“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” —Romans 8:28
Sometimes a problem only becomes obvious when you consider it in comparison to what it should be.
Take something like Ghostbusters. What is Ghostbusters about? That’s a harder question than a mere glance at one of the 1980s funniest comedies will show. Ghostbusters came out at the height of the satanic panic when exorcism movies were rampant. The Exorcist and Amityville Horror taught audiences there were dark, super national forces at work in the world that demanded to be taken seriously. In contrast, Ghostbusters depicts the same forces of darkness and watches them get blown away by four goofball exterminators with advanced scientific gadgets. When faced with an all-powerful pre-Christian Sumerian demi-god, they simply blow it away with nuclear energy. In some ways it can be read as a satire about the nature of scientific advances putting ancient superstitions to bed. That theme only comes from understanding what Ghostbusters WASN’T: Reverent.
I think the same can be said for the DOOM series. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing implicitly heretical or evil about the famed video game series. Unless you’re doggedly convinced video games are a uniquely poisonous medium that inspires school shooters, DOOM and its sequels are just another in a long line of popular first person shooters that give the individual hero the chance to face off against armies of uncomplicated villainy. There’s even something quite overtly moralistic about the DOOM games. The player fights demons from an explicitly Christian rendition of Hell. Throughout the seven canonical games (DOOM 1, DOOM 2, Final DOOM, DOOM 64, DOOM 3, DOOM (2016), and DOOM Eternal), your sole motivation is to quell the forces of darkness and save humanity from eternal damnation.
Like Ghostbusters though, the DOOM games are spiritually irreverent. These aren’t games about putting on the armor of God and facing the forces of evil as a servant of Holiness. At their cores, DOOM is a series about one man’s sole quest to kill demons for the sake of killing demons. As far as we can tell, he isn’t religious and he’s not doing it for any higher purpose. His motivations are almost nihilistic. He just wants to kill demons because demons are bad and he’s the only one who can do it. The games are somewhat ambitious about the Doomslayer’s origins. He’s either an empty vessel, a normal Martian marine who just so happened to become a demon slayer, or an ancient manifestation who has fought the forces of Hell eternally. All of this is implied by the in-game Codexes, and honestly, it’s mostly inconsequential.
DOOM as a franchise is ultimately about the relationship of the player and the creatures he seeks to slaughter. Doomslayer is an empty vessel because that’s all he is. Even so, there’s character to him. He hates humans who get in the way of his goal and violently disregards their machinations. This is made explicit in the plot of the 2016 reboot. There’s an entire plot in that game about an evil corporation who has decided to harvest energy from Hell to fix an energy crisis which immediately opens the door for the forces of Hell to invade the mortal world yet again. When asked by humans to fix the energy harvesting machines, Doomslayer’s only response is to destroy the machines and continue his rampage. Anything that gets in the way of his mission is merely interfering with him.
There’s certainly a way to read the game where one could see the concept of medieval Knighthood as Doomslayer essentially “Crusades” his way through Hell, but that concept is somewhat fraught. Like the actual Crusades, slaughtering the unholy does not, in fact, make you a holy. To be Christlike is to embody the morals of Christ, not to put the fear of God in others by force. Doomslayer is not a Christ-figure in the literary sense. He’s not sacrificing anything for the greater good. He’s just angry and wants to fight. The closest thing we have to any sort of implication of his motivation comes from the original DOOM game where it’s implied his limitless rage against Hell is a vengeance quest for when the demons killed his pet rabbit Daisy (really…) when he finds its head on a pike.
The DOOM series is deeply indifferent to the religious implications of its premise. I don’t say this to implicate the DOOM games. I’m very much looking forward to sitting down with DOOM Eternal over the next few weeks and slaying demons. The fine folks at ID software have never pretended like these games are religious sermons. As far as I can tell, they’re all honest about the fact they’re atheists. They’re merely disabusing religious imagery in the same way heavy metal abuses Christian and Pagan imagery to be provocative. Demons are great fodder for a medium that needs uncomplicated bad guys.
There are even tons of Christians who love these games. The original DOOM and Wolfenstein 3D are famously some of the most consistently revisited PC games of all time. After nearly three decades, they still have active modding communities and fanbases that extend outside of the circles of traditional video game fans. Lots of older PC users still replay DOOM from time to time on their old desktops much in the same way they do Minesweeper and Pinball.
Like anything else, the sparks of divinity are buried deep in this franchise. As I’ve reflected on these games over the past few weeks, I’ve taken two major reflections away from them:
1.Don’t Live a Life of Indifference
Speaking for myself, I have that bad habit so many Christians have of living life indifferently. It’s easy to detach myself from the world and let my day-to-day life glide by with little consideration for those around me. It becomes all too easy to compartmentalize my faith into a thing I do every morning or once a week on Sunday mornings. Prayer becomes something I clock into and out of like a job. It makes a difference in the overall quality of my day, but rarely does it affect me for hours of the day as I work my job and interact with people.
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold-I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” – Revelations 3:15-16
Indifference is a dangerous state to be in spiritually. There’s nothing easier in the face of a harsh world than going numb and turning our backs to the problems of the world. We should bleed for this world and be heartbroken for those around us. Most days, I can’t say I am. Just in the immediate space around me, there are people who are struggling day to day working low paying jobs, caring for families, and shooting themselves up every morning with enough coffee just to get through the day. How many of them know Christ?
If I’m indifferent to my actions through most of the day and compartmentalize my faith to something I’m doing briefly each morning and evening, how am I living out my life in a Christ-like fashion? If I’m not producing fruit for the kingdom, I’m as useless as the fruitless fig tree which Christ famously made an example of.
“Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.” – Matthew 21:19
Those who aren’t producing fruit for the kingdom are unworthy. I suspect if Doomslayer was a real person, he might have a similar problem.
One of the interesting things about the DOOM games is we never get a sense of Heaven, Christ, or God’s place in this story. They’re absent. It’s presumable they exist within this universe, but even after the Earth was conquered in DOOM II, there’s no reference to the rapture or any means by which souls seem to be able to escape Hell.
One can sparsely imagine any of these characters considering where they’ll end up in the afterlife. Doomslayer probably isn’t bound for an eternity of paradise (although one could imagine a comedic cutscene in one of these games where he goes to heaven for performing an act of civil service). Doomslayer might be the universe’s most prolific compartmentalizer. Like most of us, he certainly has a good excuse for why he doesn’t have much time to self reflect. Battling the forces of Hell is time consuming. Then again, working a day job and having a life is time consuming, too. Don’t be complacent. Make time for self reflection otherwise you’ll never have time to reflect on Heaven.
Certainly the forces of darkness don’t want us to be self reflective. As we see in the first chapter of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, one of the best defenses the forces of darkness have against us is making us feel complacent about our lives. To quote the demon Screwtape:
“One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defense by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch.
The Enemy presumably made the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear what He says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line for when I said ‘Quite. In fact much too important to tackle at the end of a morning,’ the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added ‘Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind,’ he was already half way to the door.”
We delay our self reflection on God to handle minor issues like what we’re eating for lunch. Life is full of these moments where we have the chance to reflect on the important things in life, yet we all too rarely take them. This is what the enemy wants of us. As we see in the games, Doomslayer’s endless quest to defeat Hell never ceases and is often fruitless. Each game, the invasion only grows larger and takes billions more casualties. Maybe if he had help he could overcome the darkness that continues to grow, but alone, he’s given no time to reflect and overcome the enemy. That’s the true power Hell has over us.
Speaking of the forces of darkness, that leads me to my second reflection.
2. Take the Forces of Darkness Seriously
Modern life has a habit of treating superstition one of two ways: As a toy to be played with, or something ignorant to be ignored. I talked about this in my Halloween piece last year that discussed The Exorcist and Martin. Demonic forces are an anathema to modern eyes and ears because of how little we seem to interact with them. As Christians, though, we understand a war is ongoing between the forces of light and darkness beyond our perception. That said, we don’t fully understand that conflict and thus we aren’t privy to how to interact with it.
C.S. Lewis perfectly captured our tendency towards religious indifference when he said, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”
To borrow a quote from another popular video game, “Apathy is death.” Modern life is filled with much apathy. We walk through this world with hardened hearts and stiff necks, unable to view the problems and sin of this world through a Godly perspective.
To quote myself, “Modernity makes it very easy to look past the seriousness of these concepts. We see a world around us that doesn’t visibly have a war ongoing between the forces of the demonic and the heavenly. We’re merely souls living lives of banality. Yet if you believe in God, you understand this war does exist beyond the curtain. What are we to believe about the supernatural/mystical nature of this work?”
The reverse end of apathy is pride. That’s a rarer thing to see nowadays in most respects. Even self-proclaimed Satanists don’t really believe in the forces they pretend to worship. In practice, they’re just libertines and radical atheists using the religious imagery as mockery. Unlike in the DOOM games, you’re not going to find many people in real life who want to harvest energy from Hell to solve climate change. If you do, that person is likely yelling on a street corner.
The religious instinct in humans hasn’t gone away in spite of the decline of Christianity among western countries. In exchange for Christian beliefs, there’s been a widespread rise in Pagan beliefs, astronomy, new-age spirituality, and other forms of worship most Christians regard as demonic or spiritually dangerous. As of 2014, there are more people self-identifying as Wiccans in the United States than Presbyterians.
There’s a strong presumption amongst these new age communities that these spiritual beliefs are innately superior to the ways of old. To many Pagans, mainstream religions are innately oppressive and repressive institutions. They persecute those who live differently than themselves and control entire nations with cruel standards of morality that go against our human instincts. Only through liberating the world from such beliefs can humanity attain some level of spiritual fulfillment.
There’s an innate pride to this view of spirituality. It’s not a view of the world in which the individual is called to serve the greater humanity or improve yourself. These beliefs are often quite self-satisfying. There’s no discipline or a requirement to leave your ego at the door. There’s no requirement to take up your cross. These beliefs all too frequently give us the joys and fulfillment religious beliefs offer without the responsibility to live up to their standards.
Being a Christian requires discipline and patience with God. We’re called to unceasing spiritual refinement and growth in our journeys to become more like Christ and live out his teachings. We see in our hearts a deep desire to live out religious beliefs, but our sinful natures all too frequently drive us away from a Godly path.
In the story of Moses, when the Israelites grew tired of waiting for him they fashioned an idol in their own image to suit their purposes.
“He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold,[a] and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” – Exodus 32:4
Merely trying to escape from God, we all too frequently craft Gods in our own image. These Gods satiate our sinful desires and serve our ends. It’s all too easy to believe ourselves to be wiser, more moral, or more powerful than God himself. Thus it’s easy not to take the forces beneath us as something we should regard seriously. Ironically, this is the most cogently theological point the DOOM games make. We see pride in full display in the recent games. The other humans you meet in DOOM (2016) are so proud of their accomplishments and apathetic to the consequences of their actions that they fully unleash the forces of Hell by mistake. They don’t take it seriously and believe that, like the Ghostbusters, they can control it through scientific testing and proper methods of containment. They can’t. In the act of grasping for hell, they invite it into the world. They open the floodgates and thousands die as a result of that. When humans play with forces we don’t fully understand, we always run the risk of destruction. The game seems to actively be repudiating the nihilism of its own premise in that sense. It shows that being active and direct in the face of ultimate evil is more valuable than being materialistic and conniving.
Don’t get me wrong. A proper scientific understanding of the world is important and Christians shouldn’t waste their time arguing over pointless debates as much as we have. I’m also not saying merely being a practitioner of Wicca or astronomy is going to call forth an army from Hell. The real sins are pride and indifference. If we belief the supernatural is real and something exists behind the vail of this material world, it’s something we ought to take seriously. We should be cautious in trying to understand it.
Whatever your troubles may be, don’t let your indifference or pride carry you to the gates of Hell. Being alive in a fallen world means we have very real forces in our world that seek to destroy us. They are not to be taken lightly. Most of us aren’t so prepared to storm the forces of darkness with the Doomslayer’s abandon. Reflect on your place in this world and how we ought to live out the teaches of Christ in our day to day lives. Even without our pride, there’s enough horror and darkness in this world we must face and we can only do that with a loving God at our backs.