Thursday, January 28, 2010

cage-fighting and christians, round three

(I mean no disrespect to Craig by carrying on a disjointed conversation with a thread obviously happening elsewhere, I just have little desire to interact in that other forum).

1. The argument from the New Testament.

The absence of MMA and related issues in the NT is inadequate in this case, for its justification. That is, I'm well aware that arguing from the silence of the scriptures is a more difficult proposition. I don't need to say "The NT doesn't support X, Y, Z, therefore they are not appropriate". What I am instead saying is, "The NT is overwhelmingly against the use of violence, therefore the transformation of violence into entertainment is also suspect."

The question then becomes, is the NT overwhelmingly against violence. I tend to make sweeping statements on this point, but only because I think part of the argument needs to be the broad sweep of the NT canon in general. More specifically, consider (a) the Sermon on the Mount, (b) the spiritualisation of conflict in Ephesians 6 (Eph 6:12 especially), (c) the expectation in John 15:18-16:4, (d) the call in Mark 8:34 and its parallels, (e) the pattern of 1 Peter, especially 1 Peter 2:19-25, (f) Romans 12.

Each of these strongly portrays a NT pattern that the ethical life of discipleship is marked by a persistent imitation of Jesus, not just in general, but by conformity in humility, non-self-aggrandisement, service, and ultimately suffering and death. It's not just persecution that's being put up here, but the refusal to achieve victory through force, which is the very pattern of the cross.

Revelation might read as the great counterpoint to my argument, but it actually strengthens my case time and time again. Here is the great finale of God's plan, the judgment that makes sense of both OT and NT, and every time Jesus is portrayed as a conquering warrior king, the text works to subvert this notion by pointing to the victory through the Cross. The contrast between the Lion of Rev 5:5 and the Lamb of 5:6 is paradigmatic of what I'm talking about.

Lastly, let me deal with Romans 13, albeit briefly. Here Paul endorses secular authority's right to execute judgment. In no way do I dispute that, I simply note three facts, (a) Paul does nothing to legitimise state-sanctioned violence in a participatory fashion for Christians, (b) Romans 12:14-21 must not be divorced from any reading of Romans 13, (c) Romans 13 adds little to a debate about war, let alone self-defence, and very little at all to violence as entertainment

2. Emotional rhetoric

I do tend to use a bit of emotional rhetoric on this issue. If that is clouding my arguments, I apologise. Let me only note that I seek to appeal to the visceral nature of the sport, and in doing so combat its own very visceral appeal.

3. The weight of argument

It's not simply the case that "if there's nothing against it, it's okay". Rather, we must exercise caution in prohibiting what the Bible does not prohibit. Clearly I agree on that, since I find the Regulative principle in worship so appallingly sub-biblical. That said, the weight of my argument is this: the NT opposes violence, and it's very difficult to make a pro-violence argument from the NT. It's not that the NT has nothing to say about violence at all. If that were so, we might be in a different situation. But it's not silent, it's very clear that violence is not an appropriate means for a disciple of Jesus, because Jesus himself rejected it. If that is the case, what step justifies legitimising it as entertainment?

4. The OT?

Before I leave the matter, some well ask what about the OT? My own take is this: OT violence is put into a paradigm of God's sovereign justice, judgment, and care for the world. In the NT that is (a) taken out of the hands of God's people, (b) dealt with at the cross, and (c) relegated to Jesus' return and the final Judgment. That's part of the reason I think a NT appeal is sufficient on this issue.

cage-fighting and christians, round two

The unchanged argument.

The reason Christians should not watch MMA or similar sports, remains the same as the reason Christians of the early centuries avoided the gladiatorial games. It’s a reason grounded in the NT and the NT Ethic.

When one reads the New Testament, one reads in vain looking for any Christian case legitimising violence. Instead, gospels and epistles alike depict a Jesus who refuses to utilise violence as an option, and calls his followers repeatedly to follow that same pattern. This is further emphasised in the epistles, which present Jesus as an ethical paradigm, and in revelation, the most militant of NT books, which spends much of its imagery of reconfiguring apocalyptic expectations around the victory that is through the death of the Lamb.
There remains little doubt, historically, that this kind of Jesus-centered pacifism was ubiquitous in the early church, and it extended to the moral prohibition of enjoying gladiatorial games.

[Even if, you derive a just-war doctrine from the scriptures, the very basis of just war theory is that violence is a tragic necessity of a fallen world, not a glorious means of changing it. Far too many assume a doctrine of just-war, but actually live with a doctrine of militarism, if not crusaderism. The connection I am about to draw is not particularly weakened if you think Jesus permits self-defence.]

What’s different today? In some ways much: UFC and the like are not sports unto death. They have a certain restraint. The entertainment is not in blood and guys, but in bruises and pummeling. And yet the spectacle is still unadulterated violence, still two men stripped of their human dignity and put to play for others’ enjoyment, still the cheapening of humanity in the divine image.

Make a sport of it, professionalise it, and put it on tv (objectifying it and further distancing ourselves from it), doesn’t change what it is. Do we tell our sons to gather round fights in the school yard and cheer them on, knowing that that too is mostly spectacle? distance and objectification remain some of the most powerful de-moralising factors of our mass-media world (I will spare you the parallels with porn). What is immediate and experiential is grotesque, what is absent and vicarious is fabulous.

Consent is not the deciding factor here. That two human beings consent to degrade one another for my enjoyment doesn't change their fundamental act.

Let's just cut to the conclusion: MMA and the like are the glorification of violence as spectacle. Do we really think that is 'ok' as Christians?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Reflections on another week teaching Latin

January means a week teaching Latin, which has just finished up, and I thought I'd post some reflections.

This year I again taught a class of absolute beginners. I had quite a different co-teacher though, and that changed the shape of the class dramatically. He is a High School latin teacher, trained in the grammatical tradition, and teaching from the Cambridge course. All these shaped his teaching style definitively.

The week went quite well, we covered a lot of grammar! We also read most of Cambridge stage 1. And a few other things besides.

One of the things I learnt is that I am more naturally a lecturer in style - I find it easy to speak, engage, explain, and take questions. This has its good points, but it also has its downside - in a language class like this, I often neglect or am unprepared with exercises to reinforce and learn, rather than merely present, new material.

I think I could overcome this by a more communicative approach: if from day 1 we started with the language, in the language, then the level of reinforcement would be much higher, and we would hit acquisition, rather than learning.

I'd love to run a winter school, for a week or two, with Lingua Latina and a class and all in Latin. I think the outcome would surpise us all. But I don't have the books, and I don't have the advertising reach to generate enough students, and I probably don't really have quite enough motivation.

Anyway, next week is the return to full-time studies!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Review: John Macleod, Highlanders: History of the Gaels

Too many colons in that opening!

I've just read through Macleod's book "Highlanders: History of the Gaels", and it's a fine read. My father gave it to me for Christmas, and it gave me the opportunity to sit down (mainly on the train), and read a continuous narrative historical account focused on the Highlands and Hebrides. One of the things endearing about Macleod's style is that at the start he says he will try some objectivity, as is proper, but undoubtedly his biases will slip through, and that's part of the charm.

Highlights of the book included accounts of early patterns of migration and conquest, a real positive grasp of the positive influences of Christianisation to Gaelic culture, an account of Scottish and English royal politics that gave due attention to how those events interacted with Highland history, a balanced but nonetheless moving (read, devastating) account of Culloden and its aftermath, the Highland Clearances, and the land agitation of the 20th century, and a decent amount of the Evangelical Revival in the Highlands.

At times Macleod's own interests lead him to wander on a theme a little too long, I didn't need 4 pages detailing Neil Gunn and all his notable works with some literary criticism thrown in, for example, but for the most his evident passion and investigation of some issues is warmly welcome.

A fine read from someone with some inside insight into the Highlands.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

No promises for 2010

No promises about how often, or even what, I'll be blogging on in 2010. Good odds include: mission in Mongolia, Chrysostom stuff, maybe a sermon or three, and more Gaelic.

Instead I thought I'd let those who haven't given up here (or never tidy up their RSS feeds) get up to speed on recent goings-on in life.

From 31st December I've been unemployed. My church ran out of the money used to employ me, and I haven't come up with any alternative employment.

In light of this, I've switched my study enrolment to full-time. Hopefully 6 months full-time will allow me to finish off my MTh. The only hitch in that plan is that I'll be spending a month in Feb/Mar in Mongolia with my wife exploring some long-term mission possibilities. And that when I return I'll be looking to take up some full-time work which could cut those nominal 6 months significantly short.

Over the summer I've: had a car accident, been on holidays, led on a youth camp, done a Gaelic intensive, and am about to teach latin for a week and speak on a second youth camp.

The year ahead looks exciting, even if it gets pretty hazy in the second half. High hopes for the future though.