“A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.” – Yoda, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
I thought I’d start this blog off with a quote from an actual conversation that took place between myself and a guy in a pub one evening:
You’re a Christian right?
Didn’t Jesus say to turn the other cheek?
He did yeah
So if I slap you, you have to let me slap the other one right?
That’s right, but there’s a slight flaw in your reasoning.
You’re assuming you can hit the first one, and Jesus says nothing about me having to let you do that.
Admittedly, whilst we weren’t drunk, we weren’t going to be passing a police breathalyzer test that night. Fortunately, he didn’t decide to try and hit me, and we just carried on with our game of darts.
As many of you may know, I study martial arts and the subject of self defense comes up occasionally, especially in the context of “turn the other cheek”. It also comes up regarding the respectful act of bowing to instructors, and in some of the more eastern philosophy and concepts. But that’s for another time.
Just what exactly can we do when it comes to defending ourselves?
In one of my first lessons, the instructor said “If you’re in a situation and you can run, run. If you can’t run, try and talk your way out of it. If you can’t do either of those things, only then use what we teach and only enough to get away”. This has stuck with me ever since; it certainly helped that the instructor was very strict on respecting the style and not using our skills to show off. I’ve never really understood what being able to beat someone up actually proves, which is probably why I try to avoid a fight whenever possible.
It’s been a good set of rules to go with, it seemed to work for Jesus. Pretty much anytime he was under threat of physical abuse he’d leave the town. The only time he couldn’t was when the Roman authorities came to arrest him but I’ll come back to this. So what would constitute “doing enough to get away”, assuming that you couldn’t simply run or talk your way out of it? I wouldn’t suddenly start brandishing a sword; if a punch comes towards me, a simple dodge and/or block would be sufficient whilst trying to get out of the situation. If getting out of the situation involved having to hit someone, then I’ll hit them. It’s not something I would enjoy or be proud of, and it’s not something I would do first, but Jesus did send the disciples out with swords (Luke 22:35-38), and some commentaries have suggested that in addition to these being for hunting animals and chopping wood, they would have had them for self defense. Now, I’m not saying that this is a mandate for Christians to carry weapons, but it seems Jesus was happy for them to defend themselves if they needed to.
So what do we do when it comes to defending other people? For me, this should be a no-brainer. If you see someone getting beat up, you step in. I’m not suggesting we all become Batman here, that we go out and find situations to swoop in and help people and beat the bad guys up, but I don’t think Jesus would expect us or command us to simply walk by either. Parable of the Good Samaritan anyone?
Again, diving in with fists first doesn’t need to be the first reaction. Peter pulled out a sword and went for the Roman soldiers before they even did anything, and Jesus wasn’t particularly happy about it. This very much seems to be at odds with the above about Jesus allowing swords for defense, but it seems that context is everything. Yes, Peter went to defend Jesus, but he went on the attack with the intent to harm whilst doing it. I am not suggesting that you harm anyone, but in the course of defending yourself, harming the other person may be unavoidable.
Looking through the Gospels, it seems that Jesus was never faced with a situation that he had no way out of, he was always able to walk away before anything happened. The only exception that I can find was when the Roman soldiers came to arrest him. Being honest, if the authorities came to arrest me, I wouldn’t be putting up much of a struggle. Am I being pedantic? Probably, but I don’t think it’s an irrelevant point. Like anything, it all comes down to context, and the number of scenario’s that people can come up with seem endless. I can’t address every single one, nor do I think what I’ve written above can be universally applied to all of them. Jesus was certainly an advocate for avoiding violence and finding other solutions, (which would be putting it mildly), though he was not above using a whip when the situation called for it. (John 2:15)
When we think about non-violence, it seems to be so simple on the face surface; don’t be violent. Is blocking someone’s attack violent though? Is using a punch to dissuade/distract your attacker so it allows you time to escape, violent? How many punches can your opponent throw before it becomes acceptable to respond? It’s at this point that the discussion on this can get bogged down with semantics and word play, and this blog is most likely an example of that.
The section of my conversation with a stranger at the beginning of this blog is probably a classic example. I think I was correct in what I said, but I wasn’t looking for a fight. Many people seem to think that Christians are supposed to stand idly and let others simply hit and abuse them, which is another reason the subject of self defense comes up. Many people say a violent response simply perpetuates the cycle of violence and they’re right, but I’ve not said to be violent, I’ve only ever said do what you need to do to protect yourself and get out of the situation (there’s that word play). I’m sure there are those who will disagree, who believe that Christians shouldn’t be even studying martial arts (despite the fitness and discipline it instills). It’s very easy to debate the ins and outs from the sidelines, it’s a little different when you’re facing someone intent on hurting you.
The answer to the question in the title should have been a short sharp yes. Given that this is now my 17th draft, it seems it’s really not as simple as that, or maybe it is, but the discussions around context gets complicated. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be attacking each other so there would be no need to defend ourselves; but unfortunately, we don’t live in that kind of world…yet.