You Play To Win The Game


While watching today’s Chiefs battle against advertising whore Peyton Manning and the Colts I thought of something poignant for what I see as an attitude to carry when engaging theists. Herm Edwards, now coach of the Chiefs, became famous for a tirade he had while coach of the Jets where he uttered the famous phrase, “we play to win the game!”. The great irony of that is, in fact, he doesn’t coach his teams to win the game but rather not to lose the game. There’s a distinct difference.

Today the mediocre Chiefs went to Indianapolis to take on the Superbowl Champions in Indianapolis. Everyone assumed this would be ugly as the Chiefs would be grossly overmatched yet late into the 4th quarter it was tied 10-10. With roughly 7 minutes left, the Chiefs had the ball and an opportunity to go for the jugular and knock out the Colts with a successful scoring drive. Did they go for the jugular? No. They played it safe, easily were stopped and punted away to Indy, who actually do play to win the game. The result was the Colts went down the field, wasted time off the clock and scored giving the Chiefs no opportunity to strike back. Herm played not to lose the game instead of playing to win the game. Rather than come out with some moxie and attack, he was content to sit back and defend, comfortable with a tied score and a modest advantage of field position. He gave Peyton one too many opportunities to beat him.

What the hell does this have to do with theists? Well I’ve noticed the same behavior from people dealing with theists. I see all too often either behavior reminiscent of playing not to lose the game or worse, playing for the tie, the truce, the infamous “let’s agree to disagree”. To do so, to steal a Bushism, emboldens the enemy. The more you let them slide or fail to challenge any assertions they make, the more they’re strengthened and entrenched into their positions. In fact, I recently read this paper by Alvin Plantinga (the darling of the thinking theists who is very found of the word “jejune”) where he lists the shear number of arguments out there against atheism or for theism as being an “extrinsic defeater defeater”, which is a smartsy way of saying “reason to have faith in the face of an overwhelmingly good argument or evidence not to”. So the less theist statements are challenged, in whole or in part, the more they grow and fester like mushrooms and the shear numbers of these mushrooms becomes “proof” for theists to hold their beliefs as rational and justified.

Now perhaps some of you are thinking that there’s no need to be combative. There’s no reason why we can’t try and build bridges, show mutual respect and all get along. Well in a better world, that would be just fine but the reality of this world is there are very real affronts on atheism by theists, and by one brand of theism against other brands. When they assert their beliefs as rational and often better than other beliefs or no belief, then the game is afoot, and I for one play to win the game. If they don’t want to play, then they have to admit their beliefs are simply faith, a gut feeling, a 6th sense, in other words an irrational belief.

In football, the safe play is running the ball. It’s low risk and often yields modest rewards. I see challenges to theist’s religious texts as running plays. Take the bible for example. The contradictions, the questions of authorship, errors of translation and so forth are low risk plays but in the grand scheme of things, where do they get you? Oh maybe if you invest enough time and run enough successful running plays you can make significant gains but I say go for the jugular. Make the deep strikes at the reasonableness of believing in a god. This is the legs upon which religion stands on. If religion is going to be the justification for depriving homosexuals their civil rights, atheist rights to hold public office, gay or atheist boys from joining the Boy Scouts, preventing people from being in the military or abusing them when in there, be the basis for government policies on health and science research or girls not getting HPV vaccines then yeah, let’s go for the jugular, attack the reasonableness of god belief and play to win the game.

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11 Responses to “You Play To Win The Game”

  1. Funny, I love this post, but I’m one you would probably accuse of calling too many running plays in the god wars. Thus it shouldn’t surprise you that I’m also a Jet fan who kind of misses Herm Edwards! With the Jets record, who wouldn’t?

    I think there is great value in “going for the jugular” as you put it, since I think some people really need to hear how outrageous some of the things they believe and purport to know truly are.

    I disagree, however, that the softer approach necessarily entails throwing up a flag of surrender, calling a truce, or otherwise agreeing to disagree.

    Personally, I choose my battles with people that I think I can actually have a meaningful discussion with– who will hear me out and make their own arguments for theism based on logic, as opposed to just citing scripture passages at me.

    I think such an approach can be just as effective, if not more, especially if it puts someone in the position of having to think– to thoughtfully consider my point and answer it– as opposed to simply shutting down.

    A lot of great teams are great because they stick with the run and play defense. Great teams establish the run, and then go for the jugular when the opportune moment arrives. They don’t walk out there gunning until they’ve “established the run.”

    You play to win, yes, of course, but not every play is a “Hail Mary” (certainly not for atheists!). And running the ball, or even punting, isn’t always the cowardly way out. Sometimes you have to preserve the opportunity for a win or play field position.

    But, you, Philly? You’re a warrior. Keep doing what you’re doing, because that’s who you are, and it’s great to watch. Maybe you’re a better atheist than I am? A better culture warrior.

    As for me, I’ll just agree to disagree with you… naturally!

  2. I know not everyone who visits knows football or sports, so I tried to avoid the hail marys and detailed football analogies. I do value the run and I understand that the run sets up the pass but of course you do have to pass.

    I find challenges in the oddest places. At the moment I find myself arguing intently with some lawyer type on a Chiefs forum. The religious are everywhere! LOL. The guy made a comment that atheism is dangerous. How do you let that just slide? I honestly don’t care if he can communicate rationally or not, I’m going to challenge damn it because I will not let shit like that go.

    I actually thought about writing how I have an uncanny ability to piss people off since it seems anywhere online I’ve gone this past week I’ve made people call me a jerk, an idiot, an asshole and forced a lot of caps locks keys to be engaged. If it wasn’t for a person who contacted me privately thanking me for saying what I was saying, I might have started questioning myself. Instead I realize that this is perhaps an inevitability of playing to win, and the frustrations of those I engage.

    Of course I always have had the gift to rub people the wrong way. ;)

  3. Philly, A.:
    I think when there are political ramifications on the line, we atheists should go for the jugular and rip it out if possible. But I also agree with A. that such an approach is not always necessary — or wise.

    Atheism vs. theism is NOT a football game. The analogy is cute, but not apt. Although you may delude yourself into thinking otherwise, the outcome of a football game makes very little difference, if any, in the grand scheme of things. The outcome of freethought vs. theocracy will make a huge difference in the future of civilization.

    Most of the time, though, (and Philly has heard me say this over and over), I don’t think it’s even worth discussing religion with people who believe in it. There’s little to be gained except the annoyance of both parties. I, personally, have no urge to de-convert anyone; it doesn’t make a rat’s ass of difference to me what he or she believes as long as it doesn’t impinge on my life. I’m not so arrogant as to think that my puny arguments are going to break through where the ideas of far greater thinkers have failed.

    On the other hand, when religion does impinge on my life, I’m not interested in any debates or conversations — except those in a courtroom and a polling place. That’s when we should trot out the big, rational guns, even if we’re just facing some feeble water pistols of faith. That’s when we should fight as if our lives depended on it; because they may.

  4. I only wish I were more like Socrates.

    As for the Cheifs, It will be while before we see anything out of them.

  5. I think when certain things are said, no matter how casual or off-handedly, you have to speak up. Even just a simple, “excuse me, what did you just say?” is worth the effort. If something outrageous is said, you have to be ready.

    What I’ve noticed in some discussions online between an atheist and a theist is a theist may make a statement or ask a question but within it or leading up to it they make several assertions that don’t get challenged. I’m not sure why. Sometimes I think the atheist is so eager to address the focus of the theist’s argument that he glances over the other bits. Other times I think they’re just cutting them some slack.

    And Ex, let me introduce you to the wonderful world of analogy. :) ~
    Yeah, I know it’s not a game, but there are analogous strategies. Things like football or chess are often used since they’re warlike games and we are in a conflict in this country. I feel too many people take either the play not to lose approach. Oh let’s not make a stink about the money or the Pledge. Let’s not look too angry or militant. Let’s let them have their nativity scenes or moments of silence in school.
    Don’t rock the boat too much, let’s focus on safe, easy gains.
    - Well the hell with that.
    Oh, but the christians are scared and upset already and constant pushing will just reinforce those fears.
    - then they should back off.

    The trespasses are so widespread and have gone on so long that they’ve become traditions and entrenched. That doesn’t make them any less wrong and I don’t see why we have to settle for any of it.

  6. Philly:
    Thanks for introducing me to the wonderful world of analogies.

    All sarcasm aside, I agree 100% with what you said. I guess I should make my position clearer. I don’t think we should engage in debate with idiots just to get our rocks off. I know it’s fun, but it’s a waste of our energies. I certainly think we should be prepared to take on every single battle you mentioned in your comment above, as you well know. I think “In God We Trust” on our money and “under God” in the pledge are unconstitutional abominations, and we should fight to have them removed. Likewise nativity scenes, moments of silence, displays of the ten commandments, and praying for rain at the public expense.

    But I don’t think there’s any point in going to some fundie blog and picking a fight just for the fuck of it. Why bother? What’s the payoff?

    And I also think we should be well aware that there are many religionists who actually agree with us about the strict separation of church and state. It doesn’t pay for atheists to always be in full battle array every time we’re confronted with someone who believes in the supernatural. You’ve seen Chuck Blanchard commenting on my blog. This is a guy who claims to be deeply religious, but who also believes very strongly that the government ought to keep faith entirely out of the legislative-executive-judicial mix. He’s pro-choice, pro-stem-cell research, anti-creationism, against prayer in public schools, and as rah-rah about the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause as you and I are. He and I don’t bother to discuss our respective worldviews because there’s no point. He doesn’t try to convert me; I don’t try to de-convert him. We haven’t agreed to disagree; we’ve agreed to leave each other alone. So why not make common cause with him and others like him? His particular brand of religion is no more threatening to me than your fanaticism about the Chiefs.

    All I’m saying is that we should pick our battles with our brains, not with our guts. And, as you’ve said, once we’re actually in a battle, we should fight to win, not to draw.

  7. “A” said -

    “But, you, Philly? You’re a warrior. Keep doing what you’re doing, because that’s who you are, and it’s great to watch.”

    This comes pretty darn close to hitting it on the head. If Philly wants to draw down with every theist who mentions faith or god or prayer, I’m perfectly OK with that.

    There’s room for a sorts of tactics. That’s not the one for me, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t smile nearly every time I read something Dawkins or Hitchens says. If that’s their way of handling their atheism – best of luck.

    I don’t think anything any of us do adds much to a change in the larger society, so I’m just living life the best I can and if I can help someone else a little tiny bit along the way, it’s a satisfying thing for me.

  8. As I said in the posting Ex, if every theist was like your Mr. Blanchard then we wouldn’t have any religious battles to fight. That was the “better world” I was referring to that we definitely don’t live in.

    Aside from a desire to get my rocks off as you say, I go to these theists places from time to time to for recon. I followed a link from A’s blog to a theist site where the writer seems quite enamored with this Plantinga fella. I never heard of him before so that was a valuable visit for me. Now I don’t pretend to have a fancy shmancy education in Philosophy (2 classes in college) but the 2 papers I read of his on his site seem to me to simply boil down to faith is rational because it feels right. Now all the analytical hoop jumping is fascinating and truly gave my brain a workout but at the end I couldn’t help but feel here was a bitter old bastard who, to steal from Nietzsche, “muddies his waters to appear deep” and then calls arguments from anyone who doesn’t agree with him “jejune”, which is the scholarly way of calling someone an asshat or frigtard.

    Now when I happen to be visiting a Chiefs forum and some guy out of the blue posts that atheism is dangerous or some fuck at a bar makes some snarky religious comment, or any time where I’m otherwise minding my own business but someone decides to be an ass, I’m going to rip them and I feel these excursions to Jesusland and the occasional skirmish I may have there or any knowledge I gain there makes me all the better prepared to deal with these random intrusions into my life.

  9. Philly:
    I’m not going to repeat your entire last paragraph here, but, you know? When you put it that way, I think you’re right. I guess I’ve never had my atheism attacked out of the blue. Anyway, go to it! And if you need reinforcements, give me a shout.

    As far as philosophy goes: I often get the feeling that people who study that “discipline” spend most of their time learning how to fog up the simplest of ideas. Anybody who uses a word like jejune, when the much stronger and clearer insipid is equally available, is trying to hide something.

    I think much academic writing, in all fields, is similarly full of shit. The shakier an academic’s ideas are, the more he or she hides within the inner recesses of the dictionary. There are times when $100-words are necessary, but only when there’s no punchier synonym for exactly what a writer’s trying to say. Nobody ever teaches these idiots that the purpose of writing is communication. They’re under the mistaken impression that writing is to show off how fucking erudite they are. That’s why a good editor keeps a healthy supply of sharpened blue pencils handy.

    I’d put my ability to sling high-falutin’ words up against anyone’s. But why reach for a multi-syllabic monstrosity when a simple Anglo-Saxon “fuck you” is available.

  10. I learned a lesson in college about arguing when studying art history. The 20th century saw the rise and dominance of the art world by Abstraction. Not to get into the value of Abstraction, I want to focus on the main difference between the approach of artists of realism vs. abstraction. Realists feel no reason to talk at length explaining their work. What’s to explain? It’s right there, go look. In contrast, most people’s first reactions to abstract art is, “what the fuck?” so abstract artists learned to really talk a good talk explaining and justifying their work.

    I take this history lesson to heart and I see it applicable to our struggle. Our point seems obvious and in it’s obviousness, I think many atheists and agnostics are pretty apathetic. What’s the point in arguing the obvious? Well what’s obvious is we have no choice but to engage the nonsense these people say and dissect their $100 words and wade through their muddy waters to show just how shallow they are. This is bigger than abstract art against realism, just as it’s bigger than a game of football, but there are lessons to be learned and applied from both.

  11. Philly:

    “Excursions to Jesusland.” Where does this stuff come from? You never cease to crack me up, brother. Seriously. Bloody brilliant.

    As for that link you followed, I agree that many times when I hear the “lingo” get tossed around, I begin to wonder whether someone’s using to employ some kind of intimidation tactic: “Watch out, buddy, I know what I’m talking about.” That being said, I don’t think that guy is a guilty party. Some folks know the stuff, and hey, talk whatever kind of philosophical creole you want as far as I’m concerned.

    If I don’t know what they mean, I ask, and then I plod on and ask more questions about assumptions they make, and try to make them give reasons for the assertions they make.

    I do find that jargon often does more to muddy things than clarify them, and, once you figure out what it means, as you yourself found, it isn’t all that complicated. Just sounds that way. Dennett does the same thing– what the flip is a “teleo-functionalist,” you know? Just TALK to me for crying out loud.

    Personally, if someone can’t explain it to me without the jargon, then I know they’re just parrots. If they can, then I respect that.

    Or maybe I’m just some sort of “jejuene” or something.

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