Religious Warfare Stocking Stuffer
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Dec 09, 2006 at 11:14:31 AM EST
Religious warfare is now on store shelves in time for holiday shopping. Nothing like a video game depicting religious warfare against an existing, modern US city to bring out the true Christmas spirit. Ho ho ho.
Religious groups and individuals from both the left and right have protested the sale of "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" and a growing coalition has called for a consumer boycott of the game, but those are moral objections and, rightly so, have no legal force. So, this video game - that depicts religious warfare in New York City and in which players can command fundamentalist Christian paramilitary forces with the mission of converting to fundamentalist Christianity or else killing the residents of the Big Apple - is on store shelves, waiting to take its place under festive Christmas trees.

The problem with religious warfare is that it's not really very tidy. Not that warfare in the absence of religion is tidy. Far from it.

The admixture of religion, politics, and warfare tends to bring out the worst in human nature. Goya's series of sketches entitled "Disasters Of War" arose in such a context. The Spanish insurgency that arose in reaction to to Napoleon's invasion of the Iberian Penninsula gave rise to the word "guerilla", but that word has picked up secular connotations which belie the word's origin : Catholic priests played an important role in the insurgency and, as Goya's sketches illustrated, were not immune from French reprisals.

OK, now :

As some of you might know, Talk To Action was threatened with legal action by the Left Behind Games Company for illustrating posts on the Talk To Action site concerning the "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" video game with screenshots that had been widely distributed by that company to promote the game. So, for this occasion, I have chosen to illustrate this piece of writing not with screenshots from the "Left Behind : Eternal Forces" game.

No. Because the new video game represents warfare waged in a major world city, arguably against that city's inhabitants, I have illustrated this piece of writing with sketches by Goya, from his "Disasters Of war" series and also with photographs from the "Rape Of Nanking".

Both sets of images are in the public domain.

Why would the Left Behind Games company be so sensitive ? Well, the Talk To Action series on the video game, by Jonathan Hutson, has been viewed so far by several hundred thousand people on the internet. Talk To Action's analysis of the game is bad PR, and the Left Behind Games Company wants its introductory flagship product product to succeed.

But let me spell this out quite plainly :

Research has shown that average humans can be conditioned to carry out mass, genocidal violence and that process works by dehumanizing targeted societal groups, stripping them of their humanity. That makes the killing easier.

"In the years up to 1994, many journalists allied themselves with Hutu extremists who planned and carried out the genocide. A magazine called Kangura, or Wake Him Up!, published screeds denigrating Tutsis as a subhuman race that aimed to destroy Rwanda, and urged Hutus to arm themselves. As the genocide got underway on April 6, 1994, the radio station RTLM filled the airwaves with vitriol, even broadcasting the names of individual Tutsis and their hiding places. Confirming the media's murderous role, the UN war crimes tribunal for Rwanda in December convicted key figures from the magazine and the radio station of incitement to genocide."

That process - by which average people become mass killers - has now been documented, and so we have an obligation to act on that knowledge.

"Left Behind: Eternal Forces" functions to condition human beings to kill demonized societal groups.

"The conversion of socialized people into dedicated fighters is achieved not by altering their personality structures, aggressive drives or moral standards. Rather, it is accomplished by cognitively redefining the morality of killing so that it can be done free from self-censure. Through moral justification of violent means, people see themselves as fighting ruthless oppressors" - Albert Banduras

What's wrong with a video game that depicts a "defensive" relgious war set in a real, contemporary US city that's been recreated in loving detail - at least in terms of the physical features of the city - and which features game characters that look nothing like the real city residents they are supposed to depict and who do not bleed when they are blown away, at close range, by assault weapons and whose corpses simply fade away from where they lie on the city streets ? What's the big deal if the game is based on a bloodthirsty pop-culture series that's been read by upwards of sixty million people ? So what if the game suggests that "secularism" is satanic and depict a total war in which there can be no noncombatants ?

So what if this game sidetsteps with the moral and religious injunctions against killing by forcing players to do penance, when the game characters they command kill, by repetitively pressing a "prayer button" on their gaming joysticks ?

Well, the game will condition an already pre-indoctrinated group to go through the motions of religious warfare. Game players will learn that religious wars can be "fun", and that  such wars can be reduced, irrespective of the humans caught up in and killed in them, to a series of complex strategic, tactical and logistical challenges.

Teenagers who play "Left Behind:" Eternal Forces" will learn that the act of playing out and imagining religious war has the sanction of their parents and the enthusiastic endorsement of powerful religious advocacy groups such as Focus On The Family. Teens who play the game will understand it to be a wholesome, moral enterprise that has the endorsement of authority figures they love and trust.

They will learn that the immorality of killing can be cleansed by going through the motions of ritualized prayer as if saying a few "Hail Mary's" or mumbling some religious incantation. Imagine the outcry if the Harry Potter series described a magical incantation murderers could intone to make the moral and legal onus of their crimes vanish ?
Lots of killing to do ? No problem. Press the "prayer button" as necessary.

"The people who have come into (our) institutions (today) are primarily termites. They are into destroying institutions that have been built by Christians, whether it is universities, governments, our own traditions, that we have.... The termites are in charge now, and that is not the way it ought to be, and the time has arrived for a godly fumigation." - Pat Robertson, to New Yorker Magazine, 1986

Finally, it is important - crucial even - to recognize that there is a wider societal context to the phenomenon of "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" ;

The game is no cultural anomaly but part of a general pattern in which many parents on the Christian right are socializing children with the vocabulary of violence and the expectation that they will wage religious warfare, against specified societal groups, within their lifetimes. That was the context for the recent documentary Jesus Camp and "Jesus Camp" is part of a much wider societal phenomenon ( see: Kids In Combat )

Further, such efforts to socialize children towards religious warfare mesh with a pattern, in Americam cultural discourse, in which prominent religious,political, and media figures employ demonizing and eliminationalist rhetoric against targeted societal groups and even call for the use of nuclear weapons against civilian populations ( see: Enough hate speech to stun an ox and Dave Neiwert's writing on hate speech at Orcinus, and as well as the  work of the Southern Poverty Law Center in monitoring hate and extremist activity in the US  

Conditioning people to commit acts of mass violence, research has shown, doesn't happen overnight - it tends to be a gradual process. People can be habituated to commit mass violence quite easily, especially of the conditioning is incremental. So, why not start with kids ? It's easier.

( for more on the socialization of violence, see:

How Average Humans Can Be Conditioned To Carry Out Acts Of Mass Violence
for further analysis on how the "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" game may condition and socialize game players towards violence, see Virtual religious, ethnic, and cultural cleansing in "Left Behind: Eternal Forces"
for more on the ideology behind the "Left Behind" book series that the vieo game is based on, see Chip Berlet's eight part series at Talk To Action

I am not not alone in my opinion of the game : in fact, my view is shared by a number of experts who have spent decades researching fringe political movements including hate groups.

According to Talk To Action contributor Chip Berlet, who has written a multi part series on Tim LaHaye's ideology that underlies the "Left Behind" books :

The real scandal involving the violent video game Left Behind: Eternal Forces is that the demonization of enemies, bloodthirsty dualism, and murderous rampages on the computer screen are accurate reflections of the apocalyptic theology espoused by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins in their Left Behind series of novels which have sold more than 70 million copies.

Few in the mainstream media have dared confront the fact that the best-selling Left Behind series is a primer valorizing bigotry, paranoia, and guerilla warfare against those who promote tolerance, pluralism, and global cooperation. - From Left Behind Video Reflects Bigoted Apocalyptic Violence of Original Fiction Series

Berlet is in good company :

James Waller's 2001 groundbreaking work, "Becoming Evil : How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing",  was based in part on extensive interviews with both the victims and perpetrators of mass political violence, from many of the notable outbreaks that have marred the 20th Century :  The Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, the "Killing Fields" of Cambodia, the mass killings by government death squads in Central American during the 1980's, and other such incidents.

In an August 22, 2002 interview for Salon by Suzy Hansen, James Waller describes what he calls "the ordinary nature of extraordinary evil", and

Hansen: "We always hear about the dehumanization of victims, but how does it actually work and what's the process behind it?"

Waller: "It allows us to more easily commit the evil that we want to commit because we're not committing it upon someone who's a moral equal or a fellow human. You see it in wartime: military groups and countries describe the enemy in certain terms -- like Vietnam, with "gooks." We do what we need to strip our enemy, our victims, of their humanity. In many ways for us it's a psychological defense mechanism because if we see their faces, if we know they're human, if we know they have a husband, wife, children, mother, father, those things make it more difficult to kill.

In the book, I refer to Franz Stangl, a commandant at Treblinka, who was asked after the war was over: When all the inmates came to Treblinka, you knew you were going to kill them in 24 hours, so why all the humiliation? Why the beating? Why did they have to run around naked? Why did you spit on them and call them names? Stangl's response was incredible. He said that they did that because it made it easier for their men to do what they had to do."

Hansen: "The us-them mentality seems to work here too. It's unsettling that studies have found that that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with a preexisting prejudice."

Waller: "Most people don't understand how easy it is to develop us-them [mindsets]. Experiments have been done where people come in and a coin is flipped to decide if they're going to be in group A or group B. The groups have no interaction whatsoever, but you ask the groups to evaluate each other on attractiveness, intelligence, warmth, honesty and so on. People in the groups, even though they don't know the people in their group or the other group, tend to just favor their own group. They see their group as more attractive, healthier, less likely to be institutionalized at some point.

Us-them thinking doesn't require a lot to become operative. Any simple way we want to divide ourselves as us-them will develop a pattern of thinking that favors my group and disfavors the outgroup. That can start off very innocuous but pretty quickly can become dangerous."

A paper released by Waller - Perpetrators of Genocide: An Explanatory Model of Extraordinary Human Evil ( link to 18 page PDF file of Waller's paper ) - preceding the publication of his book provides a shorter version of  Waller's evolving theory of the psychology of mass violence :

( note : as summarized here, on )The first ingredient is universal human nature, with its three dangerous tendencies to xenophobia, ethnocentrism, and aggression in pursuit of power. The second ingredient is the personality of the ordinary person who commits the atrocities and how much it's been influenced by three things: cultural ideology or propaganda; willingness to exclude the victim from the protection under a moral code; and ego investment in an organization supporting the atrocities. The third ingredient is defining the victims as the "other." And the fourth is the power of three situational factors to influence thoughts, feelings and behaviors: the escalating process of brutalization in which perpetrators learn to kill (a gradual desensitization or habituation to atrocities); the binding factors of the group that shape our responses to authority (peer pressure and conformity, male ritual and camaraderie, diffusion of responsibility and a distinctive culture of cruelty); and the power differentials that exist between perpetrators and victims.

For more on this subject, see:

How Average Humans Can Be Conditioned To Carry Out Acts Of Mass Violence

As you may know, this new video game - currently on store shelves in time for Christmas - depicts religious warfare waged in the heart of New York City. Players command Christian paramilitary forces in an apocalyptic struggle in which the citizens of New York City have no choice but to side with the forces of good or evil. Screen shots from the game in play distributed by the game's producer show bodies littering the streets. The war depicts a war of absolute good against absolute evil, and in the game fundamentalist Christianity represents absolute good.

This video game nominally discourages killing, but although characters in the game lose strength as they kill, that stength can be restored when the digital characters "pray". To trigger that behavior, gamers press a "prayer button" and - as one reviewer from Wired Magazine wrote, "....In the thick of a really hectic Left Behind battle, I'd click the prayer button so instinctually that I pretty much forgot I was, well, praying."

The makers of "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" also chose to depict a population of looks nothing like the actual inhabitants of the real New York City - the game's virtual characters seem to be from some region of middle America ( or maybe Idaho ) with close to zero ethnic diversity. It's like a type of virtual ethnic cleansing really. New York city is NOT populated by the general mix you'd find at a football game in Boise, Idaho. So, why depict it that way ?

Well, it might have been hard to market a game in which women, children, and the elderly, Hasidic Jews, latinos, blacks, Wall Street securities traders and janitors, the entire melange of ethnic, cultural, age, and occupational   differences that make up the diversity in New York City  shows up as corpses piling up in the streets. That would have been yucky and un-marketable. So, the game makers sanitized their product. Why base the game in New York at all ? -  well, the readers of the Left Behind book series would have expected it.

Regardless of such commercial justifications, the "ethnic and cultural cleansing" of New York City residents depicted in "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" will serve to dehumanize New York residents, to reduce them to generic cardboard cutouts who can be more easily rubbed out, and the sanitizing of violence in the game, along with the "prayer button" that magically removes the stains of murder, will serve to make the game easier to play out by obscuring the reality of what players are enacting - a war against a civilian population that has real faces, with real emotions and real blood, guts, brains and feces that tend to spray about in warfare, a population that would feel terror, horror, rage and despair and which might - quite justifiably - fight back against forced religious conversion.

The "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" game is targeted at teenagers and young adults. As Talk To Action co-founder Frederick Clarkson has pointed out, the game is the only video game existing that "indoctrinates children in the ideology of religious warfare" and, as I have recently written, there is a case to be made that the game functions to reduce the inhibition of players towards mass violence against targeted societal groups - non fundamentalist Christians, "secularists", liberals, gays, muslims, Jews, and other minorities of all decription : all who do not subscribe to Biblical literalist, fundamentalist Christianity.

In the "Left Behind : Eternal Forces" video game, characters shot at close range do not bleed and although they do seem to die, their corpses do not remain but, instead, gradually fade away : that depiction of violence has gained the game a "T" ( suitable for teenagers ) rating but also may serve other functions as well. Teenage players of the game will learn that role playing religious warfare is sanctioned by their parents and by relevant religious authorities. They will learn that the act of imagining religious warfare is a wholesome enterprise.

Although the game takes pains to depict warfare sans bloodshed, it is based on Tim LaHaye's  "Left Behind" book series that describes extraordinarily bloody divine vengeange visited upon non-Christians for nothing more than their religious beliefs. LaHaye's theological views -  that underly the "Left Behind" series on which the new video game is based - hold that hold that in the final battle of Armageddon, non-fundamentalist Christians will be torn limb from limb, split asunder by the very word of Jesus Christ. LaHaye holds public education to be satanic and has also stated that "Some of the greatest evil in the history of the world was concocted in the Jewish mind".

That is the context of this video game now on sale for Christmas.

New Scientist, Nov. 24, 2004 ) "All humans are capable of committing torture and other "acts of great evil". That is the unhappy conclusion drawn from an analysis of psychological studies.  Over 25,000 psychological studies involving eight million participants support this finding, say Susan Fiske and colleagues at Princeton University in New Jersey, US.  The researchers considered the circumstances surrounding how individuals committed seemingly inexplicable acts of abuse in the midst of the US military's torture of Iraqi inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 and 2004. "Could any average 18-year-old have tortured these prisoners? I would have to answer: `Yes, just about anyone could have.'", Fiske says.

"Ho ho ho, the mistletoe....."

A. There's an option to play the Antichrist's forces (I believe).

B. We should encourage them to make explicit gestures like this game because it makes them look bad.  All a boycott will do is make them keep their psychotic tendencies quiet.

Abu Ghraib: Hell House of the Religious Right II
by sendtoscott on Sat Dec 09, 2006 at 03:20:02 PM EST

Bruce, the is a very powerful piece. It is still unfortunate that this must even be discussed.

I just shake my head in disbelief when I see supposed followers of Christ embracing such violence and hate. Clearly, some of these "moral relaviists" desire some of the very secterain civil wars that have infected Northern Ireland, Beruit, Sarajevo and now Baghdad.

Do we really want this in America?

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Dec 10, 2006 at 01:50:19 PM EST

Sure, you can play as the Antchrist's force, but you cannot win the game.

by nogodsnomasters on Wed Dec 13, 2006 at 02:58:23 PM EST

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