What Squid Game Reveals about Worship
Squid Game has made Netflix history as the first Korean Drama to hit number one in the United States, has become a worldwide sensation as the top-watched Netflix shows in 94 countries around the world, and is on its way to becoming Netflix’s most watched piece of content ever. As a lover of Korean Dramas, I was proud to see a Korean series at the top in America. But more than that, I was astounded by how long it stayed there—as I had never seen any show stay at number one for that long. Upon hearing all the excitement surrounding the thriller, I decided to watch it. Once I finished it, I was shocked that my personal reasons for loving it were so vastly different from the rave around the world.
The masses seemed fixated on how the writer featured childhood games, or how the director stretched the boundaries cinematically regarding depictions of violence, or how beautiful the Korean model and actress, Jung Ho-yeon was. I, on the other hand, was fascinated with the story the series told and how profound messages were portrayed throughout. Most of all, I was challenged with the way I look at money and worship.
The secret organization that orchestrated and recruited for the games targets people who are down on their luck... people with astronomical sums of debt, or people who had become misfits of society because of what they were willing to do to move up on the financial ladder of success. When the lead character, Gi-Hun (played by Lee Jung-jae) was approached in the subway with a proposition to play a game for money or pain, he consented. He was willing to subject his body to pain over and over and play as long as he wanted to get as much money as he wanted or take as much pain as he could take. Seeing this, I was immediately fascinated and curious as to where this was going. I knew the symbolism in the story was deep and began to look for more meaning.
What are we willing to do for money? What are we willing to give? What chances are we willing to take? What power does money have to make us do what we do for it? Is there a line we should not cross when in our pursuit? What impact does crossing those lines have on our relationship with Divinity? Can we cross those lines without knowing it?
As the series progressed, and I started asking and answering these questions above, it became clearer to me that humanity is unconsciously worshipping money.
“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24, KJV).
What is Mammon?
Mammon literally means wealth. Personified, it encapsulates the ideas of gluttony, greed and the insatiable pursuit of riches and worldly treasures. Deitized, Mammon is categorized as a demon/ god that promises riches in exchange for service/ worship, but eventually makes slaves out of devotees.
Whether or not people believe that mammon is a demon or just a word that means wealth, it’s less difficult to argue the reality of the energy around greed and the allure of material treasure. This is the energy/ spirit of mammon. In Disney’s Moana it is depicted as the Crab, Tamatoa, who sings “Shiny”, and is obsessed with collecting rare and sparkling objects on his shell. In Squid Game, it is partly represented by the glass sphere that fills with money every time a player is eliminated. It is the ultimate the prize... the reason everyone is playing the game. It is lit and elevated. And when the players are losing faith or courage, they literally look up to it and become inspired to keep going. Every action they take is motivated by it. Every decision they make is influenced by it. They hope for it. The long for it. They pray for it. They live for it. They will give up their humanity for it, kill for it, lie for it, deceive for it, and as the episodes progress we learn that all but one will die for it.
This sounds like worship to me.
What is Worship?
Superficially, worship is defined as the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity. In a literal sense, it means to bow down, which is symbolic of complete and total submission.
Worship is devotion for something to which you dedicate your life. Living for that something. Working for it. Exalting it as the prize for which you live… that which governs your actions and decisions—that which motivates your intentions. With this understanding of worship, I wonder, what are we really worshipping? Are we worshipping GOD or a god? Are we worshipping GOD just because we say a prayer at the beginning and end of the day and before meals? Is worship to GOD going to a "house of worship" on designated days to sing and pray and receive a word and a blessing? Is worship clapping or waving our hands after that song or during that sermon?.. Crying because of that blessing? Are we more devoted to GOD or our jobs? Which do we think about more? Which do we work for more? Are we serving GOD or Mammon?
I wonder if we are more like the players of the Squid Game than we care to admit. Working our whole lives for money. Investing our time and energy into getting it... sacrificing (proverbial or literal) blood, sweat, and tears to obtaining it. Begging for it. Coveting it. Wanting more of it. Measuring our success by it, and even correlating having much of it to being blessed by GOD.
For me, these are hard questions and tough accusations. We can use money, but we shouldn't love money, Right? But because money is so deeply embedded in our culture and our thought life, and because it "makes the world go round, the line between using it and loving it become blurred. The capitalistic society we live in demands that we have money to such an extent we think we can’t live without it.
But can we? Should we? Is it that we can’t live without money or that we don’t want to live without it? Are we supposed to be poor and impoverished? Let us not forget that the lack of money often gives birth to the love of money. Poverty and debt can alter one’s mind view and prompt us to pursue money in an unbalanced way. For instance, in the Squid Game series, the uber rich were painted as being so bored with their riches that they created entertainment for themselves by repurposing childhood games and making a sport of people gambling on the outcome of these games with their lives. As evil and perverse as this sounds, it couldn’t happen without the players consenting themselves, even after knowing the gravity of the possible outcome. Thousands of people (over the several years the games were played) were willing to put their lives on the line for money drenched in blood.
As someone who has experienced both good times and hard times, both an abundance of money and a lack, I really appreciated the show. Squid Game gave a cinematic reminder of how capitalism can shape us into devotees of Mammon unbeknownst to us. It made me question how I am living my life, and what entity I am serving. If the opportunity presented itself, would I play the games? Would I serve the rich watching the game? Would I be working to eliminate losers of the game? Do I strive to be one of the uber rich? What role am I playing it this "game of life?"
My Ultimate Lesson
Ultimately, I rediscovered how easily we, as humanity, can get our priorities out of order and seek money first and GOD later when the Christian Faith admonishes followers to seek the Kingdom of GOD first. Only then, will the material things be added (Matthew 6:33). Having watched the entire series and reflecting on it deeply, I can admit to having served mammon with my actions and intentions. I have chased money and it has eluded me. I have also chased GOD and had all my needs met. I have since decided to reprioritize my strivings... to redefine "the prize"/aim of my life. In lieu of chasing money (which is akin to worshipping Mammon), I will chase the Kingdom (akin to worshipping GOD). I will serve GOD and set my intentions on honoring the Creator of all universes as ruler and governor of my life and align my purpose with that which is heavenly instead of that which is worldly. Then and only then will material things be added.