A friend recently raised this question to me: Why do Christians make a big deal about watching nudity, graphic violence, and sexually explicit content on Game of Thrones when the Bible they read is full of similar content?* The implication is, reading the Bible is morally equivalent to watching Game of Thrones. Therefore, if watching Game of Thrones is immoral, then so is reading the Bible.
To demonstrate that reading the Bible is morally equivalent to watching Game of Thrones, you would need to show that there are morally significant parallels between the two. The person who raised the challenge seemed to think he had done that by pointing to similar content in both (e.g. violence, murder, rape, incest, sex, etc.).
There are at least three obvious differences between reading the Bible and watching Game of Thrones that demonstrate they are not morally equivalent.
First, the act of reading and the act of watching are completely different. Isn’t there an obvious difference between reading about a sexual assault in the newspaper and watching the same person being sexually assaulted on video? Isn’t there a difference between reading about the latest beheading from ISIS and watching the very same beheading on the Internet? The answer should be obvious. Reading the sentence, “Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain” is completely different from watching two people get completely naked and simulate having sex in high definition from multiple camera angles. Men aren’t buying up Bibles by the millions to satisfy their lustful desires as they read. No, they are flocking by the millions to pornographic websites to satisfy their lustful desires as they watch. This is because watching an immoral act is categorically different from reading about an immoral act.
The next point is tied to the first.
Second, there is a difference in motivation. We need to ask why people are reading the Bible and watching Game of Thrones. Again, the answer isn’t hard. Television shows, like Game of Thrones, are meant to titillate and entertain by reducing immoral circumstances to objects of enjoyment. The Scripture does not do that. The wickedness we read about in the Bible is meant to be an object of moral education. Namely, we learn about God’s anger towards wickedness and the consequences of human sin.
So reading about wickedness for the purpose of education is different from watching it for the purpose of entertainment. We don’t enjoy reading about wickedness; we grieve it.
Therefore, reading about immoral acts for education, whether it’s the holocaust, sex-trafficking, or immoral acts in the Bible, is not remotely similar to watching immoral acts for entertainment. Motive matters!
Third, the values associated with these specific behaviors are entirely different. Television shows like Game of Thrones celebrate libertine sexual values, violence, and assorted vices. That’s why the producers include these scenes in their shows. They know this will entice the audience and increase viewership.
Conversely, the Bible doesn’t describe wickedness to celebrate sinful acts. Rather, it records sinful acts to condemn them. The Bible judges these things as immoral, which is why many people take issue with Scripture. It consistently inveighs against their proclivities, where Hollywood glorifies them.
*I passed the question along to my colleagues Greg Koukl and Alan Shlemon to get their ideas. This response is an amalgamation of our thoughts.