Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Public Spectacles - The Instructor on a compendious view of the Christian life

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read my introduction to this chapter as it will help you understand his views in this area.
"The Instructor will not then bring us to public spectacles; nor inappropriately might one call the racecourse and the theatre 'the seat of plagues;' for there is evil counsel as against the Just One, and therefore the assembly against Him is execrated. These assemblies, indeed, are full of confusion and iniquity; and these pretexts for assembling are the cause of disorder—men and women assembling promiscuously if for the sight of one another." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
Some of the "public spectacles" in Clement's day included sporting events, public games, and the theater. What was of concern to Clement was first that these events were conducted in opposition to God. These events were often dedicated to some false god or daemon and, in the case of the theater, were even considered as being religious in honoring of their daemon gods. In the theater they reenacted some of the more licentious behaviors of their immoral gods in an attempt to honor them and teach their stories to men. Why would God want us to be partakers of that which is in opposition to Him. For example, why would God want us to attend a concert where the songs are sung in opposition to God and are full of licentiousness, lewdness, violence, and immorality? Certainly, the Instructor who loves and cares for us would not lead us there.
In this respect the assembly has already shown itself bad: for when the eye is lascivious, the desires grow warm; and the eyes that are accustomed to look impudently at one’s neighbours during the leisure granted to them, inflame the amatory desires. Let spectacles, therefore, and plays that are full of scurrility and of abundant gossip, be forbidden. For what base action is it that is not exhibited in the theatres? And what shameless saying is it that is not brought forward by the buffoons? And those who enjoy the evil that is in them, stamp the clear images of it at home. And, on the other hand, those that are proof against these things, and unimpressible, will never make a stumble in regard to luxurious pleasures." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
Furthermore, why should we go where the desires of our flesh are aroused by what we see? For example, subjecting ourselves to the inciting sights at a movie where nudity and immorality are graphically shown on the big screen? Or why should we attend a "party" where people are dressed to such an immodest degree that our illicit desires are "warmed"? Clement warns that those who partake of such affronts to the eyes and soul will bear their stamp and image at home. We cannot take in such images and not remain unchanged.
"For if people shall say that they betake themselves to the spectacles as a pastime for  recreation, I should say that the cities which make a serious business of pastime are not wise; for cruel contests for glory which have been so fatal are not sport. No more is senseless expenditure of money, nor are the riots that are occasioned by them sport. And ease of mind is not to be purchased by zealous pursuit of frivolities, for no one who has his senses will ever prefer what is pleasant to what is good." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
We all have times when we need to "unwind" and relax for a while, but we must not abandon reason and wisdom in seeking such relaxation. We must never trade what is good for what feels good; trading the temporal pleasures of sin for certain and eternal goods. There are many things that can relax and refuel our minds and bodies, but they are not the things that seek to inflame our soul. Let us use wisdom in choosing our relaxation and allow it to not only refresh our bodies but also our soul and our consciousness before God.

David Robison

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