Friday, July 31

A casual evil

"For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man..." (Matt. 15:19-20)

Coming home from my mission, I had an awakening. I served in Long Beach, California, where I was exposed to a wide variety of lifestyles and beliefs. There are so many good people in that area who make real efforts to love their neighbors and make a positive impact. I learned quite a bit from my brothers and sisters there. Unfortunately, the area's also one of the many parts of the world plagued with frequent acts of violence. I wasn't much of a victim to the gang violence throughout the area; the worst I'd experienced was a (less-than) friendly "hello" in the form of a sucker-punch to my right ear that nearly left me unconscious (see: "Knockout"). But I met people that had been shot, stabbed, and paralyzed by various acts of cruelty. Likewise, I met people that had contributed to the cruelty. All people can repent, and I'm happy to say that I also met many people that had changed and sought forgiveness through their Savior.

Upon returning from my mission, I had nothing to do for a while. I struggled to find work. I'm not much of a gamer, but lots of my friends invited me to play Call of Duty with them, and I regret to admit that I participated. However, it didn't take long for my conscience to take effect, and I allowed it to teach me how backwards it is that anyone claiming to be a Christian could shamelessly enjoy an activity that simulates acts of gruesome violence. I wasn't following Christ when I played that game. In fact, I was a detriment to His work. I'm happy to say that I've repented, and I haven't played a violent videogame like Call of Duty for several years. I don't intend to ever again.

I realize people tend to roll their eyes and dismiss articles that condemn violent media with a carefully prepared rebuttal of cowardly excuses, but I must argue: Why do some people jump to condemn pornography and shrug at violent videogames? Don't both classify as immorality? And who honestly believes that a simulation of sex is worse than a simulation of murder?

I know the opposing opinions: "It's a war game and war's sometimes necessary; they're just killing the bad guys; it's not real..." These are predictable responses, though I feel that such a casual attitude disrespects those that have sacrificed their mental health while defending our freedoms. There really should be no need for counter-argument, but sometimes the ability to be honest with ourselves is inhibited by pride. You and I live in a society of gross desensitization, where the lines between good and evil often appear to bleed together when in reality they do not.

Captain Moroni in the Book of Mormon chose to lead the Nephites in war against the Lamanites, with the Nephites acting in a defensive role as the other party was the agitator. Under Moroni's leadership, the Nephites participated in several violent battles with their enemies in defense of their families, religion, and freedoms. An important message regarding these circumstances involved Moroni's attitude about these battles. We learn in Alma 48:11 that Moroni "did not delight in bloodshed" and that he was "a man who did joy in the liberty and the freedoms of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery". Again in Alma 55:19 we're told that Moroni "did not delight in murder or bloodshed, but he delighted in the saving of his people from destruction". The Nephites he led "were sorry to take up arms against the Lamanites, because they did not delight in the shedding of blood" (Alma 48:23). Contrarily, the Lamanites "delighted in murdering the Nephites" (Alma 17:14) and "delight[ed] in the shedding of blood" (Alma 26:24).

What more prevalent modern example do we have of delighting in bloodshed than playing violent videogames? It's dishonest to deny that this is an inherently evil problem, not only throughout the world but within the Christian community - even among those of my own faith.

We have a modern group of Lamanites in the Middle East proclaiming themselves as an Islamic State. This army of bigots and antichrists openly delight in real bloodshed. The difference of attitudes between what they do and what the kid with a controller does is remote.

But the conversation goes beyond videogames. Violence permeates all modern media - film, music, and literature. Sometimes I'm guilty of taking too long before deciding whether or not something damages my soul. Whenever I'm watching a movie or reading a book, I try to ask myself: "Does this glorify violence?" There's a big difference between glorifying violence and teaching a lesson about violence, but sometimes it's hard to tell which is happening. However, when I remember to be honest with myself the distinction becomes clear.

I'm not perfect at this, but I have made some real progress with resisting violent media. My strategies include avoiding all R-rated movies and never playing "shoot 'em up" videogames.

No one is too far away from Christ's outstretched arms to return and repent. His good news is that we can be forgiven of our sins and transformed by His grace if we choose to invite Him into our lives. I wanted to open up about this topic today because it has become a casual evil, an obvious sin our society views with remarkable indifference. It will be a huge victory for Christians when we truly begin talking about violence with at least the same gravity we tend to express when talking about sexual misconduct.

In conclusion I'd like to invite you to consider the scripture we were asked to study during the Primary class I had the joy of attending last Sunday. We discussed Christ's "new" commandment to "love one another" (John 13:34-35). Consider what a child's response would be to the following question:

Do we keep this commandment when we pretend to kill people? 

The answer's obvious, isn't it?

See also: It's "Only" Violence by Brad J. Bushman

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