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I've heard many stories of people who abandoned their role-playing hobby, or burned their fantasy book collections, on the grounds that these were opposed to their Christian faith.

What is it that causes some Christians to be concerned about fantasy and role-playing? What are the sources** for these concerns?

**Not just Biblical sources, but also the people that promoted the concern within the Christian community.

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Welcome to Christianity.SE! You might get some interesting answers to this question since I know quite a few folks around here also participate on gaming/fantasy related SE sites. –  Caleb Sep 18 '11 at 16:44
    
This is the first example of a "sexed up" title I've encountered from Christianity.SE! I've suggested adding "games" to the title to disambiguate a bit. –  Andrew Grimm Sep 19 '11 at 2:55
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Ugh. I didn't intend for it to be "sexed up". I just forgot that on the internet, everything is about sex. :-( –  Sean McMillan Sep 19 '11 at 18:29
    
@SeanMcMillan: It's ironic - I didn't mean "sexed up" in a literal sense, I meant it as in hyped up :O See also this and this, though I was mistaken in thinking it was deliberate –  Andrew Grimm Sep 22 '11 at 10:22
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Interesting that questions on Christian culture are now considered to be off-topic. Probably keeps the flames down though. –  Sean McMillan Mar 5 at 14:28
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I know when I was growing up my mom didn't let me play D&D (I did anyway) partly because of the magic/demons/occult stuff, but also because (according to Focus on the Family at least) role playing is supposedly all consuming with a cult like aspect of sucking you into it's world and not letting you go. That was at least the common wisdom of James Dobson in the early 90s. I wonder how that has adapted to video games and the like?

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Auto repair, computer programming, and reading, can also be "all consuming with a cult like aspect of sucking you into it's world and not letting you go." :) I think @Caleb's answer does a good job of discussing how neither role-playing, nor anything else (apart from God), should monopolize our time. If role-playing is a problem for everyone, it needs to be a problem on its own merits--not because some people don't have a good sense of time management. –  Flimzy Sep 18 '11 at 18:39
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Thank you for mentioning Dobson and FOTF -- I would like to know more about why RPGs became such a focus for them. –  Sean McMillan Sep 18 '11 at 18:43
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On one hand, fantasy world is based on magic. In fantasy there are daemons, witches, sorcerers, spells etc.

But on the other hand, real magic is a sin against God's Will

Deuteronomy 18:9 (ESV):
9 "When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the LORD your God, 14for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this.

Revelation 21:5 (ESV):
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6 And he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."

While fantasy magic may be not the same as real magic, as far as people keep it fantasy, it may lead someone to the thoughts that magic is fine, and furthermore, that it would be cool to learn some real magic. Remember that fantasy is mostly for kids and that is a real danger if they don't have enough knowledge of God's Law.

But there is an other side also, many believe that Tolkien's Lord of The Rings has a Biblical background (see The Gospel According to J.R.R. Tolkien by William D. Brehm), as well as C.S. Lewis in Chronicles of Narnia.

See also Religious debates over the Harry Potter series

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I would challenge your first statement, "fantasy is based on magic". While there may be cross over between the two realms, those are hardly equivalent items. Are you saying people PERCEIVE that to be true and that's the source? –  Caleb Sep 18 '11 at 16:33
    
Fantasy is (usually) based on magical ideas. God clearly considers the practice of actual magic to be a sin. Whether the two are equivalent or not seems to be the sticking point here... –  Mason Wheeler Sep 18 '11 at 16:44
    
@Caleb you right, I should explain my opinion in other words. See last edit. –  Max Gontar Sep 18 '11 at 17:02
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I also think that saying "fantasy is mostly for kids" really misses the point, too. I don't know any kids who play D&D. –  Flimzy Sep 18 '11 at 18:36
    
@Flimzy you may be right but my answer is more about fantasy culture in common than about RPG's, which may be very sophisticated, as like D&D or may be a parody as like Munchkin (which is really fun and not pretend to be real). –  Max Gontar Sep 18 '11 at 18:52
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I have never been heavily involved in fantasy or role playing games, but I've had plenty of friends who were. A couple of them have given it up for one reason or another.

The most applicable of these cases was somebody who was convicted about the usage of their time spent in the gaming world not being productive or glorifying to God. There was no objection on principle to the activities, but they were convinced that there were better things to be doing with their time. Besides ... in light of the grace they received from Christ, they wanted to spend their sharing that grace with others. The real world is hardly a boring place, and the way it comes alive in light of the Gospel is enough to inspire and drive even the most active imagination.

I also have friends (who I respect) that think their time spent in role playing games or fantasy worlds is well balanced and the interaction with people a valuable investment. I don't know enough about the culture of gaming to know how easy/hard/valid/invalid this is, but I have to imagine as a past-time and social activity it doesn't have to be a bad thing.

That being said, the content of what you are participating in needs to be considered. Considering movies as a whole one might conclude that watching films is permissible, but then if all you watch is trash, obviously you've twisted some truth into a lie. If the content of the world you are participating in is not wholesome, as a Christian you would have no business continuing.

I think this might fall under the umbrella of Paul's admonition about meat sacrificed to idols. All things are permissible but not all things are beneficial. That's a judgement call you'll have to make. Is your time spent in gaming or role playing giving the most glory to God that you can give with your life?

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To tie this answer in with the question a little better: "fantasy and role playing games" generally require more time to play. A game of Dungeons and Dragons could take days where most card games take minutes or hours. A video game like World of Warcraft can take months to level up a character to get to certain areas, where a game like Call of Duty takes about 15 minutes to play a round. Not only are these games typically longer, but role playing seems to replace real life and players might use the game as an escape from real life (much like a drug). –  styfle Sep 19 '11 at 4:39
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Simple - it's the fact that many fantasy and sci-fi worlds presented in these books, games, etc. have some level of belief system within them that is pretty incompatible with Christian thought.

Many portray a world where there IS no Christianity, as in Middle-Earth. Others use elements of it as a springboard for some aspect of the plot (angel/demon conflict, Hell, Satan, Christian eschatology). And others present it as an ancillary player that seems to be largely a caricature, or even a corrupt or antagonistic element of some sort. Few give any sort of a POSITIVE reflection of the Christian faith.

Those sorts of presentations, repeated ad nauseum, may have detrimental effects on a Christian's faith. Are these systems valid? Is Christianity just another mythos, no different than believing in the existence of elves and magic? Maybe there's some room for BOTH - Genesis just forgot to mention the fairies!

Christians will disagree on whether or not it's OK to condone these types of books and games, purely on their entertainment aspects. And maybe some will keep trotting out the 'time sink' aspect, though that seems pretty specious considering how many OTHER things can be dangerous time sinks in one's life. But for most, it pretty much comes down to the spiritual aspect of these fictional worlds, and how that may affect a Christian's non-fictional faith.

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Welcome to the site. Since this question was asked, site guidelines have changed. Here is a list of questions that the community permits. Your answer here is fine, but if you are going to ask a question of your own, don't imitate this one, rather, imitate the format of one of the types in the link above. –  fredsbend Mar 4 at 23:39
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Funny, Tolkien was a devout catholic, and was very concerned (and careful) that his world should be compatible with Christianity. It seems odd to me that people would have their faith shaken by fiction that portrays an incompatible world. Is people's faith so weak? –  Sean McMillan Mar 5 at 14:21
    
The faith of many IS that weak, and people WILL fight quite hard against things that are incompatible - the fights over the teaching of Evolution/Natural Selection being an obvious example. And it's not just being incompatible - I think the real problem is the fact that one may find one of these belief systems "simpler", more "relatable", more "appealing". Rather than doing the work to deepen their understanding of Christian thought, to pray and build a relationship with God, they simply move to the (frankly easier and less demanding) "magic + fairies + potions" framework. –  Craig Saboe Mar 5 at 15:02
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As a gamer and Christian who's been both since the 1980s I can explain the general history of Christian attitudes toward fantasy role-playing games. This is largely crossposted from a newer and somewhat identical question on the RPG Stack Exchange, Background of Christian resistance to role-playing.

Ancient History

The Church was initially quite uncomfortable with acting and theater back in the early ADs, and with fiction writing in general as well. It was hard for them to distinguish fiction from lying (see the movie Galaxy Quest for more). Keep in mind that in the Christian faith, thinking about committing a sin is sinful in and of itself.

Matthew 5:28:

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Mark 7:7-23:

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

As a result, "pretending to be a murderer" is sometimes seen as a slippery slope - are you not contemplating murder, thinking about it and how you'd do it and why... Of course magic and worshiping spirits and whatnot are all mentioned in the Bible and considered both quite real and sinful in traditional Christianity, so pretending to do those has the same close equivalence to actual sinning in the mind. And worshipping gods other than God is one of those "Christianity 101" no-nos. Over time, these new activities were further understood and allowed for by more nuanced theology, to where no mainstream church has an issue with acting or fiction writing per se today, although they do believe they can be used to promote sin and sinful thinking.

The 1970s

Role-playing games emerged from wargaming. No one cared.

The 1980s

There was a huge scare about Satanic ritual abuse in the 1980s. Various people, mostly of dubious authenticity, testified to being victims or perpetrators of various "old school" Satanic/witchcraft kinds of activities. Not all of this was false, of course, as there's freaks in every time period, and the publicity caused some amount of copycatting (little different from the spread of TM/Yoga in the 1960s, for example). This received an epic amount of media attention and created a backlash against anything that could be seen as occult-related in nature. D&D was very popular at the time; it had become a large fad (complete with TV cartoon) - the D&D Basic set (Red Box) sold millions of copies and was in every chain bookstore. TSR sold $20 million worth of product in 1982 alone! Since D&D talks about pagan gods and sorcery and whatnot, and it was a high profile target that would add to media attention, it was immediately picked up on as a target by certain parties like Patricia Pulling and William Schnoeleben who crusaded against the game publicly. This led to a series of controversies, culminating in a 60 Minutes feature in which Gary Gygax appeared and, unfortunately, did a spectacularly hapless job of defending the hobby on the show. The Tom Hanks movie Mazes and Monsters, which popularized the suicide of James Egbert III, a disturbed boy who was a gamer, along with other media exposure like the 60 Minutes interview caused some questions about the game in non-religious circles as well, which caused religious efforts to ban the game to get much less resistance than would usually be experienced.

Even those Christians who did not buy into the claims of real Satanism and spells in the game could often be swayed by the "sinning in the heart" argument, as it requires time and effort to understand both gaming and theology enough to effectively discern the truth from the hearsay and it's often easier to just tell your kids "don't play that." This isn't necessarily ill-intentioned, as a parent myself I understand that it's like other common practices of judging appropriate media for your children based on reviews and other parents' comments; you can't watch every single thing yourself first and have to go with "what you've heard" out of efficiency. As D&D is a group activity, it only takes 1 in 10 parents, school officials, priests, etc. against it to ban it in many venues. Even if the official in question doesn't think it is evil, if some parents complain they have some responsibility to act, even in Scripture it admonishes "Abstain from all appearance of evil." (1 Thess 5:22). Although, see also: The Tyranny of the Weaker Brother

The primary push was against D&D, but was generally broadened to "role-playing games" since D&D was the largest by far (most people had never heard of others) and since many of those others were similar and didn't necessarily change the argument - MAGUS, for example, would be open to the exact same criticisms as D&D.

Reactions from within the gaming community included the renaming of demons and devils to baatezu and tanar'ri in the Second Edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. They tried to keep such language less religiously charged until the late 1990s. Counterattacks were mounted by gaming groups - Michael Stackpole wrote pieces like this one rebutting and discrediting Pat Pulling. The Committee for the Advancement of Roleplaying Games was founded in 1987 to combat people trying to discredit RPGs.

Today

As the satanic panic died down, the reaction against D&D did as well, though like any urban myth it still lingers. I was publications director of the Christian Gamers Guild for a time, they have a FAQ written about gaming directed at addressing questions from Christians about things they've heard are "evil" about gaming. It is still an issue sometimes in particularly conservative, rural communities. Waves like this tend to take time to spread, so the panic and then recovery felt in other parts of the world were delayed (much like the advent and departure of disco :-). You still see flareups of anti-RPG propaganda today, though much like burning Harry Potter books, it's limited to an extremely small fringe of people largely agitating about anything popular to get on the news to spread their faith.

However, the damage still lingers. Here's a 2004 poll on a Catholic forum in which 11% (of an admittedly small sample) felt that online RPGs were not OK for Catholics. That hits that one-in-ten level that's likely to create some complaint that leaders often humor by disallowing things. There has never been an official statement on RPGs from Catholic leadership, though in 2000 they did issue a statement rebutting concerns about Pokemon cards, which were the next popular inheritor of the "is it sin?!?" bellwether. Today, the discussion has moved on to video games, and whether our violent video games promote sinful behavior.

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