From Death to Life, Not Rot to Sanitation: Part 2Culture, Film, Gaming, Media, Music — By Nathan Bennett on June 11, 2013 at 8:30 am
Three weeks ago I wrote about Christians having to live with TV and pop culture that is frankly yucky. I said that even though pop culture is often disgusting and rotten, Christians who are moving from death to life in Christ have to engage with it because 1. there is some good in it still and 2. they do not really have a choice not to have some level of interaction with it. In a discussion on Facebook, someone pointed out that I focused too much on tolerating evil than on moving toward good. Here I want to properly emphasize why Christians should learn to deal with stuff that is yucky and gross: the point is not merely to prolong our existence but to endure long enough to introduce what is truly good, free of taint and impurity. With that, I will turn once again to the video game Fallout 3.
Fallout 3 has to do with life in the Capital Wasteland, Washington D. C. devastated by nuclear war. Your character, the Lone Wanderer, has to learn to live with radiation in everything: wading through a river, eating food, and drinking water will all raise your radiation levels and push you toward radiation poisoning. Some food is less irradiated, some water is completely clean, and medicinal Stimpaks give you a huge health boost without adding to your radiation. However, clean food and water is had to find and Stimpaks are expensive. As you fight your way through monster-infested subway tunnels, you can dive into abandoned public restrooms to drink from a sink or toilet, but restoring your health will also raise your radiation levels. Players have to accept some radiation in order to keep going, but I did not mention the point of tolerating radiation in my last post: continuing Project Purity and the production of pure water, free of all radiation.
The Lone Wanderer’s parents were working on a science project to undo the effects of the nuclear holocaust upon the wider world. Mom died in childbirth, you try to find Dad to help him continue the project, and he dies before your eyes when he sabotages the bad guys’ attempt to take over the project. In the story, it all started with the character’s mother taking inspiration from Revelation 21:6, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.” (KJV). The whole idea behind the project is to give pure water, for free, to everyone in the Capital Wasteland. The overarching name of the quest is “The Waters of Life”, and the Lone Wanderer is the agent accomplishing their delivery to an irradiated Capital Wasteland. Until that goal is accomplished, Super Mutants, radscorpions, feral ghouls, and other monsters created in the nuclear holocaust will force you to take some good where you can find it until Project Purity can limitlessly provide clean water. Thankfully, there are plenty of supplies to reduce your radiation level and devices to improve the health value of the food supplies that you find, but you ultimately face the choice to take the Lone Wanderer to the end of the Project Purity quest or turn aside and go your own way.
Because the game is open-ended, you can choose to ignore the main quest altogether and throw in with some random bunch of marauders, dealing with radiation just enough to prolong your own life, or you can “fight the good fight” as the Wasteland Radio DJ, ThreeDog, keeps howling about and do something to make life better for everyone. The good guys and the bad guys both sell irradiated food. The good guys and the bad guys both sell RadAway and Stimpaks. Here the analogy could break down into a nearly Christian, humanistic morality tale about living for the greater good, and it is true that cooperation frees up individual effort for improving life for everyone. The game runs on to give a message about how humanity will always survive whatever troubles come before it. The future will be rough, but no matter what monsters, mutations, and anarchy we face, we will make it. I see two main lessons that game can teach: 1. God makes it rain on the just and the unjust and all have life while he sustains it (Matthew 5:45), and 2. as Christians, we do not merely partake of the waters of life, but we become the source for the waters of life for others so that they also may live (John 7:37-38). The Lone Wanderer is an Everyman with a dash of Christ-figure, and in the original game before the expansion packs your character has to die in order to turn on Project Purity (and still be a good guy).
Fallout 3 is loaded with profanity, drugs, violence, and has open prostitution in some places–after all, it does take place in a nuclear wasteland. In real life, when you turn on the TV, you have to choose how much ickiness you want to deal with until you have to resort to the Hallmark Channel. Christianity demonstrates that there is life beyond mere survival, and eternal life and knowing God start in the here and now, meaning that for the present, eating and drinking let us continue to be healthy and alert enough to meaningfully know God. While I would not recommend playing through Fallout 3 as a spiritual exercise, it vividly demonstrates the reality of living in a fallen world in that Christians will have to be able to bear with twisted and warped reality in order to get to redeemable good. For Christian filmmakers, Hollywood has a greater concentration of filmmaking genius than any Christian company. For Christian musicians, it is easier to find good music teachers if you turn off the Christianity filter. For Christian writers, although Christian literature is very rich and greatly overlaps with the broader Western body of literature, reading from non-Christian writers (or non-Protestant writers, for those who are picky) gives a broader selection of what good writing can look like. Far from being a hunt for bigger and better, completely shutting ourselves off from the outside world makes us stunted and weak.
In Fallout 3, there are these bunkers called Vaults that protect small groups of people from before the nuclear war in a radiation-free environment with clean food, water, and air. If the outside world breaks in, the polite pistol-packing police are no match for assault rifle-wielding raiders and Super Mutants. If the Vault opens on schedule, the citizens living inside had better not be right next door to the slaver fortress of Paradise Falls or a Super Mutant breeding facility. What are Christian homeschoolers going to do if they do not have a gradual introduction to pop culture? To be sure, I went to a public high school and some of my high school friends came out morally devastated, but they do not account for the majority. Christians have to be able to go toe to toe with the slavers, Super Mutants, raiders, feral ghouls, and the world’s other hideous beasties. Although we have to learn to press on in the face of our own sinful tendencies and unflinchingly look at a sin-irradiated world, it is all in the cause of introducing Christ to the world, who is himself the source of all that is purely good, true, and beautiful. It is not that we are worthy for the task, it is that the task is worth doing, and by God, someone has to do it. If the Holy Spirit is truly in us, then we can take a great many things and use them to speak of Christ to a fallen world.