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11:16am on Tuesday, 21st April, 2015:

Religious Games


Concerned that fundamentalists may take it into their heads that games are A Bad Thing, I thought I'd check what the Bible and Quran had to say on the subject.

Caveat: I'm an atheist, so neither of these is my bedtime reading.

As most fundamentalist Christians seem to prefer the King James Bible, I used that as my source. It doesn't contain the word "game" even once. Whether that's A Good Thing or A Bad Thing I don't know. The Bible is usually quite specific when it expresses a view, but when it doesn't things are left up in the air. Games are therefore in the same category as television, computers and toads (none of which it mentions explicitly either).

The Quran is harder to check out because there doesn't appear to be a particular English translation everyone can get behind; I suspect most Islamic fundamentalists would want to read it in Arabic anyway. The most popular seems to be The Noble Quran, which is based on the previously-most-popular version. This does use the word "game", but only in the sense of wild animals killed to be eaten.

If you wanted to make a particular point about games being A Good/Bad Thing, of course, you'd seek out other translations that might use a form or words more in tune with your views.

The World English Bible, which is the latest revision of the KJB, uses "game" in a sense similar to that of "Olympic Games", in Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians. It's part of an analogy, basically saying that in the same way that people who run in a race need to go all out to win, so Paul goes all out in his effort to preach. The popular New International Version is the same. All other uses are of the wild-animals-to-eat kind. The NETBible, which is a copiously footnoted translation by modern experts in the different languages used, only has the wild-animals-to-eat kind.

So, it looks as if the Bible neither approves nor disapproves of games, unless they're covered by a broader term. Even "play" is used only for musical instruments, role-playing ("play the fool"), and on one occasion what infants will do near snakes.

Some translations of the Quran do have something to say about games. There's a handy 3-translations-at-once on Project Gutenberg that has two translators (Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall and Mohammad Habib Shakir) consistently forbidding "games of chance"; the other, Abdullah Yusuf Ali — author of the previously-most-popular translation I mentioned earlier — goes with "gambling", as (unsurprisingly) does The Noble Quran. This is actually an important distinction, because games of chance don't have to involve bets and winnings whereas gambling does.

There is one interesting occurrence of "game" in the Pickthall translation, in a section about the difference between life in this world and life in the next: "This life of the world is but a pastime and a game. Lo! the home of the Hereafter — that is Life, if they but knew.". The other two translators use "play" rather than "game", but they're clearly operating in the same territory. The gist of the passage seems to be that this life is superficial compared to what follows. This doesn't appear to say anything either good or bad about games, except perhaps that you won't be playing them in the afterlife as existence is more meaningful there.

The word "play" occurs several other times in the Quran, but non-judgementally. Saying that you shouldn't treat religion as play, for example, doesn't mean you shouldn't play. In general, play seems to be just another way of describing leisure-time activities. The Bible never seems to use it this way; in contrast, the Quran never seems to refer to the playing of musical instruments.

So, overall it looks as if a fundamentalist who wanted to use a holy book to criticise games would have a hard time of it, unless they went with a translation of the Quran that forbade games of chance rather than just gambling.

Well, either that or they look at holy books other than the two I did. Or, I guess, they make up their own definition of "game".

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