If you find yourself at a Christian liberal arts college, chances are you will brush up against H. Richard Niebuhr’s “Christ and Culture.” In this book, Niebuhr lays out five different ways Christians have, historically, viewed the relationship of Christ and human culture. The five paradigms are: Christ Against Culture, The Christ of Culture, Christ Above Culture, Christ and Culture in Paradox, and Christ the Transformer of Culture. For anyone who sees their Christian faith tradition / practice as “countercultural,” you’re likely to fall into either the first or fourth paradigm.
For Christians who use phrases like “The culture wars” (i.e. “Christ Against Culture), I can hardly think of a better cautionary tale for them to consider than the two-part visual novel series from Christine Love: Analogue: A Hate Story and its sequel Hate Plus (the latter having been released in August 2013). Not because it’s necessarily a bad paradigm, but because the attitudes that we as fallen humans tend to engender when we define ourselves as “against” others can lead us into murky territory.
For example: pro-life activists who begin to see themselves as primarily *against* the pro-choice movement instead of *for* the sanctity of life may begin to entertain dangerous ideas; sometimes, those ideas can even lead to devastating actions.
As “games,” these two Visual Novels are bare-bones. The whole point is to read, respond, and then read some more. You do a lot of reading, and dialogue with Artificial Intelligence entities about the tragedy of the Korean space ship Mugunghwa. (Note: the first game has some great command prompt puzzles; the second game has branching dialogue based on your own responses, but no puzzles of which to speak).
By the end of Analogue, we see a society set in the neo-Confucian “Joseon Dynasty” brought down by one girl who couldn’t stand its ultra-traditionalist ways. In the sequel, we see the years that led up to the creation of this society: a pluralistic, accepting community whose only perceived inequalities are economic (peasant vs noble).
Let me ask you, dear reader: what does the ideal Christian society look like? Augustine tried to describe it as a non-earthly, non-political entity. The Kingdom of God, here and now, but not as a nation-state.
Religion doesn’t come into discussion in either of Love’s visual novels. But many of the morals and ethics in the neo-Confucian society mimics that of Victorian Christian ethics.
There are too many things I don’t want to spoil about this great pair of games. Through learning the interlocking stories of about 20 people, we learn the tragic fate of a future society. But is it because of the content of the society’s social mores? Or was there something more basic, more primal, that led to that downfall?
A new/reborn AI (referred to as “New *Mute”) makes the following suggestion, if you tell her at the end of the second game, in reflection of all you read, that you “hate” everyone equally (the conspirators, the sexually liberated folk, the ultra-conservative neo-Confucians, all of them). She acknowledges and sympathizes, but then goes on to say (I’m paraphrasing):
Both societies were rooted in hate. It was hate, all the way down. Hate engenders more hate, and the society couldn’t survive that way.
Though this may be an over-simplification, as a Christian, I tend to agree. We can “get by” in a variety of societies. We can live in pluralistic societies, and we can also live in societies with state-sponsored religions. We can live under democracy, monarchy, even corrupt theocracies. We can do capitalism, socialism, or some strange middle-ground thereof. What we can’t do, long-term, is define ourselves merely by what we’re against. We as people cannot continue forward if we cannot learn to love and trust.
And, if there’s anything I’ve learned in nearly 30 years of life, it’s that living in an insular Christian bubble doesn’t take away the temptation to set in our own minds the foes, those we hate, within our own group. I’ve seen people conspire against one another within churches, just as I’ve seen it in local, state, and national politics.
This basic observation about how people groups operate — that we can adapt to many ways of life, but only if we can find a way to love and trust one another — is just as important for Christians as anyone else. Throw the politics aside and learn to live in the society you have. Yes, you can be an activist and push for equality or what you see as the ideal way of life. That may be well and good, but if you do it with hate in your heart, you will fail.
Going back to Niebuhr’s five paradigms, I would tend to think that the temptation to act in a way that is hateful or mean-spirited goes mostly with the first paradigm (though, of course, it’s possible to be hateful regardless of the paradigm you hold). If you get the chance to play through these two games, perhaps that’s a good time to ask yourself what you’d think and do in societies like the ones presented in Analogue and Hate Plus. And, hypothetically, could Christ’s love have made a difference for the people of the Mugunghwa?