Can a Geek Be a Good Christian? Part IV—Geeky Idols

Blog | | Wednesday, November 20, 2013
This may or may not be the last post in this series. We’ll see. Once again, I want to reiterate that I’m not saying that the geeky tendencies I’ve been discussing are, in and of themselves, inherently sinful. I believe, […]

This may or may not be the last post in this series. We’ll see.

Once again, I want to reiterate that I’m not saying that the geeky tendencies I’ve been discussing are, in and of themselves, inherently sinful. I believe, though, that they are shadows of more serious spiritual problems.

Last time, I promised I’d throw some Martin Luther at you. Well, the time has come. In his Large Catechism, Luther wrote this about the First Commandment:

A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true God. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you have not the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.

Basically, what Luther is saying, is this: there’s no such thing as an atheist. Everyone has a god. A person’s god is whatever he or she turns to first, last, and always. It’s what they believe in most, what they look to for their identity, where they go to find their comfort. Their god might be a “traditional” god like Vishnu, Allah, or others, or they could be the more mundane objects we find around us, such as money, family, or ourselves. So the question isn’t, “Do you have a god?” but “What is your god?”

Luther goes on to say this:

Idolatry does not consist merely of erecting an image and praying to it. It is primarily in the heart, which pursues other things and seeks help and consolation from creatures, saints, or devils. It neither cares for God nor expects good things from him sufficiently to trust that he wants to help, nor does it believe that whatever good it receives comes from God.

That means that a lot of people, including Christians, can be guilty of idolatry. If we’ve ever let something or someone other than God take His place in our lives, we’ve created an idol and made it our god.

For geeks, those gods can be a mad man in a box, the denizens of a galaxy far, far away, or any number of fictional characters. In short, our fandoms become our gods.

I had an experience with this when I was in the Seminary. There were a number of my fellow students who were Trekkies. This was back when Voyager was the only game in town. The day after each new episode aired, we would meet for lunch and dissect each and every episode. We’d try to tie it into the larger canon, discuss any inconsistencies we saw, and speculate about what might happen next.

It was during one of those conversations that one of my friends got really quiet. When we asked him what was wrong, he commented, “I just hope we’ll bring the same passion we have for this to our ministries.”

It was a sobering thought. Far too often, we geeks are guilty of idolatry. We create shrines of idols in mint condition. We memorize dialogue and data like they were holy writ. We find our highest joys and seek our greatest comfort from our fandoms.

Am I saying that all geeks are guilty of elevating their favorite characters and stories to the level of false gods? No. Am I saying that we shouldn’t collect swag or cosplay or anything like that? Of course not. Our personal idols can be any number of things. As another one of the Reformers (John Calvin) said, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”

But thanks be to God. He is in the business of shattering idols. We see it in the Old Testament with Gideon, Elijah, and Josiah. We see it in the New Testament too, with Paul’s speech at the Areopagus. But best of all, God doesn’t just take the idols away. He replaces them with His Son.

So enjoy your fandoms. But don’t let them rule your hearts, my friends.

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John W. Otte leads a double life. By day, he’s a Lutheran minister. By night, he writes weird stories. He lives in South St. Paul, Minnesota, with his wife and two sons. His first published novel, Failstate, a superhero fantasy for young-adult readers, debuted in April 2012 from Marcher Lord Press. Keep up with his own website at The Least Read Blog on the Web.

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13 responses

  1. I love your posts, John. Thank you.

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  2. Right, the perpetual temptation to worship the thing that reflects the light rather than the source of the light.

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  3. I have SO been there. :/ When I was in my early teens, my siblings, friends, and I were *obsessed* with LotR. Our whole lives revolved around it. It was all we ever talked about. We probably had a wider base of LotR trivia than Bible knowledge, and definitely had more lines from the movies memorized than Scripture passages! Some of my friendships were entirely based on the shared fandom, and crumbled after people moved on to different interests, which was sad. LotR characters were my most important role models, and “she’s a Lord of the Rings fan” would have been the first phrase any of my friends used to describe me. We went to an exhibit of some of the actual costumes from the movies and a friend and I naughtily touched one of them despite the rules, because it was like a holy relic to us! It’s kind of scary, looking back. There is totally a point where enjoying a fandom becomes worship and an idol, and probably children and teens are prone to that even more than adults. I’m thankful not to be in that phase anymore! (And still thankful, too, for the awesome world and stories that Tolkien created!…I’m just content to enjoy it all and not be consumed by it!)

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  4. While I constantly have to battle that temptation, there are also times that the limits of fiction remind of how powerful God really is. Our God doesn’t need to scare people away through clever tricks (go to your room…glad that worked, it would have been terrible last words) or hope his allies come through (Good man goes to war.) He has all of the power, all of the time, and always knows what’s happening

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  5. I’m puzzling over whether fervor of any sort is automatically religious in nature. (To be honest, this was prompted by “everyone has a god,” to which I thought, “there are plenty of atheists I internet-know that disagree.”)
    But I guess that’s a smaller question within the greater question of where exactly psychology ends and spirituality begins. Can we feel excited, feel a great affinity to a thing without it being religious? CS Lewis (to continue the site-wide Lewis kick) called his affinity to science fiction a mental-emotional “lust” rather than a “joy,” with the spiritual implications he attached to that word.

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    • Good question. I was reading an article on Lifehacker yesterday about anxiety. There’s another demonstration of the ambiguity between spirituality and psychology. The New Testament tells us not to be anxious, and yet anxiety has physiological manifestations. I guess large part of this is the psychology of the will. I know absolutely nothing about psychology, though.

      Can we feel excited, feel a great affinity to a thing without it being religious?

      That’s related to the question as to whether or not there are any choices that don’t have any moral meaning. I feel the need to believe that there is meaning in everything.

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      • Does that mean you feel the need to believe that there is a _moral_ meaning in everything? Is meaning itself inextricably tied up in morality, or vice versa? I’m not inclined to think so, at least not about everything, but open-ended questions are fun, aren’t they?

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        • Does that mean you feel the need to believe that there is a _moral_ meaning in everything?

          I don’t know. I’ve just always felt that life is petty and stupid, and that fiction is so much better. My deepest doubts and despair come from the little things about life that seem meaningless. Life feces. And social awkwardness.

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      • They are. And yet there is no such thing as “neutrality.” Those who claim so are merely trying (often without knowing it) to persuade others of their own morality without the others knowing it.

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        • So, is the decision to eat a bagel for breakfast instead of cereal or oatmeal a morally significant decision? Normally I would expresses my feeling that it must be in some way, but I doubt that the people who say otherwise are trying to impose their own morality, even subconsciously.

          The bagel example is from a real discussion. I’ve also heard Christians argue, based on Paul’s teachings about marriage in 1 Corinthians, that even the decision to marry or not to marry is morally neutral. I know Christians who believe that God really has given us free will about a lot of things, and some choices we make don’t involve sin or morality or destiny. I’m skeptical of their position, but I don’t think they have a hidden moral agenda, either.

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  6. Wonderful article. These are some of the very things I have stressed over in the past as well. I feel guilty on a daily basis that I spend more time re-reading my own words (while writing) than I do reading the Holy Word. What a great and humbling reminder!

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