The Mark of Maturity (and Other Myths)

Relevant Magazine seems to be one of those Christian outlets to appeal to “young adults” who are “seeking” to become “more mature”, although I think advice derived from a magazine seems highly tendentious from the outset. That whole concept brings with it certain cultural and social norms of “maturity”, and without investigation you usually end up with big assumptions like this little jewel on 10 Guys You Should Never Date. Besides the click-baiting list article (look at me, I need bite-sized chunks of information! At least it isn’t Buzzfeed) meant to appeal to a female demographic, what can we learn about Christian perceptions of video games?

The I Don’t Wanna Grow Up Guy

This guy will make you feel more like his mom than his girlfriend. He’ll have you taking care of him before you even know what hit you. And you’ll like it at first, because it will make you feel important. But what you don’t realize is that a relationship with this guy is sure to be one-sided. So until he’s ready to put down the video games, pay his own bills and do his own laundry, it’s time to move on to bigger and “more mature” things. You deserve a partner, not someone who needs a parent.

Other than the obvious, and easily debunked, stereotype regarding the video gamer, we notice an important correlation if not a causation: certain things equal “mature” in the realm of human action, while other clearly do not. So what does Relevant mean by “immature”? My guess, and I think it’s a pretty good one, is that video games haven’t elevated into popular culture in the same way books, movies, and other distracting forms of entertainment have. They exist on the fringe, in part due to the time they consume and the visual language they portray. An act of horrific violence to a random passerby elicits a far different reaction from a gamer, who sees something of abstract points and survival as opposed to acts of death and destruction.

The basement dweller norm has its roots in reality, of course; no one can deny the gripping power of MMORPGs to those who do not see through the feedback loops, but outsiders often miss the depth of human interaction taking place. Compare Facebook and most social media to World of WarCraft, and you’ll see a far better environment for bonding and friendship around a common trend or theme – not just whatever information cascade makes us enraged for the day (the Superbowl sex trafficking one is a particular favorite, if completely false). Like any subculture or theater of human interaction, a cursory examination will always falter in seeing what lies in reality, rather than perception.

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You can’t dislike anything on fB, for example.

That gesture finds universal applicability in many human pursuits regarding the modern age, and I imagine the Christian fear of new technology and innovations has much to do with it. Most new media somehow gets declared childish and immature right from the outset; the same thing happened to film, and there’s plenty of Christian sects in the past centuries that discouraged the ability to read and write (also see: much of dispensational theology). One wonders why we must be restricted to word and speech, given that Jesus and the Bible give us no explicit approval or condemnation of said exploits. I imagine, partly, it comes down to control, and partly down to not seeing your audience as equipped to handle a fine fence walk without falling off either side. Thus, they would rather keep them on the greener grass, rather than toe the line. Mixed metaphors!

This makes sense on one level; it’s far easier to merely set a definitive rule of what’s advancing a Christian walk (i.e., don’t do X!), but that is not at all what the Bible presents. Paul remained incredibly staunch about freedom in Christ, constantly refuting and opposing the Judaizers – those who wanted to constrain Gentiles to the same exact Law as the Jews. Even the Apostle Peter fell in with this lot, and Paul makes a sharp analysis in Galatians 5:

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.

Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who [b]are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we [c]through the Spirit,[d]by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.

Just look at that extreme language! If you receive circumcision – that is, the mark of a Jew – then why do you need Christ? If you can uphold the Law by yourself – that is, knowing the whole Law and making sure you don’t violate its dictates by accident – why do you need God? The point is obvious: following arbitrary dictates, absolute laws, and condemning others for not following them does not produce maturity. That merely provides a psychosomatic road to success that places a baseless framework onto reality; the illusion of success in maturity often turns right into pride. Paul makes this even more clear in the following verses:

You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. 10 I have confidence [e]in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. 11 But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. 12 I wish that those who are troubling you would even [f]mutilate themselves.

That dude who spread and preached these kinds of ideas? Apparently God did not send it! If it befits you, you may as way mutilate yourself (insert a more vulgar colloquial phrase here, if you need more emphasis)! Paul wasn’t one for subtlety, nor idle words. That fine line between freedom in Christ and becoming Lawmakers unto ourselves remains one of those central dichotomies of the Christian faith. Faith indeed, for faith requires trusting, and trusting requires a leap into the unknown, and insecurity for days. Once we cannot control something, we find ourselves with anxiety – and, somehow, we even produce said anxiety with God’s wind at our sails. We like to turn our freedom into a new kind of captivity, and we just cannot do that. We must live by the Spirit, not by the Law.

13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

This, then, makes most articles about Christians and “maturity” frustrating. Maturity isn’t found in specific acts, or holding particular interests (researching and understanding Christian doctrine, ideas, and action not withstanding). It certainly isn’t about kowtowing to society’s standards about what IS and IS NOT something that MATURE PEOPLE do, because society certainly has some great ideas about that, right? And we can say, further, that it certainly isn’t tying Christian morality to your particular cultural context, forcing others into the constraints of your own worldview. No, none of these things say “maturity” to me; they sound much more like a petulant child who desires control and cohesion in their perception at the expense of other people.

I can say one thing: that’s not very Christian, and not very mature at that!

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.