Grand Theft Auto: Jerusalem

Sometimes the Christian Right surprises even me.

There’s this Christian video game, “Left Behind: Eternal Forces,” in which players try to convert people to Christianity — and if nonbelievers won’t convert, players have to kill them. (It’s in the news because non-psychotic Christian groups are asking Wal-Mart to stop carrying the game, on the grounds that it’s, you know, monumentally fucked-up.)

I’m not going to get into the hypocrisy of this, the complete violation of actual Christian values. I’m not even going to get into the disingenuous, “we don’t understand why everyone’s so upset” attitude of the company’s president. I can only shoot fish in a barrel for so long, and these are exceptionally slow, stupid fish.

What I want to say is this: If there were a video game being sold in Iran and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, in which Islamic fundamentalist characters won by converting or killing non-Muslims, people in the U.S. would be having nineteen kinds of hysterics. The Christian right especially.

So… okay, fine. I guess I am getting into the hypocrisy of it. So sue me.

(P.S. Because everything I needed to know I saw on the Simpsons, I have to mention the Christian video game Rod and Todd Flanders play, a “shoot to convert” game very similar to the “Left Behind” one. Bart’s playing the game with Rod and Todd: he excitedly shouts, “Ooh, full conversion!” and Rod says, “No, you just winged him and made him a Unitarian.”)

Grand Theft Auto: Jerusalem

14 thoughts on “Grand Theft Auto: Jerusalem

  1. 1

    To be fair, there was a freeware game about ten years ago called “Rupture The Rapture” that involved shooting at Christians ascending into heaven (extra points for hitting angels). But maybe the fundies just didn’t find out about it.
    I suggest always referring to “Left Behind” as “Sinister Buttcheek.”

  2. 2

    I found a book on cassette by Tim LaHate – excuse me, LaHaye at a thrift shop, from ’99 or so, about how all the Signs around us point to “The End Times”. I’ve also heard him on NPR (where those media liberals refer to him as a *novelist*!) . In both cases, he made some dire predictions concerning the fate of Jews, liberals and homosexuals to say nothing of other unbelievers during The End Times. It pretty much followed the plot line of the video game, except that if memory serves, he predicted that God Himself would be the hit man.

  3. 3

    I want to say something snide about the oxymoronity of the phrase “non-psychotic Christian groups,” but I’m still hung over from the valium I took at 4am to finally get to sleep. Perhaps someone else could either tackle this or flame me.

  4. 4

    I try to be cautious about calling people psychotic because they believe in imaginary things. Two years ago I myself insisted that before the spouse went off to Burning Man and left me alone in the apartment, we had to get a couple of kittens, so I wouldn’t have to stay up all night watching for attacking zombies; my friends Noire, Lily, and the Marquise (these are stage names — we’re all members of an imaginary Goth band) have mutually sworn that if any of our number calls up the others babbling about being attacked by little walnut-headed men who are hiding in her house, we will come over as fast as possible and get her out of the house, without trying to reason with her or get her on tranquilizers.
    My brother believes the (completely unproven) Caloric Reduction Diet will make him live to be 135. Many liberals I know believe that treating someone with dismissive contempt, and maybe calling them racists for good measure, is an intelligent way to argue with someone who disagrees with them politically, even though there’s no evidence it ever accomplished anything useful.
    My point is, we all believe in something imaginary, which suggests that it’s not psychosis, it’s a natural function of the human brain — and a pretty useful one, too. I don’t see Christianity as being more destructive than any other religion, and it did eventually go farther with the ideas of women’s equality and tolerance for homosexuality than any other religion, so there are two points in its favor. (And when even the Baptists are splitting over gay rights, you know an idea is here to stay.)

  5. 5

    Yes, Beth, I think there are non-insane Christian groups. The Quakers come to mind; MCC; the Christian anti-war groups; etc. etc. Plus, of course, the groups who are passionately protesting this stupid fucked-up video game. I happen to thing they’re mistaken about the existence of God, but that hardly makes them psychotic. (Especially since many neurologists believe that the human brain is hard-wired for religious belief.)
    One note: I’m not sure it’s true that Christianity has gone farther with women’s and gay rights than any other major world religion. Reform Judaism has gone pretty dang far.
    And Tim, re the “Rupture The Rapture” video game: It may be that the fundies just didn’t find out about it. But I do think that even if they found out about it, their reaction wouldn’t be nearly the same as it would be to an Islamic fundamentalist “convert or kill” video game. Snarky, blasphemous share-ware freaks aren’t seen as nearly the same kind of threat to Western civilization that Islamic fundamentalists are. (For the most part, anyway…)
    And it wouldn’t just be the fundies who’d freak out. I think half the country would be frothing at the mouth about how the Islamic fundamentalists are trying to take over the world.
    Which, of course, many of them are. But so are many Christian fundamentalists. Harder and harder to see much difference between them…

  6. 7

    Greta writing on behalf of Ingrid, who just made a good point but is too tired to write it: If you look at the more progressive branches of Christianity, then yes, some of them are very gay- and women-friendly. But what are the most powerful, most influential branches of Christianity? Worldwide, it’s probably Catholicism; in the US, it’s probably evangelical Baptism. Neither of which is exactly known for their gay-friendly feminism.

  7. 8

    I think you may have missed my comment about the Baptists: They’ve already started splitting over the issue of homosexuality. Here’s a link to an article about it:
    To emphasize the point: One of the most conservative (and, as Ingrid pointed out, influential) denominations in the U.S. has enough members who are agonizing over the issue of gay rights that a large regional group has now split off from the main body over the subject.
    As a lapsed Episcopalian, I’ve been taking a sporting interest in which churches are fighting and/or splitting over gay rights. THe list currently includes: Presbyterians, Methodists, Evangelical Lutherans, Baptists, the Reformed Church of America, Episcopalians (and the Anglican Communion), the United Church of Christ, and the United Church of Canada. Here’s a great summary, that goes into a lot of detail:
    Even the Catholic church is starting to react; the newer and more stringent edicts against homosexual clergy are a response to growing debate in the church over the issue.
    Well, this is straying a bit, since I only meant to answer Ingrid’s comments about the Baptists; however, the gay rights fights among Christians generally are pretty exciting to watch, and my impression is that a lot of lefties are oblivious to it — which is too bad, because I think it’s hugely important for the spread of gay rights worldwide.

  8. 9

    “I think you may have missed my comment about the Baptists: They’ve already started splitting over the issue of homosexuality.”
    Greta, speaking for herself now, not for Ingrid: I think it’s great that Baptists and other Christian groups are having serious battles over gay rights. I think it’s great that some change and progress is being made. And I agree that leftists shouldn’t be ignoring that.
    But many, many other religious groups are having similar splits and debates and battles. I’m not saying that Christianity is worse than all other religions on feminism and gay rights (although it can sometimes feel that way, since in America they’re the religious organizations that are most in our face). But they’re not superior to all other religions, either. (To quote the article you linked to: “…no major U.S. church has fully endorsed ordaining sexually active homosexuals, even if they are in a committed relationship…” while “Reform Judaism, which is the most liberal wing of the Jewish community, has allowed the ordination of homosexual rabbis since 1990.”)
    Also, the article you linked to about the split among Baptists was about the American Baptist Church — not the Southern Baptist Church. And it’s the Southern Baptist Church that’s the big powerful one (“the second-largest U.S. denomination after Roman Catholicism,” according to the other article.)
    I also think it’s important to distinguish between Christianity — i.e., the institutions — and Christians — i.e., the people. The two largest and most politically powerful religious institutions in the U.S. are Roman Catholicism and Southern Baptism. And yes, the individuals in both institutions are debating and struggling over feminism and gay rights. But the official positions, the most public faces, and perhaps most importantly the political presences of both institutions are solidly anti-feminist and anti-gay — and in some cases they’re getting worse, not better.

  9. 10

    I think the reason the public and political faces of the more reactionary Christian institutions are getting more strident and less tolerant is because they know they are losing.
    Many Christians who have been following the Christian right are starting to question whether their leaders are in fact considering what Jesus would do.
    As the Christian Left finds it’s voice and the hypocrisy of the political leaders who claim to be Christians and then vote to cut funding for the poor, turn a blind eye to the suffering of others and judge others but expect not to be judged themselves becomes more and more evident, the members of the congregations and even some of the clergy who actually took the job out of faith and not a quest for power, are starting to stop, think and speak up.
    I have to say that part of the reason a lot of Christians have been blind to the hypocrisy of the right wing leaders is that they have felt under attack by people left of center who claim to be tolerant but then make snarky remarks about the faith of others. As a bleeding heart liberal, who is constantly disgusted by the words and actions of many in the Christian right, I understand where the snarky remarks come from, but I find myself less likely to respect the opinion of someone who mocks or is intolerant of my faith.
    I have no problem with people denouncing the hypocrisy or intolerance of many people who call themselves Christians, but it rings more true from people who check their own hypocrisy and intolerance at the door.
    I appreciate that Greta makes important distictions between institutions and people and understands that there are even some Christian institutions that aren’t psychotic. Because seriously folks, once you’ve labeled someone an idiot or insane, do you really expect them to respect your opinion on anything?

  10. 11

    I think you make many good points, Laura. I don’t like it when non-believers are snarky and sarcastic about believers either. And I strongly feel that it doesn’t help our cause, or any cause that we’re supporting.
    But in my ongoing, increasingly absurd attempt to understand and sympathise with every possible viewpoint, I feel that I need to say two things.
    One is that I’ve heard and read many believers accuse non-believers of being intolerant for saying things like, “I don’t agree with you,” “I think you’re mistaken,” “I don’t think there’s any evidence to support that,” “There’s actually evidence that contradicts that,” etc. There’s a very common idea that, once somebody says, “That’s what my faith tells me,” or, “Those are my religious beliefs,” then that’s the end of the discussion. The very good idea that we should be tolerant of other people’s religion has been twisted into the very bad idea that religious beliefs are beyond question, and that to question whether someone’s belief is accurate or moral is the same as being intolerant of it. So I think when we accuse people of being snarky or intolerant of religion, we need to be very careful.
    The other is that a lot of people who are snarky about religion are very, very angry about it.
    And they have every reason to be.
    I don’t agree with Richard Dawkins that all religious upbringing is tantamount to child abuse (although in fairness, I haven’t read his new book yet). But I think a huge amount of it is. Millions upon millions of children are taught, not that the question of religion is one they can make up their own minds about, but that one particular religion is the only true one — and that they will be burned and tortured for eternity if they don’t believe. They’re given vivid, detailed, traumatic descriptions of this burning and torture. Children, this is happening to. And they’re taught that even to question this belief is sufficient reason for them to be burned and tortured. (For further reading on this subject, read Craig Thompson’s brilliant graphic-novel memoir “Blankets.”)
    Do I need to go on? Millions of children are taught by religion to hate their bodies and their sexuality. I’m not even going to get into what girls and gay kids are taught about themselves. Millions of children are taught to hold other people — including other children — who don’t share those beliefs in hatred, fear, pity, and contempt. (Did anyone else listen to “This American Life” this weekend, the story about the only Muslim girl in her class right after 9/11, and what both her teacher and her classmates put her through? I didn’t know whether to cry, vomit, or blow up buildings.) And they’re taught to distrust their own minds and experiences; they’re taught that it’s a damnable sin to seek evidence or rational explanation for an idea, and that they should just believe what they’re told. (And again, that they’ll be burned and tortured if they don’t.)
    Is that what religious teaching of children is like all the time? No, of course not. But it’s what it’s like *an awful lot of the time.* Arguably most of the time.
    So when you hear a non-believer being snarky or unfair about religion, try to remember that a lot of the time, what’s behind it is an angry, seriously injured child lashing out at their abuser. And with every reason to do so. I don’t think that justifies the snark or the unfairness — but it sure does make me more understanding of it.

  11. SJR

    This statement is posted from an employee of Left Behind Games on behalf of Troy Lyndon, our Chief Executive Officer.
    There has been in incredible amount of MISINFORMATION published in the media and in online blogs here and elsewhere.
    Pacifist Christians and other groups are taking the game material out of context to support their own causes. There is NO “killing in the name of God” and NO “convert or die”. There are NO “negative portrayals of Muslims” and there are NO “points for killing”.
    Please play the game demo for yourself (to at least level 5 of 40) to get an accurate perspective, or listen to what CREDIBLE unbiased experts are saying after reviewing the game at
    Then, we’d love to hear your feedback as an informed player.
    The reality is that we’re receiving reports everyday of how this game is positively affecting lives by all who play it.
    Thank you for taking the time to be a responsible blogger.

  12. 13

    (I sent this as an email to SJR, and am also posting it here.)
    Dear SJR:
    I received your comment on my blog, and I have some questions about it.
    Your comment clearly was a form letter, and it’s even even more clear that you hadn’t actually read my blog entry before you posted it. This is clear because your comment responded to several accusations leveled at the “Left Behind” video game that I didn’t actually make — and more to the point, it didn’t respond to the one accusation I did make. (I do think there’s a certain irony in you getting upset over people commenting about your game who haven’t played it, when you obviously were commenting on a blog entry that you haven’t read… but I think we can leave that for now.)
    Here is my question: The one statement I made about your game — on which the whole rest of my commentary was based — was that “players try to convert people to Christianity — and if nonbelievers won’t convert, players have to kill them.” This statement was based, not only on multiple news stories about the game, but on comments made by game reviewers who have played it, and indeed on descriptions of the game made by your organization. My question: Is my statement inaccurate? Is the game set up so that players must sometimes kill non-believers who they can’t convert, or isn’t it?
    And while I thank you for your offer to play the game myself, I must respectfully decline. I don’t play video games even when they don’t consist of evangelical Christian propaganda, and I think I’m unlikely to begin with one that does. Thank you for your time and attention, and I hope to hear from you soon.
    Greta Christina

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