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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Father Elias waxes lyrical about the morality of the fight game

For me, the moral discussion about combat sports is less concerned with the fighters than with the spectators!

The moral risk of combative sports is not so much in the fighting itself, as in the moral disposition of those watching it. Not the fighters, but the spectators are in urgent need of education. Young boxers have trainers, who often are good teachers of life, but the spectators, whom do they have?

I believe the symbolic language of power games (in other words, competitive fighting) naturally leads a community to a supremely realistic moment, a key element of the common good: to adore the almighty Creator. If it doesn’t lead there, it drags each spectator into is own little quagmire of a virtual imagery, where is lonely soul can briefly find back its lost ideal self – which might actually be quite a beastly one.

It’s all about the difference between Greece and Rome, between the Olympic stadium and the Roman amphitheatre.

The Olympic Games were a religious feast. Sure, the violence of its boxing and free fight contests should not be underestimated – today it wouldn’t be tolerated. But the champions were educated free citizens and their names were known to all. City walls were broken down in their honour. They were persons, part of the community.

On the other hand the gladiatorial fights (their religious origins are not clear, and surely were lost) were creating a kind virtual reality for civilians far away from danger and warfare, protected by law and order. Much in same way today’s computer games create violent fantasies in a society that often condemns fighting itself, and is no longer aware of the cost of freedom.

It’s very paradoxical! Those gladiatorial fights were deadly for the actors themselves, but somehow only virtual for the spectators. The gladiators were only slaves. For us it’s hard to grasp what this means! Those men had lost their freedom, so they didn’t really live - and therefore they couldn’t really die… Their names were sometimes known, but their corpses usually ended up in mass graves anyway.

During their lives, they were never part of society; they did not share the common good. Only some regained freedom before death. Greek athletes had a face and received a symbolic crown as sign of glory. If they happened to kill someone during a bout, they would not be proclaimed winner! Gladiators on the contrary were covered in an armoury that hardly protected them, but that was exaggeratedly decorative and hid their face. The aim of the fight was to kill – even though historians have calculated that at the time of Emperor Augustus a gladiator’s chance of dying during a fight was ‘only’ 10%.

So this is what I would like to consider: Where do we go to watch a fight? Do we choose Olympia or the Colosseum? Do we want to be led beyond the limits of our narrow world, or do we want to compress everything into our own fantasy? Are we open to a higher adventurous ‘real’ reality or do we reduce everything to our all too predictable virtual reality? Combat sports may play a crucial role in saving today’s youth from a losing themselves in fantasy’s vanity– and from wasting their once given lives


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