Friday, January 19, 2007
The God/Nintendo analogy: my Christmas sermon
I had the fabulous privilege of preaching at our local church on Christmas Day this year. I thought for quite a long time about what to do, exactly - ironically, Christmas tends to be one of the least spiritual services of the year, and I wanted to avoid that situation if at all possible.
While thinking about it, I kept coming back to the same idea - an idea which some colleagues thought I wouldn't be able to get away with, and which I had doubts about. In the end though, it was the only really interesting idea I had at all, so I went with it. So, here it is: the God/Nintendo analogy.
One of our customs at Tilehurst Methodist Church is that on Christmas morning, some of the young people (and some not so young) bring a present still wrapped up, and unwrap it in front of everyone. I stuck to this tradition, and then revealed my main Christmas present: a new Nintendo Wii. For those of you who aren't interested in video games, the Nintendo Wii is one of the latest generation of home video gaming machines. There are two others, but the Wii is a bit different. For a long time gaming has been getting prettier and prettier, in terms of the visual effects and so forth. However, it's still been very complicated. If you take a look at the controller of any of the other consoles, there are lots of buttons, and they tend to all be used. In the gaming community there's a lot of talk about "hard-core" gamers, and you get the feeling that for any one game there will be someone who has virtually dedicated their life to that particular game, and finding out every nook and cranny. In short, gaming has been hard to get into, which is why relatively few people do it.
Nintendo are hoping to change all that with the Wii. The main controller looks very much like a TV remote control - except much simpler. [I took the Wii and a controller to church to show everyone - along with a Gamecube controller to show the difference between the too.] It's got a total of 8 buttons (although one of them is an up/down/left/right button) and most of the time you're playing (at least in the games I've got) you don't use many of those buttons. There are other controllers that can be plugged in to add more capabilities, but the message Nintendo are pushing is that it's simple. The Wii comes with a game bundled in - "Wii Sports". As an example of how simple gaming can be, you can play the tennis part of Wii Sports without using any buttons at all - you just wave the controller around as if it were a racket, and the game will respond appropriately. The Wii knows when you move the controller, twist it in any direction, and when you're pointing it at the screen - to go through the menu systems, you just point at the item you want to select and use the "A" button.
So, as a result of this clever controller, the Wii can be played by anyone. You don't need to learn vast numbers of rules - you can just pick up and play, at least for things like Wii Sports and Wii Play. There are numerous reports on the net of people (adults!) showing the Wii to their parents, and then only getting a go themselves after watching said parents playing on it for hours. Instead of trying to gain a large proportion of a small market, Nintendo are trying to make that market massively wide, appealing to anyone and everyone.
So, what has this got to do with Christmas? Well, Nintendo effectively gave the world the Wii for Christmas. God gave Jesus. Jesus cut through all the details of the complicated Judaic laws, distilling them into "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength" and "Love your neighbour as yourself". Those are instructions which are simple enough for anyone to understand. Similarly, instead of only the high priests being able to have direct contact with God, Jesus made himself available directly - and not just to Jews, but to everyone. While this obviously misses out a lot of the nature of Jesus (and the crucifixion/resurrection in particular) it's still interesting. The Wii is taking the world by storm, just as Jesus did - it's just a shame the modern day church isn't always as enthusiastic as Wii fans often are.
Holly and I were both worried that this message would be lost on a non-games-playing congregation, but fortunately it went very well - they appeared to be with me at every step, as it were. Furthermore, it may be pretty much my only sermon which comes close to being genuinely original - I suspect there weren't very many Nintendo-based sermons preached on Christmas day...
You hit the head of the nail spot on with your description of both. God (and Nintendo) both have done amazing things in expanding the market (so to speak).
only you could bring computers into religion. Genius.
Be interested to know what you made of this post about science n religion
Love to Holly n the family.
1) Religion has indeed held society back at some points of history. It's also driven society forward at some points of history. We can't know what many of the great artists would have done without religion as inspiration (in music particularly) but the church was pretty good at funding all that art. Likewise religion was an organising force which promoted things like basic food hygiene (a lot of Leviticus/Deuteronomy is good hygiene - laced with homophobic bigotry etc, admittedly).
2) Religion causing wars? Not sure. Religion is one way in which societies can identify themselves. Certainly religions have been the organising elements of many wars, but I'm not at all convinced that those wars wouldn't have happened anyway, possibly in very different guises. Basically religious wars are often like street gang wars, but on a bigger scale - and we know those happen on a regular basis without religion being involved.
3) Externalising responsibility - I completely disagree with you on this, because Christianity (and no doubt other religions) teach that the whole world *is* your responsibility. You can't deny that many charities have religious foundations, and that's precisely because of the social responsibility nature of them. This is another example of religion driving society forward. Churches were promoting fair trade coffee *long* before it became fashionable!
As for science vs religion - I don't see that they need to be in conflict. I'm perfectly happy to be a generally scientific person and a committed Christian.
There are *some* so-called scientists who definitely turn it into a religion, ignoring evidence which goes against their pet theories etc. Indeed, some of the more eminent scientists in history have used their positions as "thought leaders" to effectively bully scientists who disagreed with them, preventing their theories from getting as much of a look-in as they should have had.
Fundamentally science and religion are looking at the same world from different perspectives. I think that's healthy, and I don't think either of them need to "lose" for society to win.
As for science being inclusive and religion being exclusive: there are plenty of scientists who exclude any form of religious belief pretty much out of hand, and plenty of religious folk who are happy to look at many scientific theories, and enjoy inter-faith dialogue too. The media tends to like to portray every religious person as being a nut who won't give the time of day to any other religion, but that's not accurate. How much attention have you been paying to the relationships between the different worshipping communities in your area?
This is not to say there *aren't* those who are closed to other possibilities - just pointing out that that's true of both science and religion, as is the converse.
I agree with your point 1. I believe the author may never have known how the early church pushed science forward.
I would like to expand on your point 2. Religion on a whole does not necessary advocated violence. Jesus' teachings do not promote violence. I will agree that some religions are more violence oriented than others. On a whole, far more wars have been fought not because of religion but for other reasons such as greed, food, differences. I am quite certain that the Romans did not go around conquering for religious reasons. The same can be said for societies in years with limited food quantities such as drought times. Even the crusades can be considered as not truly a religious war.
With Point 3 I wholeheartedly agree with you. In the Christian religion, you are responsible for mankind's welfare, the environment and the spirituality of your neighbor.
You are quite right that religion and science do not need to be in conflict. This is an area where American Protestants have a great deal of difficulty dealing with. They rely on teachings such as Noah and his ark for their proof of a God. They ignore faith.
Good to see you're continuing on with your faith.
Just a quick post. I share your passion for technology and faith- I am an ordained elder in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. I hold a doctorate in science and theology (nueroscience and strong artificial intelligence).
Just wanted to say thanks for the great idea with the Wii sermon for Christmas! I like the analogy!
So thanks for sharing your thoughts. I know, this is almost four years after you wrote the post, but it's still just as relevant today. :)