Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I wrote this in response to a question on a Christian forum about what sorts of LEGO God would want us to build. That discussion went down a lot of unhelpful rabbit trails, starting with some argument about whether Star Wars (the Force) and Harry Potter (witchcraft) were evil, but I was intrigued by the initial question. Some people responded with thoughts of "LEGO is just a toy - it doesn't matter - God doesn't care - why would someone even raise the question?" I thought a little differently and wrote the thoughts below. Remember, this was written in a specifically Christian setting to a (presumably) Christian audience, so certain assumptions come along with that discussion. I'd be interested in hearing others' thoughts (and please, no running down rabbit trails about the Force and witchcraft and ending up in a completely unrelated argument about creationism or the sexual scandals involving Catholic priests) (that's what the aforementioned discussion ended up as, BTW).

In thinking about what a Christian should, or should not, do with LEGO, I start with the assumption that LEGO is (or at least can be) a form of art. It seems obvious that some art can be done to the glory of God - think of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or the great Gothic cathedrals, or Handel's Messiah. These are all explicitly pointing to God. I think we can go beyond specifically religious subject matter, though. In discussing what it means to be a Christian author, Madeline L'Engle writes "to paint a picture or to write a story or to compose a song is an incarnational activity."1 Tolkien writes that the role of an author (and, we can assume, other artists (especially since he expands the metaphor to a painter in "Leaf by Niggle")) is to act as a sub-creator.2 The artist can be "inspired", that is, follow the leading of the Spirit, in a way that adds to creation and lifts the human condition. In addition to art that is sacred, it also seems obvious that some art can be profane. Some artists specifically set out to offend religious sensibilities (think, for instance, of the artist who put a crucifix in a jar of urine). An idol is another instance of profane art. I'd go further to say that any art that sets out to degrade people could also fall in this category (people being made in God's image). What is more questionable, perhaps, is if there is art that is neutral—neither sacred nor profane. We are told to do all things to the glory of God (e.g. 1 Cor 10:31), but some actions seem pretty neutral. For instance, I just scratched the tip of my nose while writing this. I cannot see what import that action has one way or the other. The same can be said of much art. I'm not sure what we could say one way or the other about a still life of a bowl of fruit, for instance.

Turning back to LEGO, I think most things that people build fall into this third, neutral category, whether it be a spaceship, a castle, or a train. So I really wouldn't worry from a negative standpoint about what you're building being offensive to God. Perhaps we should put more thought, though, in the other direction. "All things are lawful, but not all things edify." (1 Cor 10, again) If the central fact of our existence is our love for God, how is that reflected in our hobby? By this I don't just mean we should be building little crosses out of LEGO or illustrations of Bible stories, but are we following the leading of the Spirit in what we do? Is there a way that my most recent MOC can somehow add beauty to creation or lift up our eyes to something higher? It is, I suppose, a twist on the WWJD idea - what would Jesus build? It's probably a good challenge to us all.

Just to add a quick note from a different perspective, this blog post encourages Muslim parents to "Play like the Prophet" - that is, to encourage their children to play in ways that Muhammad would as part of making their faith real to them. They specifically note running, swimming and wrestling, as I gather there are references to Muhammad doing those things during his life. Muslim LEGO builders may ask themselves how their building might reflect their beliefs. For instance, I might assume that they would be less likely to do representations of people.

1From Madeline L'Engle Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art - the whole book is an extended essay in response to a question she got from a student about what it means to be a Christian author.
2He develops this idea in various places (e.g. in his letters), but it is easiest to find in the essay "On Fairy-Stories," originally in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, but reprinted in both Tree and Leaf and The Tolkien Reader, which may be easier to find.


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  2. As a Christian I see every aspect of the universe bound up in and uniquely special because of God. As such He is there is no better thing or idea worth more passionate pursuit than gaining a deeper relationship and understanding of the transcendent and imminent Creator. While Christ is the only way to Him, there is a multitude of ways this personal relationship is expressed. Art, particularly film and photography, is one which I find particularly unique and incredibly compelling. Regardless of who one may be, my aim is to communicate with people, where they are, in an attempt to encourage them and glorify God in the process.

    Soli Deo Gloria

  3. What would Jesus build? To speculate on what any particular person, fictional or historical, might build in LEGO, I suppose you have to go by what you can know of them. The Jesus presented in the New Testament gospels seems to be a pious Jew of his era who would have taken the 2nd commendment to be a strict prohibition on representational art, so it seems to me unlikely on the face of it that Jesus would have chosen to build anything representational had he a pile of LEGO at his disposal.

    If we further assume that Jesus practiced what he preached and was not the sort of hypocrite he accused other religious figures of being, Jesus would have sold any pile of LEGO that had come into his possession and given the money to the poor.

    As to what this says about what Jesus's followers should do with the LEGO in their possession, I suppose that's up to them to decide.

    1. I liked your point about the 2nd commandment, and I also find it funny where the Bible says that man was created in God's image. Since God is a creator, and humans were designed to be similar to him - the most natural thing is for humans to create things too! But the day that anyone creates a Lego tower reaching to heaven, God will find a way to confound the builder.

  4. Point certainly taken, Brendan. I was mainly playing off of those who wear WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets as a self-reminder to act in a Godly manner. Is there such a thing as Godly LEGO building? How about un-Godly? Or is all LEGO building completely neutral?

    One might argue that the very act of LEGO building itself is to reflect the image of God. This is Tolkien's view of the artist as sub-creator. Since it is part of God's character to create and we are made in his image (obviously I'm speaking out of my own religious tradition here), it will be natural for us to create, whatever our medium of choice.

  5. Good question, thanks for highlighting it again!

    To us nothing is techically "neutral" but I know what you mean; I build castle, space, and sometimes city with relish. On the other hand, I avoid building in SW or HP themes (making use of the parts for other means), and you can likely see the effects of my faith in building. I don't believe in aliens, so you'll see that I don't build with aliens. I don't like the idea of undead zombies, so you'll see in one vig where I have "undead" it turns out they are robots. (Most of my religious slant comes out in my The Warrior series.)

    So, in the end, God doesn't NOT care, but Lego is just a relative hobby, such as stamps or coins, that falls into the Kingdom of Christ. Therefore, all things to the glory of God....

    Did I just make sense there, or no? I'm totally hoping I did. :-) Thanks for raising this issue!

  6. During Jesus time, I think most images were considered to be idols, but now it is quite different. For us, images are actually much more effective than words because almost everything is visual now. I think that the activity of building is irrelevant as far as religion goes, but symbolizing religious ideas with Lego bricks is a brilliant idea!!