Thursday, January 28, 2010

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?

17 comments:

Nathan said...

"Instead, gospels and epistles alike depict a Jesus who refuses to utilise violence as an option"

Could this not be because Jesus was interested in subverting Messianic expectations held by first century Jews?

Seumas Macdonald said...

Sure, but (a) Jesus doesn't subvert their expectations 'just for kicks'. The whole nature and basis of Jesus' messianic mission and kingdom is centered on his death on the cross, which is consistently determined by his refusal to use violence. Cross-shaped willingness to suffer rather than do wrong to others is the exact point of ethical imitation that the Scripture regularly enjoins us to.

To point to the 2 firmest examples, "Take up your cross and follow me" must almost certainly be understood in terms of "an acceptance of the imitation of Jesus' way of discipleship involves from the start a commitment to die". This is seen throughout 1 Peter's ethical treatment, where it is precisely in suffering for doing right that Peter draws our imitation out.

The cross is not a get out of jail free card for arguing on violence, as if we could say, "Jesus had some specific unique mission of atonement (which he did), and therefore his example doesn't obtain for us" because the 'therefore' doesn't follow - it's exactly his renunciation of legitimated violence that leads to his death: at any point Jesus had the power, and could have wielded it, to avoid the cross.

Seumas Macdonald said...

Oh, I did have a point (b), but I think it got incorporated in the flow of thought already!

Nathan said...

Were Jesus actions in the temple violent?

Seumas Macdonald said...

I think Jesus actions in the temple are not violent in the way people might hope they are. Both text and context seem to support this. He makes a whip and uses it to drive the animals, which is an entirely reasonable method of moving livestock. It would be a stretch to think that Jesus used the whip to force the people out. Furthermore, if Jesus has struck these people in the temple courts with a whip, don't you think that a charge could have been brought against Jesus on those grounds?

Vehement, prophetic, but not an act of physical violence against people.

Nathan said...

I don't know. I think that might be a bit eisegetical. Here's the text that mentions the whip (from John)...

"15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables."

I haven't looked at the Greek - maybe you have - but the English lumps the people in with the animals.

Nathan said...

I'd be interested too in your thoughts on Luke 22.

Seumas Macdonald said...

As for the Greek, I think the Greek supports my exegesis, but you'll need to look into that yourself. It's a little hard for me to put together Greek exegesis from Mongolia. The English obscures, in my opinion, the flow of the passage.

I think I've written on Luke 22 somewhere here. Here is the post. It is a couple of years old, but that's my take on it.

Nathan said...

The Luke post was thought provoking. I enjoyed it muchly - though I remain unconvinced that the instruction to carry a sword is somehow only to be understood as a reference to the OT that the disciples miss (correct me if I'm misunderstanding the thrust of your argument - it is late).

I'll check out the Greek (though mine is rudimentary) on that John passage.

Nathan said...

Out of interest - would your take on John 2 being altered alter your view on pacifism?

How central is your understanding that Jesus only whipped the animals to drive them out of the temple to your view on violence? I assume your view is more nuanced than that - but how many exceptions do there have to be to disprove a rule (not that I'm looking to do that, I'm just thinking about what it takes to overturn our convictions)...

Seumas Macdonald said...

Re: Luke 22.

I'm not saying that in the historical moment the OT reference was the primary point the disciples were meant to pick up. That might be true, but I'm not (necessarily) trying to say that. I am saying that we can't overlook that aspect of Luke's presentation of the whole scene.

What I am saying, is that both text and context make it very difficult to see how the provision of swords, especially 2, in light of what takes place, is some kind of injunction of Jesus to be ready for self-defence or some such thing. I think the passage has more nuance and sophistication than that.


Re: John 2 altering my stance. In once sense it would have to alter my position, because then we would have a case where Jesus employed physical violence in a fairly significant manner. Then I would need to do what always needs to be done: attempt to integrate this with the rest of scripture to arrive at a coherent conclusion.

Re: John 2. Here is the Greek text:

14 καὶ εὗρεν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ τοὺς πωλοῦντας βόας καὶ πρόβατα καὶ περιστερὰς καὶ τοὺς κερματιστὰς καθημένους, 15 καὶ ποιήσας φραγέλλιον ἐκ σχοινίων πάντας ἐξέβαλεν ἐκ τοῦ ἱεροῦ, τά τε πρόβατα καὶ τοὺς βόας, καὶ τῶν κολλυβιστῶν ἐξέχεεν τὸ κέρμα καὶ τὰς τραπέζας ἀνέτρεψεν,

So v14 describes Jesus finding in the temple those selling the various animals, etc., and v15 has him make the braided whip, and then the main verb has him drive "all" out of the temple, and this is delimited as "both the sheep and the cattle", before pouring out the profit of the money-changers and overturning the tables.
πάντας ἐξέβαλεν ... τά τε πρόβατα καὶ τοὺς βόας naturally refers to the animals, not the people.

Seumas Macdonald said...

Apologies too about the comment moderation. It's only on older posts, and mainly because I find it frustrating to have random spam turn up on them.

Nathan said...

Comment moderation seems to be the in thing right now...

Appreciate your thoughts on this. It's helpful.

Can you see how, for those who don't take this passage, or the sword passage, as you do, the question of whether or not UFC is biblically justifiable is a little more grey? Especially if the English obscures the greek as you suggest.

Seumas Macdonald said...

Yes, I can see how things are a lot more grey if one doesn't hold to certain readings and positions I hold.

I think maybe you and I disagree about what conscience issues are. For me, this is a debatable matter, with legitimate christians arguing for several positions. Clearly, I'm convinced of one position, and so I make every effort to engage in serious reflection, argument, and dialogue on the issue.

Whether a Christian drinks or not is a conscience issue. But whether they think drinking is a sin or not, I don't consider a conscience issue, because I think the Bible is very clear that it's not, and so I'm going to argue and debate with Christians who think that way.

For me, debatable issues aren't ones we should simply agree to disagree over, they're ones we should debate and disagree over, investigating the scriptures together to come to a better understanding of God and his word.

Nathan said...

"I think maybe you and I disagree about what conscience issues are. For me, this is a debatable matter, with legitimate christians arguing for several positions. Clearly, I'm convinced of one position, and so I make every effort to engage in serious reflection, argument, and dialogue on the issue."

Yeah, that's fair enough, I just think some of the language being employed by those on both sides of this debate has been inflammatory and suggests that their position is the only Biblically tenable one. I think we all need to step back and acknowledge that the issue is only clear when we bring certain presuppositions to the table that other people might not agree with.

I probably think that ethical issues should be primarily driven by an evangelistic priority, then conscience and the desire to help weaker brothers.

The emphasis I put on replicating the ministry of Jesus is that of proclamation of the kingdom rather than being prepared for martyrdom (though both are characteristics of his ministry and commands for believers)... so for me I ask "is this debate helping us to proclaim the gospel better" and "which position on this issue will help us proclaim the gospel better"...

Nathan said...

"I think maybe you and I disagree about what conscience issues are. For me, this is a debatable matter, with legitimate christians arguing for several positions. Clearly, I'm convinced of one position, and so I make every effort to engage in serious reflection, argument, and dialogue on the issue."

Also, I think there are plenty of teetotaller Christians who are "biblically" convinced of their position who would say exactly the same thing about their distinctive...

Seumas Macdonald said...

Of course, being convinced of something never makes one right. But being convinced of something should lead you to being ready to stand up for it and articulate one's beliefs in it. I would happily sit down and discuss the whys and the scriptures over teetotalism.

Secondly, because of my convinced pacifism, I think this is an issue that we should be radically distinct from the world on, and that has an evangelistic edge. If the church at large had the kind of commitment to pacifism that the Mennonite and Amish are generally known for, would that help or hinder Christianity in the world? It would be part of our witness of saying, "We don't do things the way you do them, we don't achieve our means through power and victory, but through the suffering and weakness of sharing Christ's crucifixion." Is that a demonstration of radical enemy-love and forgiveness? Because the world is very happy to run with versions of just-war, or worse. That's the missional equation of this issue.