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Every age brings its challenges for Christianity. Among them is the fact that living by faith means that we put the ultimate matters of life and existence into the hands of someone that we cannot see. In a world filled with sensory experiences faith in God is a challenge. This is nothing new of course. In the First Century, the Apostle Peter reminded his church that,

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8–9)

It is not that a lack of sight that makes Christianity seem untenable it just makes it different than most experiences today. Instead of having joy based upon an empirical basis we have joy through our communion with the invisible God through the portal of faith.

In recent years I have noticed a trait, particularly among men, where faith is impeded. I am talking about the cultural fixation upon fantasy. Many man today are wrapped up in a world of fantasy and also find it increasingly difficult to live by faith upon the God who is invisible.

In each of the examples below men are giving themselves to something they can see but is not real. However, with Christianity we give ourselves to something that we cannot see but is actually real. (In the following examples, I want to make clear that I believe the first is sinful but the others are not inherently so.)

Pornography

Over the last 2 dozen years pornography use has exploded. Some may call it an epidemic. Young men are being raised on it and the addiction continues through the college years and into their thirties and forties. As a pastor I don’t often go a week without hearing about somebody’s struggle in this area. Let’s think about what is happening here. Pornography attempts to enjoy the blessings of sex without the relationship of marriage. However, this is not the whole story. There is also the fact the medium for consuming it is not real, it is a bunch of images. Everything about it is a fantasy; the women, the experiences, and whatever the pleasures that come from it. It is all a fantasy. Many men are wrapped up in this sexual fantasy and it is therefore little wonder that they are distracted from a faith what is real yet unseen.

Fantasy Sports

Technological advances have made fantasy sports more accessible. For those who are unfamiliar fantasy sports are a type of online game where participants put together virtual teams of real players in a professional sport. Their teams compete against each other based upon the statistical performance of their respective players on their rosters. Each participant runs their team like an owner or general manager. In these leagues participants will track the stats over the year and award a winner at the end. Obviously playing fantasy sports is not a sin and I am not making this point. However, it is part of the overall cultural preoccupation with a fantasy world. And it is this that attends to my larger point that this fixation upon the visible but unreal tends toward making faith in the invisible but real more difficult.

Video Games

As with fantasy sports, video games are not inherently bad. However, they are a distraction from reality. Nearly 50% of Americans play at least 3 hours of games per week. It is interesting that the average age of a game player is a 35 year-old man. I understand that for many games are fun; they are something of a hobby. I also know for many the hobby can become a bit obsessive and dominating. Many people, particularly men, are caught up in playing video games for hours and hours a day. I have counseled far too many men who were spending their best hours of the day conquering worlds while their real families and real souls were being neglected.

Living in a Fantasy World

When you put these three together there is a common theme of living in a fantasy world. Pastors and church leaders attempt to encourage men to serve in the church, study God’s word, evangelize their neighbors, and step up and lead in the church. However, often times, upon pressing upon the heart, we find that men are reluctant and stagnant in their Christianity because they are thriving in a fantasy world.

Is there any wonder why there is such a decline in biblical masculinity in the church?

It is a shame that many men are far too busy conquering fake lands, looking at fake women, and winning fake championships to follow Christ’s path of self-denying, cross-bearing, service.

Pastors are attempting to preach and teach God’s Word to people who are living in this world with their minds and hearts in a fictional place must be diligent. They must labor to present Christ in his surpassing glory. The Bible that condemns also convicts and converts us. We go from belittling God’s glory to broadcasting it. Christ goes from a fictional hero to a living Savior!

Perhaps you are one who is consumed by a fantasy world. If these things are crowding out or impeding your faith it is time to evaluate and make some adjustments. Perhaps there are sinful indulgences (or in the case of pornography, sinful practices) that are preventing you from growing in Christ. As is always the case the first step is prayer, confession, and repentance. Then work toward accountability and service in the local church. I can assure you that seeing the real gospel work in real people’s lives will bring a lasting joy to your soul that is incomparable by any standard. Christ is far too precious to take a back seat to anything. If we believe this then we ought to live like it.

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20 thoughts on “The Modern Man and His Fantasy World”

  1. chuck says:

    Thanks Erik for a great article, I initially thought that it would be one that just bashes guys again but after reading it I found it balanced. While the scriptures hold each of us accountable for our own sins, I appreciate that you do so that pastors have a solemn responsibility to do their part. If I may , here are some of my observations being a christian and being part of the body of Christ
    1). Pornography, I think is the big problem that the church is ignoring. The recent Time Magazine cover story on it shows how prevalent it is in society. I would say that it is just as high in the church. My church recently has done more to address it by starting a support group for guys struggling with it including individual one on one counseling but has had zero takers. I believe shame is a big reason why. Other than the conviction by the Spirit I have no solution to that problem.
    2). Guys need to have at least one other guy that can speak truth in their life. Most guys don’t have it. The bible recommends it. Can churches set that up? Make it a priority? It works, at least for me. I have a friend who loves Jesus and loves me and will tell me to my face when I am off track or in sin. It has helped me from going down some wrongs roads in my life. Three individuals have recently divorced at my workplace and in speaking with the former wives all admitted that none of their former spouses had a close male friend in their lives.
    3). The church needs to have some honest and deep conversations from the pulpit. So often there is a dance around the difficult subjects that are affecting our lives. Why is that Time magazine can have a better conversation than most churches on the harm of porn. The is a TED talk on you tube by a guy that gave up porn and his presentation is more open than what I have ever heard in church. Why is that?
    Thanks for letting me share

    1. Toonna says:

      Chuck, you hit the nail on the head with every point you made. I think everything you said is truth and exactly what needs to be done to help men in Christ. Thank you for your comments Chuck, God bless.

  2. Jeremy Edgar says:

    Bang on. This is the homerun sentence right here: “It is a shame that many men are far too busy conquering fake lands, looking at fake women, and winning fake championships to follow Christ’s path of self-denying, cross-bearing, service.”

    The issue isn’t that guys participate in these things, but that they dominate our lives. As a youth pastor (and even for my own soul) I continually try to put before my students a vision for their lives that sweeps them up into the grand work that God is doing in our world. Almost no one talks to them that way, but we in the Church must!

  3. Michael says:

    I greatly appreciate this article.
    In my teens, especially before I became a Christian, I lived in a fantasy land to avoid the sting of a broken family and the pain of daily adversity at school. I collected the Magic: The Gathering cards (never really played the game), played Final Fantasy, D&D and the like and made for myself an elaborate world where I was in control of everything. Everything was made beautiful and mysterious in my custom world. When I would have to confront reality, I saw it as more of a bother I would have to deal with for a bit then retreat back into my world.
    Even after becoming a Christian, it was a constant temptation not to retreat back into that world when things got difficult or when people let me down.
    I lost a lot of opportunities and wasted much of my youth with that non-sense. And yet, 20 years later, I still sometimes feel that temptation. This world can get so dark, so depressing. It helps to keep an eternal perspective. I can’t see how the New Earth is going to be all that wonderful at this moment because I’m not there, but I hope and trust that it will be, and all the garbage from this world that makes me want to live in a fantasy will be forgotten.
    Sorry, this was sort of rambley.

    1. Rowan says:

      no it was not rambley, it was honest. Keep fighting the good fight brother

  4. Daniel Motley says:

    Erik, I disagreed with the focus of your article. I’ve already responded to this type of reasoning before about the usefulness of video games (http://gamechurch.com/game-measure-games-usefulness/), but a few remarks are necessary:

    (1) It is a categorical error to place video games and fantasy sports in the same list as pornography. You admit that they are not sinful inherently like pornography, but I question why you would still insist on creating a list that includes these three all lumped together.

    (2) I’m always at a loss as to why pastors continually want to downplay hobbies that they themselves do not participate in, rather than things that they do. I’ve never heard a pastor say “you know, I really get into watching football. Sometimes it becomes an idol for me. I bet it becomes an idol for others. I should write about how people should watch their hearts to make sure that sports doesn’t become an idol.”

    (3) Is the problem really that “modern man” likes to enter fantasy worlds on occasion, or that they can make idols out of things that they enjoy? For instance, is it wrong to get lost in a good book? Should I avoid reading The Lord of the Rings because I might get caught up in the world that the author is trying to portray? Or, rather, should I recognize my heart’s ability to make God’s good creation into an idol that attempts to replace him as the highest good in my life? That seems to be a more compelling presentation of what the gospel has to say about my hobbies than “you should do these other things instead of playing video games”. That almost has a ring of Gnosticism.

    1. Brian says:

      Daniel, I think you may want to read the article again. The article is not universally condemning games.

      Concerning your first point, the title of the article is the key to understanding the list. The list isn’t a collection of hobbies that cross a certain sin threshold (or else this would undoubtedly be a substantially longer article), but hobbies that have a shared thread in fantasy and imagination, that are commonly seen among men today. Nobody is arguing here that video gaming is as bad as pornography. In the right way, video gaming can be a decent hobby. Whereas there is no conceivable way to make porn decent. Erik does make this distinction in the article (‘As with fantasy sports, video games are not inherently bad.’).

      I can’t really comment much on #2. Some pastors (usually the ones you don’t know personally but hear about on the internet, I’d wager) may indeed come out categorically pronouncing video games and fantasy sports sinful, either based on hearsay or an overly restrictive faith. Perhaps being on the front lines of such an issue, you’re familiar with it a lot more than I am.

      It’s not by this author, but I remember seeing an article based on ‘That Dragon, Cancer’ on this site back in January that praised the game: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/that-dragon-cancer

      As for #3, you are correct, the problem is idolatry, not simply immersing yourself (except in the case of pornography, of course). And you can tell from the article Erik knows this. Furthermore, he does not say that every man that has ever played a video game falls into the trap of making it an idol. Many do, however, and I can attest to that as a gamer who has relatively recently left college (and several game-related clubs). There is a difference between immersion and addiction. For some, the hobby is a serious stumbling block on their walk with Christ, for some it is not. And for those who it is not, Erik is NOT saying that they should give it up. It’s just a matter of assessing your habits and motivations.

  5. Kevin says:

    The research done by “http://www.conquerseries.com/” is spot on. I’ve done some in my time but they put it together well. I do not fully state that their way of freedom is best but I do agree with the research. This talks about the sin against ourselves and with the oxytosin and serotonin that happen when we bond with 2d/3d porn and if you look at it any addiction. It fires off the chemicals in our brain to bond us to whatever we are looking at/interacting with.

    On a personal note the church has not been there when I have sought a closer relationship with Christ or dealing with major issues in my life. I do currently attend church but do not look to it for answers per say. If you have the opportunity talk to Christians in different parts of the world you will see; they see American Christians “western Christianity” as lacking. Hopefully this helps someone.

  6. Ben Unger says:

    Someone once posted the truth on slashdot: “They have it backwards. The masculinity crisis leads to porn and video game addiction.” When people go mad not one-by-one, but en masse, there are almost always obvious external reasons for it. Until you demonstrate some inclination to identify and speak to those too, the man-up rantings of one more AMOGing pastor are not going to convince anyone to change their ways.

    Which is sad – because that’s your job. Luke 11:46 comes to mind.

  7. Katie says:

    I understand the point you are making in regards to the consumption of pornography – but in a way I feel that it is not entirely accurate to call pornography “fake women.” They are real women (albeit sometimes photoshopped and edited), and often their participation in the industry is forced. Again, I understand this is a different topic – but please consider the direct effect that pornography has on women and young girls. Wether coerced into film production or trafficked for prostitution, or a young woman who is expected to act as a porn star by an addicted man…pornography is anything but “fake.”

  8. Eric Ridding says:

    What about pornographically that is viewed by a husband and wife together, as a shared, mutually erotic experience?

  9. Chuckt says:

    Think about the Emergent Church. They think they can erase the history of the church like an etch a sketch and come out triumphant when they have the same problems as everyone else has.

  10. Laura says:

    If anyone were to ask my advice, which I realize no one has, it’s this: when your child is in elementary and middle school, homework time is an excellent time to learn self-control and discipline. He (or she) needs a desk with nothing on it except what he needs to do his work and maybe a lamp, and nothing on the wall in front of him; no TV in the room or anything else distracting, so that he focus on the task in front of him until it is complete. If he complains that his homework is tedious and boring you should rejoice, b/c this is your opportunity to explain to him that life is full of tedious and boring things that nonetheless we have to do, and not only do, but focus on, pay attention to, and try to do well. Some people never get this, and it is a tragedy when that happens; I have seen it. Invite him to think about how satisfying it is when his homework is complete, correct, has his name on the front, and is ready to turn in. This, along with being on time and prepared for class, should be something he takes for granted. And for kids this age, no computer, smart phone, or an other internet-enabled device, or video game or TV, in his bedroom. In high school, you loosen the reins as he demonstrates his maturity, so that by his senior year he is entirely self-regulating; you can’t send him off to college if he isn’t.

    1. Mark says:

      Oh, IDK Laura, looking through a scope and learning to resist the urge to pull the trigger button on the game controller until the perfect moment is a teacher of self-discipline and self-control like no other. Not to mention having to make on the fly calculations about ballistic trajectories involving elevation, wind, distance, drop, projectile velocity, target movement, etc… requires pretty good focus.

      1. Laura says:

        Mark, you’re right, but the trick here is to focus on something that’s not fun.

        1. Mark says:

          Being on the losing side of one of those moments is the definition of “not fun”

  11. Paul says:

    You could not have been more spot on with this. As life gets more challenging we tend to regress into fantasy world. Instead, we should be rising up to be the men God made us to be and lead our families toward the Kingdom of God.

  12. Forest (D&D Preacher) Ray says:

    The writer and most comments totally missed out on how gaming is a field ready for harvest. These kind of article show why churches are in decline. We must start reconnecting with people where they are at. As to the question of pornography yes it is real but instead of shaking our finger at people involved with it we need to offer better than that. We need to offer real treatment and compassion. There are great ministries such as XXX Church that do real good work yet are vilified by churches. I m a gamer both video and tabletop. I run a game ministry at church and at conventions.

  13. Daniel Hey says:

    Good points. I don’t disagree that fantasy is an easy way out of enjoying/mastering real life for many men. Let’s be fair, however, and point out that HGTV, novels, fashion, pop musicians, romantic comedies, etc are often the fantasy worlds of women. Husbands, finances, family, career and kids are seldom able to live up to these images, creating misery and resentment for many women in our society….

  14. jvangeld says:

    But are any of these actually fantasy? Porn shops use the word “fantasy” in their marketing, but as Katie has said, the women are very real. Some of them choose to perform for the camera, some are forced to. But they are very real people. Likewise with games. All the bits on the harddrives of the servers are real. It takes real time to make the games and to play them. If I log into a game and bear false witness against someone, I have really sinned. Virtual worlds are just a subset of the real world, so it can be appropriate to spend a subset of our time in them.

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Erik Raymond


Erik Raymond is senior pastor of Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Ne. He and his wife Christie have six children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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