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This song-and-dance from fundamentalist Christian groups is a familiar one. In years past, the finger of castigation was pointed at the Procter & Gamble trademark, a man-in-the-moon character registered in 1882. Obviously satanic, cried a gaggle of lathered-up ministers. If you don't remove that odious symbol, we'll boycott your products. P&G never caved in and, no doubt, neither will the licensees of the lucrative Pokémon, no matter how many stiff-collared clerics rant from the pulpit.
Of course, you don't have to operate from a religious standpoint to oppose Pokémon trading cards. Parents may detest this tsunami of a craze, coming out of Japan by way of Nintendo and the Seattle-based Wizards of the Coast, that leaves pocket books empty in its wake. A pack of 11 Pokémon trading cards costs $3.98, for example, whereas a seven-pack of baseball cards is but 99 cents. Among the kiddie set, Cal Ripken Jr. fails to measure up to Drowzee, who can use psychic abilities to make other Pokémon fall asleep during combat. But Pastor Pigg and many others would prefer that children collect traditional baseball cards, memorizing a player's cold, hard stats instead of descriptions of a Pokémon character's make-believe powers.
If exposure to Pokémon is indeed corrupting, do the congregational members of Hallelujah House assemble at the QuikTrips, the 7-Elevens and other places where the cards are sold to voice protest? "Well, no, we haven't gone that far," says Rod Wegermann, another pastor with Hallelujah House. Have they ever looked at Pokémon cards, just to see exactly what is so objectionable? "You don't have to go to a brothel to know it's a bad place," says Wegermann, who then admits: "Well, maybe they're not in the same category."
Even without assemblages of placard-wielding protesters, the anti-Pokémon message is getting out: Pokémon cards are now banned at many schools and daycare centers across the country. The Salvation Army's Latchkey Program, in Maplewood, is one of these. "The children can have them in the building," explains a woman who answers the phone, "but we don't allow any showing them or playing with them. They must stay in the backpacks. There have been a number of incidents involving trading cards. Some of them mean a lot to the child, and we've decided to try to avoid that. Regular baseball cards are OK," she adds, "but we are a spiritual organization, and with Pokémon cards the whole basis of them is spiritual warfare."
Interpretation, interpretation, interpretation. Janese Henry, whose 9-year-old son, Nathaniel, is a Pokémon enthusiast, says she endorses the game. "What I like about it, instead of being something they can collect -- like Beanie Babies, which they just fantasize on -- they actually have to use memory skills and math skills to play the game. I like the idea that there's some strategy in it. There's a lot of spinoffs. For example, some of these cards are first-edition cards -- there's a code at the bottom -- and he goes for the more collectible ones. That, in turn, has charged him on collecting coins and stamps."
The Pokémon phenomenon has actually prompted official position statements from some clerical hierarchies. The Roman Catholic Church is divided on the issue. The bishop of Mexico City denounced Pokémon as perverse. But then the Vatican came out and said the game was "morally innocuous."
Pastor Pigg, however, isn't straddling any fences. He puts Pokémon and Teletubbies into the same demonic bag as Ouija boards, tarot cards and head-bangin' heavy-metal music. "There's a lot of demonic stuff out there," he says, and he'll continue to alert his flock to the real dangers of coming in contact with any of it. The choice couldn't be more dramatic. "There's two kinds of powers in the world: godly and satanic," says Pigg. "If it is not godly, not producing good fruit, it must be satanic. We just take hands off of that. If you play occult games with a message of sorcery, you are having fellowship with devils."
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