Monday, 13 June 2016

Faith and Entertainment: A Case Study from Professional Wrestling

Many Christians usually engage with entertainment (movies, TV shows, music, or sports events) in two ways: They try to look for 'subtle' signs of satanism or the Illuminati or they reject any form of secular entertainment altogether. 

One can point out to specific denominations that are prone to such thinking, especially Baptists (with due respect). But such thinking pervades all denominations. For example, the Rev. Joseph Diwan (veteran priest in the Church of Pakistan and Vicar of my congregation) has labelled mass media, fashion, video games, and even Pokemon as 'abominations' in his book Khuda kay Nazdeek Makroohat. 

Of course, there are others (especially Evangelicals) who take a middle-path, trying to bridge the gap between faith and entertainment. And I think this is the best way to go if we are to truly become the salt and the light of this world. 

To prove this, I am going to provide a case study from professional wrestling (specifically WWE). I aim to show how often those who look for grand conspiracies of satanism in television programming are often myopic and rather paranoid. They fail to see how God works in all sectors of the human society.

The Sacrilege of 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin 

'Stone Cold' Steve Austin is arguably the most popular WWE superstar in history. Although his career was cut short by an in-ring injury, he still has an amazing fan base.

He is still one of the highest (if not
the highest) revenue generators for the company. Austin's success skyrocketed in 1996 when many popular stars were leaving WWE and also the company had entered a rivalry with a major competitor. But what many people don't notice is that his fame has a lot to do with mockery of Christianity as evidenced in his catchphrase "Austin 3:16" (as opposed to John 3:16). 

That this sacrilege was the backbone of Austin's success is noted by both Christian and secular media.

…..Austin won the annual pay-per-view tournament. But the biggest step towards superstardom was still to come. As Doc Hendrix conducted a post-match promo with the new King of the Ring, Austin demeaned Roberts' "born again" gimmick stating that unlike the biblical verse John 3:16, "Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your *ss!" A catchphrase was born that soon appeared on T-shirts, hats and anything else the WWE could manufacture. (SLAM! Sports)

Now read what a Christian website had to say on the matter:
Another icon among wrestling fans is known as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who revels in taunting and mocking the Christian faith.
Ted DiBiase… bemoans Austin’s standard performances of beer guzzling, bellowing profanity, and flashing obscene gestures …..He also notes that 6 million Austin 3:16 T-shirts have been sold in this country. Austin’s newest shirt states “‘DO UNTO OTHERS’ ” with a coiled rattlesnake ready to strike- and thus presents Jesus’ words as a perverse reason to initiate acts of aggression.
While you can see why a Christian should object to the Austin character, it is not enough to dismiss WWE and professional wrestling in general based on this one example. This is because there is another example that such Christian websites never talk about. 

The Testimony of 'HBK' Shawn Michaels

'HBK' Shawn Michaels is a superstar of equal stature as Austin. During the height of his career, he was a very provocative and controversial performer. He was also a nude model.  But why isn't he seen as an example of the alleged negative impact of WWE?

This is because Michaels is now a Christian, and WWE let him portray this character on the screen. As I noted in my article on sports:

His controversial career in the WWE almost came to end in 98’ when he suffered an injury that forced him to stay out of action. During this time, he professed faith in Christianity…..He made his comeback 2002, adorning a T-shirt with Philippians 4:13 on it: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’
His return as a born-again Christian was also ‘received with delight as evidenced by the deafening screams of the entire stadium’

This is paradox I am talking about, where one wrestler mocks religion and the other one adorns it. But not only do fans accept both characters unconditionally, both go on to become Hall of Famers.

It is a paradox that the crowd cheers for Austin when he makes fun of Christianity, but they also cheer for Michaels because ‘God is on his side'. Maybe entertainment has a degree of neutrality that we just don't get.

But more than that, when Shawn Michaels was making his retirement speech, he finished by saying "...(I thank) of course, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for saving me...." (See video here, especially from 3:00 minutes onward).

Not only did the crowd applause, but this message was sent across the globe via satellite. Shawn Michaels, while sharing his testimony on TBN  stated that while most of what goes on in professional wrestling was not Christian at all, God had called him for the same purpose as he had called Joseph in the household of the unbelieving Potiphar, namely, to be a blessing (Genesis 39:5).

These are powerful and inspiring words. Not only do they demonstrate a high degree of professionalism, but they radically change the way we do evangelism. I will be as bold as to say that people like Shawn Michaels have managed to achieve more for Christ than the Christians who criticize their faith and their trade. 

For this precise reason, I continue to watch pro-wrestling (and other forms of entertainment), despite being a committed Christian. And that is precisely why Christians like Michaels manage to reconcile their beliefs with what they do best.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

6 Reasons Why My Blog is the Best Christian Website in Pakistan

Humility is a Christian virtue. There is no denying that. In this post, I am not boasting. In all honesty, this website is not worth bragging about. I mean, its a free domain, I don't update regularly, the layout is pretty basic etc.

But even then, my blog is much much better than most (if not all) Christian websites operating from Pakistan. 

I have shared this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt before as well, and I will share it again: 
Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people
Ever since I have heard this quote, I have made it my personal 11th commandment. Keeping this mind, I will not name any Christian website (or Facebook page) specifically, but I will address them all. Note that some of these criticisms apply to several local Christian publications as well.

So here are the 5 reasons why you should be reading my blog if you are into Pakistani Christian content online:

#6 Original Content

What do I mean by that? Most Christian websites and publications openly practice partial and wholesale copy-pasting. I personally know a Christian social media team that pays content writers to recycle news from other sources. An official page of a famous Christian evangelist (who has now become a member of the Hebrew Roots Movement) actually takes content from other Facebook pages and posts it as "Exclusive"! How lame is that???

Several years ago, we received copies of a bilingual religious magazine. My father had volunteered to become the editor for the English section. It featured a series on apologetics which I avidly read every month. Later as I read through Josh McDowell's "Evidence that Demands a Verdict", I was shocked to learn that all those articles were plagiarized from the book! The 'writer' didn't even bother changing the numbering system that McDowell had used for chapter headings and subheadings. 

For the past 4 years since I have been writing this blog, I have always laid out my sources where I have used them. (See examples here and here). I even use royalty-free images. All content is original. 

A royalty-free photo of myself.

#5 Analysis of News vs. Recycling of News

Most Christian 'news' websites and pages have 2 approaches:
  • 'Report' unsubstantiated news from remote parts of Pakistan without dates, actual names, or reports from witnesses
  • Recycle news from other news websites

One wonders, why make the effort? If a news item has been covered by major networks, why not just link to it with a brief summary (content curation)? Why pretend to be reporters? Granted that most news websites (religious and otherwise) operate in this manner, but there is another problem here. Some websites and magazine claim to be the 'voice of Christians in Pakistan', but all they do is regurgitate news of persecution from the major news agencies, owned and operated by Muslims. How ironic!

It is also disturbing when these publications become mouthpieces of televangelists (see next point) or shamelessly spread rumors about prominent Christian politicians and clergy. 

I, on the other hand actually analyze how persecution and political events actually impact the local Christian community. E.g. what happens when a liberal political party plays the 'Blasphemy card'? (read here), or the irony of Christian ministers trying to ban alcohol while Muslim jurists try to annul the penalty of drinking (read here).

#4 Promotion of Other Ministries 

I actively promote ministerial work (other than my own), both local and international. I have started a 'Heroes' series where I aim to profile my spiritual mentors. In addition, I have critiqued and promoted local apologetics initiatives, including MS-CAM ministries.

I was appalled to read a message from Pakistan's most famous televangelist and faith healer, published on perhaps the most popular Pakistani Christian page on Facebook, purported to answer accusations of financial fraud. The actual response of the said Christian leader was: 'they can take their money back anytime if they doubt me'. 

It is too obvious to see that this Facebook page is serving as mouthpiece for this televangelist. They called the accusers 'spiteful', which made their subjectivity evident. Compare this with the review I wrote of an event hosted by MS-CAM (linked above). I first shared that review on the founder's Facebook page. Immediately, some of his friends, fans, and  students lashed out at me, saying that what I wrote is unfair, and the review was removed from the page.

As I write this, I am skimming through another Facebook page of a Christian news website that I have unfortunately 'liked'. The top posts are Urdu translations of quotes from famous Christian preachers, such as:

"Only trust God in your problems" Charles Stanley

"I'm glad now, at age 66, that I never used alcohol or tobacco. . . . I've buried a lot of friends who used tobacco or alcohol." Jerry Falwell

"When God asks to you to move forward, don't ponder upon where you are standing" Beth Morey

Great quotes no doubt, but what in heaven do they have to do with Christians and Christianity in Pakistan? Beats me..

#3 Bilingual Content

Unlike most Christian websites that operate either in English or in Urdu, I am fortunate to run one of the few blogs that publishes content in both languages. I say one of the few because I am aware of some quality apologetic websites that offer bilingual content. Granted that Urdu content on this blog is almost nil in comparison, but I am planning to expand it. Check out my Urdu page here

#2 Theological Analysis of Popular Culture
Christian websites and social media pages in Pakistan only talk about the wider culture when it involves Christians. A ban on a movie starring a Christian actor, an international victory of a Christian athlete etc. All this is good, but once again, you can read such news in the mainstream media run by non-Christians as well. I on the other hand try to draw theological lessons from movies, books, and even professional wrestling! I wish to do this more often. 

#1 A Wider Local Christian Narrative
There is no theme to my blog. It is faith-based writing, and hence it is very broad in its outlook. Perhaps unknowingly, I am trying to weave a wider local Christian narrative. I have blogged about how Christian persecution differs from the persecution of the Shiites and the Ahmadis (read here) and have also written about the peculiarities of Pakistani Christian theology (read here and here). I am yet to see a Christian website or publication that takes such an extensive approach to analyzing news and politics that affect the local church. 

For these reasons and more, you should subscribe to this blog or follow my Facebook page. Oh, BTW, have I told you that my page has only 175 members? Maybe because I don't fudge the numbers by purchasing fake 'likes' like some of my contemporaries. This is the only plausible explanation of why their page 'likes' number in the tens of thousands, but only a few dozen Facebook users actually engage with their posts. 

May God forgive me for writing this, Amen!