Another Example of Subtle Anti-Theist Brainwashing: Civilization V

I don't know about others, but as I go about my daily life I regularly run into little things people write or do which contains an obvious bit of anti-Christian or anti-God bias. (Actually, to be accurate, if a bias is to be anti-something it really would be more accurate to call it a prejudice, but I am not trying to create that connotation so I will stick with my chosen description.) In most cases, I don't believe that this anti-Christian bias is intentional -- the individual who created whatever I happen to be reading, watching or doing, didn't set out to create a negative image of Christians or Christian belief. It is just something that she does because either she believes Christians are stupid, bigoted or evil, or because she simply applied thinking that she unconsciously adopted in her life through her own studies (often using material that was anti-Christian in the first place). When this small bit of anti-Christian bias is put into material that is seen primarily by children or teens, it becomes a bit of anti-Christian brainwashing.

An example was recently presented to me by my children. A long time ago, I used to play Sid Meier's Civilization II. It was a great game. The goal was to start with a single nomadic group of people, build a city, research new technologies and ultimately create a civilization which controls the world. It was fun to play and see how advanced you could push your civilization.

Recently, my 20 year old was playing a new version of the same game, Sid Meier's Civilization V, on his computer. Since I hadn't played Civilization in years and was unfamiliar with all of the changes that had taken place in the game, I watched him for awhile. The game still incorporated the same basic idea and structure, but it now had many more things that a player could do to win the game. (And, of course, the graphics had become much better, too.) He offered to let me play, and I decided to give it a go.

Now, one new feature in the update is the idea of adopting social policies for your civilization. These policies include such things as Honor, Piety, Liberty and Patronage. As you progress through each social policy, you can adopt what can be called sub-policies. For example, if a player adopts the social policy of Honor, some of the sub-policies include Warrior Code, Discipline and Military Tradition. Each of these social policies give you advantages that are helpful to win the game.

Overall, I have no problem with this new aspect of the game. In fact, these social policies help create new avenues by which to win the game. A person can now win the game by becoming a culture that is socially dominant. I found this new addition to the game to be a net-positive to the game.

But then I noticed the subtle anti-Christian bias.

One of the easiest ways to win the game is to become scientifically dominant. To do so, you have to adopt the social policy of rationalism. Now, that alone makes me nervous because those among us who are activists in the atheist community like to falsely claim that they alone have rationality. In fact, one of the reasons (note, rationality is involved when someone gives reasons) that the subtitle of this blog is "A Rational Look at Christianity" is to counter this old canard. But, of course, I agree that rationality is necessary to lead to the truth, so the idea of adopting rationality as a social policy to advance science is certainly an appropriate step.

But that's when I started opening the sub-policies. The first two sub-policies you have to adopt to become scientifically dominant are secularism and humanism. Really? Does one really need to be a secularist or a humanist to be a scientist? I think that many of the world's greatest scientific thinkers who were also theists would be surprised to learn that they needed those traits to advance scientific discovery. The next level of sub-policies that need to be adopted includes free thought. Free thought? While I agree that free thought in the sense that being able to think outside the box is actually a necessary component to identifying new solutions to vexing problems, the term free thought or freethinker has been stolen by atheists as an alternative name for themselves. (As I have pointed out previously, my experience is that atheists are often among the most lock-step thinkers I have ever encountered, so in addition to changing a positive thing, i.e. being able to think freely, into a negative thing, the adoption of that term by some atheists is actually inaccurate.) So, the use of that phrase as something that is needed to advance in science is sending an inaccurate message.

It is possible that I am over-reacting, but it seems to me that applying these loaded terms to a game like Civilization V which is primarily played by teenagers or very young adults creates an association that advancement in science requires a commitment to atheism. It is very much akin to brainwashing.  I personally doubt that's what Sid Meier intended given that it appears that he is a "devout Lutheran." However, I have no idea how much oversight Sid Meier has had of his computer software projects since he created the original Civilization. Alternatively, it may be that he has accepted as truth the idea that one has to leave God out of the picture to advance in science -- many Christians wrongly hold this position.

I am not one of those parents who want to ban things from my kids with which I disagree. I never thought to ban Harry Potter, for example. Still, I did let my kids know that the impression presented is inaccurate. I am hoping that other parents who have taken the time to read this and who have children who may play Civilization V might do the same. It is the subtle impressions left unchallenged that create the seeds of doubt that might come back to hurt them in the future.


Joe Hinman said…
you have a 20 year old? no! you are wrong that kid is five. I remember just the other day we talked about him ,that could not have been 2000! No! that would mean I'm old!!!

good post btw
Don McIntosh said…
It is possible that I am over-reacting, but it seems to me that applying these loaded terms to a game like Civilization V which is primarily played by teenagers or very young adults creates an association that advancement in science requires a commitment to atheism. It is very much akin to brainwashing.

I don't think it's an overreaction at all. Requiring a player in a game (essentially a simulation of social engineering strategies) to become a "secularist" or a "humanist" in order to attain scientific standing sends a certain message.

But I must (grudgingly) acknowledge this: If someone really does want to take over the world, becoming well-versed in scientific "rationalism" at the expense of virtues like honor and piety is probably the best way to begin.
Joe Hinman said…
how about a game where you are setting out to take over the world? but then that'[s Risk and I loved Risk. I saw no problem in playing it. And chess.
BK said…
Joe, he was not only 20 at the time, he recently turned 21. Dang, my youngest son can go to a bar with me.

Don, yes, I think you are correct. But you don't have to take over the world by military force in Civilization. There are multiple ways to win. Winning by the science route doesn't require conquering other countries -- just being the most advance country (coupled with other things).
im-skeptical said…
The reality is that there are many things in our daily lives that are skewed toward theistic belief. This may be more apparent to an atheist, but as a religious believer, you don't notice them as much. But when you see something that is non-religious or anti-religious, it stands out to you.

I agree that from your description, it sounds like this game has a bias toward atheistic belief. However, I am not familiar with it, and I don't know what other social policies entail. For example, is there another one that gives equally favorable treatment to religious belief? If so, then it might be fair to say that the game presents different alternatives without trying to brainwash the player toward one of them.

As for the sub-policies, secularism doesn't necessarily denote atheistic. The Unites States was founded as a secular nation, which does not imply a lack of religion. It means that no religion is favored over any other. The trappings of state are not geared to cater to any particular religion. Science should be conducted in a similar manner. Humanism has nothing in particular to do with science, either. It is a worldview that many atheists hold. Perhaps the game designer selected several sub-policies that he thought were typical of scientifically-minded people, and he did something similar for those other social policies.
BK said…
I guess I wasn't very clear on my objection to the use of these terms in Civ V (as it is known), but first, let me respond to the question about the use of religion in the game.

The game does have an entire policy for religion, it is the "piety" social policy I mentioned in the post. That social policy is an early game policy that, in all sincerity, doesn't add much to your ability to win the game. The sub-policies include theocracy, reformation and mandate from heaven. It allows the player to add to their "faith" faster which allows the player to build temples, missionaries, cathedrals and great prophets. You can increase your social standing in the game (hence, allowing the player to win a social victory) by increasing your social points.

There are a couple of reasons that this doesn't offset my concerns about the science. First, the religious policies can help win, but does not help in nearly as many areas as the science policies help. Second, the discounting of the value of the religion policies can be seen in the fact that "piety" is an early game social policy, but "rationalism" (which increases science output) can only be accessed later in the game which makes it more important in the game's outcome. Also, after a certain point in the game, a player can take their "faith" points and instead of buying cathedrals, etc., they can use them to create "great scientists". At the later point in the game, this is the only sane use of "faith" points (as near as I can tell).

Finally, why I find the application of these terms problematic is because of the underlying assumption that science needs to be separated from religion to be successful. I mean, I agree that secular isn't necessarily a bad thing (in fact, if you have a people who are steeped in a religious faith that teaches virtue and morality, secularism is a very good thing). And I actually agree that science should not be "geared to cater to any particular religion." But I would argue that it also should not be "geared to cater to" atheism. Science, after all, should be a search for the truth, and truth may not be found if the people searching for it by investigating how the universe works began with a foundational assumption that God cannot exist and cannot have a hand in what happened on earth.

In Civ V, the problem is that by tying scientific advancement to secularism, humanism and free thought, a young person may come away with an understanding (intentional or no) that the only way to do science is to be atheistic. I hope I am being clearer.
im-skeptical said…
So it may be the case that this game promotes a scientific worldview. Is that a bad thing? There are games that promote religion. too.
BK said…
Promoting a scientific worldview is not the problem. The problem is what you have just subtly done in light of the preceding conversation: equate an atheistic worldview with a scientific worldview. They are not one and the same.
im-skeptical said…
I think it is the scientific social policy that they are promoting. It is questionable whether secularism and humanism should be part of that, and there are evidently other sub-policies that you didn't mention that presumably are less objectionable to you. I don't know how prominent the roles of those various sub-policies are. But as you described it, the overall policy is scientific.

I agree that you don't have to be an atheist to be a scientist. But science does require that the religious scientist set aside his religious or supernaturalistic presumptions about how things work, at least in the conduct of his scientific work.

If the game really is pushing atheism, as opposed to science, you always have the option of not playing. As with reading material, you choose what you want to expose yourself to.
im-skeptical said…
I would add that your exposure to this "anti-God bias" in your daily life is much more limited than the pro-God bias that I see all around me (which, perhaps, you don't even notice). For example, it's staring me in the face every time I make a purchase. It's screaming at me from the roadside billboards, telling me what a terrible person I am. And I don't have the choice to not look at it.

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