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.


Craig said...

Thanks mate, you make a good argument. I'll give it some careful thought and respond soon.

Anonymous said...

Hey mate, interesting stuff. What I appreciate is some careful thought about the whole issue of combat and combat as entertainment, rather than just vibes that people probably feel regardless of theological convictions.

I see this issue containing two distinct issues. One is the Bible's stance on violence itself, and the other being the use of violence as entertainment. The first is clearly a theological question grounded in exegesis but not decided in the arena of specific texts. The other is obviously an ethical question.

And I wonder if on the exgetical-theology issue you're not being as careful and precise as you normally are. My thought is I'm not sure the NT is as anti-violence as you seem to think it is. I mean absolutely Jesus is resolutely against using violence as a means to power. And certainly the NT speaks against humans using violence as revenge or retribution. But I don't think I see it being against violence simpliciter.

Now perhaps we could say that the cross is God's use of violence to subvert and bring an end to violence (although I think that's probably not true). But it is still the case that as the cross was a neccessity (in the sense that from eternity God had always planned for it to be) so then to that degree we must say that violence is neccessary. That doesn't answer whether it's good or bad, but just to instead lay that down as a place to start.

Great stuff!

Seumas Macdonald said...

Hammo, thanks for stopping by.

I think I would start with the Cross. The Cross helps us integrate the violence throughout the Bible, both violence as God's Judgement, and the Suffering of the Servant as God's means of redemption.

The Cross thus works to help us make sense of the endemic violence of the Old Testament, which I read primarily through a hermeneutic of violence as judgment (whether righteously, in accord with God's purposes, or unrighteously, when arrogated away from God's authority).

It also helps us to understand why the NT overturns things so radically: it's very difficult to maintain a doctrine of just or holy war from the NT, ethically, when much of the NT is calling us to imitate Jesus specifically in regards to suffering, persecution, and martyrdom. In conjunction with this, it seems to me that the OT exercise of discipline within the believing community (ie, stonings, etc..) are likewise spiritualised in the NT (to excommunication, which is far more weighty).

If we are to have any hope of reading Revelation in line with a doctrine of atonement that matches the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, then I think we have to grapple with the subversion of violence that takes place at the Cross. Is God entitled to righteous judgment? Yes. But judgment as physical violence is taken out of the hands of NT-believers, precisely because the ethical imitation of Jesus centers on his non-violent obedience that leads to the Cross.

So, to come back around to your point. Is there some necessity to the violence at the cross? Yes, but insofar as what men intended for great evil, God used as his supreme and ironic means for victory.

That's the violence issue. Re: the entertainment issue, I think it's a very hard slog to say that something that is (in my view) prohibited within a christian ethic, should be permitted, let alone encouraged, in a christian aesthetic. that certainly is a place where the parallel with sexual immorality is pertinent