My take that Christians should never watch violence as entertainment didn't raise any hackles - perhaps because my readership is down since I stopped posting about theology all the time and started posting about real life instead. Anyway, I am going to follow it up with an even broader statement and see if we can't get any fish to bite this time.
The following was triggered by this post of Jeff's, which was in turn inspired by Tracy's post on the "us vs. them" mentality among and between Christians. I have written before on that particular topic as well, but now am going to take a broader viewpoint beyond all three of those posts. Namely:
"Is there ever a time when membership in a group that fosters pride or exclusiveness (including Christianity itself) is a good thing for a Christian?"
My answer: "No. Never."
Humans are tribal creatures. We love to congregate and sort ourselves out into all sorts of little cliques and teams:
- Family - I am not saying that family is bad, since it is the core of our society, how we learn of love, etc. But when we start thinking our family is better than others, that's a problem.
- Gender - yes, the sexes are different, and that is something to celebrate. But too often it is used to divide us, each throwing taunts and insults at the other "side".
- Ethnicity/Culture - the remnants of real tribalism are alive and well today in ethnic pride (and hatred) and is responsible for much of the world's ills.
- Country - I believe patriotism, or more accurately chauvinism, is the heir to the tribalism of ethnicity and culture and has inherited all of the problems caused by those and then multiplied it because of the scale of the groups involved. War. Genocide. Forced displacements.
- State/Province/City - know any good Arkansas jokes (or Newfie jokes if you're a Canadian)? Sure you do. We all do. They're "harmless", right? That is until we remember that all humor is based on someone's pain, and we use such jokes to put ourselves above others by feeling a pride of place that is for the most part solely an accident of our birth or employment.
- Religion/Denomination - since this is the ground covered so well by Jeff, et al., as well as most of history, I won't say any more here.
- Church/Synagogue/Temple/Mosque - a continuation of the last point, but this time taken right down to the local level. How can anyone ever think their church is best? Best at what? They are all just gatherings of God's children in worship - is that supposed to be a competition? Unfortunately, that's exactly what we've turned it into.
- School - I am not talking about getting into Harvard, here (although that's part of the same phenomenon). I am talking about how public schools foster a sense of team and pride that is solely based on location - you go to your school because you live in its area, yet somehow that make you #1!!! This is usually tied into the following point.
- Sports teams - ever had your day ruined because your team lost? Slammed your fist in anger over a botched play? Ever called any of the players, coaches or fans on your team or the other bums? Felt ill will toward them? Ever shouted at your TV over a game? 'nuff said.
- Political parties - I don't even have the stomach to dive into this cesspool, but let's just say I am not a big fan of partisanship.
- ad infinitum - companies, unions, professional organizations, fraternities/sororities, even charities, and on and on an on.
That "Why?" is easily answered. Pride. We all want to boost our self-image by being part of something bigger and better than ourselves. We want to be identified with "the winning team". We want to be seen as successful. We want to feel camaraderie toward others like us. And what's wrong with any of that?
Nothing, other than it's completely anti-Biblical. It takes the focus off the one place our pride should be, which is in Jesus. It sets up false gods for us to worship. It causes us to separate ourselves apart when our Lord commanded us to love each other and all people as He does.
Sure, grouping together is a way to solve larger problems. Most things in human experience are accomplished as groups. That is the positive aspect. The dark side is when we stop seeing groups as the tool to get something done and start making the group the goal, when the group takes on more importance than it should - when it causes us to exclude and mock other people. Often we hide our feelings of pride and superiority behind humor. They're just jokes, right? But how often does good-natured ribbing degenerate into hurt feelings? It's happened to me, both as the perpetrator and the target. I bet it's happened to you, too. Did you feel good afterward?
And yes, we are commanded into fellowship with each other, and that is also a good thing. Groups can foster love and togetherness. But if we start thinking our group of fellows shipping together are better than another, that's the problem. It happens within the church and we can see that and think "That shouldn't be". But for some reason when it happens outside of the church no one seems concerned. "That's just life" or "That's just business" or "That's just sports" being used to describe why we, as Christians, are "off the hook" for our prideful behavior then.
Remember, whenever we "team up" that always implies we are splitting apart from others. We need to be careful in every situation in which we identify with a group that we don't then cause that to throw up barriers against loving others. Inside church and out.