Archive for the ‘purity’ Tag

THE VIOLENT POST

Posted 19/1/09

There is a popular view among the Manly Men of Co-Mission (By which I mean our pastors – to generalise: The Bible, Sport, Kids, War Movies, Grrrrr) that violence depicted on screen is less harmful than sex. At times it may even be presented as virtuous and valid. This shouldn’t be surprising – Matt Fuller has an Army background, Perks the Navy. These are not pacifists. They are keen we know that men should be willing to fight self-sacrificially for loved ones and faith when righteously called upon.

In practise this has often led to the use of examples from the likes of 24 or James Bond in sermons, as well as an environment where the 18-rated likes of Die Hard are comfortably bandied about church folk as cited personal favourites. It’s often only when people start getting their kit off onscreen that people start getting concerned. An imperfect illustration of this would be the church screening of Atonement during a mission event. A lot of concern was expressed at the sex scene shown (fairly steamy and certainly not within a marital context) but none whatsoever at the scenes of a character slowly dying amidst the carnage of Dunkirk.

Now, before I get my Co-Mission Manly Membership revoked, I’m not necessarily about to oppose any of this. I just wish to recount, as food for thought, a fascinating conversation I had yesterday with Jeab Burstow, director of the Good Book Company and all-round good egg. He very strongly opposes this line and has some interesting things to say about the matter. I don’t wish to misquote somebody more than able to speak for himself, but I’d paraphrase the gist of Jeab’s argument thus: We are commanded in Phil 4:8 to dwell upon ‘whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is admirable’. Such instruction does not cover those violent, hateful acts often presented as popular entertainment. He suggests that our hearts have been hardened to the murderous, visceral material often included in prime-time broadcasting to such an extent that we don’t see it for the sin it is. Having watched the first series of every Co-Mission boy’s favourite, 24, he stopped tuning in due to the upsetting and lingering impact of scenes such as that when a teenage girl, helpless in a hospital bed, is murdered by a man purporting to be a father; or that when a graphic description is given of a gruesome form of murder employed in the Russian gulags (the implication being that a character is about to suffer the same). In each case, I think Jeab is better than me at seeing both the wrong and the reality in the scenario; it is diabolical that someone would abuse the trust of parental position to murder a girl in her hospital bed… and people really did suffer that way in the gulags! What I forgot 10 minutes after the credit rolled, he found lingering and disturbing to this day.

So is he right? Well, The Wrestler (on current release – likely to garner Mickey Rourke a ‘Best Actor’ Oscar) was an interesting movie in this regard. I felt uncomfortable in the strip club scenes (the tragic central character frequents one particular bar, trying to find a meaningful relationship to compensate for his loneliness) and was pleased with myself that I did. With great self-righteousness I recounted to my wife how aware I was of the apparent sin and seediness depicted there – of how wrong it was to be presented with naked bodies for entertainment. However, I was aware of nothing untoward when the same character was being attacked by a staple gun or thrown through a plate glass window onto nails, each in lurid detail, and each again presented ultimately for the sake of entertainment… It’s sin to which I am utterly desensitised.

There are two common counter-arguments. One is that we need to engage with our culture; be it Lord of the Rings or Reservoir Dogs. To that, Jeab makes the valid point that, if we’re serious about identifying the interests of our culture, it’s Eastenders we should be watching… it just happens that Reservoir Dogs better suits our tastes and the demographic we are comfortable trying to reach! (ie not the grannies and those on the local estate). Second is that the Bible itself is a very violent book, and one that rarely shies from giving us the vivid detail. However, I can see for myself that the Bible seldom if ever depicts violence as entertainment; rather as just punishment for those who have displeased God – a precursor of judgement which we should take seriously indeed.

Nevertheless, I would add a couple of other arguments which I’m not entirely sure I could yet refute. I’m not sure that viewing violence does necessarily damage us. It’s very different to sexual images, the lasting mental imprint of which is clearly going to make more difficult our sexual purity later on. It is one area where I think the age certification does its job. I think violent images can be utterly unsuitable and damaging to the young who don’t understand their context. It can be disturbing to adults as well, but in this case each person IS different and has different levels of susceptibility. We need to know ourselves – if such images do make us more angry, more accepting of conflict, more likely to cuss, or less able to focus on godly things later on, then it is clearly bad for us. However, I know that I watch The Wire (An acclaimed TV series, again 18-rated, featuring some strongly violent exchanges) and emerge with a heart for social justice, not a desire to own fire-arms. This links to my second point: Such programming CAN be instructive. Violence onscreen, and I’m sure this is where Perks finds his enjoyment, is very often employed for righteous ends, in order to restore order or unveil injustice. We do sometimes need to know the hardship, risk and sacrifice made in order that freedom and certain values can be restored, or the suffering endured daily by others denied our peaceful existence in the suburban West. This is where war movies, in particular, come into their own. It would perhaps be irresponsible and doing a disservice were we to present the struggles of our grandfathers as bloodless and tame. There may be a time when we need to step up to the plate, knowing what we’re letting ourselves in for…

And then, against that, I could say things like ‘it is for God to judge and wield punishment, not Jack Bauer’ or ‘the ends don’t justify the means’ or many other things… but I’ll draw a line. I’m also aware that there’s scope here to slope naturally into an examination of some Christians’ ability to applaud the real life massacres of children in Iraq or Gaza for the sake of ‘righteousness’… but that’s for another day. I’m not really sure what to think, other than we probably shouldn’t be whooping and applauding the television whilst a serial killer dismembers his innocent victim… or mindlessly chewing popcorn to the pyrotechnics of a recreated wartime assault. All ‘entertainment’ represents a worldview and either a rejection or an embracing of God’s rule. We need to, at the very least, be aware of what sins we’re seeing and what it is to which we’re giving our approval. I’d be keen to know your thoughts.

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SEX ON THE BRAIN

Posted 15/6/07

Sex! The world’s favourite topic of conversation – certainly the internet’s – and something that, as a man, some would have you believe I think about every 3 seconds I’m awake (I don’t by the way… a fact that would no doubt gladden those whose offspring I teach for a living…). Now, the interest generated by naked pics of Jude Law or the Paris Hilton sex tape suggest that there are those whose sex lives the world at large very much want to know about. I am not one of them. Therefore, out of consideration for my wife and you, the reader (hello mum and dad!), I will spare any gory details whilst considering how, as a Christian (andybeingachristian, remember), the world’s and our own fascination with sex can be reconciled and harnessed to some sort of usefulness.

So, for any beginners here, sex is a good gift from God (he didn’t have to make reproduction fun!) useful for furthering the species and bonding two people in intimacy within the stable and consecrated framework of marriage. Hooray. Were everyone playing to the rules the world would be a very different place, albeit one somewhat lacking in the staples of teen pregnancy, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, rape, infidelity with subsequent divorce and damaged children, heartbreak, insecurity, body dysmorphia and all the social problems therefore arising… But, let’s get one thing out of the way. Those who have known me for the decade that I was with Nina prior to being married would be quite right in not letting this hypocrisy stand were I not to acknowledge that we weren’t exactly shining examples ourselves of how to save yourself for marriage. Without dwelling too much on the fact and upsetting anyone along the way (still here mum and dad?!) I would like to offer the following observations:

a. We were different then. Whilst, to my eternal relief, God didn’t appear to forget about me, there were times when I certainly seemed keen on forgetting about him. Only having joined CCB would I ever claim that my adult walk with God was anything more than half-hearted. There is little to be gained by nailing ourselves to metaphorical crosses for those sins we commit before we are right with God (or afterwards I know, but we do have a greater obligation to try and sort ourselves out at that point!). Jesus already did the real thing – to far greater effect.

b. It was wrong. I don’t feel like we got away with it, or that the end justifies the means. For a start it was probably a large reason why our Christian walk spent so long in the spiritual ‘Dry Spell Institute’ prior to joining CCB. That’s not to say it couldn’t have been worse sin-wise (theologically suspect I know, but still). I have only ever been with my wife – the woman I intend to spend my life with. That is significantly preferable to having put it about the neighbourhood! However, had you asked in years gone by why we weren’t married, we would have informed you that we weren’t ready for that level of commitment, either practically or emotionally. It was deceitful of us then to imagine we were ready physically. It was a case of writing a cheque we couldn’t yet cash. In terms of our witness to non-Christian friends, the discrepancy between the walk and the talk (behaviour and faith claimed) was very much noted and a significant bushel to our lamp…

c. Marriage has been a real blessing. Everything has been better once married, and it is no co-incidence that our married years have seen us return to God’s fold with a happy heart. Only once we were married did we really feel blessed as a couple by the sexual aspect of our relationship… Hats off to those couples for whom the wedding night must truly be the most exciting and well-deserved prospect of their lives!

d. God uses sin, even whilst condemning it. As I wrote on Monday, God is in no way constrained by the wrongdoings of man when it comes to His plans. Paul writes that ‘what God has joined together, let man not separate’, whilst Perks has spoken of the pain caused when humans try to wrench apart the superglue of a sexual bond. We were very aware of our responsibility to follow through on our premature actions – and took care never to lightly be parted. Where other unmarried couples may have accepted defeat we, quite frankly, have fought and worked for our relationship more than anyone else I know in order to bring it the point of happy marriage that I firmly believe God intended us to reach. God never authorised our sinful behaviour, but He certainly used it to keep us together.

Right… that’s some long-winded ‘not dwelling on it’. Let’s hastily return to the matter of the world. Western society has sex on the brain. There’s no doubt about it. Let’s take breasts, for example. They appear to be used to advertise everything from insurance to toothpaste. They appear to be utilised in promotion of every film, television programme and play in London. They are on every magazine and newspaper on every shelf – that’s men’s and women’s mags – in every shop, not to mention on the side of every bus. And that’s before we even get to the internet… where two clicks of the mouse in front of me could unleash a torrent of pornography beyond the comprehension of most in humanity’s long and varied history.

Enough is enough, surely? Never mind the church – is there anyone left in the world who truly believes this is a good idea?? We vilify the sex offender, but titillate him at every turn. We preach respect and equality between sexes to girls, but forbid them to walk 100 yards without being confronted by an airbrushed image of an idealised girl in underwear, against whom she’s going to be judged by society at large. We urge sexual responsibility to the young, whilst bombarding them with a message of promiscuity and ready nymphomania in all they watch or read. Here is truly where the visitor from the ‘less civilised’ world rubs their eyes and wonders which they’ve entered – Sodom or Gomorrah… again surely enough is enough?!

Yet in this mess of a sexually super-charged society we find perhaps our best chance to show ourselves as something different, perhaps even something better. The way we (and I’m speaking from a man’s perspective here) conduct ourselves among the landmines of sexualised convention, compared to how little the world expects of us, will be noticed more than almost anything else short of shouting ‘I’m saved!’ from the office window. To be the one who abstains from an office game of ‘Who would you rather…?’, the one who doesn’t read the lad-mags, the one who doesn’t loudly voice their desire to bed whichever celebrity is being discussed or comment on the anatomy of a female colleague, the one who doesn’t boast of ‘getting lucky’ on a first date… these things will be noticed by those around us and may well be appreciated, particularly by women sick of being compared like slabs of meat whilst being pressured into pretending it’s all the best thing ever.

No-one wants to see a Christian tut-tutting and shaking their head in judgement at the way another is living, but we can nonetheless withhold our endorsement of sexual misbehaviour, if only by doing something different ourselves. Believe me, I am not, never have been, nor will I ever be, perfect – Nina would be the first to point it out. But I refuse to surrender to my lesser nature, and neither should anybody else. ‘I couldn’t help myself’ is the most pathetic phrase a man can speak, and it’s spoken all the time to excuse every different level of infidelity by men cosy in the knowledge their society will condone such an abdication of self-control. We are better than animals and, contrary to popular belief, our world is crying out for fidelity, faithfulness and respect. They would certainly go a long way towards restoring faith in the church as whole.