2012-08-14

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 – Absolutes In A Relativistic World

by Yo Snyder

I want to talk about absolutes in a relative world
and how a very popular video game demonstrates the reality of that. I don’t
know if you’ve noticed, but our culture has this inherent belief that the best
way to live is without any absolutes. Now, admittedly, that sounds kind of
nice. No one’s toes get stepped on that way, no one has to have their feelings
hurt, it makes it easy for everyone to get along, it seems to be the best way
for things like tolerance and diversity to thrive, so yeah, a culture without
absolutes isn’t all that bad, is it? Well, the thing is, whether we want to
acknowledge it or not, the fact of the matter is that’s not the way the world
works. Our world runs on absolutes. In fact, we count on absolutes in order for
things to work properly and if there weren’t absolutes, if everything was
relative, life would be one big mess (and we’ve kind of made it that way as
we’ve tried to force relativism to be a reality). Well, ironically enough, I
can’t think of a better example of how absolutes are the true reality despite a
desire for relativism than Call of Duty:
Modern Warfare 3
.

Now I don’t remember a whole lot about the campaign,
it’s been awhile since I’ve played through it, and let’s face it, all Call of
Duty games are pretty much the same, but I do remember one of the characters
saying, “Truth is all a matter of perspective, especially in war.” It’s a
profound sounding statement that reflects the relativistic outlook of our
culture, and it also reflects what some think about war and history; i.e. “The
winners write the history books.” However, I thought it was rather ironic to
include such a relativistic sentiment in this particular game. As I’m sure you
all know, one of the hallmarks of Call of Duty games is just how linear and
scripted they are. The irony is here’s a game that’s presenting a relativistic
outlook despite the fact it functions on absolutes to deliver on the gameplay.
You must go one way to get through a
level to continue the game; that’s an absolute. Every Call of Duty game has
that moment where if you don’t do a certain action or complete a certain
objective, enemies will just continue to infinitely spawn. You must absolutely finish that objective to move
on, to move forward. Of course, it’s not called an absolute, it’s called
linear. It’s not an absolute; it’s an on-rails segment. Call it what you want,
it’s a demonstration of how absolutes are necessary for things to function.

What’s fascinating is our relativistic culture is
more than will to accept this…in video games. No one complains about the
narrow-mindedness of the developers for doing things this way, over and over
and over again in every Call of Duty game ever made. No one decries the
restrictiveness of the demand that gamers should experience the game the way
the developer says they should. No one says that’s unfair. No, people just
accept it, and pay sixty bucks every every year for a new version of it. In
fact, if you think about it, for a post-modern, relativistic society we live by
a lot of absolutes; and not just in video games. Mathematics is full of
absolutes. Physics is filled with absolutes. The laws of nature, again, a bunch
of absolutes. In fact, life is pretty much defined by absolutes whether we
realize it or not. And yet people still claim the gospel of the Bible is far
too narrow in its absolute statements of how to get to heaven. Everyone should
be able to choose their own path there. But, if we’re okay with one way to get
through a video game, why can’t we accept that in reality there may only be one
way to get to heaven? And instead of being upset about that, why couldn’t we
just be glad that someone showed us that there was a way? Irony. That’s what it is. Just plain, simple irony.

The fact is, regardless of whether or not it makes
us feel good, life just cannot function properly when everybody’s right and
every truth is just as true as every other truth. In fact, when one takes a
little time to really think through the proposition of relativism, it’s easy to
see why it can’t be the foundation for a functional life. Consider how Ravi
Zacharias put it: “All truth is relative. That
statement either includes itself or excludes itself. If it includes itself then
that statement is also relative which means it is not always true. If it
excludes itself then it is positing an absolute while denying that absolutes
actually exist. So when you say all truth is relative, you either include it or
exclude it, and either way you have decimated it. It is a self-defeating
proposition. Relativism cannot be true.” Call of Duty: Modern
Warfare 3
is a great illustration of that; it states that truth is all a
matter of perception, i.e. relative, and then proceeds to take you on an
absolute journey of one-way paths and a bunch of specific cause-and-effect
events; it’s a game filled with absolutes that spouts relativistic philosophy
and in so doing, proves exactly what Dr. Zacharias pointed out: relativism is a
self-defeating proposition.

Let’s put
it in a rather extreme light, and hopefully you won’t be too offended by this.
The recent shootings in Aurora, Colorado; was that wrong? Was that evil? Was
that bad? You’d be hard press to find anyone who’d say they were perfectly fine
with it, and yet, if “truth is all a matter of perspective”, than who’s to say
that going in and shooting a bunch of people was a bad thing? Everything’s
relative, so what if the shooter had some perfectly legitimate, and from his
perspective of truth, right reason to go and do such a thing. If we truly
believe in relativism and by extension a lack of any objective moral authority,
then there is no ground on which to stand where we can call out that act as
evil, bad or wrong. And if we do we’re violating the very reality we claim to
support; that everything’s relative. When we look at this issue in the light of
an extreme case such as this, the question has to be asked; is this philosophy
truly livable? If one thinks so, then one cannot live by it and yet call out
those shootings as something reprehensible.

Are you
beginning to see the picture I’m trying to paint here? We can try to pretend
that absolutes don’t exist, we can try and act like they don’t exist, but
regardless of whether we acknowledge them or not, they do exist, and they
govern our lives. Even games like Mass
Effect
, which are all about choice, which let you play the game “your way”
and allow to be a Paragon or Renegade (not good or evil, light or dark, just
really nice or not so nice, relatively speaking) still functions on absolutes.
It has to; otherwise there would be no game. Regardless of your choices, there
are still absolute objectives, absolute ways to succeed, absolute ways to fail,
absolute ways to proceed by completing specific missions to move the story
forward; it’s all dependant on absolutes because that’s just the way life is. What’s
more, despite the aversion to calling your choices good or evil, the fact that
the Reapers want to come in and wipe-out all organic life in the galaxy is seen
absolutely as a very bad thing indeed; in fact, it’s the very impetuous for
going through the game. It’s a game of relative choices driven by the reality of
an absolute.

The Bible,
as you may know, is very much a book of absolutes, which is exactly why some
take so much exception to it. People don’t like it when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, emphasis mine) That
sounds so exclusionary, that sounds so narrow, that sound so absolute. Well
yeah, that’s because it is. But is that such a bad thing? People get upset
because the Bible says there’s one
way to heaven, salvation and redemption. Yet, considering that the alternative
was no way, it’s actually a pretty
good thing that there’s any way at all. Think of a time when you played a game
with a glitch in it where it wouldn’t properly register that you’ve done the
needed action to proceed. Isn’t that frustrating? Aren’t you glad when you
finally get that one thing to register properly so you can continue with the
game? Relativism is the glitch; getting us to think that we can do anything to
proceed but just leaves us stuck. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is
the one action that was needed to allow us to move on, to move forward. He’s
the fix for the glitch that had us stuck. I don’t know about you, but when I’m
faced with an alternative of being stuck or have one way to move forward, I’m
pretty happy with the one way; I’m not frustrated, upset or offended that there
aren’t more options available.

Here are the absolutes that we need to be aware of, to know, understand and
then to share with others. First; there is an objective moral authority, and
it’s God. Why? That’s part of “knowing and understanding” that you’ll have to
invest in, but the short answer is because he’s God; he created reality, he set
the rules for reality, and therefore he defines what’s right and wrong (Isaiah 45:5
“I am the LORD, and there is no other;
apart from me there is no God”). Second, sin is real, it’s absolute, and it
affects us all (Isaiah 59:2 “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins
have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.”). There’s no one
who’s “good enough” to avoid the consequences of sin (Romans 3:10-11 “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who
understands, no
one who seeks God.'”). Sin is the glitch in reality that keeps us from
moving forward, from living eternal life, from being able to do the things we
know we ought, from truly being “good”. Third, the only way to fix the glitch
was Jesus Christ, as we’ve already covered. (1 Peter 3:18 “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for
the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made
alive by the Spirit…”) He’s the patch, he’s the Savior, and whether they
acknowledge it or not, everyone needs him (John 14:6). Finally, there
absolutely is a heaven and a hell, and people will absolutely spend eternity in
either one or the other. God didn’t want anyone to go to hell, which was why he
was willing to see his only son die in our place so that we wouldn’t have to (2 Peter 3:9
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some
understand slowness. He is
patient with you, not wanting
anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”). These are absolutes as
sure as gravity, the sun rising each dawn, or a new Call of Duty game coming
out each and every Fall.

There’s a
lot of media today, like Modern Warfare 3,
that spouts some version of that whole “Truth is all a matter of perspective”
philosophy, but if we take the time to dig deeper, to observe what’s really
happening, and to carefully consider what something says compared to how it
actually functions, we can see past the smokescreen to the Truth. Sherlock
Holmes, one of my all time favorite characters, is fond of telling Dr. Watson
and others that they “see but do not observe.” I urge, when it comes to playing
video games or watching movies or listening to music to not just “see”, but
closely observe what exactly it is they’re saying and whether or not they even
play by the very rules they espouse. I love playing video games, watching
movies and all the rest, but they don’t form my philosophy of life because
that’s a foundation of shifting sand. They entertain, but they aren’t livable.
For that we all need something more sure, more solid, more reliable, more True.
That’s exactly what we find in the pages of the Bible, and we won’t find it
anywhere else.