Ah yes, the excuses Christians come up with for watching “Game of Thrones”:
“But it has brilliant acting, storytelling, and production values!”
“I close my eyes or fast-forward during the nude scenes!”
“It doesn’t faze me.”
“You can’t knock the show if you haven’t watched it!”
“The Bible has lots of sex and violence!”
Enough, guys. I’m calling your bluff. I think you know, no matter what you say, that watching graphic nudity in sex scenes for entertainment isn’t consistent with the Christian calling to “set no unclean thing” before our eyes (Psalm 101:3), to refrain even from the hint of sexual immorality (Ephesians 5:3), and to think on what is “true,” “noble,” “right,” “pure,” “lovely,” and “admirable,” (Philippians 4:8). As Kevin DeYoung points out at The Gospel Coalition, all of these excuses assume that “immersing ourselves in sensual entertainment is somehow a gray area of Christian liberty.”
It isn’t. But that hasn’t stopped quite a few Christians from making precisely that argument when I’ve confronted them about their entertainment habits. Their go-to Scripture reference is 1 Corinthians 8, wherein Paul gives instructions concerning meat sacrificed to idols. Meat is just meat, says Paul, and an idol has no real power. And since God owns everything, Christians should not worry about the source of their food, as long as they receive it with thanksgiving. Those “weaker brothers” whose consciences are offended by such meat, writes the apostle, should not partake, nor should the stronger brothers do so in their presence.
A Christian’s choice of whether or not to watch “Thrones” and other nudity-filled cable dramas, many have told me, depends on the strength of his or her conscience. It is a gray area–a “meat-sacrificed-to-idols issue.”
One Christian fan went so far as to claim that all media is, by its nature, morally neutral. Any entertainment property, even pornography (he admitted) is theoretically acceptable fare for some Christian, somewhere, who has a really strong conscience and can (this is a quote) “swallow the meat and spit out the bones.” My Christian friend claimed that it is the inner state of a person’s heart, not his entertainment choices, that are properly described as “moral” or “immoral.”
This has a truthy ring to it. It sounds sort of like what Jesus said in Matthew 5 about adultery in the heart (recall, however, that Jesus said it was possible to commit adultery in the heart without committing it in the body. He did not say it’s possible to commit it in the body without committing it in the heart). But this “Game of Thrones” fan left me wondering: How far are Christians who enjoy entertainment with graphic nudity willing to take this claim? Is Nazi propaganda morally neutral? Torture porn? How about a snuff film? If language and imagery are entirely subjective, then Scripture, itself, is neither good nor evil, right? It’s just words on a page.
To test my Christian friend’s commitment to his principle, I asked him how he would react if he walked into his 13-year-old son’s room and caught him watching pornography (many scenes from “Game of Thrones,” it’s widely reported, are indistinguishable from pornography). If, as he claimed, it’s a category error to call any media “good” or “evil,” then he should make no assumptions about the state of his son’s heart. After all, perhaps he is “swallowing the meat and spitting out the bones.”
Once again, I must call the bluff. I don’t think any of us, if we’re being honest with ourselves, would withhold judgment until we knew more about the state of this boy’s heart. We would know exactly what’s going on, and (if we believe pornography is a distortion of God’s plan for sex) we would intervene in love.
So why do so many Christians react differently when the exposed flesh is on HBO instead of a computer monitor or smart phone?
At this point many respond that they skip the nude scenes on their favorite cable dramas and movies, and that if they happen to sneak an accidental peek, they’re just “encountering” naked actors and actresses as any humanitarian or missionary might “encounter” unclothed bodies, not willfully lusting after them.
This is sophistical moral gymnastics. In a show or movie with one fleeting glimpse of too much bosom or behind, I can understand someone making such a case. But such scenes are absurdly common in “Game of Thrones” and are widely acknowledged as a major draw for fans. The Huffington Post advertised a compilation of “The Best ‘Game of Thrones’ Nude Scenes” on Facebook. One of the show’s producers openly spoke of “representing the pervert side of the audience,” and major news publications and tabloids regularly run listicles about the latest actor or actress to go the full medieval Monty.
Seeing naked bodies on these shows is no accident. It is a deliberate purchase, every bit as much as the trucker who buys DVDs at the Cafe Risque. When you turn on a program for entertainment which you know contains graphic depictions of sex acts intended to arouse and titillate audiences, you are entering into a transaction with the actors, producers, and distributors of that program, either through your HBO subscription, or through advertising. Even if you fast-forward through the naughty bits (a claim I hear often but suspect isn’t entirely true), actual people have engaged in morally compromising acts, on your dollar. In all but particulars, it is the same as visiting a strip club. The medium of television has neither a mitigating nor exacerbating effect, morally, nor does the show’s enormous popularity and social acceptability.
Let’s be very clear. When you watch graphic nudity in “Game of Thrones,” you aren’t some saint encountering naked and sick people on the streets of Calcutta. You’re a paying customer for a high-budget strip-tease.
Enjoying these shows isn’t a “gray area,” a “meat-sacrificed-to-idols issue,” or “something on which good Christians can agree to disagree.” It is sin. And the only thing more naked than the cast of “Game of Thrones” is the Christian attempt to justify watching high-budget pornography week after week.