Friday, May 29, 2009

What would Jesus say about MMA: Fight!

When tackling topics such as this, it hardly needs stating, that the expressed opinions are tentative in nature. In a sense, it is impossible to know exactly what Jesus thinks about MMA, simply because he never explicitly addressed the subject. So, to build a case for what he might say about it, we must set up some ground rules to guide our reflection. That being the case, I propose 3 guidelines to assist us in our inquiry: 1) direct scriptural statements (since Christ, by His Spirit is the author of scripture); 2) actions recorded in scripture which are cited with approval; and 3) themes and ideas which are parallel in nature to the topic of sport fighting. With those principles in mind, let’s address the question whether Jesus forbids or condones physically striking an opponent, within the context of a rule-governed competition which show a reasonable regard for human safety and life.

Let’s begin addressing this question by posing another question, does the Bible prohibit or authorize individuals to use force to defend their person, family, or property? The answer to that question is an emphatic “yes;” the Bible plainly permits the use of physical force under certain conditions. We can defend this answer from both the OT and the NT. In Exodus 22:2-3 the law says that if a thief is caught breaking into a persons residence in the darkness of night, the homeowner is authorized to use deadly force to kill the intruder, without penalty under the law; however, if the thief is caught during daylight hours he is to be merely apprehended. The restriction posed in the latter part of the verse raises many questions, and should probably not be understood to mean that the homeowner is prohibited from using deadly force if the robber shows intention to physically harm the owner or his family. What is clear from both v2 and v3 is that the homeowner is permitted to use physical force against an opponent in order to restrain him. In the NT (Mark 3:27) Jesus, speaking in a parable, offhandedly affirms this same legal right of self-defense, when he explains, “no one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house.” Jesus uses a domestic illustration to make an obvious point, which is that if a robber wants to take a homeowners stuff while he is present, he will have to overpower him and tie him down before he can steal his possessions. Jesus assumes the audience will understand that the necessity of overpowering the owner and tying him down, is on account of the fact that the homeowner will do everything in his power to physically prevent the thief from stealing his belongings. In other words, the parable is premised on the assumption that it is legitimate to use physical force to defend oneself and one’s possessions.

Given this clear Biblical warrant for self-defense and use of physical force in defense of self, family, and property, it seems legitimate to infer from this that a man has every right to learn self-defense techniques. More than self-defense, a man is also authorized to acquire a proficiency in the methods, tactics, and weaponry that will enable him to apply lethal force if necessary. Now, if these deductions are sound, then it must be lawful, Biblically speaking, to engage not only in the study of martial arts and techniques of self-defense, but also the drilling and live fighting needed to apply these tactics in situations which simulate a real self-defense situation. For such live drilling and fighting to take place, there must be agreed upon rules that opponents follow in order to prevent injury and bodily harm to those involved in receiving instruction. If the underlying premise is agreed to, that the Bible condones self-defense, along with its logical corollary that receiving martial arts training and participating in simulated self-defense instruction, through live drilling and competition governed by rules which protect participants,then there can be no principled objection to MMA competition.

MMA competition, in a very real sense, is nothing more than an extension of randori in the dojo. It is about two trained fighters, applying the methods of their particular martial arts instruction, in a live training exercise, according to standard rules, under the oversight of a competent referee. Given that definition of MMA, based upon the Biblical authorization of self-defense, taught in the OT and confirmed in the NT by Jesus himself, it is more than reasonable to conclude that Jesus would say that MMA training and competition is completely lawful for Christians to both view and engage in.

Monday, May 4, 2009

What would Jesus say about MMA: turn the other cheek?

When we ask the question, “what would Jesus say about MMA?” I would imagine that the thoughts of most people, who have some basic knowledge of the Bible, would quickly range toward one of Jesus’ most well known and oft quoted statements, “turn the other cheek.” (Matthew 5:39) On the face of it, it seems that this verse is a reasonable place to begin in assessing what Jesus would say about sport fighting. MMA is about applying maximum force against an opponent, within the bounds of agreed upon rules, in order to physically harm an opponent to the point that they either willingly submit or the referee calls a stop to the action. In that case, the application seems ready made: if Jesus said turn the other cheek, instead of returning a strike for a strike, then Jesus would certainly not approve of the intentional effort to stalk an opponent in a cage and try to knock him out with strikes and knees as in MMA.

In figuring out the application of any given statement, the first place to begin is to correctly interpret it. It is incorrect to seek to determine how a statement applies, without first establishing what the statement means. The best way to establish the correct interpretation of Jesus words in Matthew 5:39 is context. In Matthew 5:38 Jesus refers to the legal principle known as the lex taliones, literally, the law of retaliation. The principle in question is found in Exodus 21:24 which is concerned with codifying statutes of revenge in cases of personal injury or insult. Basically, OT law says that if you gouge out my right eye, accidentally or not, I have the legal right to gouge out your right eye.

Jesus takes up that legal statute here and applies to the Jewish courtroom. We know he is referring to the courtroom because he says, “do not resist.” The word “resist,” in view of the following legal illustrations in verses 40-42, should be interpreted to mean “don’t insist on your rights in a court of law.” You see, it was well agreed upon in the ancient world, that slapping someone with the back of the hand constituted a serious public insult which made one subject to a court fine. So what Jesus is referring to is the situation of being publicly insulted. The point he makes to his disciples is that they should be willing to bear the insult and to not take the offenders to a court of law in order to secure from them financial compensation for public insult. The bottom line is that Jesus is saying don't retaliate in court when publicly insulted.

With the correct interpretation in view, let’s come back to our question, “what would Jesus say about MMA?” It is apparent from the brief exposition given of Jesus’ famous saying, “turn the other cheek,” that Matthew 5:39 does not in any way bear upon what Jesus would say about cage fighting. “Turn the other cheek” is about prohibiting a disciple of Christ from seeking to retaliate against someone in a court of law, by securing a financial settlement from them for obvious public insult. It has nothing to do with fighting in general. These words in no way prohibit a follower of Christ from defending themselves, family, or neighbor in the face of bodily assault, and furthermore, it says nothing about engaging in contact sport fighting that is governed by rules which protect the contestants.

If we want to know what Jesus would say about MMA, it is clear that we must turn to other passages or broader Biblical principles to see if he would oppose it or condone it under certain conditions; “turn the other cheek” simply does not give us the information we need.