What can Christians learn from Netflix’s ‘Squid Game’?

The best definition of what it is to be human comes from Christianity: each person is made in the likeness of God. Conversations about what it means to be beautiful, questions about racism, gender and sexuality, social media and influence, or about what makes someone “good” need to be based on identity — a real identity in Christ, not social expectation.

“Squid Game,” a South Korean fictional drama series released in September, has become Netflix’ all-time most popular show and a worldwide phenomenon. Reacting to the show’s plot twists and reviewing each episode have become a cash-cow for many YouTube channels and personalities. 

Chances are high that many Christians also are tuning in to the series, despite the fact that it’s violent, with questionable morals often on display. 

The series indirectly addresses social issues young people frequently search for on YouTube, including the “horrors of capitalism” and “rich vs. poor.” But there are more significant issues that underlie the premise of Squid Game — the value and worth of a human being. 

In the show, 456 individuals in deep financial debt are recruited to play a series of games. The ultimate prize: more than $38 million. After arriving at the venue, players are given a choice — leave, or sign a contract with three general rules and play the game. 

All decide to stay, but none realizes what happens if they break the rules or lose a game.

‘Desperate need’

Only during the first one, “Red Light, Green Light,” do players realize that being “eliminated” doesn’t just mean losing the game. It means losing your life. And thus a life-or-death battle between the players begins.

Players often make decisions that directly affect whether others live or die, frequently based on a limited amount of information, such as the age or education level of opponents, whether they have families or how they got into debt.

For example, during the first episode the main character appears to be a deadbeat dad and gambling addict. Loan sharks are threatening him because of his extreme debt. He can’t support his daughter, then finds out she is moving to the United States with his ex-wife’s family. He also learns his mother needs lifesaving medical treatment, which he can’t afford because he canceled their insurance.

Due to his circumstances, he feels he has no choice but to try for the money, even after he realizes he could die if he loses.

Soon we learn the other players are also in situations where they desperately need a great deal of money, so they play the game feeling they have no other option.

‘Sense of identity’

The main issue raised in Squid Game is similar to the “Lifeboat Thought Experiment,” in which a lifeboat with a capacity of 60 but only carrying 50 is surrounded by 100 swimmers who each want in. The dilemma is whether any should be saved, and, if so, which ones? Which person is worth more? What exactly is a person’s worth?

This isn’t a new problem, and there is no easy answer. Humans often judge others by what they do, not who they are. Past generations tended to have a strong sense of identity, but many youth today struggle, with little consistent guidance on figuring it out.

“We live in a time where our understanding what it means to be human has been completely lost,” said John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and author and speaker on areas of faith and culture, theology, worldview, education and apologetics. He was featured at a “Truth, Technology and Identity” workshop in Birmingham in October.

“If you are talking about the various cultural waves with your kids, with your grandkids, only on moral terms, you’re not having the conversation they need to have.

“I’m not saying don’t have any moral conversations. Yes, please have a moral conversation, but you have to root the moral conversation in what it means to be human.”

That definition “in our culture is that everyone has two jobs,” Stonestreet said. “That is, first to express themselves however they want, and number two, to accept everyone’s expression of themselves no matter how crazy it is. 

“That is a confused, small, shriveled-up definition of what it means to be human and it’s unsustainable in the long run.”

‘Likeness of God’

Stonestreet said the best definition of what it is to be human comes from Christianity: each person is made in the likeness of God. Conversations about what it means to be beautiful, questions about racism, gender and sexuality, social media and influence, or about what makes someone “good” need to be based on identity — a real identity in Christ, not social expectation.

“The image of God is crucial if we’re going to respond to the real undercurrents of our day,” Stonestreet asserted, “because every undercurrent [has] to do with identity. The next generation needs to be taught not just how to behave, but who they are.”

Parents, grandparents and youth leaders may be troubled to learn that children in their sphere of influence have already watched Squid Game. If that is the case, consider using what they’ve seen as a jumping-off point for discussions about identity and worth — that worth comes not from what we do or how much money we have, but who we are, our identity in Christ. Such a discussion could lead to life-changing conversations about worth being found in what Jesus did and who He made us to be.

For more of Stonestreet’s address visit https://thealabamabaptist.org/conference-addresses-strategies-for-lessening-the-generation-gap/

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