Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cage-Fighting and Christianity

"Jesus Didn't Tap" -- meaning surrender -- is apparently a tattoo worn by some Christians who participate in the sport called mixed martial arts, a.k.a cage-fighting. One hastens to add that the Lord didn't cage-fight, either. Or wear tattoos.

Christianity Today has an interesting little set of ethical reflections on the martial arts. To summarize:

  • Marine Corps veteran and Christian Coalition editor Joe Carter argues that while the truly martial arts -- those that prepare a warrior to fight in a just war -- are entirely ethical, turning them into games and entertainment is not.
  • Ted Kluck -- who has been at various times missionary, author boxer and football coach -- says it's all good, and argues that violent sports teach Christian values. We are not remotely convinced.
  • Duke divinity student -- and former cage-fighter -- Matt Morin suggests rephrasing the question. He considers "should a Christian do it" to be divisive, and prefers to ask "why would a Christian do it." Hairsplitting, if you ask us. Either way, his answer is blunt: Cage-fighting is the new pornography.

We at the Egg have a passing acquaintance with two "martial arts." In youth, Fr. A. did a little boxing and a lot of fencing, both sports with obvious antecedents in warfare. He enjoyed both, although it was apparent that boxing was dangerous to the intellectual capacities. (The best fighter in our little college club explained that he had to suspend boxing as he wrote his senior thesis, because after a morning of blows to the head, he couldn't think straight for the rest of the day.)

We continued to enjoy watching the fights on TV for many years, at least until the reign of Tyson stripped away any pretense of art, and revealed the professional sport, especially among heavyweights, for the unmitigated thuggery it is. Today, we think of boxing the way a recovering alcoholic probably does about his last beer: with a strange mixture of shame, fear and longing.

To be brief, we think Carter is right, Morin is bombastic but also right, and Kluck is missing the logic of his own arguments. That's a shame, because he says something well worth hearing:

I think if we evangelicals are going to get indignant and legalistic about cage fighting, we have to do the same thing about professional and college football ....

If we're going to start playing the moral superiority card, we will have to unpack the various ethical dilemmas that distinguish other sports at a high level. These include academic fraud and the performance-enhancing drugs that make the NFL players you watch religiously (pardon the pun) look like comic book heroes.
That's right, Ted. Except that instead of following this through to its conclusion, you assume that nobody is willing to look at the ethics of, say, the NFL or even the NCAA. We should look at all of those thing, hard -- harder than you seem willing to actually look.

This is not about "legalism" or "moral superiority," any more than the abolition and civil rights movements were or religious doubts about capital punishment and abortion are. It's about ethical reflection as a community, upon the meaning of humanity and the right use of our bodies.

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