Dear Nerds, Enthusiasts, and Fellow Geeks:
Ten minutes before I started typing these words, I looked up the current overall gross income of “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” flick, the most recent of Marvel’s hyper-productive studio features. The results? $875.26 million worldwide. And it hasn’t even opened in Japan or China yet.
Following that, I clicked over to YouTube to watch the latest “Star Wars: Episode VII” trailer. Guess how many views that short teaser has? 51,071,538. And counting.
Finally, I decided to investigate how many people are expected to attend the fourth-annual Denver Comic Con this upcoming Memorial Day weekend. Last year, over 86,000 people showed up. This year, over 130 actors, artists, and game developers from all over the world are on the guest attraction list. (Cary Elwes is coming. Remember Westley from “The Princess Bride”? Yeah, that Cary Elwes.)
Apparently it’s a very good time to be a geek. Everywhere you turn there seems to be a fresh story being produced via books, TV, movies, and games. And even if you’re not a comic book reader, or you’re not all that big into Star Wars, or you somehow don’t know who Cary Elwes is (you sad, sad person), I think it’s still safe to say you probably “geek out” about something. We all do. Maybe it’s not in fiction, as it is for me, but you definitely follow your own passions.
What I’m about to say next is probably going to make me very unpopular—but to soften the blow, let me say this. If you’re Catholic, it’s okay to be a geek too. While you shouldn’t indulge in passions or entertainments that are inherently sinful, you’re not doing anything wrong by being a Trekkie or a Dungeon Master. It’s not a bad thing to be a fan of either The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. And you say you enjoy both “The Legend of Zelda” and “Firefly”? High five, friend! Me too!
However—and here’s where I might get unpopular—while it’s okay to be a geek, it’s time for us to stop “geeking out.” There’s a good reason for it, too.
I’ll let St. Augustine take it from here….
St. Augustine’s Parable: The Lord and the Ring
In his second homily on the Epistle of St. John (namely on 1 John 2:12-17), St. Augustine delves into the Scriptures to caution his audience about giving too much attention to worldly things. In paragraph #11, he uses an analogy:
A good and kind lord, after asking the woman of his dreams to marry him, fashions for her a truly stunning engagement ring as a token of his eternal love. Nice, right?
Now imagine this: after she’s received the ring from her lord, the bride actually decides she loves the ring more than she loves him. She doesn’t even thank her fiancé for his gift; she just admires the ring alone, never taking her eyes off of it, showing it off to her friends to make them jealous. The bride is so perversely enamored by the ring that she completely forgets the one who gave it to her.
We can only imagine the lord’s reaction to his bride’s behavior. Heartbroken, bewildered, and more than a little angry, he’d most likely ask: “How could you possibly love that ring more than me?”
St. Augustine earns no points for subtlety here. We all know who the Good Lord is in this story. The ring represents His creation, the beauty of the world and the gifts we all receive from Him in our lives. And we, the Church, are his bride. When we as His bride worship worldly things in the place of Him who gave it to us in the first place, then we’re clearly doing something wrong.
In other words: we’re committing idolatry.
Now that’s a pretty heavy word for this kind of post. Let’s go back to “geeking out.” How does geeking out about Star Wars and comic books and Cary Elwes relate to this topic?
Let’s think about it. When we encounter the beauty of God’s creation—in a sunset, a piece of literature, a well-crafted woodwork, etc.—we can turn our eyes in two directions. One: as we rest in the beauty of that created thing, we can turn our eyes and hearts toward God and give Him the praise and thanks due for His work, either in nature or through human-made means. That’s an exercise in gratitude, and gratitude is at the heart of all good worship.
Or, two: as we behold the created thing, we can get distracted, focus too much on the thing itself, and forget about God. Whenever we’re seduced into putting some object or idea above God; whenever we put the created above the Creator; whenever we praise the effect over the Cause; whenever we geek out about a thing instead of giving gratitude and praise to the Father: that’s when we engage in idolatry. No matter how the idol is carved, whenever you give more attention and affection to worldly things than to the Father Himself, your “geeking out” has gone too far.
To follow a better way, we should keep our minds and hearts focused on what really matters. There are so many interesting and exciting things out there to geek out about—but they are still worldly things. We were not made to worship and adore creation itself, but rather the Creator.
This is what St. Augustine is getting at in his homily on St. John’s Epistle, though of course he puts it far more elegantly than me:
“God does not forbid you to love these things, howbeit, not to set your affections on them for blessedness, but to approve and praise them to this end: that you may love your Creator.”
God doesn’t forbid us from enjoying geeky things. Far from it. But He wants our enjoyment of them to always be a means for us to praise and love Him all the more. Forget God, and a golden Triforce can lead His people astray just as devastatingly as a Golden Calf. And while I wouldn’t shy away from enjoying the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey exploits of Dr. Who, my fellow Whovians out there should remember: there is only one true Lord of Time, and he doesn’t have a TARDIS. (He doesn’t need one.) If you’re too enamored by creation itself, geek or otherwise, then something’s gotta change.
Bottom line: It’s okay to be a geek…
…but keep in mind: our true and holy purpose in this life is to praise and give glory to God, to love Him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. If you engage in geek culture in any capacity, then it’s your job to always look beyond it with the eyes of faith. Be sure to ask yourself: Is this book/film/TV show/video game/fandom/convention/etc. I’m geeking out about right now leading me into better worship of my Lord and Creator?
If your answer is yes, then may the force be with you.
If your answer is no: it’s time to turn your gaze back to the One who truly deserves your worship.