In his essay that launched Current in 2021, Eric Miller exhorted readers and writers to join him “In the Arena” and have some intellectual fun in exploring topics that are, most of the time, quite serious. And, indeed, in a variety of forms — shorter op-ed style pieces, occasional long-form essays, creative non-fiction, humor pieces, and thought-provoking book reviews — Current, now just two months removed from its second birthday, continues to do just this. Meanwhile, John Fea’s blog, which predates Current by over a decade, and now harmoniously resides side-by-side with it on this site, has been documenting one particular type of arena in detail – the world of evangelical politics, broadly defined.
But the image of the arena that started the conversations on this site has additional, no less significant meanings, if we consider its premodern implications. It is these implications – social, cultural, historical, theological – that this new blog will take up in brief daily snapshots.
The arena, after all, was originally the place of blood sports. Sometimes it seems like it still is. It is a place of lions, gladiators, and sometimes obsessive spectators, who get addicted to following these sports.
The lions in the ancient arena were sometimes the hunters — of, say, Christian martyrs or others who had been deemed criminals in the Roman world. Then at other times, the lions were the hunted – for instance, during elaborate gladiatorial games that pitted man and beast for entertainment. And that gets us to, perhaps, the most important component of all: the spectators.
No arena could ever exist without spectators, as basic supply and demand logic reminds us. At the same time, what is in the arena shapes the spectators themselves, sometimes in unexpected ways. Augustine wrote about the emotionally and spiritually dangerous nature of the arena and its blood sports in his Confessions, mentioning a friend who developed an all-consuming addiction. It is an important warning tale for any of us in the modern virtual arena, as we surround ourselves with too much information, some of it decidedly untrustworthy. So, on this blog we contend that what we present to our “spectators” matters for their minds and souls as much as our own.
But there is one last and, perhaps, most important dimension to consider. For something so simple in the Roman world as knowing who plays which role in the arena, has become so complicated in our own world. In the modern culture wars, as they touch on the realms of entertainment, interpretation of the historical past, and politics, who are the lions? Who are the spectators? And who are the martyrs? Everyone would like to think of themselves as the last category, but at least part of the time, they are sorely mistaken. The result is a more vicious sport than any that the ancient arenas have ever seen, even if no blood is being shed.
And so, on this blog, brief snapshots from this conflicted arena will follow. Observe at your own risk, from a safe distance. The Lion is never safe, as C.S. Lewis reminds us.
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