Why Canon the Card Game is Necessary

Canon atheist meme

A recent post on the blog “History for Atheists” (which critiqued the meme above) highlights the reason why I felt the need to develop Canon: The Card Game: there is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation on the subject. The challenge for a professor teaching a one-semester course on the Bible is when and how to cover material related to the formation of biblical canons. There is a long history that led up to the collection of works into compilations that we refer to in the misleading singular as “the Bible.” Many students are not aware, prior to taking the course, of differences between various Jewish and Christian canons past and present, and have no idea where the table of contents in their Bible comes from. And many others have read or seen The Da Vinci Code – the popularity of which is hopefully waning, but the influence of which continues to be felt, as is illustrated by the appeal British charity stores made asking people not to donate any more copies of the book. Despite Dan Brown’s claim, the emperor Constantine did not define the canon at all, much less in the manner that some think – by saying “you have too many Gospels – pick your four favorites.” But should one tackle these misconceptions right at the beginning of the semester – risking boring students with events that pertain to books that many of them have never even read yet? Or should one leave it until the end of the semester (as Bart Ehrman’s textbook would encourage one to do) – which makes better historical sense, but means that the semester is spent studying works individually without addressing some of the assumptions about the collection as a whole that may interfere with their learning about its parts.

The fact of the matter is that canons come about through a process that is at once consensus-building and competitive. And since it is a standard academic approach to a complex issue to engage in modeling that seeks to simplify without losing accuracy in and effort to understand and/or teach, seeking to replicate this through game mechanics seemed worth pursuing. I’m delighted that the result is a fun game – much more fun than the history of debates about the canon is, but now at least learning about that process can be more fun than it ever has been before!

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  • jh

    While I can agree with your assessment, you have to admit there is some truth to the meme. The canon was picked by men. It wasn’t like Athena sprung full-formed from Zeus’ head. That taint of men picking and choosing, no matter how scholarly, should be kept in mind. That is the central truth of that meme. That the bibles of the various Christianities was man-chosen rather than some divine process. It weakens the claims of Christians who assert some divine authority because of verse x.

    (FYI – I went to a catholic univ for two years. I had to take religious courses because catholic university. They were intriguing because they traced early church history. Naturally, when I moved, the new university didn’t accept those religious course. What was shocking was how illiterate people were about basic bible stories such as Noah’s flood. That should have been taught at Sunday School 101.)

    Any way – I’m already intrigued by the game. It would be wonderful if you could post a video of a game play through. I wouldn’t object to adding another game to my board game collection.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      The point of the historical approach is that the canon came about through human processes. There is no need to simply make things up or misrepresent history in order to convey that point. The point is conveyed equally well if not better by talking about what actually happened, than by a fabricated fictitious account.

      There is a video about the game, although it features a set of cards that I produced using the university print shop for playtesting and development purposes – the cards that you get in the game if you purchase it now look very different and professional. Here is a link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDr_GxizXl8

    • Steven R Scott

      Hi JH, while your basic assumption that it was men who made the decisions as to what was considered scripture or not is likely correct: we do not know that women did not have a role to play in the decision making process. Also, it seems that the four gospels in the canon seem to be the earliest and also seem to have had widespread authority within the communities likely since the time they were written (for example, Luke and Matthew clearly held Mark and Q to be authoritative, and I think John likewise with the other 3: I controversially think he knew all three and it is best to see his gospel as a midrash on the synoptic tradition). Was it just the men in the early communities, ones where women seem to have had at times significant leadership roles, who accepted these texts as authoritative? The same can be said for the Pauline letters. As for other early Christian not found in the Canon, it too was most likely all written by men, and all seem to be later works with innovative theologies (especially the Gnostic works) and thus branded “heresy” by the more traditionally minded communities.

    • Erp

      Except the meme is completely wrong on how and since historians can show it is wrong, it undermines the very point you think it is making (those who believe in the divine fiat are unlikely to read the next bit about historians’ best guess on how).

  • John MacDonald

    I think using gaming to teach is all just very interesting. I remember playing “Sid Meier’s Pirates!” for my Commodore 64 back in the 80’s, and remember how much fun it was reading through the large manual which was basically a course in the ships and history of the pirate period. I think I enjoyed reading the manual just as much as playing the game. If I played “Canon The Card Game” and enjoyed it, this would probably inspire me to do further independent study of some or a lot of the themes I encountered in the game.

  • Matt Cavanaugh

    Most people are unaware of Church history and the development of the canon. It should be possible to provide an accurate overview in four paragraphs, without petty snark. The graphic in question fails to achieve that. Further, the typography constitutes a crime against humanity.

    I’ve never heard of “Philosophical Atheism” before, and apparently they’ve never heard of Irenaeus. Went to their web page to find four 20-somethings, including the likely culprit, the “Facebook Lieutenant” responsible for creating “Memes Extraordinaire.” A bunch of recent apostates, ignorant and angry, who hopefully will grow mellower & wiser as they age, and stop annoying believers and fellow atheists alike.

    Also, will the thrift store switch back to pleading for books after mountains of Frampton Comes Alive pile up?