Thursday, March 05, 2009

Christian "gladiators"

I just ran across a post that Jason Robertson did last year on MMA:

I’ll comment on some of the negative feedback. For the record, I have seen some UFC matches on TV.

TruthStands said...

“I would add to the conversation on the negative side of UFC, but it is quite clear that it will be met by Junior Highish responses, bad theology, and worse exegesis. Had someone in a comment not said that Jason was a pastor, that would be the last vocation I would have thought based on his responses and comments.”

James Kime said...

“Nice use of ad hominem to insult those who dare disagree with you. They must be sanctimoniously judging, or nitpicking, or religious zealots, or they piosly belittle, and are of course reckless with exegesis. In case anything was left out, they are of course mean spirited.”

If you read through all the feedback, you’ll see that some of those who feign disapproval of Jason’s tone feel free to adopt the very same tone–or worse (by their own yardstick)–in responding to Jason.

I’m always struck by people who make no effort to be morally consistent. It reveals quite a lot about their character.

Hayden said...

“In listening to you and Mark Driscoll talk about UFC I get the sense that both of you think that those who are against it are not manly men.”

The ironic thing about this reaction to Jason’s post is that some of his hostile commenters play right into that very stereotype. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. They raise all these dainty, girlish objections to MMA.

TruthStands said...

“You cannot, from Scripture, gain any support for a sport where two people beat each other to a pulp.”

i) We need to distinguish between what the Bible commands, prohibits, and permits. All of us do lots of things for which there’s no specific support, such as using a microwave oven or driving a car or listening to the radio, &c.

ii) From what I’ve seen, MMA is not about beating your opponent to a pulp. Rather, it’s about defeating your opponent. Depending on your skill set and his skill set, that may or may not involve “beating your opponent to a pulp.” For example, you can defeat your opponent through wrestling or Jiu-Jitsu techniques. That’s not the same thing as beating your opponent to a pulp. That may do very little damage to your opponent. And it can happen very fast. Not a war of attrition where you wear each other down.

“All you're left with is sinful pride at being ‘the big man’ the stronger man. Of course that is the whole point of all athletics.’

Isn’t that a gross overstatement? Different men have different motives for doing or watching sports.

“But when it is at the cost of someone else's wellbeing I think that crosses over.”

True, but does it come at the cost of someone else’s wellbeing? The UFC is a lucrative career for successful fighters.

“Is it like hockey where a lot of people only watch it because of the fights?”

Once again, different viewers have different motives. And, from what I’ve read, that aspect of hockey is controversial.

TruthStands said...

“For the unbeliever, what is the purpose of althetics? If you get right down to it, it is exaltation of self, self glorification, pride, etc.”

i) The human body is a remarkable piece of engineering. And it has a certain amount of undeveloped potential. Some men like to develop their God-given, physical potential. Is that inherently sinful?

They push themselves to the limit to find out what their limits are. Then they train to overcome their limits. To go a bit further the next time. Is that intrinsically evil?

“Pride” in what sense? While it’s wrong to be proud of ourselves, is it wrong to take pride in God’s craftsmanship?

ii) Many men are naturally competitive. They like to test themselves against other men. They push each other to excel. To develop their potential. Is that inherently sinful?

iii) Some sports cultivate camaraderie through teamwork (e.g. hockey, soccer, football). That’s a large part of the appeal. Is it wrong for men to develop a sense of camaraderie?

“A Christian certainly can participate with pure motives, but I just don't know that one can make a case for Christians having the goal of physically hurting the other person to be a good thing.”

i) The goal of MMA is not to hurt your opponent. Rather, it’s to defeat your opponent. Hurting your opponent is, at most, a means to an end, not an end in itself.

ii) Is it always wrong to hurt someone? Sometimes brothers like to wrestle with each other. Is that wrong? Sometimes fathers like to wrestle with their sons. Is that wrong?

Are contact sports inherently wrong? Is a pick-up game of football inherently wrong?

Running can be painful. Is it sinful to be a marathon runner?

Douglas said...

“You are not going to like this Jason but something or someone is blinding you and you cannot see the demonic occult component in and behind martial arts. Not many people can. The blindness is astounding and tragic. I can tell you but it is only God who can show you. If you want to gain enjoyment and pleasure and thrills from observing people bashing each other and kicking each other in the head and so forth, calling it sports (what a joke) or athletics or whatever, watching them fighting each other with much violence (I do not see anywhere in the Bible where God enjoys or delights in violence or death), knocking each other down to the floor, and yes, they do get hurt, and yes, they do draw blood, well you just go right on ahead and enjoy yourself, I cannot stop you. I know I would never turn to you for any spiritual advice or counsel nor would I direct anyone your way that is for sure. You cannot discern the demonic behind martial arts, I wonder if you can discern demonic activity at all? There are not many people who profess to be Reformed that I would not turn to these days as many of them blindly support martial arts. Did all the demonic activity cease at the close of the canon of Scripture? Us 21st century humans are more enlightened, huh?”

This is a jumble:

i) It’s true that some marital arts have an occultic background. That’s in part because it developed in pagan cultures. And that’s why some men are attracted to martial arts.

However, it’s not as if the only reason that men would want to develop natural techniques of self-defense is due to occultic interests.

ii) There can be a lot of mumbo-jumbo behind lots of things, like herbal medicine and acupuncture. To some extend these are prescientific theories to explain things that may have a basis in fact. It’s like attributing lightning and thunder to a storm god. The theory is false, but the phenomenon is genuine.

iii) The criterion of what God enjoys or takes delight in is vague. Does God enjoy or take delight in chocolate gelato? Human beings find many things enjoyable that God does not find enjoyable, for the obvious reason that God is a very different kind of being than a human being.

“Jason, there will always be people who promote martial arts because they do not see the demonic occult that goes with it. It is invisible until it manifest through the flesh. Many people think martial arts is purely physical and for self defense. It is not, it is as I have said before, it is the art of killing.”

Actually, it’s the art of self-defense. That includes a potential ability to kill your opponent. Is that necessarily wrong?

Don’t we train soldiers in the martial arts? Don’t we train soldiers on how to defend themselves as kill the enemy and hand-to-hand combat–if it comes to that?

Likewise, what about taking karate or judo so that I can fend off a mugger? Is that sinful?

“With whatever means at your disposal, for one example, conditioning the hands so as they are like spears and are able to be thrust into the stomach and reaching up into the chest cavity to grasp the heart and rip it out all in one fluid motion and as quick as the eye can blink.”

I’ve seen that happen in some horror films, but I’ve never seen that happen in the Octagon.

ChosenClay said...

“I suppose the BIG questions to ask are, ‘Does it glorify God?’ or ‘Will it make me more Christ like?’"

Once again, that’s vague:

i) Does eating spaghetti and meatballs make me more Christ-like?

Christ was a bachelor. Should I forego marriage and kids to be more Christ-like?

ii) A Christian athlete might well think that he glorifies God by training his God-given body.

James Kime said...

“UFC has nothing to do with sport and everything to do with bashing someone's head in. That isn't skill, unless maybe you are a hitman or bouncer.”

Of course, that’s a completely dishonest characterization of the sport.

“I can just see the early church cheering on the gladiators but being upset when Christians were used in them. Yeah....... The UFC isn't about athletic competition unless you are willing to say the gladiators did the same thing.”

Of course, gladiators fought to the death.

“The UFC might stop it a bit short of someone getting killed, but what will you say when someone finally is killed?”

i) Once again, it’s dishonest to say they “might stop a bit short of someone getting killed.” The fight has rules. It’s refereed. There’s a doctor in the house. It’s not intended to inflict irreparable damage–much less fatalities.

ii) It’s valid to raise the question of a worst-case scenario. Of course, we all take unnecessary risks. Driving on the freeway is an unnecessary risk. But it’s still justifiable.

“That they are willing participants in the fighting is just to say that you have two aggressors instead of one. So there might be no victim here, but there is are still two people engaging in sin.”

“You go on to say, ‘Many of these men and women are strong Christians.’ Obviously not. Nothing says I love Jesus like the ability to pound someone's head in. I wonder if they say that in the ring? Jesus loves you - wham - Jesus loves you - wham, etc.”

Does eating spaghetti and meatballs send the message that Jesus loves you? Does relieving myself at a urinal send the message that Jesus loves you? Does shaving in the morning send the message that Jesus loves you? Does brushing my teeth send the message that Jesus loves you?

There’s a lot of mock piety in these objections. Not everything we do in life is intended to send a religious message. Nor should it.

Hayden said...

“I will leave you to this---__’Take this rule:whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off the relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.’--- Susanna Wesley in response to her son asking 'What is sin?'”

i) Susanna Wesley was a wonderful Christian woman. But she was a woman. Her piety was a uniquely feminine piety. We shouldn’t hold men to feminine standards, or hold woman to masculine standards. Men and women are different. God made them that way.

ii) And I’d add that some women enjoy a good game of pool or poker. It isn’t just men who take an interest in games of chance or skill. Some of them also study the martial arts.

Craig said...

“It appears you touched a nerve with this one. Back in the day, Christians used to fight lions, infidels, Gladiators,and whatever else got in their way without giving it a thought.”

This is meant to be sarcastic, but what does it mean, exactly? Christian participation in gladiatorial combat was involuntary. Moreover, assuming that you were tossed into the Coliseum against your will, did you not have the right to defend yourself against lions or gladiators?

“It is not a sport but cruelty. __The objective it to hurt and maim you opponent. It is wrong on the simple basis of cruelty.”

As I pointed out, that’s not the objective of the UFC.

“My sinful heart may lead me to sin. But if my heart tells me that this is wrong and does not glorify God, then I am going to go with my heart.”

This is incoherent. If his heart is sinful, then going with his heart is sinful. If his heart is sinful, then what his heart says is wrong may be right, and vice versa.

James Kime said...

“Did it ever occur to you that just because something is considered an athletic competition that it still might be wrong? Regulating sin is still, sin. So to remove UFC from the commands in the NT against brawlers and riotous living just because you don't think Paul included athletics is just sad Jason. Talk about being reckless.”

Craig said...

“Scripture is clear on the word cruel, it is an abomination. This standard belongs to the Lord.__Psa 71:4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man. __Pro 11:17 A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.”

Douglas said...

“Psalm 11:5 The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.”

i) The problem with these comments (by Kime, Craig, Douglas) is their failure to appreciate a basic function of contact sports. The purpose of modern contact sports is not to promote violence. Just the contrary, one fundamental purpose is to channel and control violence. To domesticate our violent, aggressive impulses. Make a virtue of necessity. It’s a form of bloodless warfare.

You take the gang-bangers of the streets. Take away their knives, chains, guns, and bottles. Put them on the field. Or the ring. Make them play by the rules. Learn some self-discipline.

ii) Moreover, this is the only way to reach a lot of men and boys. The ball field is a mission field. Same with the gym.

TruthStands said...

“Jason, you mention how Paul uses athletics to relate truth about being a Christian. However Paul neither condemns nor condones those activities. In fact his metaphors are ‘sport’ agnostic. He may as well have been talking about ballet competition.”

I seriously doubt that Paul would use athletic metaphors as positive illustrations if he regarded all athletic competition as intrinsically evil. Would he use cult prostitution or pederasty as a metaphor to make a positive point?

“Frequenting bars (and drinking it up) would certainly reach people the church isn't reaching. I'm not equating MMA to bar hopping, but merely comparing the idea of evangelism methodology.”

I used to know a chaplain who did go to bars. He had an arrangement with bartender. The bartender would direct certain customers his way.

And although the chaplain drank a nonalcoholic beverage, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a beer or glass of Scotch.

Jason’s post has smoked out a lot of legalism.

I would throw out this question for all of us, including myself, to meditate on: John says, ‘do not love the world or the things of the world’ (1 Jn. 2:15). How much do we love sports (of any kind)? I fear that too many men in the church love sports many times more than spiritual things... demonstrated by their vast knowledge of teams/players/stats/history, and their deplorable knowledge of Scripture.

That’s a valid concern. There’s no doubt that many men idolize sports. It’s just a game. Keep it in perspective.


  1. "There’s a lot of mock piety in these objections. Not everything we do in life is intended to send a religious message. Nor should it."

    I'm curious about this...what are your thoughts about this (apparently) fundamentalist attitude that if it doesn't glorify God, then the Christian should steer clear of it? This would of course rule out secular movies, TV, sports, cultural events, etc. And of course, a Christian can take part in these and let it get out of hand, but I guess what I'm asking is, on what basis would you justify taking part in these sort of activities?

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. This is worth checking out: Mark Driscoll Sermon Archive from Logos Bible Software. It's a massive project currently available for a big discount. Thought you might be interested!

  4. ---

    “Is it like hockey where a lot of people only watch it because of the fights?”


    Since I can almost guarantee I know more hockey fans than this guy, very few people "only" watch hockey for the fights. And as Steve said, they are controversial.

    Personally, I wouldn't care if the penalties for fighting were increased in the sport. I don't watch hockey for the fights--I like watching the skill. Plus, there's the ever present danger of knowing that every single play could be a goal. It's not like football where you know there's only going to be a few long distance plays in between tons of three-and-out scenarios. In hockey, a team can be on the verge of being knocked out and 10 seconds later have all the advantage because of one deke resulting in a breakaway (just watch how many short-handed goals get scored in that way when the powerplay team is pummling the defense and they get that ONE step on the D-man with a perfect pass and BOOM! all the momentum for the powerplay is gone and the team that was on the ropes is ahead on the score).

    All that to say, the only time I like a hockey fight is when Sean Avery is getting pounded.

  5. I remember that post. I was going to leave a comment but thought better of it.

    I am glad now, because I think my soul would have been crushed if Steve had used my comments to call me a woman.

  6. Fred,

    Give the favorite movies listed on your profile, I'd say your reputation for high-T manhood is unassailable!