conscience issues

Asking the wrong questions about UFC

Al posted a quote from Leunig yesterday that suggested a causal link between a recent UFC fight and increased knife crime in Melbourne – I’ll leave you to find your own problems or agreements with that argument.

The meta of that post has been pretty interesting, and I can’t help but think that we’re approaching this question in the wrong way.

Some pacifist brothers (Seumas has some good thoughts on the issue that are worth digesting) are convinced that violence is inexcusable in any circumstances and thus they are, as it were, conscientious objectors to UFC. Some of these opponents would suggest that the issue is so settled by scripture that this can’t be a question of conscience or liberty. I think the fact that so many people are divided by this issue suggests that it’s not so cut and dried in terms of “right” and “wrong”.

I can’t help but think we’re not being particularly Pauline in our approach to the issue – perhaps instead of asking if we should prohibit (through exhortation and whatever else) Christians from partaking either in the sport itself or in the appreciation thereof – we should be asking “how can we come to grips with UFC in a way that preaches the gospel of Christ”… that was Paul’s priority, and it was Jesus’ mission – more than coming and rejecting war and calling us to peaceful lives, he came and called on us to preach the coming of the kingdom of God.

Anybody who can’t see a nice easy straight line from Jesus the guy who submits to death so that we don’t have to, or Jesus the guy who enters the cage and takes our beating, is missing out on opportunities to connect the gospel message with fans of the world’s fastest growing sport. I’m not suggesting we take the Driscoll line that Jesus is a cage fighter… but some of the arguments against UFC are sillier than the arguments for it. I’ll leave you with some words from Romans 14 which I think are the most compelling scriptural words on the matter.

1 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2 One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

On entertaining violence

Craig’s UFC post has opened up a philosophical can of worms. The discussion continued in real life at our Queensland Theological College weekend away with quite a few people seeing the debate in black and white terms based on their personal gut feel. The naysayers don’t see the debate as a matter of conscience, the blood sport apologists don’t see a Biblical problem with the sport, the debate is at an impasse.

For me the debate begs a broader question about violence in entertainment. How many of the anti-UFC types are anti-UFC because it is real and not fictional? That seems to me to be an odd and somewhat arbitrary distinction to make. If the problem is bloodlust then surely the problem arises for those who enjoy violent movies and video games. If I can watch UFC to appreciate the technical side of things (and I watched my first intriguing bout last week – I believe this is possible, like it is possible to enjoy League despite the violent collisions not because of them) and don’t glory in the violence does that appease the anti-bloodlust lobby? Some in the debate say that it is a question of ends and means. If the end is testing to see which martial art is superior, and which fighter is superior – I don’t see how this by necessity equates to the end being violence.

But the begged question remains – can you position yourself against ultimate fighting while also enjoying Fight Club? Can you be for all intents and purposes a pacifist while watching war movies for enjoyment? Can you tell people that their love for mixed martial arts is Biblically unjustifiable while shooting people in a computer game?

I don’t think so. I don’t feel any pangs of remorse about enjoying the Hitman game series – the object is to be a sneaky assassin killing victims with a wide range of weapons. I don’t feel like there’s a distinction between enjoying the violence of Judges (like the story of Ehud) and the violence of whatever David Baldacci novel I’m ploughing through… In this case it would be hypocritical of me to take a stance against those who enjoy a sport that I have not, in the past, enjoyed, simply on the basis of violence. And much of this debate smacks of hypocrisy. I did speak to one Godly brother on the weekend whose aversion to violence (as a conscious conscience based decision) now extends to the war movies he enjoyed in his youth. At that point the issue is surely a conscience thing rather than a Biblically mandated aversion. If you can not, in good conscience, enjoy the spectacle of any of these elements of culture then do no. It’s a pretty easy decision.

All line drawing in these issues – other than being dictated by conscience – seems to be pretty arbitrary (unless it’s clearly spelled out in the Bible). When it comes to computer games where do we draw the line. Is it ok to kill Nazis (Wolfenstein) but not to kill police (when you’re an assassin)? Why is it almost universally ok to chomp on a ghost in Pacman or stomp on a walking mushroom (a goomba) in Mario?

I always feel bad when I kill a civilian in a game (and hope that I always do), and it seems that there’s an ethical line when you kill someone not expecting it as part of their job (in a game that is) – which is why I think the fact that highly trained UFC competitors are involved in the sport of their own volition (as opposed to gladiators in Rome and anyone featured in “bumfights” an online sensation where people make homeless people fight for money).

Here’s a post I just read about how video game developers seek to dehumanise bad guys so that we don’t feel bad about popping them in the head with whatever weapon we have at our disposal. Their tactics include featuring zombies, vampires and nazis as universally recognised bad guys – and if in doubt – masking the antagonist so that you don’t confront their emotions. The writer’s conclusion is this:

I believe that developers have come to realize that, while violence is often a necessary part of the action in many games, most people feel put out at the prospect of ending other peoples’ lives, even digital ones. While there are plenty of games that don’t adhere to the general categories I mentioned, most do. It’s the action and excitement of a scenario that draws us in, death is usually just an unintentional byproduct, but even so some effort is made to separate the gamer from what would be the terrible consequences of their actions. Developers do this because we are, despite what so many political blowhards and half-wit news anchors would have us believe, sensitive to violence in the real world.

I don’t get why as Christians we’re so keen to point the finger at our brothers and sisters to suggest that their enjoyment of a sport is due to some sort of sinful appreciation of unabashed violence. We should give one another the benefit of the doubt on matters like this shouldn’t we? It doesn’t surprise me that the vast majority of people commenting in support of watching UFC have some technical training or appreciation of the sport that they enjoy. These people aren’t the type to get excited about the misapplication of violence outside the context of sport or the pursuit of justice. They just happen to like a sport that is open and honest about the fact that violence is part of the game.

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