Saturday, September 28, 2013

Teaching Christian Values?

A few weekends ago, Mrs V and I went to South Carolina for the Labor Day weekend. Mrs V's best friend lives in Greenville, and we love to get down to see her, and her husband.

One afternoon, as we drove back from Downtown Greenville, I spotted a martial arts centre with a sign in the window saying 'Christian Values Taught Here'. I was confused and asked rhetorically 'what are Christian values?', to which responses of 'restraint', 'discipline', and 'self esteem' came back.

Now, forgive me if perhaps I am a little naive, but while those 'values' are generally regarded as being positive I fail to see how they are specifically 'Christian', but that is not the thrust of this post. My problem here is teaching 'Christian' values through the medium of cramming someone's head in.

Again, forgive me if I am still something of an idealist, but if a person if going to claim to be a Christian and to uphold Christian values then the teaching of Jesus must surely be the paramount ideology that defines that person's life? To put that another way, if Jesus said something in the Gospels which directly contradicts other parts of the Bible, mainly the Hebrew Scriptures, then the Christian, if they are to be truly a follower of Jesus of Nazareth must go with Jesus every time. Let's look then at what Jesus had to say about how his followers should respond to violence.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” - Matthew 5:38-42
Hmmm, that's pretty unequivocal really isn't it? If someone slaps your cheek, then the Christian response is to turn the other, not roundhouse kick the assailant in the head. Would I be right then that martial arts centres that trumpet their teaching of Christian values never actually win a single bout, because the kids will just stand there and take it, because they have been taught the Christian value of non-violence?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus of Nazareth is quoted as saying:
'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' - Matthew 5:3-10
Strangely Jesus doesn't have any blessings for the kind of Christian values that are taught with the punch to the face. Meekness, mercy, and peacemaking are the hallmarks of Christian values if you take the teachings of Jesus seriously, all things which are antithetical to the macho world of martial arts. Oh and don't get me started on the whole 'self-esteem' thing, especially not when the Jesus of the Gospels expects people to hate 'even his own life' in order to be a disciple.

This really gets to the heart of much of my problem with swathes of American Christianity, it doesn't seem to be particularly Christian. It wants to get its knickers in a twist about homosexual couples having the same legal rights as heterosexual ones, but doesn't keep its own house in order by rebuking those who think bashing someone other the head is a perfectly legitimate expression of Christianity. I have said before that there are times when I think that American Christianity is a myth, rather there is a lot of American Religious Nationalism that has nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and as such is not Christian.

I find a saying of Mahatma Gandhi to be most apt:
I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

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