Kicking Ass For Jesus
In a recent blog posting, Pastor Gene Cook related a story about his son understanding the preciousness of life:
Somewhere near the end of my sermon I began talking about the brevity of life and the fact that we could be removed from this life at any moment. I related a story about a woman that had suddenly lost her husband. My son was in the worship service because we were short one teacher for the 10-12 year old class… As we were having dinner he looked at me and said “Dad, I don’t know what I am going to do when God takes you out of this life”. At that moment I realized that he understood. I have always tried to impress on my congregation as well as my children that life is a gift. We cannot take it for granted. He understood. His value for time with me was appreciated a thousand times in that moment. We both realized that the clock was ticking. I tried to hide the obvious tears that welled up in my eyes but he saw them.It’s a profound truth that Gene has touched on here, but what’s particularly ironic is that it’s a truth that can only be derived from a naturalistic, materialistic worldview. In the Christian worldview, of course, our life here on the physical plane represents an infinitely small fraction of our full existence- after our earthly sojourn, we all will be spending eternity in either Heaven or Hell. For the Christian, Heaven is a place of infinite rejoicing, and eternal communion with the Christian god. It stands to reason that being in Heaven is to be preferred over being on Earth, infinite times over. Thus, the consistent Christian doesn’t cherish life- he tolerates it as a temporary burden to bear before being united forever with his god. Gene is betraying here the repressed naturalistic assumptions of his worldview by valuing Earthly life, but it’s a hypocrisy that I wouldn’t normally begrudge him.
However- just when I start to feel some empathy for a Christian, he demonstrates the inanity of his convictions.
Readers of this blog will be familiar with the insults and animosity that have been directed towards Reggie Finley by Gene in the past, but this next example is disquieting primarily because of its oddity, rather than sheer bad taste.
On a recent webcast, Reggie responded to a listener who jokingly suggested that he should to have a boxing match with Gene for charity. Given the way that Gene haunts and taunts him continuously, such a proposition, even in jest, doesn’t seem terribly unusual. However, Gene found that to be an excellent suggestion, and promptly emailed him saying:
Someone told me that you are interested in putting together a grudge match for charity. If this is true I am only interested if we do UFC rules.Imagine that- the fighting pastor! Not since Reggie White passed on have I seen such a common zeal for physical violence and spirituality. Of course, voluntary bloodsports are well within the bounds of secular morality, as listeners of Vox Populi should already be aware. But for a Christian pastor to seriously and intentionally seek out a fisticuffs competition against an atheist- that’s a little strange on my palate. Initially Reggie responded positively, likely in the hopes that such a “grudge match” would be a good way to raise funds for his webcast. But many of his forum members advised against it, since it seemed like just another one of Gene’s many attempts to attack Reggie, but this time physically.
Upon rejecting the offer, Gene gave one more shot at taunting Reggie:
His friends tried to come to his rescue and fabricate reasons why he shouldn’t do it… [they say I] shouldn't be participating on something like this because [I am] a Christian (forget about the fact that Matt Hugh's[sic] is a Christian as well as many other UFC fighters)This struck me as very interesting. It’s true, of course, that Matt Hughes is a devout Christian and acclaimed fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship octagon. But does that make it right? By Gene’s logic, any activity is given Christian sanction just by the fact that Christians participate in it. Can the same be said about other activities- murder, rape, theft- all committed by equally devout Christians every single day. But hey, that’s just me being nitpicky about Gene’s non sequiturs- I think the underlying question of “Is it Christian to fight?” is more meaty.
Certainly within the Old Testament religiously motivated violence is abounding- examples all the way from Abraham, who fought with the Elamites in Genesis 14; Moses, who killed an Egyptian out of anger; Joshua, who led the Hebrews against the Canaanites; Samson, who personally slaughtered Philistines by the hundreds; all the way through King David, who “killed his tens of thousands” and was a “man after God’s own heart.”
But what (as they say), did Jesus do? In his famous Sermon on the Mount (or Plain, as Luke tells it), Jesus offers blessings for a number of different kinds of people, including “the gentle,” “the merciful,” and “the peacemakers.” Not once does he offer a blessing for “the violent,” “the vengeful,” or “the fighters.” As if that wasn’t enough, Jesus then addresses several aspects of the Hebrew Law which don’t quite meet with his approval. One such correction is the Mosaic cliché, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Instead, Jesus offers this correction: “do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”
The words of Jesus and UFC regulations seem to be in flagrant contradiction. According to the latter, the following are prohibited: “Timidity, including, without limitation, avoiding contact with an opponent, intentionally or consistently dropping the mouthpiece or faking an injury.” I guess Jesus couldn’t fight in the UFC.
But are there any other examples in the Gospel that would give an insight onto Jesus’ desire for violence towards others? As it happens, all four Gospels record Jesus’ rebuking of an act of violence done on his behalf by one of his disciples (Peter, according to John).
Luke 22: When those who were around Him saw what was going to happen, they said, "Lord, shall we strike with the sword?" And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus answered and said, "Stop! No more of this." And He touched his ear and healed him.Well, forget Jesus- everyone knows that Jesus is a fag, anyway. When we want to find some validation of good, Christian violence, we look to the grizzled, mean apostle from Tarsus, Paul! But wait, is Paul really such a font of machismo?
2 Corinthians 10: Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ--I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.What is this? Paul comes across sounding like the worst kind of fighter- bold when he’s not in the same room with you, but meek when he’s close enough to be punched. Not only that, but he claims that it’s not Christ-like to actually make physical violence- that the true Christian attack is a spiritual attack. Something tells me that Paul wouldn’t last too long in the UFC either.
So there seems to be no scriptural justification for a Christian to engage in physical violence with others. Both Jesus and Paul are specifically quoted as being against such a thing- so it certainly can’t be on theological grounds that Christians like Gene Cook relish the idea of physical altercation. Without giving myself over completely to psychological speculation, I would offer that we all create the god our psyches need. I don’t think it’s any accident that Gene embraces the same desire for a rough-and-tumble, pull-no-punches, dripping-with-testosterone Jesus as another self-confessed aficionado of violence, Paul Manata (the erstwhile known "Ultimate Christian Warrior"). Which is all well and good, when all is said and done- if you’re such a manly force of nature that you crave physical combat, by all means seek out means to do so. But don’t pretend for a minute that you can also be a consistent Christian.