Sunday, July 16, 2017

Calvinism without Christ

I haven't watched any of the seasons of Game of Thrones. I'm not a big fan of fantasy literature — at least apart from Middle Earth and Narnia. In the current issue of National Review, on the eve of a new season, David French, who has been watching, discusses "HBO's "Game of Thrones" & Conservative Values." He compares Tolkien's epic with Martin's:
.... In Tolkien’s world the stakes are immense, the moral battle lines are clear, and victory actually means victory, the end of a distinct evil force. In this respect, as noted above, Tolkien was a man of his age. He published Fellowship of the Ring in 1954 — after the Allies vanquished the great evil Adolf Hitler. When Tolkien wrote of the triumph of good over evil, it all felt real. Victory didn’t usher in utopia, but victory meant something substantial. Sauron was real, and when Sauron died, the world revived

Tolkien’s world isn’t Martin’s world. Whereas Tolkien’s work represented a literal journey with a fixed destination, Martin’s can feel like a treadmill of conflict where squabbling lords and ladies ignore looming threats and greater dangers for the sake of momentary advantage in a seemingly never-ending battle for control. The stakes can seem small — what’s the real difference for humanity between Lannister or Targaryen rule? — but the conflicts are still intense

Whereas the typical high-fantasy novel might end after a hero defeats her enemies and frees entire cities’ worth of slaves, in Game of Thrones, Martin (and the show’s creators) ask, “What comes next?” And the answer, instead of a glorious celebration of freedom and liberty, is a period of chaos and vengeance.

Whereas the typical high-fantasy novel centers on the most honorable of heroes and writes him to victory against insurmountable odds, in Game of Thrones, the honorable hero loses his head unless he’s honorable and shrewd or honorable and violent. And whereas the typical high-fantasy novel casts its heroes and villains in clear and unmistakable terms, in Game of Thrones you sometimes find that your rooting interests evolve in interesting ways. Just as in life, people change — especially in response to shocking events.

What results is a moral universe of surprising complexity and nuance, one that is true to life in a way that conservatives especially should understand. Think of it as Calvinism without Christ — natural human depravity unleashed. The realities of human nature mean that evil is very, very evil, and good is also touched with the weight of sin. You see the reality of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans unfold on screen. Time and again, characters don’t do the good they want to do. Instead, they achieve the very evil they sought to avoid. ....
I may watch Game of Thrones, although six seasons in, with a seventh just beginning, it would be a major commitment. Is it worth it?