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Are games and anime spiritual wastes of time?

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In the day-to-day work of an Internet Pastor, there are times when it feels more like I’m a content creator than a preacher. I still preach, but the delivery is different. It’s on YouTube, it’s edited to a T, and it’s delivered in front of a cheesy backdrop of nerdy paraphernalia. As someone who grew up on YouTube, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bring me joy to put these together. However, it does open up every word and moment of my sermon to the general populace and, most concerningly, the YouTube comment section.

The title of this blog is an amalgam of one of the most recurring comments that I see left in the comment section. One of my more popular sermons is an argument that Christians can and should be watching anime, but the argument applies to most media.

The video itself makes a strong argument for watching anime. But I haven’t had adequate time to address that sentiment of it being a waste of time. At first glance, it’s honestly a fair reading of some cherry-picked scripture. But - as we enter a certain American sports season - is this the speck or the plank in the eye of the hypocrite? Or is it not even a speck?Screen grab of video listings about Christians and anime

What Makes A “Waste of Time”?

At its face, the ultimate question for this line of thought is: What does it even mean to waste time? I’ve found there are two seemingly opposing lines of scriptural thought that are presented most often. 

  1. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 NRSVUE - “‘All things are permitted,’ but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are permitted,’ but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage but that of the other.”

  2. 1 Corinthians 10:31 NRSVUE - “So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”

It’s worth noting both of these are sentiments that are Pauline in nature, coming from the same letter, written to the same early Church of Corinth.

It’s also worth noting that both of these are about the Lord’s Supper. 

The author of 1 Corinthians is not telling the Church of Corinth to do anything in regard to anime or video games. Obviously, those things are not in the Bible.

Assuming we wanted to play the game of comparison and relate this passage as a one-to-one in a modern context, then the author here would say that the Christian ought to play any video game that is ‘put before them’ unless the one offering has specifically offered it as a means of worship to demons (1 Cor 10:28).

Surely we can acknowledge that this is absurd. To my knowledge, there has never been an anime or video game offered up to the worship of demons. I might even argue that there may have never been such a piece of media offered up as worship to anything!

See - the argument itself is in bad faith. How are we called to use our time as Christians?

Jesus tells us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Lord (Matthew 28:19).” But we’ll get back to this soon.

The Kernel of Nerd Hatred

If this argument is in bad faith, the question then becomes–why?

This question plagues me day and night. I am not sure I will ever understand the true root of the rampant hatred of media that often appeals to nerds, geeks, and gamers. My friend Derek White does a wonderful job exploring that question in his documentary The Satanic Panic and the Battle for the Religious Imagination, but I still find the root of the issue not satisfactorily explained.

Why do we not ask this question about watching sports? Or of playing them?

Ought not everyone ever quit their “waste of time” occupations and go into the ministry?

Why do we call these “wastes of time” and not simply “the hobbies and passions of nerds”?

Of course, it might behoove me to ask why we don’t approach with the same fervor works by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Asking this would lead us to the assured answer–each of those authors is one of ours. 

It’s not a waste of time to indulge in the fantasy of believers. Right?

A Better Question

Even after all this, I’ve still not answered the question, have I? Are video games and anime a waste of time? 

If it’s an answer that has made you read this far, surely you already know my thoughts are that they are not. But give me a bit more of your attention, and I’ll ask a better question.

I should admit that there is another question I am asked that is much easier to answer: “Is watching anime a sin?” or “Is playing video games a sin?

This is an easy answer because sinning isn’t something that we “do,” it’s a place where we are. Sin simply means “without.” In our Christian comprehension, this translates to sin being a state where we are “without God.” 

In other words, anime and video games are not capable of being “sin” or not–they are things, not people. It would be like asking, “Are video games sleepy?” Video games simply are–they are static; it is humanity that is dynamic.

Thus, the better question is this:

Are video games leading me into being separated from God?

Is anime leading me into being separated from God?

My personal answer to this is an emphatic ‘no.’ In fact, in my experience, I am able to better fulfill the mission presented via the printed words of Jesus in the Great Commission quoted above. 

I am actively, literally, unquestionably making disciples of all nations by watching anime and playing video games.

Checkpoint Church is a community of thousands of nerds, geeks, and gamers who are feeling welcomed into the Body of Christ, perhaps for the first time ever. Yes, we’re playing video games. Yes, we’re watching anime. Yes, we’re growing deeper in love with our faith in Jesus Christ.

So… I’ll ask you. Is that a waste of time?

Rev. Nathan Webb of Checkpoint ChurchNathan Webb is a major nerd in just about every way. He loves video games, anime, cartoons, comic books, tech, and his fellow nerds. Hoping to provide a spiritual community for people with similar interests, he founded Checkpoint Church--"the church for nerds, geeks and gamers." Nathan can be found lurking on some visual novel subreddit, reading the latest shōnen entry, or playing the newest Farm Sim. Nathan is an ordained provisional elder in the United Methodist Church in the Western North Carolina Conference. He hosts a weekly newsletter podcast: To The Point.

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