Weekly Thoughts 1

The last few years Christian organizations have fought for their sense of religious freedom, decrying government mandates that would force them to carry healthcare like birth control. They have maintained that birth control should not be mandated for them to carry as it goes against certain religious beliefs (this to be pandered later).

This has lead to and has been accompanied by a wider discussion of religious liberty – regarding how much the right to religious liberty should give people and organizations. Does religious autonomy grant one the right to be exempt of certain laws? Does it grant one the right to discriminate?

Well in one sense, every religious organization does discriminate by only hiring those who are a part of their religion or specific denomination. The right to religious exemption does allow for discrimination at least in hiring and firing practices.

But if a group believes that they should be allowed to discriminate by sexual orientation (as has been done) or disallow government given rights because of a religious belief, how should the government react? This tension has risen, with the government stepping in in some cases.

This prompts interesting questions on both sides. First, how should the government react to religious groups, particularly those who are more radical and exist on the fringe? While the government tends to be quite willing and capable of being inclusive of religion and religious leaders through tax exemptions, allowing religious private schools the same authority as public education, and the capability to exert influence in politics, there is a line that should be drawn. Not all religious belief is equal – those who actively go against government policy will not and probably should not be allowed benefits by the state. Where is this line drawn? It’s not so easy.

On the other side, religious institutions, especially Christianity – whose ground I stand in- also has a line that is being discovered. Religious schools and companies want to refuse birth control (why you may ask? I am not entirely sure for those Evangelical groups because it is not really immoral or anti-Bible; my best guess is it is because they don’t want to make it seem like their people are having sex – the ultimate taboo or because they believe that birth control can be abortion inducing. Which, to be frank, seems ridiculous because the human body is more likely to abort a fertilized egg than birth control is. It’s strange that us non-Catholics aren’t all over promoting birth control having lead the huge anti-abortion campaign of the last couple decades – I guess it’s an unwillingness to condone sex out of marriage even if it is saving the lives of babies. Pick your poison, or sin.).

At some point religious institutions will have to make a choice – whether this choice comes about by birth control or in having to allow openly gay members – a choice will have to be made whether to separate from the government or not. Religious institutions are given benefits by the United States government, which is why the rage seems so loud when laws are placed that seemingly go against religious beliefs. But if the government continuously pushes against certain subjects (gender is certainly next) religious institutions will either have to adapt (as some progressives push for) or separate.

This is where I see a bit of hypocrisy. Where Christian Universities are outraged about required birth control – claiming religious exemption from the government – they also support this government through various ROTC and Military Science programs. They say ‘hey we don’t have anything to do with that’ while building up and even advertising for the most prominent representation of government there is – the US military.

I would attempt to argue how the Bible does not necessarily condone the violent means by which the US armed forces are used, but all of those arguments lie in the Pro-Life belief. The sanctity of human life, people made in God’s image, thou shall not murder, etc… They are all there. Sure one could argue a just-war thesis that connects the US or we could go back to a Manifest Destiny theory – but please let’s not do that. The Bible doesn’t say much about abortion and really the science does seem inconclusive as to when a baby is a human life. This inconclusiveness is probably the same as what we know as to whether the US military force was justified in any of the last several wars. But one side receives all the outrage.

A day could come where Christian organizations may have to give up their position of power and influence in America to hold fast to their beliefs (right or wrong), though it may be hard for some to imagine a religious leader choosing to give up power, it may have to be done. I think the hypocritical level of religious institutions to support the military while claiming exemption in other areas shows more ties to conservative politics and ethics than any sort of religious cause.

 

 

Football.

I am a huge football fan. It is certainly my favorite sport to watch, might be my favorite sport to play, and definitely is the one I follow the most. Every Sunday since I can remember has been filled watching the 49ers (or other teams) play. It is an obsession and a passion.

This love of the game has been putting me at a dilemma as of late. The news about the Jonathan Martin story, which exposed not only the knack for bullying within the NFL, but how deep this “warrior culture” (as Brian Phillips put it) runs has put a proverbial pebble in my shoe for the love of the game . This, combined with the information about concussions, the suicides, and the general violent nature of the sport have got me questioning its value in my life.

During the last 49ers game, 3 players were removed for injuries, 2 of which suffered concussions. This, combined with the fact that they lost and that it was probably the most boring football game I’ve ever watched (the Panthers squeaked out a 10-9 victory), made it hard for me to see just what I loved about the game.

Normally, I love all the moving parts. I love offensive linemen opening up holes for running backs to burst through. Quarterbacks dropping back and hitting the open receiver. Watching the linebacker chase down the quarterback or the corner make a play on a ball. I even love the big hits that safeties give receivers or when the defensive lineman gets free and goes after the unsuspecting quarterback. From casually playing and watching over the years, these plays fill me with excitement. But now these are being overshadowed by deeper problems.

When you look at the violent nature of the sport in general, the longterm consequences of the hits to the head, the militaristic way that teams are run, and the potential that all of these have to affect players off of the field (which there may or may not be evidence for) it becomes harder to support. I love sports and what they can do for people, but does football take this away? I am increasingly not able to find anything that I value both on the field and off. At what point do you abandon something you love because of what it is doing? This is always a tricky question when it comes to people, is it as tricky when it’s a sport?

Writing for Grantland, the aforementioned Brian Phillips discusses this tension and how football becomes a sort of substitute for our gentle lives, a vicarious way to feel tough. He writes:

“I love football — it’s so much fun, it’s beautiful, it’s thrilling, it’s an excuse to drunk-tweet in the mid-afternoon — but it has also become the major theater of American masculine crackup. It’s as if we’re a nation of gentle accountants and customer-service reps who’ve retained this one venue where we can air-guitar the berserk discourse of a warrior race. We’re Klingons, but only on Sundays. The Marines have a strict anti-hazing policy, but we need our fantasy warrior-avatars to be unrestrained and indestructible. We demand that they comply with an increasingly shrill and dehumanizing value set that we communicate by yelling PLAY THROUGH PAIN and THAT GUY IS A SOLDIER and THE TRENCHES and GO TO WAR WITH THESE GUYS and NEVER BACK DOWN. We love coaches who never sleep, stars who live to win, transition graphics that take out the electrical grid in Kandahar. We love pregame flyovers that culminate in actual airstrikes.”

What if I don’t watch football to participate in this warrior mentality? I’m still complicit right?

And listen I know that football would continue without me. I know that these players are participating on their own will (though I’m sure some feel as if they have no other option). I love the sport, I do. I think it is a beautiful game (sorry soccer). Does the beauty and creativity and athleticism of football outweigh the ugly violence or is this brute competitiveness at its core?

For now I continue to watch. I mean, its all but ingrained into my soul. However, I tread lightly. I watch without the loud cheer behind a player getting crushed. I push for continued player safety, not lamenting all the rule changes that “tame” the sport. I support any pushes to make the locker room a safer place for players psychologically. I probably won’t let my future children play until their brains are more fully developed. I will continue to question football as the sport and society progress, with time answers will become more clear, maybe we will discover – is football too broken to be fixed?