Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Halos and Avatars Available for Pre-Order

The book Halos and Avatars: Playing Video Games with God (Westminster John Knox Press), edited by Craig Detweiler of Pepperdine University, will be available for shipping in January, and pre-orders can be placed now through distributors like Amazon.com. The editor's introduction can be read here. The product description is as follows:

Craig Detweiler’s collection of up-to-the-minute essays on video games’ religious themes is for gamers, parents, pastors, media scholars, and theologians—virtually anyone who has dared to consider the ramifications of modern society’s obsession with video games. And there is a wealth of material to explore. From a feminist reading of the Left Behind video game to an examination of bioethics and theology in controversial games such as BioShock, this book takes on an exploding genre in popular culture. Detweiler’s well-researched work features interviews with the creators of some of today’s most popular games, who discuss their creative process and some of the deeper issues they seek to address. Essayists run the gamut from ESPN’s Matt Kitchen to Fuller Seminary’s Daniel Hodge.

Introduction: Halos and Avatars by Craig Detweiler

Section 1: Playing Games with God
1. From Tekken to Kill Bill: The Future of Narrative Storytelling? by Chris Hansen
2. Ultima IV: Stimulating the Religious Quest by Mark Hayse
3. The Play Is the Thing: Interactivity from Bible Fights to Passions of the Christ by Rachel Wagner
4. Islamogaming: The Transformation of Home Video Consoles (and Us) by Kutter Callaway

Section 2: Halos
6. Myst and Halo: A Conversation with Rand Miller and Marty O'Donnell by Lisa Swain
7. Madden Rules: Sports and the Future of Competitive Video Games by Matthew Kitchen
8. Poets, Posers, and Guitar Heroes: Virtual Art for a Virtual Age by Andrew McAlpine
9. BioShock to the System: Smart Choices in Video Games by Kevin Newgren

Section 3: Avatars
10. 'Til Disconnection Do We Part: The Initiation and Wedding Rite in Second Life by Jason Shim
11. Role Playing: Toward a Theology for Gamers by Dan White Hodge
12. Cybersociality: Connecting Fun to the Play of God by John W. Morehead

Conclusion: Born to Play by Craig Detweiler

Appendix: Beyond "Turn that Thing Off!" Elevating the Gaming Conversation between Parents & Kids by Kara Powell and Brad M. Griffin

"Detweiler and company add gaming to the growing field of religion and media studies. This groundbreakingbook includes spirituality, ethics, and theology in an analytic toolkit designed for parents and players as well as scholars and seekers.”
—Diane Winston, Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the USC Annenberg School for Communication

“Every parent, every gamer, every pastor needs to get Craig Detweiler’s superb collection of essays ASAP. Your ability to connect to a digital culture depends on it.”
—Leonard Sweet, Professor of Evangelism at Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey; and Visiting Distinguished Professor at George Fox University in Portland, Oregon

“Detweiler moves beyond the tired debate of whether video games are good or evil, probing a deeper, more interesting question: Where is God in the world of games?”
—David Thomas, author of “Video Game Reviews,” distributed by King Features Syndicate. He teaches critical video game theory at the University of Colorado, Denver

“As humanity becomes increasingly enmeshed with the interactive and the digital, we will need our spirit guides. Read this book to develop a balanced and informed sense of the way that the Spirit and the Game are starting to interact.”
—Edward Castronova, Associate Professor and Director of the Synthetic Worlds Initiative at Indiana University, and cofounder of www.terranova.blogs.com

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Sacred, Celebrity and Theological Challenge

An excerpt from Gary Laderman's Sacred Matters: Celebrity Worship, Sexual Ecstasies, the Living Dead, and Other Signs of Religious Life in the United States (New York & London: The New Press, 2009), p. 81:
"For many Christians, the fear that Jesus Christ is not the only truly divine celebrity, the sole source for true sacrality for the modern world, is an ongoing challenge to contemporary theology which has found itself increasingly displaced by and ill-equipped to deal with an Oprah or a Valentino, let alone a Bruce, Marilyn, or Elvis. The confusion and fear over the commingling of sacred and secular, and the possibility that people have multiple religious identities and identifications, some of which do not require a monotheistic God, is expressed in public culture through diatribe and jeremiads, sermonizing and, in some cases, soul-searching reflection."

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Mormonism, Myths, and the Old Testament

Students of religion are aware that the religions differ on their understanding of the creation, and related to it, their views on the nature of the transcendent or the divine. This is certainly the case with evangelicals and Latter-day Saints. Both groups view the cosmos as the creation of God, but differ dramatically on their understanding of both the nature of the cosmos and the creator. Interestingly, they move conceptually in very different ways on this topic.

For evangelicals the cosmos is finite and dependent upon God for its origins and continuing existence. They differ on the degree of evolutionary development possible or actual within the cosmos on a number of levels (as evident in the debates between theistic evolutionists, progressive creationists, and young-earth creationists). Evangelicals also conceive of God as distinct, transcendent, and "other" in relation to the cosmos, existing as eternal and possessing "aseity," or non-contingency in relation to the cosmos or anything else for his existence.

By contrast Latter-day Saints move in very different conceptual circules in regards to the cosmos and the divine. For them matter is eternal and God is viewed as the creator in the sense of organizing matter into the shape of the cosmos. God himself is related to the cosmos not only as organizer, but also as a contingent and material being who has gone through a process of evolution and development, just as all human beings may experience.

Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints have debated these differing views of creation and creator for quite some time, both on philosophical and theological levels. While this level of discussion is important, in my view an even more significant aspect is missed in these discussions, that of myth. Robert Ellwood discusses the importance of myth:
[Myth] encodes in story the fundamental principles: its social organization and way of life; its essential rituals, taboos, and other institutions; its dreams and its fears. We need to always remember that a myth is not just a story; it is also architecture, music, ritual, art, people's names, the organization of society. More than '"ordinary" stories, however good or profound, real myths sets up a whole network of associations that may deeply dye many area of one's life.
Every religion has its myths, its powerful stories that include those of origins. These are important not only for the doctrines and theology that are developed out of them, but also for there explanatory power, and perhaps even more importantly, for the emotional impact they have on the individual, and by extension, their religious culture. The creation stories of Genesis represent the Hebrew creation myth that told them how their covenant-making God was also the creator of the cosmos and the people of the surrounding nations. This creation myth was later shared by the Christians as they became a separate and distinct subculture arising out of Judaism, and similarly, it became the foundation for the creation myth of the Mormon people as they arose out of more traditional forms of Christianity.

The point to be taken away from this post is that we must recognize the underlying significance of the creation myths to our respective religious cultures, and it is the power of these myths and not merely the doctrines derived from them that result in our strong convictions and disagreements on these matters. For example, because of their creation myth, evangelicals are scandalized by any suggestion that God might be material and evolve like the cosmos. For Latter-day Saints this is the most natural of perspectives because it flows from their creation myth. By focusing our discussions between our religious communities on the doctrines of creation and creator without connecting them to their respective myths we miss an essential element of understanding the emotive and intellectual power of our creation stories.

I'd like to make a suggestion that might provide some important tools for equipping evangelicals to be better prepared for addressing this issue. In 2010 Latter-day Saints will be studying the Old Testament. Evangelicals can pursue the same focus of study in order to better understand this portion of their Scriptures, and to better prepare them for discussion with Latter-day Saints. As a resource I recommend a resource to help with this in the form of John Walton's Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Baker Academic, 2006). This book is helpful in that it paints a picture of the ancient near eastern context of the Old Testament as a corrective to evangelical assumptions that may color our (mis)interpretations formed by modernity in the West, and the creation-evolution and inerrancy debates. Among other topics Walton discusses the concepts of the world, the heavens, temples, and even magic and omens. A companion volume that connects the Hebrew creation story to the mythic is Robert Ellwood's fine introductory overview of the topic in his book Myth: Key Concepts in Religion (Continuum, 2008).

I hope a consideration of myth, and fresh perspectives on the Old Testament might help add new dimensions to our dialogue and understanding in the new year.