Christians and Game of Thrones

How should Christians interact, order respond to, pharm or embrace pop culture? It’s a question that I wrestle with regularly, given that my interests include not only theology but also science-fiction.

And let’s face it, there are good ways and bad ways to interact with pop culture. Take Game of Thrones for example. The Song of Ice and Fire series is fantastic (even if I do have squabbles with the quality of A Dance with Dragons), and HBO has translated the novels into a highly successful television series. How do Christians, who appreciate the novels, respond to the television series especially given HBO’s propensity to “sex it up”? Not all of us are comfortable with the graphic sexual content of the show, and yet we still understand that there is something powerful to the narrative of the television series that cannot be ignored.

There are a plethora of examples of Christians responding to Game of Thrones (be it the novels or the television series) well, with thought, reflection and respect for the world that Martin has created. Here are just a few:

A Morally-Complex Game of Thrones

Ben Witherington’s review of Season One

My posts can be found here, here and here.

But then, every once and a while you come across an example of how not to interact with Game of Thrones. Take the article at Christianity Today. Jonathan Ryan attempts to contrast Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings. Which is fine, so long as it is recognized that they are two very different worlds and worldviews. The problem comes when Ryan tries to compare Tyrion Lannister to Gollum:

Martin paints this grimness in the portrait of Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion is a small and deformed figure born to a powerful and noble family in Westeros. Years of poor treatment and outright abuse leads Tyrion to drink more and more deeply from the corruption around him.If you’ve read Lord of the Rings, you can’t help but compare Tyrion to Smeagol, the hobbit who becomes Gollum after becoming corrupted by Sauron’s ring The difference comes in Frodo’s attempt to redeem Gollum. That attempt has no parallel in Martin’s world, nor is there anything like Gandalf’s admonition to treat Gollum with kindness. Tyrion has no Frodo, and he never will. No one reaches out to him; no one tries to save or redeem him.

Ryan fundamentally misunderstands and misconstrues the character of Tyrion. In fact, I would argue that Tyrion is in fact one of the most honourable characters in Westeros, with the understanding that the rules of morality in A Song of Ice and Fire are very, very distinct from the rules of morality in something like The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, it is this honour-in- spite-of-all-he’s-been-through that makes Tyrion one of the more beloved characters to readers (and viewers). The same endearment cannot be said of Gollum.

In trying to compare Tyrion to Gollum, the author overlooks all the good things that Tyrion has done. (There is now a note at the bottom of the article that the article removed an important plot point from the article because it would be a “spoiler” to those who are new to the series, but even eliminating discussion of the plot point does not mean that at this point in the TV series Tyrion fits well with Gollum).

CS 65 Friday 22nd October 2010First, a few comparisons. Gollum was consumed by lust for the ring. And it was this lust that transformed him into a hideous monster. Tyrion was broken and starved for affection because he was born deformed. His brokenness did not transform his appearance, but instead, his appearance and neglect actually gave him space to better see the complex politics of the world for what they were. Tyrion’s deformity meant that people left him alone, and underestimated him, and he used that to his advantage to study and to learn and to influence events in the kingdom (even if it was often only behind the scenes). For Tyrion, it’s not about gaining power, which is the drive of the rest of his family. Indeed, Tywin’s and Cersei’s quests for power are so single-minded that they don’t actually understand the bigger picture beyond their own ambitions. Gollum’s solitude, on the other hand, led to a devolution and little understanding of the world around him.

So what are some of the “noble” things that Tyrion does? (while I will try to remain vague, it should be noted that for some people, what follows might constitute spoilers).

Tyrion befriends Jon Snow. He rescues Sansa from a fate worse than death if she were to stay in King’s Landing. He protects the kingdom from Joffrey, by reining him in as best he can.

Does Tyrion do awful things? Yes. But while they are not inexcusable, they are understandable. Yes he kills two people close to him. But his action does not come from some kind of bloodlust, but rather from the raw emotion of being deeply betrayed and emotionally abused.

And as for Ryan’s suggestion that Tyrion has no Frodo, I would suggest that Tyrion does in fact have a Frodo, she just hasn’t been introduced in the television show yet (and I worry that she’ll be one of the characters that HBO drops in their attempt to streamline the novel). By the last novel, Tyrion is definitely on a redemption arc, as much as there can be a redemption arc in Martin’s universe.

If anything, Tyrion is the most human of all the characters in Martin’s universe, and I would suggest that the character of Tyrion could be a reflection and a jumping off point for discussing Christian understandings of the human condition, both in its brokenness and its value despite its brokenness.

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Doctor Who vs. Angelus

A few weeks ago, store someone got to my blog by searching “Doctor Who vs. Angelus.” I had never even thought about a post on that topic, sovaldi but now I’m inspired because that is the perfect topic for a Whedony-Whovian geek to ponder. So here it is: The Official Doctor Who vs. Angelus post.

I’ve decided to consider three scenarios – what if Angelus met up with the 9th, 10th, or 11th Doctor? Now I’m not saying that he would encounter all three, but rather, what if Angelus came up against the 9th Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) OR the 10th Doctor (David Tennant) OR the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith)?

 9th Doctor vs. Angelus:

 Doctor: You think it’ll last forever. People and cars and concrete. But it won’t. One day it’s all gone. Even the sky. My planet’s gone. It’s dead. It burned like the Earth. It’s just rocks and dust. Before its time.
Rose: What happened?
The Doctor: There was a war and we lost.

Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor


The Doctor is a scarred and angry timelord. He survived the Time Lord war, but now is the only Time Lord left in existence. And yet, he is just beginning to let people in again. He teams up with Rose and begins the process of letting someone “in” to his life.

The Doctor and Rose meet Angelus in the 1860s shortly after Angelus had turned Drusilla. Angelus did more than turn Drusilla into a vampire, he first turned her insane by tormenting her and killing her family. Fresh off of that “triumph”, Angelus is seeking his next conquest. The Doctor and Rose arrive, as is usually the case, unintentionally. The Doctor was planning to take Rose to the 1960s but missed it by a century.

Angelus spots the Doctor and Rose in a tavern, and is intrigued by the power and confidence the Doctor exudes. He stalks them for several days, leaving a trail of bodies conspicuously in the path of the Doctor so that he is forced to investigate. Angelus kidnaps Rose and holds her hostage to torment the Doctor. When the Doctor comes to rescue Rose, Angelus kills her spectacularly in front of the Doctor. The Doctor loses it, and flies into a vengeful rage. He decapitates Angelus, but before he disintegrates into a pile of dust, Angelus smiles knowingly. He succeeded in turning the Doctor into a dark, angry, soulless Time Lord who will never again seek out companionship or volunteer to save humanity.

The Doctor leaves earth, never to return. He never takes another companion. Pleas for the Doctor to come and help planets in need go unanswered. The Doctor doesn’t care. He is not a hero. And to ensure that he will never again help, he destroys the TARDIS with no shred of remorse.

Victor: The Doctor
Dead: Angelus, Rose, the TARDIS


 The 10th Doctor vs Angelus:

 You need to get yourself a better dictionary. When you do, look up “genocide”. You’ll find a little picture of me there, and the caption’ll read “Over my dead body”. ~The Doctor, episode 4.6 The Doctor’s Daughter.

David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor






The Doctor and Donna are traveling when the Tardis breaks down and they land in California in 1998. Angelus has returned, having been de-souled after having succumbed to the teenaged-passion of Buffy. Jenny Calendar has been killed. Buffy and her Scooby Gang are attempting to come up with a plan to beat Angelus while at the same time balancing the demands of high school life. The Doctor and Donna come across Angelus feeding on Theresa, who will deliver a message from Angelus to Buffy when she rises as a vampire. The Doctor rescues Theresa, and Donna exclaims in typical Donna-fashion that she can’t believe that vampires are really real. Angelus escapes, but the Doctor takes up the mission of tracking him down.

Two nights later, Angelus tries to kidnap Donna, who refuses to be a damsel in distress and does her best to fight him off. The Doctor arrives, to see Donna pulling a vial of holy water from her pocket and throwing it at Angelus. The Doctor is impressed with her quick thinking and asked her where she got the holy water. She replies, in her typical flippant matter, that she has seen Dracula movies and since vampires are actually real, thought it would be prudent to arm herself.  Angelus, slightly singed from the holy water, turns his attention to the Doctor. The Doctor barely flinches, steps one step to the left, causing Angelus to fall forward, impaling himself on the white picket fence that was directly behind the Doctor.

Buffy and the Scooby gang never find out what happened to Angelus, and assume that he must have left town, even though that would have been out of character for him, as he was dead-set on besting the slayer. The Doctor and Donna leave in the TARDIS to travel back to the 1920s to meet Agatha Christie.

Victor: The Doctor
Dead: Angelus


The 11th Doctor vs. Angelus:

Bowties are cool.

amy and rory pond


It’s 1894 and Angelus, having been imprisoned by the Immortal, is on a rampage through Italy, angry that the Immortal had (successfully) seduced Darla and Drusilla. The Doctor and the Ponds have arrived in 1894 looking for the opportunity to rest after the chaos of trying to vacation on Apalapucia. The Doctor declares that he wants to take them back to Victorian London. The TARDIS, instead of dropping them in 1894 London, drops them in 1894 Rome, which Rory declares is not funny given he spent two thousand years as a Roman centurion. The Doctor swears he wasn’t trying to be clever, and that he really must get around to adjusting the geo-locator on the TARDIS.

The Doctor and the Ponds come across the remains of a family on whom Angelus had taken out some of his frustration, and realize that nothing human could have done this.  They investigate and track down Angelus, who is angrily sulking alone in an abandoned house, having stormed away from the other vampires (especially Darla) in a fit of pique.  The Doctor swears to Angelus that his rampage is at an end, Angelus grins darkly and says, “Look, another set of chew toys.”

The Doctor evades Angelus’ attacks by running and leaping about, looking rather like a hyperactive walking-stick, while the Ponds grab whatever makeshift weapons they can.  Amy holds a broken piece of window lattice that is shaped like a cross, and Angelus shrinks back snarling.  Angelus throws a heavy book at Amy, shattering the lattice, and advances toward her, saying “You think you have a chance against me?  I was slitting throats when Frederick the Great was invading Prussia!”  A heavy blow strikes Angelus on the back of the neck, and the return stroke sends him flying head over heels.  Rory stands over Angelus, holding a table leg as a club: “And I was slitting throats when Emperor Trajan was invading Northern Thrace.”  Amy has one of her rare moments of genuinely appreciating Rory.

The moment, however, is short-lived, as Angelus lashes out, shattering Rory’s shin with a vicious kick.  As Rory crumples (wishing that he was still made of plastic so that wouldn’t have hurt as much), Angelus backhands Amy across the room and swipes up Rory’s club.  The Doctor, finally outraged enough to take decisive action, adjusts his bow tie and looks very cross.  As the Doctor begins a stern speech about how he, the Last of the Time Lords, scourge of the Daleks, besieger of Demons’ Run, bane of the Cybermen, will stand for no more, Angelus furiously bashes him over the head repeatedly, decorating the walls with Gallifreyan brain matter.

Angelus stands over the doctor, enjoying the sight of blood and carnage. Suddenly, a length of wood protrudes from his chest as Amy impales him from behind with a chair leg.  With a shocked expression, Angelus collapses into a cloud of dust.

Amy turns to the fallen Doctor.  Angelus had killed him far too quickly and the Doctor was unable to regenerate. The regenerative powers that had been given to him by River Song, leave his body, travel across time and space, and re-enter River Song. River Song breaks out of prison and takes up the mission of the Doctor. She travels throughout the galaxy in the Doctor’s TARDIS, and the show is renamed “Professor Who.”

Victor: Amy and Rory Pond
Dead: Angelus, The Doctor

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Doctor Who: The Unshot Scene

The last episode of Doctor Who saw the departure of the Ponds. They had been the companion of the newest Doctor, ailment played by Matthew Smith.
The BBC has just released an unshot scene where Rory’s dad finds out what happened to Rory and Amy after their encounter with the Weeping Angels. I wish they had actually shot and included this scene. It adds a great emotional component to the episode that was, pharmacy sorry to say, sadly lacking.

And so, enjoy this scene. If you’re like me, you’ll feel sad at the departure of the Ponds, and even more sad that we have to wait until December for the next episode of Doctor Who.

The Big Bang Theory and the Culture of Geek

I’m blogging over at Political Jesus today. Come join in the conversation!

The Big Bang Theory and the Culture of Geek.

Is TBBT saying that being a geek is something to be mocked? I don’t think so. Is TBBT “a pantsing and a punch in the face” instead of “a warm hug of acceptance”? No. TBBT is a microcosm of the human experience. And let’s face it, unhealthy if we can’t laugh at ourselves and at the human experience, we would become uncreative, boring people who take themselves way too seriously.

Read the rest here.

Buffy, Bella and Mark Driscoll

I’m on my way to a silent retreat (aka: an introvert’s dream). So the next couple of days I’m posting some re-worked posts on Christianity and the Buffyverse. Enjoy!


There’s a clip of a sermon by Mark Driscoll making the rounds on the internet. (Both Tim Challies and Marc Cortez have picked it up). Basically, prescription he laments the “top picks for pre-teen girls” at Amazon. They almost all have to do with vampires, unhealthy werewolves, magic and death.

In many ways he’s right. The majority of the books out there for young girls are spin-offs of Twilight. And he’s right, there is some pretty questionable stuff in Twilight.

But I think here he misses the point. Yes, Twilight is awful on so many levels. First, the writing is dreadful. Second, Bella is a non-character with no personality.

And my biggest pet peeve is that people are pitching the series as an example of chastity and abstinence. This is a load of hock-patooey. In a nutshell, Bella pines and longs for Edward. Edward has the “moral” courage to resist her advances, saying that they need to be married first. What is the message here? Girls, if you long and pine and desire to be with a guy, it’s okay because the (teen-aged, hormone fueled) guy will be strong enough to rebuff your advances! Um. I don’t think so.

Where Driscoll goes wrong is in suggesting that the current vampire trend is indicative of the vampire/werwolf/zombie genre in general. I think when done correctly, vampires et al become a tool to examine humanity, to explore desires and motivations and to present the struggle between good and evil.

Now, I have to be upfront and admit that I am a huge Joss Whedon fan, so I may be a bit biased. But Whedon got it so right in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the first three seasons at least).

The premise of the first three seasons is High School is Hell.

The swim team jocks are actually mutant monsters after being injected with steroids.

The girl who is ignored by the cool kids eventually becomes invisible and goes all “Carrie” on her classmates.

Frat boys are servants of their giant snake monster, and want nothing more than to feed you to it in their basement.

A gang of bullies are possessed by a hyena-spirit and will pick on the weak and outcast in the school, not to mention they will also eat the principal.

And the big one: If you sleep with your boyfriend, he will lose his soul and become a monster! This of course then gets repeated in Season 4, when Buffy goes off to college and ends up with a human (normal) guy who ends up being a jerk as well.

High school is hell. And Whedon uses vampires, werewolves, snake monsters, Frankenstein and more to explore this theme. It works. It is brilliant. And then, he continues using the genre to explore the theme of redemption with the spinoff “Angel.”

My point: We need discernment. Which Driscoll does talk about. But that discernment also means not just throwing something away because it has vampires and werewolves or young wizards and witches. What do these fictional and fantastical creatures say about humanity? If they don’t say anything, then we need the discernment to see that they are nothing more than fluff marketing by publishers and movie studios to make a quick buck.

The Soul, Non-Reductive Physicalism and Buffy The Vampire Slayer

I’m on my way to a silent retreat (aka: an introvert’s dream). So the next couple of days I’m posting some re-worked posts on Christianity and the Buffyverse. Enjoy!


Halfway through the fifth season of Angel, drugstore Whedon kills off one of the main characters (surprise, viagra surprise). Fred is killed so that an ‘old one’ or ancient god can assume her body and conquer the world. Angel and his team are devastated and vow to find a way to bring Fred back. Angel says, ed “it’s the soul that matters.” If they can find where Fred’s soul has gone, they can re-soul her and then live happily ever after. Unfortunately, they learn that Fred’s soul was destroyed when the god Illyria assumed her body.

Watching the episode made me think about the understanding of body and soul in the Buffy-verse. Overall, it presents a platonic understanding of the soul: soul is good, body is meh.

Take Angel, for example. In season 2 of Buffy, Buffy sleeps with Angel and quickly learns the moral lesson that if you sleep with your boyfriend he’ll turn into a monster. In this case, Angel loses his soul and becomes ‘Angelus’ the most vicious vampire ever. Buffy and her friends try to find ways to re-soul Angel, which eventually happens, just at the same moment that Buffy must kill him to save the world from total destruction.

In Angel season 4, the team is trying to find out information about a big bad meanie, and figure that if they can bring back ‘Angelus’ they will find out the info they need to defeat the big bad. Angel’s soul is mystically removed and put into a special jar, safe and sound (for a little while anyway). Plot twist, plot twist, plot twist, and the jar that houses Angel’s soul disappears. Not to worry though, Willow saves the day and magically breaks the jar, thereby releasing the soul, which allows her to re-soul Angel.

Over and over again, it is demonstrated that the soul is what matters. It is the soul that makes someone human rather than demon.

15 years ago, had you asked me what I thought about body and soul, I would have agreed with this basic understanding of the soul: it is the soul that matters; the body is just ‘meh’ or even unnecessary. In fact, part of my testimony of how I became a Christian includes being confronted with the question, “where will your soul go when you die?”

Of course, I’ve had lots of time to learn and think and reflect and have my assumptions challenged. Thanks, in large part, to N.T. Wright I have come to see the value and importance of the body. We will be resurrected, body and soul. The body is not unnecessary, nor is it inherently evil. It will be redeemed and recreated and we will dwell in the temple of God as embodied persons not just wispy non-corporeal souls.

What I’m not sure what to do with is the non-reductive physicalism of scholars like Nancey Murphy, Malcolm Jeeves etc. Basically, they argue that there is no dichtomy. Humans are entirely physical beings and that biblical references to soul or spirit refer to the qualities of being alive and in relation to God. Is this position an over-correction against platonic understandings of the soul?

What would the Buffy-verse look like if we adopted a non-reductive physicalist position? From what I’ve seen, non-reductive physicalists interpret demons as oppressive social structures, and allow only God to be Spirit. So a person could not become a vampire due to a demon setting up shop in their body. Indeed, using a non-reductive physicalist position requires that Angel, Spike and all the other vampires in the Buffy-verse be re-written as zombies!

Wahoo! Zombies! Of course they’re not nearly as sexy and broody and mysterious as vampires. But, maybe it would mean the “Master” might have ended up looking a little prettier if he had been a zombie.