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Tuesday, March 20th, 2007
I just saw the movie The 300 last night and loved it. For what it was supposed to be, I give it an A+. I might well agree with many of the charges people will level against, it, but those charges tend to assume it is a different genre of movie altogether. For them, I recommend the old The 300 Spartans, which I just watched for the first time about a year ago, before I knew this current version was coming out.
Watching this movie, I was alternately repulsed and attracted to the Spartan culture. I think that much of what I saw there was good. Much of it was obviously evil, too. But I think our culture has thrown out the baby with the bathwater. Initiation is a good idea, as were many others. Teasing out just which aspects of Sparta were bad is difficult business. So we need an appropriate tool.
I want to use the medieval disputation style to compare and contrast aspects of Spartan and Christian culture. Peter Abelard developed this in his famous Sic et Non (Yes and No), where apparent contradictions between sayings of the Fathers and the Scriptures were arranged and harmonization was attempted, after clearly showing just how much contrast there was between some sayings.
For those unused to this kind of idea, you read to the end before you judge what is going on with this. This is kind of like a debate where one person tries to present both sides of the debate. The method itself is an attempt to keep people from one-sided thinking. If you just read the first arguments under the heading "Warrior Culture - Sic," you'll imagine I've lost my mind. Patience, reader. I'm presenting some arguments on each side that I might not make myself. And to the purist, I am not following perfect disputation form. I'm dipping in to the tradition of disputation and adopting helpful elements.
Warrior Culture - Sic
A. It would seem that the Spartan Warrior culture is compatible with Christianity.
1. On the one hand, many wars were fought in the Old Testament at God's bequest. The conquest of Canaan under Joshua was incredibly bloody, yet it was according to God's will (See Joshua chapters 1-12).
2. Also, warriors are extolled. They are called "men of valor" (Joshua 1:15). David says of Saul and Jonathan that they were the glory of Israel (2 Samuel 1:19).
3. In addition, Jesus enjoins the disciples to carry swords (Luke 22:36).
4. St. Paul says the ruler does not bear the sword in vain, and seems to grant it legitimacy (Romans 13:4).
5. Further, buffeting of the body is helpful to salvation (1 Cor. 9:27).
6. Finally, it is important that fathers give training to their sons, and the Spartan way at least allowed the father to introduce the son into a male role in the world.
Warrior Culture - Non
B. On the contrary, it would seem that the Spartan Warrior culture is incompatible with Christianity.
1. On the one hand, Christians are told "Thou shalt not kill" and "He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword," (Matthew 26:52) suggesting that sword-wielding brings judgment with it.
2. Also, it is the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), not the warmongers, who will be called the sons of God.
3. In addition, the early church excommunicated soldiers and even Christian emperors found it difficult to start wars because a Christian population was unsupportive of them. This only changed with the crusades, after Islam's devastating conquests tempted Christians to fight fire with fire (See Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity, Chapter V. "The Influence of Islam").
4. Further, bodily exercise profits little (1 Timothy 4:8), so the time spent on physical training is to be considered wasted time.
5. The Lord tells us that all authority comes from God (Romans 13:1). These authorities created public schools. So fathers should send their sons to public schools and tell them to obey their teachers.
The Old Testament wars were typological, and are not to be taken as normative. God had a realm over which he reigned in the nation of Israel. Now he intends to reign, but with a rule which is not of this world. So warring is not the means of advancing the boundaries of the kingdom as it was in the Old Testament. Against A1
David and Saul and Jonathan are glorious men, but are in a class where few men in history have ever stood, the ground where typology comes down into the real world of men. Against A2
Sword-bearing among the disciples was for purposes of self-defense. And the sword-bearing of the ruler was for policing. These swords were to keep the peace, not to create more bloodshed. Against A3 and A4
Yet this is a valid role in our world, which is not a typologically perfect kingdom. So "He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword" may be the root text behind Romans 13:4. The bloodthirsty man shall be put to the sword by the law-abiding ruler. Against B1
Such a law-abiding ruler could better be considered a peacemaker rather than a warmonger. Against B2
The buffeting of the body that is helpful to salvation is not just any buffeting. St. Paul even condemns forms of self-abasement and severe treatment of the body where they are of no value against fleshly indulgence (Colossians 2:21-23). St. Paul's treatment of himself was, in light of this, something he himself saw a specific rationale for. Spartan discipline per se may have some value, but its ability to produce results helpful to Christianity will have to be scrutinized. We may make a man fearless of fire, and so more likely to walk fearlessly to martyrdom. But if he has not love, perhaps his sacrifice will be worthless (1 Cor. 13:3), and perhaps fear of divine wrath will itself be quenched. Against A5
Yet where we are told that bodily exercise profiteth little, this is likely in light of eternity. Compared to salvation, we receive little profit from exercise. Yet in light of eternity, many things are next to worthless. The practical question is, how do these things compare to each other. I'm not sure the study of Algebra would carry much more weight on the Pauline scale. Against B4
While all authority comes from God, earthly rulers do not have a blank check to do whatever they wish with their power. The Hebrew midwives were not "resisting the ordinance of God" when they lied to the soldiers who came to kill the newborns. As to public schooling, compulsory schooling did have its origin at bayonet-point when the town of Barnstable, Massachusetts fell to seige, and its children were marched to school by soldiers. This was a use of the sword for something other than the prevention of bloodshed, though such was its rationale in the beginning. Whether or not we decide to comply with state mandates, this does not absolve fathers of the duty of raising their sons and educating them with a good education. They are not to abdicate that responsibility to experts. For God created families. In the hands of experts, children will be treated as Elwood P. Cubberley said, "to be shaped and formed into finished products... manufactured like nails, and the specifications for manufacturing will come from government and industry." A school that wishes to treat your son as a finished product for the sake of industry is not what God had in mind in his creation. God wishes adults to be free adults (Galatians 4:7) and not slaves. To raise people for enslavement is evil. If you send your son into the nail factory, you had better have a plan for how he will emerge as a man and not a nail. Against B5
It is important that fathers give training to their sons. In Sparta, this involved a separation from the mother. The ancients knew this was necessary. The founders of modern schooling, however, had psychological goals when they drove male teachers out of the field of teaching. This was done by design. For some time, they paid them less, at a time when men expected to make more than women, shaming them. Sons are put under the authority of women for more than a decade. This is done to soften them and make them compliant. But easy compliance is not an altogether good thing. And what does this do to the admonition of 1 Timothy 2:12? If the prohibition against a woman exercising authority over a man is rooted in creation, as verse 13 says, then is not the public school, at least in later years, a violation of the picture we see in Genesis?
This is the nugget of the problem. We are straining this way and that to somehow comply with a way of doing things that was engineered by those who hated the Bible. It is one thing to ask whether we are permitted to work within this system given social constraints. It is another thing altogether to fail to ask whether we are called to something better. We are.
We were created for something. Not war. But the keeping of the peace sometimes requires a sword. Not slavery. Not doing the bidding of industry. It will no doubt require generations of initiated men to begin to recover what we have lost. In the meantime, a movie like 300 Spartans reminds us that there is a lot to admire in lost ages. And a closer look reveals that where they may have fallen short of a good society, we may be equidistant from it in ways we have not noticed.
8:33 pm Pacific Standard Time
Thursday, March 1st, 2007
It has been suggested to me that my last post has drawn in comments on two separate issues, one of Luther's interpretation of the Fourth Commandment in the Large Catechism, and another on the nature of Confessional subscription for laymen. This was a natural outgrowth of how the discussion originally came up. But it is not proving to be best for discussion. In any case, I want to suggest that any comments on the nature of Confessional Subscription go here, rather than on the earlier post. That way a more theoretical discussion doesn't get hijacked by a more personal one.
12:35 pm Pacific Standard Time