Today on AlterNet - a wonderful aggregator of things political, there appeared the rather remarkable tale behind production of the video game Left Behind. Based on the phenomenally best-selling series of books set during the arrival of the End Times and the Rapture, it sounds like it's pretty violent for a religious game.
I guess though that the entire story of the End Times is pretty grim. I remember thinking that back when I first heard of these books. It was around 7 years ago, when the first one came out. I wandered back to the galley on a cross country flight and found the flight attendant transfixed, deeply involved in the story. We spoke of it for some time; it meant a great deal to her.
I have always found apocalyptic stories riveting. Maybe it's growing up in the "duck and cover" era but the idea of the world ending in fire seemed so plausible in those times* I was deeply affected by it, I think. If you had to go under your desk in 2nd or 3rd grade and put your crossed hands over your neck, you'd be scared too.
In addition to our air raid drills, there were books and movies like Alas, Babylon, On the Beach, and dozens of other nuclear disaster tales. They were full of small, horrible moments. I was pretty young but I remember, from Alas Babylon, mobs storming drugstores and looting them for medicine. Even now it is probably the image of nuclear war that sits most viscerally in my mind. My father had high blood pressure - and was lost without his hearing aid - and I remember fearing that a war would take away his medication and the hearing aid batteries that connected him to us.
The bombs always came from countries back then. Now of course all it takes is a suitcase and some under-funded port security to empower someone bent on destruction. It probably is no accident that the Left Behind books are so popular -- there's so much uncertainty and so much that's frightening. Which brings us back to the game. Somehow it seems less acceptable to insert violence into a religious game, but as I become accustomed to the weekly reading of Torah portions I realize the bloody violence in the Bible itself. Even God was not immune - his anger was swift and deadly. The understanding of that somehow seems, at least partially, to justify the violence of apocalyptic literature.
So. No conclusions -- just a riff for a Wednesday night. And the thought that if violence emerges so often in sacred works it's an acknowledgment of those things in our natures that challenge us most... to keep our own rage, envy and hatred from popping out and contributing to chaos -- in real life, on the pages of a book, or on an XBOX 360.