Monday, August 1, 2016

Is Pokemon Okay for Christians?

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Recently a reader posed the question on whether or not it's okay for Christians to play Pokémon.  Now, before she asked, I had never given either of my children's interest in Pokémon a second thought in regards to how it connected to our faith.  My immediate response is, of course.  Pokémon is fine for Christians to play.  Then, in true mom-fashion, I second guessed myself. Was I leading my children right into the arms of Satan worshipping and occultism? Was I failing my children where it matters most? Okay, stop. Time to breathe. Surely my children aren't going to Hell over a video game and some cards... Are they? So I did some reading. Okay... A LOT of reading. And thinking. And praying. Here are my thoughts on whether or not Pokémon is okay for Christians.
 
In case you're unfamiliar with the history, Pokémon, (short for "pocket monsters"), are characters that grew from a card game into video games, books, and cartoons, and the latest Pokémon Go game.  The whole point of the Pokémon phenomenon is for trainers to catch, train, and battle as many Pokémon as they can.  So what's the big deal? Why are people (specifically the Christian community) so worried about its effects on children?  What could possibly be contained in the Pokémon phenomenon that is so threatening? Here are some of the issues that people have with Pokémon...
 
Is Pokémon anti-Christian?
Well, sure, I guess. But isn't the world? Pokémon creator, Satoshi Tajiri, has admitted that the game was created as backlash against his very strict, Christian parents.  So, yes... but. So are Halloween and Christmas trees, according to some.  Halloween has questionable roots, and many question if Christians should celebrate it. Some believe that Christmas trees stem from Pagan roots. It is what you make it.  The world is anti-Christian.  So do we avoid *anything* that has been created with non-Christian motives in mind? No, of course we don't.  When you go to your favorite Chinese restaurant, you finish your meal and are handed those yummy little, sugary fortune cookies.  Do you eat your cookie and read your fortune or demand they remove these cookies from your influential children's presence? Because the Bible does have something to say about fortune-telling.  I'm going to say it again: the world is anti-Christian.  As we go through our days, we are hit with a barrage of influences that are not God-like, but as Believers we just teach our children how to moderate these influences and be His light in the world.

 
What about Pokémon's supernatural powers?
All the Pokémon have supernatural powers, but do they really have occultic undertones?  These superpowers are akin to ones that superheroes have, in my opinion.  I perceive it more as their own personal strengths that they use to battle. Some see these powers as nods to the occult. For instance, Abra reads minds, Haunter can hypnotize, and Nidoran uses poison.  But is this really any different than Maxwell Lord's ability to control minds? Or Captain Marvel's clairvoyance? Or Poison Ivy's death touch? All of these characters have one thing in common: they are imaginary. 



Do Pokémon promote evolution?
Many of the Pokémon are able to evolve into more powerful forms.  However, the term "evolve" does not follow the same basis as the Theory of Evolution.  Not all Pokémon evolve into more advanced forms as Darwin's theory would suggest.  Instead, it's more of a transformation based on learning and personal experience, no different than our own evolution of self from one stage of our lives to another.  And chances are, many of our kiddos are going to be exposed to Darwin in school anyway.  So if you are a Creationist, and the topic comes up, why not use this as a talking point. Talk to your child about why you believe what you do and the importance it plays in your faith. Arm them with the tools they will ultimately need to defend their faith instead of sweeping conflicting secular views under the rug.

 
Does the tagline "Gotta catch em all" promote addiction?
The phrase "Gotta catch em all" does no more to incite an addiction to Pokémon and the occult than  the Pringles catchphrase "Once you pop, you can't stop" does to cause overeating.  The key to Pokémon and any other video game or collection is moderation. Do we see people having theologically-charged discussions over the disturbances that Shopkins have caused in schools or on playgrounds?   They are animated, inanimate objects.  Surely someone somewhere should have an objection to this.  Not to mention their slogan, "Once you shop, you can’t stop!"  Yet there's no concern about these little plastic formed trinkets causing shopping addictions or compulsive spending habits.  So while Pokémon acting as a springboard to similar games and movies may be true,  the argument that its catch phrase fuels the craving for more occult games, books, and videos is groundless and pretty redonkulous.


Are there any benefits to Pokémon?
Yes! Pokémon Go is allowing the children of Syria to have a voice as they take pictures of themselves with Pokémon characters in their destroyed cities.  This brings light to the plight of the unfortunate, of orphans and innocents in a war-torn area.  Jesus would approve.

Some teens are using the Pokémon Go craze for evangelism.  Fired up teens used transitions such as "Do you know who the ultimate gym trainer is? Jesus." to spark conversation on salvation.  Others were more blunt and just went straight for it with, "Do you know what’s worse than running out of poké balls? Hell." Jesus directed his disciples to become fishers of men. "Gotta save 'em all", right? Again, I think He would approve.

"Welcome to the world of Pokémon, a special place where people just like you train to become the number-one Pokémon Master in the World!" How empowering is that?  Sure, it's just imaginary, but there's such a positive message that is sent through Ash, the lead trainer in the Pokémon movies and books.  He's just an average kid.  And with hard work, dedication, and compassion, he's able to achieve great things.  A good message to send our kids, no?


So... Yes or No?
Bottom line... Pokémon is a cartoon.  If children have a strong, Christian foundation, a little bit of imaginary play will not shake that. I find it incredulous that anyone would purport that a game would have the intrinsic powers to turn a child from Christ. Might the trading cards be a distraction in school? Yes.  Might children disobey their parents because they'd rather be playing the Pokémon video game? Yes. But that doesn't mean that Pokémon is some big, bad voodoo force that is infecting our children. That's kids being kids. Insert the word "Barbie", "soccer", or "Mario Brothers" into the battle against Pokémon and the outrage won't be found.

In Matthew 7:17-20, we are told, “A good tree produces good fruit; and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can't produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can't produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down, and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions." (NLT)  Using this analogy, doesn't it make sense to say that if we are growing "good trees", it shouldn't matter what "birds" land in their "branches". 

Pokémon is a flash in the pan in regards to things that can possibly steer children off track. As they get older, there are  more and more things that can lead them astray from God's path. Are we doing our children a disservice by flat out not allowing games like this? Or can we use them to teach moderation, how to discern the difference between fantasy vs. reality, and how to filter influences in the secular world? 

Don't let anecdotal stories of Pokémon cards causing children to steal, lie, or become deviant sway you. That's just taking the blame off of the child and putting it upon an external force. And what does that teach the child? That they can blame their poor choices on an inanimate object. Much like the "twinkie defense", it allows parents to say, "Pokémon made him/her do it" instead of addressing the real behavioral causes at hand. This way of thinking just adds to the mindset of our society today. We've lost our sense of personal accountability.



The Bottom Line
Avoidance of the Pokémon phenomena (as well as other controversial issues) is nothing more than a trained human reaction to a fear of the unknown. And I get it, I really do. None of us wants to make a parental choice that screws up our kids for the rest of their lives (or eternal lives). I get that, too. But where do we draw the line between protecting them and censoring the world for them? 

I want the world to be all rainbows, puppies, and cotton candy for my children. But the reality on the nightly news tells us that it's a crappy, crappy world out there. So let's arm our children with critical thinking skills, discernment, and self-control so that they may take what the world hurls at them and still live righteous lives.  Pokémon is not a Heaven or Hell issue, nor is it one that divides the Godly from the Godless.
 
So. If you are still in doubt about whether or not Pokémon is okay for Christians, I ask you to pray upon this, one of my favorite verses from the book that speaks to my heart....

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.
Romans 8:38







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