August 8, 2007

Return of the Coliseum

2007 1522 page25 caphe Roman Coliseum was built during the reign of Emperor Vespasian around A.D. 72. It took five years to create the large arena. The celebration marking its completion lasted 100 days, during which more than 5,000 animals were slaughtered. It set the tone for a century of similarly epic events.
The Emperor Trajan, for example, held a festival that lasted more than three months, during which 11,000 Jews, Christians, slaves, and gladiators lost their lives.
What frightens me most about this bloody bit of history is the stage being set again for this type of entertainment.
Recently I came across an article that surprised and horrified me. Apparently Ireland and Britain have banned a new video game set for release in the United States. What sort of video game could warrant government attention? Manhunt 2.
2007 1522 page25The game’s publisher, Rockstar Entertainment, says this about the game: “Demented screams echo around the dank asylum that has caged you for the last six years . . . the door to your cage is open. One choice. . . . They took your life. Time to take it back.”
This corresponds with the first Manhunt game, in which killers on death row are recruited to be on a reality TV show to kill or be killed. While the first game wasn’t banned, this second one has received attention because of wireless remote technology that allows players to actually go through the motions of stabbing and beating people to death, instead of just mashing buttons.
Not only video games are getting more violent and graphic. The movie industry as a whole has taken a dark turn in the past few years with the reemergence of a genre known as
“splatter films.” These films revolve around people being tortured and killed in gruesome ways. Recently the level of graphic sadism in these films spawned a new subgenre called ÒgornoÓ (gore + porn).
I am amazed at how many of our Adventist youth watch splatter films without flinching. When I ask them about it, they say: “It doesn’t affect me at all.”
That scares me, because these films should affect anyone with a trace of humanity. Human suffering should always affect us. Each time people sit in front of a screen and are entertained by this garbage, it’s as if the Roman Coliseum has been reborn. Even scarier, full-contact fighting sports and reality TV are equally popular. Who’s to say that future programming will not rival the brutality of the Coliseum, and also its reality?
Let’s admit it: the bulk of the entertainment industry is driven by money, not morals. Jesus warned: “And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12, NRSV).*
Love and respect for human life is waning. Not just with wars and genocide, but because people choose to watch the abuse of human life in their free time. What can we do about it?

First, there is a silver lining to this dark cloud. Jesus said: “So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates” (Matt. 24:33, NRSV). When I look at the world and see things as far from the heavenly ideal as they can get, it’s a sign that Jesus is near.

What can we say to those who choose to expose themselves to violent games and movies?

Too many times we load up our arsenal with Spirit of Prophecy statements and bury others with them; or point out the obvious gore that some dismiss as a matter of taste. Instead, we should focus on the fact that these films and games symbolize a state of spiritual darkness at the end of time, a state in which humanity loses its love. These “entertainments” influence incidents of real violence that result in real human suffering. The fact that people aren’t bothered is a testament to the insidiousness of these media.

Most of all, we should frame our discussion in the context of a relationship with God, not simply theological abstracts. Point people to the God who lovingly crafted life with His own hands and breath, who has called humanity from death to life.

*Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.

Seth Pierce studies at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He and his wife, Angela, live in Berrien Springs, Michigan. His latest book, What We Believe: Fundamental Beliefs for Teens, is available from Pacific Press.