to determine how values should be constructed personally.

Nietzsche famously captured this new reality in his parable of the madman. He writes:

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it?”

Without the authority of God, what is left to call valuable? If there is no human accountability to the divine, how do we determine what is valuable? Nietzsche’s depiction of God’s death inaugurated an age skeptical of all authority. No one has any authoritative right to tell another person what to think, believe, or value. Nihilism thus turns our attention to the only thing that is left, ourselves. Existence is flattened to the individual. This is precisely the world GOT depicts. It is a world in which each character must pragmatically determination their own way and the means by which they will find it.

Similarly, our world now sees all value judgments concerning another person as claims of power. Suggesting that another person’s actions might be morally wrong feels like a prideful reach for authority. In the flattened world of nihilism, nothing can be implied, inferred, or inherited, which is not grounded first in a personal benefit. Otherwise, it is seen as a claim to authority and a manipulative use of power.

For instance, anyone who suggests you might turn the show off for moral reasons is considered stepping beyond their rights and implying authority over someone else. What’s wrong for you is personal. And what’s right for me is personal.

While this disorienting reality of having no ultimate right or wrong—what Nietzsche described as using a “sponge to wipe away the entire horizon”—may seem hopeless, Nietzsche was ultimately optimistic about our ability to construct a new morality. If nothing was inherited, then we would create the values that served us best. We would become the transcendent ourselves. We would, as Nietzsche put it, be left to become our own gods.

The impact of this nihilistic perspective is the inevitable elevation of the individual as sovereign. Each person is given the task of discovering their own values. Personal transcendence replaces knowledge of the transcendent. Our heroes become those capable of defying the old expectations and demonstrating their uniqueness. And we find the shocking depictions of traditional lines being crossed ever more entertaining. Nothing feels more empowering than watching others go where we’ve been told we can’t.

Lord of the Rings captured our attention with hope and the possibility of good beating the odds against evil. Game of Thrones has captured our attention with its attempt to liberate us from the supposed power structures of tradition, expectations, and the world of established values. We find ourselves imagining we are mature, empowered, and free when we find ourselves most entertained, shocked, and nonchalant.

2. A Theology of the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

This is where you’re probably thinking, I’m not so sure about nihilism. I just watch Game of Thrones because it’s so good. In a culture of binge-watching, GOT has been described as the most binge-worthy show in history. With eight seasons, the show now offers nearly 48 hours streamable on HBO. At the time of my writing, there are seventy-one episodes.

As one viewer, attempting to catch up on the show, explained, “I have FOMO and I almost never have FOMO about anything. It feels like literally, everybody but me is watching the show, and while that’s not true, it might as well be. But people I love to talk pop culture with are all watching and I have to stand outside the fence, dragging my shoes in the dirt waiting for the conversation to change to something I’m up on.”

The fear of missing out on one of the greatest shows in history, the thing everyone is constantly tweeting about, is a real kind of fear. And even if not outright anxiety, it has proved to be more than many can resist. Laugh all you want, but psychologists have quantitatively identified FOMO and describe it as, “‘the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out – that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you. Under this framing of FOMO, nearly three-quarters of young adults reported they experienced the phenomenon.”

This is where we need to momentarily step back into our conversation on philosophical nihilism. Not everyone was as optimistic about humanities ability to construct values in the absence of divine authority as Nietzsche. Let me introduce you to the 20th Century German philosopher Martin Heidegger.

Heidegger feared that with a flattened value system, and with each individual now tasked with finding their own meaning and guiding principles, most would retreat into private experience as a means of establishing value. As each person looked for significance, inevitably experience would become the dominating arbiter of values. We would use our feelings and personal experiences to construct what seemed most valuable to each of us. Heidegger believed our society’s ultimate value would eventually shift to experience itself.

In his essay on Heidegger, Nihilism, and Art Burkley Professor Hubert L. Dreyfus writes:

“Heidegger sees this move to private experience as characteristic of the modern age. Art, religion, sex, education—all become varieties of experience. When all our concerns have been reduced to the common denominator of ‘experience,’ we will have reached the last stage of nihilism. One then sees ‘the plunge into frenzy and the disintegration into sheer feeling as redemptive. The lived experience as such becomes decisive.'”

I want to be very clear about what Heidegger is saying because it is profoundly important. As we more often depend on experience to validate our values, realities such as art, religion, sex, education, and entertainment itself become redemptive. They take on redemptive significance because of their ability to awaken emotional experiences in us, the pursuit of which shape meaning and serve as our new morality. Our feelings become transcendent. Experiences become salvific. Morality becomes relativized to individual preference and taste. We prove what is right by how it makes us feel. Even as believers, our faith itself can shift into subjective categories of experience and emotionally derived morality.

Our generation is living in what Heidegger imagined would be the final stage of Nihilism. And, though he would have probably been forced to sheepishly ask his twenty-something granddaughter to explain the acronym, I think Heidegger would have recognized FOMO as evidence of our condition. In a world where experiences form our most important pursuits, where those experiences now serve to replace religious traditions of meaning and authority, how would we not fear that we are missing out on what others are finding? The world offers more experience than any life can explore. When do we ever sleep?

As Heidegger put it, “The loss of the gods is so far from excluding religiosity that rather only through that loss is the relation of the gods changed into mere “religious experience.” Experience itself becomes our religion. We have traded the actual transcendent authority of God for the pursuit of experiences which feel transcendent. The only authority is our personal pursuit of adventure.

A recent study conducted by the event registration company Eventbrite found that 69 percent of millennials experience this FOMO when they are left out of an event attended by their close friends and family, and the study concluded, “For millennials, FOMO is not just a cultural phenomenon, it’s an epidemic.” Or consider this recent article title from Adweek—a publication chronicling trends in the advertising industry—”Ways Marketers Can Successfully Leverage FOMO Amongst Millennials.” When marketers are “leveraging” it, you can be sure it’s real. Capitalism has no margins for philosophical pontificating. Adweek talks about your FOMO because they know just how much it impacts the decision you make and the money you spend.

The irony is that our generation is starting to show the signs of being crushed by the very philosophy that was intended to free us. We have been given a world in which we are free to construct our own values. Erased is the tired and worn morality of previous generations. What Nietzsche described as, “herd animal morality.” We are more enlightened. Ours would be a world of tolerance, encouragement, and liberation. A world where each person could live the life most meaningful to them. The world was placed in our hands, and the treasure was ours to find. We rolled our eyes at the notions of God, holiness, judgment, and authority and then returned to our frantic searching, more and more afraid we’re missing it, and never quite convinced we’ve found it. To again use Nietzche’s line, “Do we not feel the breath of empty space?”

You might think it’s a stretch to suggest that Millennials are trading God for GOT, after all, plenty worship Sunday morning and watch Sunday night. We want all the experiences. There are plenty of Christians who see no problem in participating. My question is maybe a more important one though, not why would you watch it, but why do you find it so difficult not to? What are you afraid of missing out on?

I think our fear of missing out on Game of Thrones reveals that, though we imagine ourselves independent, self-expressive, and morally mature, we are desperately insecure and not wanting to be left out on anything that might offer even a moment of meaning.

3. A Theology of Clothes

Bodies and swords are often the weapons of rebellion. Game of Thrones has spared little in utilizing both. Entertainment Weekly calculated that in the first 67 episodes of GOT there are “a whopping 82 nude scenes.” The list of scenes on IMDB are awkward and graphic, even to read, including rape, incest, and full frontal male and female nudity.

That has caused many to raise boisterous concerns, which have been met by equally boisterous counter-reactions. A GOT cast member lamented to one UK news agency, “why are we so offended by nudity anyway because you’re seeing things that everyone’s already got?” After fans complained that women were primarily the ones being undressed on the show, a social media campaign to “free the [member]” was waged online and the show responded as demanded.

I’ve been surprised by how many Christians seem indifferent to watching such displays. I’ve met none who endorse it, but most shrug their shoulders and surrender to the way our culture is today. And this is where things continue to get more confusing. Our concept of nudity is fundamentally changing, and our conversations on the question often seem incomprehensible.

Consider that half of millennials admit to having sent naked selfies. Who knows how many more have taken them. Millennials are behind nationwide efforts to repeal public exposure laws. Gallop reports that 59% of 18-34 year-olds saw pornography as morally acceptable. And when segmented by those who said, “Religion is very important,” 22% still saw no moral issue with pornography. One study found that a significant percentage of young Millenials ranked not recycling as worse than viewing pornographic material.

The data, scientific and anecdotal, has led some to declare Millennials the most sexually promiscuous culture in history. But Millennials rarely describe themselves that way. And there are plenty of sources to demonstrate the opposite. Studies have found that Millenials are having less sex than previous generations. Some have even called Millennials a modest generation. And if you want some really interesting studies, search online for how condominiums and public gyms are catering to Millennials who prefer not to be nude in public showers or even in their own homes when sharing a bathroom with a partner or spouse. Some high-end developments now are building his and her bathrooms.

There is something fundamentally different about how Millennials see the human body and think about nudity. At its best, Millennials have rightfully argued that a body is not an object to be sexualized, a serious critique of our parent’s generation. Many suggest that GOT uses nudity in a way that is not sexual or pornographic at all but rather artistic and required to express the true nature of its characters. I suspect there is something more being hidden in even our non-sexualized interest in nudity.

Let me demonstrate with an example. A few years ago the actress Jenifer Lawrence was the victim of a cyber-hacking which stole her personal nude photos and posted them online. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence argued, “Anybody who looked at those pictures, you’re perpetuating a sexual offense. I didn’t tell you that you could look at my naked body. It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting.”

By the way, I couldn’t agree more that the crime and mass-consumption are both disgusting, yet Time magazine pointed out the interesting fact that Lawrence poised topless for the very cover of the Vanity Fair issue which included her statements about that hacking.

In the article, “How Nudity Became the New Normal,” Time went on to offer this statement by sexuality educator Dr. Logan Levkoff. “It’s our image, it’s not us,” she explains. “We’re not engaging with someone face to face, so the perception is that we’re not vulnerable.” The fundamental issue for many Millennials is not nudity but the power of an individual to express their strength through their body. Dr. Levkoff goes on to say something remarkable, “The majority of adolescents who are out there naked, it’s not because they’re necessarily comfortable, it’s because they want to show people they’re comfortable.”

In other words, nudity has become a cultural symbol of self-acceptance, confidence, and strength. In previous generations, nudity was almost exclusively sexualized. Nudity was a marketing tool for drawing attention. It’s not that nudity is now never sexual, hardly, but Millennials think of nudity in terms broader than sexuality.

If experience has become the dominant value of my generation, than its closest partner is acceptance. Any value, honestly and passionately held by another, is no better than your own. Acceptance of our differences is the highest dogma. But accepting one another has proven far easier than accepting ourselves. While we enthusiastically affirm the choices of others, we struggle to feel self-confidence. We struggle to accept ourselves with the same enthusiasm. Nudity has become a tool, not just of rebellion against traditional prudishness but against self-vulnerability. Barring all is the test of ultimate self-confidence and that confidence is the highest ideal—to accept yourself. Being nude and unashamed feels like reversing the cures, which is another way to describe heaven. Ultimate self-acceptance is the highest ideal. And so our magazines are an endless parade of celebrities taking their stand by bearing their bodies.

To again quote from times article:

“It’s the difference between posing nude and feeling naked. We use “naked” and “nude” like synonyms, but there have always been differences between bare bodies, even in art history. A naked figure is supposed to have clothes on, but doesn’t (like the naked woman surrounded by clothed men in Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass.) A nude figure doesn’t have to worry about pesky social conventions like pants, because it’s usually some kind of Classical or Biblical hero, like Michelangelo’s David.”

Nakedness is vulnerability, but a confident nude figure is the stuff of Biblical heroics.

With this shift, the modest expectation of our Christian communities, predicated on notions of purity, have been heard as a form of oppression. Any authority or judgment concerning what a person wears, or doesn’t wear, is considered to be robbing an individual of their sacred right to self-expression and self-determination. The iconic red capes of The Handmaiden’s Tale capture the Millennial take perfectly. Conformity and expectations are tyranny. Put on more clothes sounds something like, “shut up and know your place.” Alternative nudity promises liberation and expresses the nihilistic ideal of self-acceptance alone.

What the church is missing is not a theology of purity or nudity but a theology of clothes. My youth group talked a lot about avoiding nakedness in all its forms; what we didn’t get was a proper theological view on why we wear clothes at all.

You might remember from the garden that clothing was first introduced by Adam and Eve in their mad scramble to cover up their guilt and shame. Their nakedness had them feeling vulnerability for the first time. It’s always fascinated me that the first consequence of sin was our realization of nakedness. It’s as if, having spent their whole lives with their eyes fixed on the goodness of God, the goodness of creation, and the goodness of their partner, they had never looked down to see themselves. Having eaten the forbidden fruit for their own gain, they suddenly shifted their gaze down to themselves and were shocked to realize they were naked. All this time, they had been exposed. Vulnerability entered the world.

They had attempted to take God’s place, to replace his values with their own. What they gained was not the confidence of self-actualization or defiant nudity but instead the shame of their own nakedness. And they hid.

What you would imagine God doing, as his first real act of grace, would be to restore their idealistic nudity back to how they had been created. Instead, God replaced their sloppily pinned fig leaves with garments of animal skin. God covered them. Unlike animals, we wear clothes. It is the memory of our fall, the unsolvable problem of vulnerability.

Clothes are a sign of humility. They are a sign of our naked state. They are a sign that the solution to our deepest fears and insecurities lies not within us but beyond us. We are in need of a covering.

Our clothes are not symbols of status, wealth, taste, nor a work of self-expression. What matters most is not how they make us feel or what we like. Our clothes remind us that we are not in a nihilistic world. They remind us that we have been promised new and eternal garments, white and spotless. They remind us that our confidence can never be secure in our own naked bodies. Our clothes demonstrate that we are submissive to a higher power and that God’s values are not for our shame but for our defense.

I fear that Christians casual participation in a culture of unclothing risks our participation in a rebellion against God. More than being a question of just sexuality, lust, and purity, it is an act of open defiance against authority and the transcendence of God. And you think it’s no big deal.

Eat, Drink, For Tomorrow, We Watch Game of Thrones

My choice not to watch Game of Thrones is not about ego or judgment. I do it as an act of subversion. God’s people have always been a peculiar people. I want in on that. I want to call out insecurity parading itself as maturity and confidence. I want to expose the game we’re all playing. Sunday night, I won’t be watching. Instead, I think I might go for a walk with my wife and kids.

That’s no guilt trip. But don’t be naive. Don’t surrender to the ways this world manipulates and sells your fears. Don’t live for shock. Don’t give in to nihilism. Stand for something greater than passing moments of thrill. Articulate more than fandom. Search for more than an experience. Trust a transcendence higher than yourself. Hold on to a value larger than you could self construct. Hold on to Christ. Enjoy him. Taste and see. Drink and be thirsty no more. You’re not missing out by turning it off.

“One way to define spiritual life is getting so tired and fed up with yourself you go on to something better, which is following Jesus.” — Eugene H. Peterson

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