My son is in his 20s. He’s a devoted Christian. He also loves motorcycles. I hate them, and have seen too many young people killed on them. He says ‘Mom, if it’s my time, it’s my time.’ How can I caution him and make him take me seriously? I think the Lord gives you the good sense to make good decisions.
THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:
“Religion Q and A” usually avoids personal issues on which mere journalists have little to offer. But Barbara raises an important topic to examine: What in fact does Christianity say about protecting yourself from physical harm?
Mom certainly has a point, given National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. On a per-mile basis, U.S. motorcyclists are killed in traffic 27 times more often than those using other vehicles, and they’re 6 times more likely to suffer injuries short of death. The latest report last August said 2015 motorcycle fatalities jumped 8.3 percent from the prior year, to 4,976, with 1,365 of these involving alcohol impairment. The proportion of motorcyclists among all traffic deaths was 11 percent in 2006 and increased to 14 percent in 2015.
As politicians and the media popularize expanded marijuana usage, on top of the huge and lethal problem of drunk driving, all categories of highway homicide may well increase. A 2013 report showed 10 million people age 12 and up admitted driving under the influence of illegal drugs. We lack good numbers on how often pot or other drugs cause deaths with motorcycles or otherwise because police lack a reliable roadside test, and those who die often combine drugs with alcohol so it’s impossible to say which substance was to blame.
One thing about motorcycling, though. At least the hands are engaged so riders aren’t distracted with text messaging, an increasing and deadly plague.
All of the above, combined with the son’s cavalier and immature remark about death and danger, bring us to the broader theme of what his Christian religion teaches.
In Jewish biblical belief, continued on by Christianity, God proclaimed his material creation “good,” and it became “very good” with the advent of humanity “in the image of God.” The corollary is that God’s creations, including human bodies, are worthy of honor and protection.
The related commandment of God, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) is quoted and affirmed by Jesus Christ (Matthew 19:19) and the Apostle Paul (Romans 13:9). Churches usually emphasize love of neighbor, but love of the self (within biblical constraints) is also mandated.
What, then, is the “self” that’s to be loved? Biblical humanity unites the soul and body God created, as the Catholic Catechism teaches: “The human person, made in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual” (#362). Similarly, noted Jewish moralist Leon Kass of the University of Chicago says human life is “understood as a grown togetherness of body and soul,” in opposition to any modern attempts to pit personhood against “nature and the body,” attempts that cannot “do justice to the concrete reality of our embodied lives.”
Christianity became even more physical-oriented than biblical Judaism by asserting that the eternal God became “incarnate” in the man Jesus: “Every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God. . .” (1 John 4:2). Also this: “He was manifested in the flesh . . . ” (1 Timothy 3:16). Likewise with belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and as the future promise for those who believe in him.
Such was the case when the 2nd and 3rd Century church rejected the quasi-Christian movement known as Gnosticism, a fond and fashionable interest among some present-day scholars. Gnostic writings often presented the true self as being captive within a despised body.
Back to motorcycles. Most Christians think it’s perfectly proper to undertake jobs that help others even though they involve danger, for instance police and military service, firefighting, or mining. But motorcycling is a risky recreational choice, not a necessity.
Still, The Guy would hesitate to proclaim that the son and his soulmates must surrender their beloved bikes in order to be faithful Christians. Why there’s even a Christian Motorcyclists Association (“If you’re looking for a place to enjoy the sport of motorcycling in a clean, safe environment, come ride with us.”) The group — yes — affirms belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection.
At minimum, biblical teaching means motorcyclists must love and thus protect themselves, and equally love and protect their neighbors on the highway. That requires getting thorough training, keeping intently alert on the road, donning safety-first helmets and gear, never taking risky chances, and strictly shunning substances that impair judgment.
Extending the theology of bodily protection, why do so many joggers and bicyclists spurn lights and reflectors after dark? Why do so many car drivers turn into bullies, and pedestrians into daredevils? What do we make of the vocation of Christian tightrope stunt man Nik Wallenda? And what does this say about the physical dangers from smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, poor diets, and pollution of the environment?