Friday, October 26, 2012

Where I’ve been—off being disappointed with Christian Apologists

Recently I became more involved in refereeing soccer (for any readers outside America—football.) Each weekend presents 5 or 6 opportunities to referee players at various levels. There are three referees in each game—a “center” referee (the one with the whistle and the cards) and two “assistant referees” (commonly referred to as “AR”’s) who run up and down the touchline (what most people call the “sideline.”)

As an AR, we are only a few feet from the parents of the players, and therefore hear almost every coaching statement, encouragement and groan…but mostly we are inundated with the complaining:

“Why don’t you call that, ref?”
“She wasn’t offside!”
“Offside, Ref!!”
“Hand Ball!”
“Hand Ball!”
“Hand Ball!”

The two most commonly misunderstood laws—by these parents—are offside and deliberately handling the ball (commonly shortened to “hand ball.”) I won’t go into the technical details of these laws—not important—but it is often very clear the parents don’t have a clue what they are talking about.

Not every player who appears (to the parents) to be offside actually is. Some players who do not appear to be offside (to the parents) actually are. And not every single time the ball strikes a hand is it a “hand ball.”

So behind me, I hear a chorus of shouts, “Offside! Offside!” and when I do not raise my flag, immediately hear groans and whines about how I won’t make a call that was obvious to a blind person in a dark room, and I clearly favor the other team and I am the most incompetent referee ever. Doesn’t bother me; I have very thick skin and part of the soccer experience is to hear complaints from coaches and parents. Not only is it home vs. visitor, but there is a bit of coach vs. referee and parents vs. referee as well. At times, I am secretly amused by how wrong (and uninformed) these parents are.

Which is where I am more likely to get in trouble. See, these are the times I want to explain why it is I am calling their son offside; or why their daughter’s actions constituted a “hand ball” whereas the opposing player’s did not. I want to explain, because in my mind I am thinking they would like to be informed regarding the laws, so they will know better in the future.

But these parents are not interested in being informed. These parents are not there to learn the laws of the game. The last thing these parents want is game instruction. They want their child’s team to win. Win, win, win! And any call (or lack of call) by the referee standing in the way of winning is the equivalent of a deadly insult.

I know this because I watch what happens when their own players commit the same actions and the parents are strangely quiet. Ball hits an opposing player’s hand? “Hand ball! Hand ball!” Ball hits own teams’ hand? Not even crickets chirping.

Last week I was refereeing and the red team’s player collided with the blue team’s player—the red player ended up on the ground. Behind me I heard, “Foul, ref! He just knocked our kid to the GROUND and you aren’t going to call anything?” (There wasn’t any foul.) About two minutes later, a red player tripped a blue player and the blue player ended up on the ground. The center (correctly) whistled for a tripping foul. The exact same parent yells, “Just because they end up on the ground, doesn’t mean there was a foul!” I wanted to laugh out loud—they didn’t even realize their own contradictory statements.

So at times, I have an initial reaction where I want to explain to the parents why it is the call is being made the way it is…

Parent: “Offside! She is way past the last defender!”*
Me: [in my mind] “True…but she is not past the ball, and therefore does not meet all the requirements of offside.”

*I know it is technically the second-to-last defender, but no parent ever shouts this.

But I wisely keep my mouth shut. Why?—because that parent has no interest whatsoever in why the offside was not being called…all they care about is a perceived infringement going unpunished that could result in their team not winning. My explanation would only inflame them.

I have the same reaction to Apologists. I am happy to discuss with them, but my approach is unlike their own. I figure they genuinely are interested in a counter-factual, or opposing argument, or even the differing positions from other Christians.

They are not.

They are interested in one thing only—to win at all costs. My explanations only inflame them; my arguments are dismissed before being read. My statements ignored through claims of “bias,” my claims discounted because I am an atheist and therefore anything I say MUST be incorrect.

Once, I did it for the lurkers. Now, I do it because it amuses me much like soccer parents. And before apologists get offended by this statement—you only bring it on yourselves.


  1. You can do it for us lurkers and for your own amusement. Either way I always enjoy your writing.

  2. Your article comparing soccer refereeing to Christian apologists was right in the ten-ring.

    Just for your info, counterfactual doesn't refer to opposing argument. This link should help:

    Keep up the good work.


  3. I think the difference is that at some level the soccer parents do understand that there exists the possibility that their little darlings might be outscored within the rules of the game. They understand that their team can be guilty of being off sides or committing a handball even if they are unable to recognize individual instances of it. The fact that a call goes against their team is not proof in itself of cheating or bias.

    The apologist on the other hand doesn't recognize the possibility that his team can lose. He already knows the divinely revealed truth and the mere fact that an argument undermines his position is sufficient to make it invalid.

  4. I'm glad you're amused! I do not enjoy finding myself in the midst of debate with a tendentious blogger, though I enjoy reading the debates. Any particular blog sites where we can go with our bag of popcorn and watch the show?

  5. I have had numerous debates/discusssions with an old friend about matters of faith. She is very much like the parent on the sidelines. She just wants to win.

    Oh that more of us would be like referees!

  6. I find that a good indicator of the 'my team must win' mentality is the response to the question: "What do you think are the strongest arguments against [your position]" ?

    A well thought out response indicates a truth-finding attitude.

    A dismissive response indicates a 'my team must win' attitude.

  7. VinnyJH57,

    You are quite correct regarding the differences in soccer parents and apologists. I think part of the difference is that the parents realize their opinions are subjected to the referee’s call—regardless what the parent opines, it will be the referee making the final decision. An apologist can avoid this by leaving the argument—they never, ever have to submit their opinion to a referee.

    DoOrDoNot, the conversation I was thinking about could be found here. Good luck following it…because Bill Pratt used nested comments, some of the first comments you will come across are responding to comments below. It is a tangled web. The ol’ inerrancy bit over Bethlehem vs. Nazareth in the birth narratives. Never did figure out Walt Tucker’s method for determining inconsistency.

    However, the one beneficial item (to me, anyway) was it caused me to look up the forum thread wherein my deconversion took a hard right turn. One could find the exact posting here. with the entire forum thread here Nostalgic to look back at a thread where I entered as a Christian and exited as not…

    Those who follow my blog may be interested in seeing a familiar name amongst the participants.

  8. greetings

    i have a few questions because i wish to learn

    why did 2nd century christians write a gospel called peter and attribute the gospel to the apostle peter?

    weren't they happy with the stories they heard about peter in the anonymous gospels of mark,m at, luke and john?

    if this is the case then is this proof that 2nd century christians had a problem with anonymous writings?

  9. Anonymous 8:47

    The dating and authorship of the Gospel of Peter is hotly disputed. It is not necessarily a Second Century document and/or the oral tradition underneath the gospel may date to earlier than the canonical gospels. As to “why” it was written, I would suspect it would be the same as any author writing to a general audience—the author intended to convey certain aspects about the topic of the writing s/he thought their intended audience would want to hear.

    We enter very dangerous ground to start making claims the author was “not happy” with other such stories. (Was Matthew “not happy” with Mark when he re-worked the Markan material? Was Luke “not happy” with both Matthew and Mark when he re-worked their material?) In the 21st century, we view such re-writing with our 21st century motivations and 21st century biases in place. At the time, was such re-working or introduction of varying stories considered a designation of dissatisfaction with the previous stories?

    The stronger “proof” the Second Century Christians were not satisfied with anonymous writing was the fact they began attributing names to the anonymous gospels. As you know, the gospels themselves fail to self-identify authorship (unusual for the time, by the way.) Within the second century, not only were names identified to the gospels (at the least to distinguish which writing is being referred to) but additional documents were being written, likewise attributed to great names. The Acts of Paul, Peter, John, and Andrew come readily to mind.

  10. That thread from 2004 you referenced in which your faith "took a hard right turn" was a pretty fascinating display of the deconversion process in action. It seemed that once you allowed for the possibility that the Bible was errant and began applying your method to it, it all came tumbling down rather quickly. In fact, after that post where you declared the Bible to be the word of God, there wasn't much to indicate that you were maintaining your faith. And by the end you lay out your position in 26 points where you deny the Bible is the word of God and basically reject God. I wonder what it was like for those interacting with you on that thread? I notice no one stopped and asked what had just happened. I really appreciate that you shared that link. I think it's a useful illustration for those who have difficulty understanding how people can deconvert. I was interested in how you experienced that whole thread on an emotional level.

  11. DoOrDoNot,

    In reviewing that thread (and recognizing my own panic hidden in understatement) I realize how traumatizing it was. Although I had been lurking for quite a while, and reviewing arguments through research, it was the actually engaging wherein I discovered the tremendous difficulty.

    Biblical studies is terribly gray—one can extrapolate just about anything from the Bible they want. It seemed to me the closest we could come to a definitive black/white is in the area of inerrancy. If an author recorded Judas’ death happening in such-and-such manner—the author is either recording what literally happened, or is not. (Whether the author intends to record a literal event is another discussion.)

    And even within the most black/white area we had, I watched the Christians providing such a milquetoast method—such a horrendously easy method—in order to sustain inerrancy. They had to bend so far their heads were touching their heels. If you review that thread, and the one precipitating this post over at Answering Tough Questions, we see how difficult a Christian articulates their method—they want to avoid saying, “Whatever I make up solves the problem” yet in the end that is EXACTLY what they are doing.

    Within that thread—and the shock—I saw if inerrancy cannot sustain a consistent method, how can the rest of theology with even less parameters and even less definitive determinations? The methods only become worse and worse.

    This was the beginning of the end in my disappointment with apologetics—it cannot “defend the faith.” It can only provide enough vomited ink to retain those who hope and refuse to study.

  12. It would be really awesome, if you ever have the time, to put together a narrative of your deconversion from that thread. It's long, but HeIsSailing's narrative, that I'm following with considerable interest, might serve as an example.

    I know, I know, that's a hell of a lot of work, but I think the result would be interesting and profound.

  13. Larry the Barefoot Bum,

    Are you looking for something more than this?

    (the link is also in my sidebar)If so, tell me what you want, I would be happy to provide.

  14. I wasn't going to suggest any more posts, but since Larry the Barefoot Bum brought it up...

    If you have anymore former discussion threads where you commented during your deconversion process, it could be fascinating for you to include them in a narrative where you share your inner dialogue throughout the process as well as your public attempt to make sense of it all in the comments you make on various threads. Though even if you don't, if there is any more to say on the one comment thread you shared with us, that would be an interesting post.

  15. I need to get a life. I just went through those 31 pages on the forum. No I did not read every word. Recognize Vinny in there and good ol' Vork and BLT's/DagoodS long posts. :-)

    1. Zoe,

      That's actually a different "Vinnie," not me. I have always spelled it with a "y" rather than "ie." I don't want to take credit for someone else's ideas.

    2. Credit officially removed Vinny. :-)

  16. Hmm, I thought the familiar name was yours too, Vinny.

    1. I didn't read the whole thread, but I agreed with Vinnie on what I did. I didn't start blogging until 2007 though and he doesn't seem to be around anymore.

  17. As a Christian, who believes in rationality and logic, and has had many discussions with Atheists and agnostics, and have many friends along with me in these discussions, I have to disagree with your analysis that most Christian apologists are just trying to "win" the debate at all costs.

    I will say that Christian are trying to persuade, as one who believes in Jesus is who he said he was, and I want others to come to know him in truth and spirit.

    The way I try to model my life is the great commandment: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

    With that in mind, trying to "win" an argument no matter what costs, is not loving your neighbor. I think your caricature of Christians is off based, although I certainly agree that some Christians are this way.

    I learn a lot from Atheist's and sometimes I end up being challenged and corrected in my misconceptions, and often I end up challenging their misconceptions.

    So here is my caricature of the Atheists I have encountered: that they are mostly concerned with trying to find flaws in the Christian faith. So they will share something they think is contradictory in the Bible, and I will provide reasons why it is not contradictory, and then they just move onto another discrepancy they have with the Bible. Often times I give good reasons for a supposed contradiction, and they don't further question that answer, they just move on to their next beef with Christianity. It's like good answer don't satisfy them. They just want to jump to their next reason they say don't believe.

  18. Sean Raybuck,

    Perhaps my impression of Christian apologists is a caricature and off-based…but I don’t think so. I base it on countless interactions observed and engaged over almost a decade. I would further note other skeptics join in my observation.

    If Christian Apologists are NOT solely focused on winning, they certainly do a magnificent job giving that impression. If they don’t like this caricature—perhaps they ought to change their tactics.

    I think your caricature of skeptics (when interacting with Christians) is pretty spot-on. The more interesting question is why your conversations continually repeat the pattern? Although I haven’t watched any conversations between yourself and skeptics, I suspect the reason—Christians use a different method for determining contradictory claims than skeptics.

    Christians typically* utilize the “any logical possibility” method when attempting to resolve a perceived conflict, whereas the skeptic utilizes “more likely than not” method when doing so. Therefore when a skeptic raises a conflict, it is a conflict under the “more likely than not” standard of proof. The Christian responds with “No—here is a logically possible way whereby there is no conflict,” thereby eliminating the conflict under the “any logical possibility” standard of proof. Each is frustrated with the other, as the skeptic cannot understand why the Christian does not consider it a conflict (because it is under the skeptic’s method.) The Christian cannot understand why the skeptic sees the contradiction (because it is not under the Christian’s method.)

    So round and round the conversation goes with never an end in sight. And there never will be.

    *I say “typically” but in actuality I have only encountered one (1) Christian EVER who used anything but “any logical possibility.” And even that fellow backed away, eventually succumbing back to “any logical possibility.” So really, the better word would be “exclusively” rather than “typically.”

    Or am I incorrect? Do you utilize a different method than “any logical possibility” when confronted with contradictory claims within the Bible?

    1. I think your evaluation of apparent contradiction examination methodologies is insightful. It's consistent with my observations.