Mixed Martial Arts and the diluting of Christianity
As a Reconstructionist Jewish atheist, I may not be the best person to comment on the evolution (or devolution, depending on your perspective) of the Christian religion, but this NY Times article caught my eye. I’m no expert on Jesus or anything, but it struck me that Ultimate Fighting is not what the old holy man had in mind when he said things like “love thine enemy.” I don’t think he would have held up the “The Iceman” Chuck Lidell or Tito “The Huntingdon Beach Badboy” Ortiz as his role-models. Pastor Eugene Cho’s comment that “What you attract people to Christ with is also what you need to get people to stay,” makes a lot of sense to me.
All this reminds me of the Chabad-Lubavitch missionaries’ desperate campaign to make secular Jews more observant. They would park outside my Jewish high school in their “mitzvah tank” and offer Jewish boys cookies and soda to come inside and put on tefillin (on college campuses nationwide they offer vodka and whiskey at shabbat dinners). “The medium is the message,” or something Marshall McLuhan said. In any case, I don’t think this is the best way to win committed converts.
And then this got me thinking about the broader history of Christianity. I mean, Jesus’ message (whether it came from him or some of his disciples) has been portrayed to me as a sort of hyper-Judaism. The Old Testament (or as I like to call it, The Bible) said no adultery, Jesus said “you can’t even look at another woman lustfully.” The Hebrew Bible said “love they neighbour,” the Jesus said “love thine enemy.” (the ancient Israelites hated their enemies). Then you’ve got “an eye for an eye” versus “turn the other cheek.” And of course, the New Testament ideas about rich men having a hard time getting in to heaven (something about the eye of a needle) and the “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. When I bundle these together, Christianity seems more idealistic, Judaism more realistic and pragmatic, which is why, in addition to being born into it, I’ve come to prefer the older philosophy, even as a godless atheist.
But leaving that aside, the little I know of religious history leads me to believe that starting with Paul, there was something of a switch. Paul realized certain rituals of Judaism were impractical, so he got rid of them: you didn’t have to cut part of your dick off anymore, and you could eat pork. And so from the get-go, he made a pragmatic decision to win pagan converts. a good 1500 years later or so, Protestants came around and also embraced pragmatism of a sort, in the spirit of the St. Paul. They said, well, let the ruler lead the Church, they’ll like that, and it will free them from the tyranny of Rome. And let’s give the people the Bible in their language and let them make some choices. Calvinists developed their idea of the elect, and the whole notion of the Protestant work ethic that came with it: obviously the rich people are doing something right, they must be blessed, etc. etc.
From there, you get preachers in America saying that capitalism and Christianity do in fact mix, which always struck me as bizarre. I always thought of Christianity as a combination of Hebrew Bible backstory mixed with Platonic (as in Plato) asceticism and some pagan ritual. Jesus certainly preached asceticism and perhaps even an early version of heavily egalitarian, non-Marxian socialism. “The meek shall inherit the earth” and all that jazz.
And now we get mixed martial arts and Christianity. So odd for a religion that preaches “blessed are the peacemakers” (apparently they also get to inherit the earth). I’m a big boxing fan, and a casual MMA fan, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that there is a contradiction between traditional Christianity and the values of Ultimate Fighting. It just sounds like Jesus’ message is getting more and more diluted, to the point where calling oneself a Christian is having less and less meaning. In the quest to be pragmatic and inclusive, Christianity is selling its own soul and betraying its values and principles. Sounds a little like an American president who got elected recently…