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.


Michael said...

"If...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."

I've enjoyed this series so far, but I don't agree with this statement. I think in this post you've shown that live drilling and competition, for the purpose of allowing the participants to better protect themselves, their families, and their property, is biblically justified. It doesn't necessarily follow, however, that engaging in those same drills for the purpose of entertaining an audience and making money is justified. For example, physical intimacy between a husband and wife is a biblically justified activity; physical intimacy between a husband and wife for the purpose of entertainment, in front of a live audience and broadcast on television, is not.

I don't necessarily disagree with your conclusion that MMA is a lawful activity for Christians to watch and engage in, but I don't think that this argument, by itself, proves that point.

Neal said...

I agree with the previous comment. It doesn't follow that because an activity is permitted in some circumstances, that it is permitted in all circumstances. Now in this particular case I don't necessarily think that the Bible prohibits the activity. However I think it is overstated to say that "there can be no principled objection". It is certainly possible that a principled objection could be mounted on other (Biblical) considerations.