I'm a Mormon. So, in spite of that fact that there are many other religions in the world, I'm going to speak predominantly from my own experience as a Mormon. At the age of 19, I volunteered 2 years of my life as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (Yep, one of those guys in the white shirts and black name tags that knocks on your door trying to baptize you.) For two years, I walked around the slums of Buenos Aires, Argentina from sun up to sun down every single day for two years, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with everyone I met.
Over the years, UFC champion Jon Jones has drawn a lot of attention from critics for the large tattoo on his chest reading "Philippians 4:13", a Bible verse which reads "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (KJV) - many other fighters have also been criticized for offering a pre or post fight prayer. After all, Jesus was basically a pacifist hippy, right?
really? Do these look like the actions of a pacifist?
My mother stopped me and asked what the whip was for. I replied "I'm going to whip Charlie, of course!"
"But what would Jesus do?" my mother sang out.
"Jesus would do the exact same thing- just like the time he made a whip and beat all the bad people in the temple." I retorted. My mother didn't know what to say, after all, it is in the Bible. So I marched off, whip in hand, trying to be more like Jesus.
As an adult, the lesson I take from Jesus' actions in the temple: religious reverence is much more than just sitting quietly with folded arms and a bowed head, thinking nice thoughts and doing no harm. Jesus exercised violence in the Temple of Solomon that day, but he also showed extreme reverence- not for the men in the temple, but for the God the temple was built to worship.
"And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business." (John 2:14-16 ESV)
There's a lot in there that resonates with me about coming to terms with the ego.
Now, I could tell you some nonsense about how martial arts isn't about violence, and how it's really about some deep, super important, transcendent, glorious principles- but at the end of the day, it's about whatever you want it to be about.
Some fighters are noble, charitable, loving, awesome human beings. Some fighters are horrible, selfish, sadistic people who's goal is to hurt other human beings. Fortunately, most of the professional fighters I know are much more dynamic individuals who know how to distinguish between emotion & action, and violence & sport.
When I started out in professional combat sports, fighting was about one thing only: making money. It was a job- another paycheck to help make ends meet.
I got a constant stream of criticism and disparaging remarks for moonlighting as a fighter in Utah (arguably the most conservative, religious state in the USA.) but the most common remark was always "aren't you afraid you'll get hurt?"
Nobody ever asked me that when I worked in a factory where I saw several of my coworkers pulled into machinery that tore their limbs apart- where I suffered permanent hearing loss from the constant 130 decibel cacophony of the assembly lines running 24/7- where I injured my back again and again bearing heavy burdens for 16 unrelenting hours a day- where one wrong step or a simple slip up could have cost me my life in a hundred different ways. No one gave a damn about my safety in that job. But as soon as I stepped into a cage or a boxing ring where the most likely injury was a black eye, everyone lost their minds.
Since then, I've adopted this motto:
Life is a fight. Fight back.
What a lot of people don't know about the most famous/infamous Mormon who ever lived is that he was an accomplished athlete, and a highly competitive wrestler.
I've been researching for a few years trying to figure out exactly what style of wrestling Joseph Smith competed in back in the 1800's. From the various anecdotes and journal snippets I've read, it looks like he frequently participated in 3 different styles:
1. His personal favorite was a regional folk style where the objective was either to throw the opponent out of the competition area or on his back inside the competition area. Apparently submission techniques were also allowed since Smith used some variation of a straight ankle lock to break the leg of Howard Coray 3 inches above the ankle when they wrestled under these rules.
2. A style called "Side-hold wrestling". I haven't been able to find out anything about it other than the name and that it was something people did back in the 1800's in parts of the southeastern USA.
3. Catch-as-catch-can: (If you're not familiar with this sport, the objective is simple: win by pin or submission) Most of the stories I found about Joseph Smith's wrestling praise his athletic prowess and suggest that he was kind of a badass when it came to throwing down with the mat moves (although they didn't use mats back then). However, in a catch-rules match with an elderly man named Cornelius P. Lott, Smith was neither able to throw, pin, nor submit the much older Lott. The match ended in forfeit after Smith realized he could not beat his opponent.
Wrestling doesn't have the ultra-violent blood-sport stigmas attached to that MMA does, but it's no less intense, no less less physical, and in many important ways, no less violent and dangerous- especially the way it was practiced in the 18th and early 19th centuries in the USA and the UK.
Today, many opponents of Mormonism call attention to various church doctrines or discontinued practices to point out perceived errors in the LDS church beliefs. But in Joseph Smith's day, the ministers of other religions would deride him for participating in the brutish sport of wrestling. After, all, what kind of prophet of God would get into a fight? Shouldn't prophets be holy symbols of niceness with all the airs or pomp and circumstance of the Pope at all times?
Let's look at the Bible:
The patriarch Jacob (later renamed Israel) literally wrestled with an angel for hours on end in order to attain a blessing from God, according to Genesis 32:22-32
The prolific prophet Elijah personally executed no less than 450 of the priests of Baal after they failed to match the God of Israel in a contest to see who's God could rain down fire from heaven (1 Kings 18:20-40)
Moses, while best known for delivering Israel from Egyptian bondage, parting the red sea and bringing the ten commandments down from Mount Sinai, was a warrior prophet who lead his people in many battle campaigns after their exodus from Egypt. Not to mention the fact that he personally beat an Egyptian to death for assaulting a Hebrew slave.
Joshua, the successor to Moses was a warrior-prophet for the duration of his life, as was his successor Gideon.
Ehud, the left handed judge of Israel took matters into his own hands literally when he killed the evil king Eglon with a foot long dagger to once again free Israel from captivity.
Under the direction of the prophetess Debora (yep, she was a woman) Jael (another woman) hammered a tend peg through the head of general Sisera to once again liberate the Israelites from captivity.
Let's define some terms:
Violence vs Action
If you're familiar with UFC announcer Bruce Buffer, you'll notice that he always refers to what goes on in the cage as "action" instead of violence (eg: "The referee called a stop to the action...") Legally, violence is defined as "the unlawful exercise of physical force or intimidation by the exhibition of such force." So to call combat sports "violence" is to imply that they are wrong/bad/illegal, which is clearly not the case.
Political science professor William Ruger of Princeton University defined politics as "The legitimate use of violence." Why is it not okay for one man to shoot his neighbor during a property dispute, but on a wide scale, we can justify sending thousands of men to shoot thousands of other men in a war over territory? On the difference is the scale and size of the conflict. Deeper down, the difference is how many people agree to justify the violence.
Anything we do or say to justify our violence as legitimate is supremicism (the belief that one person or group is superior to another person or group). Politics is supremicism. The divisions we draw between us politically, culturally, ethnically, etc are supremacism. And "our violence" doesn't just mean physical action that causes harm- any action, thought or word that we use to tell ourselves: that person is not as good as me, that person is not as human as me- that is violence because it is an attack on that person's humanity.
But wait, isn't the whole point of a sport fight to see which fighter is better? Yes- to see which is a better FIGHTER, not a better human being. Big difference. Fairly measuring the value of others as athletes is sport. Unfairly measuring the value of others as human beings is violence.
This is usually an argument used by people trying to dismiss the notion of religion as silly without any regard to critical thought. The crusaders and other warmongers like them were not following the edicts of their religion. They were following the orders of their government.
Not only were the crusaders illiterate, but the Bible hadn't even been published at that point in history (other than the few hand written copies in Latin & Greek only, in the hands of the clergy only) so they had no way of knowing what the theological ramifications of Christianity were supposed be other than what they were told by the State. And what the crusaders were told was that the King spoke for God, so if the King says go to war and kill, you go to war and kill or you're branded as a traitor and a heretic.
Greedy and conspiring people willfully disregarding the teachings of the Bible while capitalizing on the ignorance of the faithful masses who could not read it- that's what we're talking about here. That's exploitation, not religion.
It wasn't until centuries later that the common man could actually crack open a Bible and read that bit says "thou shalt not kill", and "love your neighbor as yourself" for themselves in their own language- at least without inciting the wrath of the King and being ceremoniously executed as a heretic as was William Tyndale (the first guy to translate the whole Bible into English)
Religion is not what you SAY, it's what you DO. It's not the text of the books you claim to believe in. It's not the flowery language that comes out of your mouth while praying or singing praises. It's not what your pastors, priests, or prophets have professed. It's what you DO.
A lot of people say, "I don't believe in religion", or "I don't have a religion" or "I don't even believe in God so how can I can have a religion?" That's only what you say. What you DO is your religion. Everyone practices a religion. Everyone.
"But Ramsey, some dictionary entries say religion has something to do with worship of supernatural beings and some people don't believe in..." Let me stop you right there because you haven't been listening: religion is not what's written down in a book. It's what you personally DO.
Adolf Hitler said he was Christian. Before his rise to power, he went through all the "Christian" motions, said all the right "Christian" words, read all the right "Christian" books. He said the Nazi movement was a "Christian" movement. And then they DID unspeakable things which were clearly not taught by Jesus.
Frequently we hear news stories about religious extremists doing horrible things that directly contradict the teachings of their scriptures. Clearly their religions are of fear, and pain, not the ones written about in the books.
Just as often we hear accounts of churches that organize public movements to shame and intimidate others instead of showing them a better way by loving, helping, uplifting, and serving them.
The internet contains the remnants of billions of heated arguments on the topic of religion- not discussions from individuals concerned for the welfare of the eternal souls of their fellow man, but rather struggles to feed their own pride, to prove they are right and the other person is wrong.
And before you think to say "this just goes to show that religion is dumb" or "and that's why I don't practice religion" No. This goes to show that religion is what you DO, not what you say. That's true for people who call themselves Christians, or Muslims, or Atheists, or Agnostic, or Mormon, or if you follow some weird cult, or if you're into new age thinking and you just think the universe is super groovy- your religion is not your label- it's how you live your life.
I'm going to illustrate this point with some concepts from the New Testament: we've got a narrative about a super religious culture where some of the people were extremely zealous about following all the rules in the book to the letter, or else, and they made sure everyone knew it. After all, what's the point of being super religious if you don't flaunt how righteous you're being to whole world? Or so they thought. Then Jesus comes along and does everything the opposite, and it drives people crazy that Jesus is teaching people to actually DO stuff that matters instead of ACTING like they're doing stuff that matters.
So we end up with this super long book called the Bible. It's so long, in fact, that it's easy to forget sections of important stuff on a single read-through, or even if you've read 100 times cover to cover.
And somewhere towards the back of the book, this dude named James who spent a lot of time with Jesus wrote a much better explanation about religion and faith than any dictionary I've seen. He said "If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."
Singer Ricardo Arjona wrote a brilliant song called "Jesus, Amigo, es Verbo, no Sustantivo" in English: Jesus, my friend, is a Verb, not a noun. It's a call to action for believers and non-believers alike to show their righteous convictions through their daily actions instead of hiding behind ceremony and word play. The song is a play on the word choice in Vulgate (Latin New Testament) passage John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The Latin term used for "word" is "verbum", the same root of the English word "verb". Meaning that Jesus isn't supposed to be just any word, Jesus is an ACTION word. So the religion of Jesus should be a religion of action, not just useless words that do nothing.
If you call yourself a Christian, don't say it, prove it. If you call yourself by any name, don't say it, prove it. If you call yourself a decent person,don't say it, prove it. Because in the end, that's our religion. That's the only religion.
So, to sum up: before you judge a cage fighter, or anyone for that matter, as a violent person who's actions contradict your understanding of religion, make sure you understand the religion of action. It's quite different from the religion of make-believe, I assure you.