Thursday, August 09, 2007

An Open Letter to Gregg Easterbrook

Dear Mr. Easterbrook,

For some time now, I've really enjoyed your Tuesday Morning Quarterback columns, and I know I'm not alone in this regard; your work is wildly popular, because I think you do an outstanding job of writing erudite and entertaining commentary pieces on the NFL. Hell, you do better straight game analysis than half the hacks that ESPN employs to, ostensibly, do straight game analysis.

However, I've got to say that your most recent offering was, at best, pure pap, and at worst the kind of abrasive (and paranoid) Christian rhetoric that our airwaves are already saturated with.

It's no secret that you're a Christian with strong beliefs, both when it comes to your personal faith and your view that faith is an important component in society. Since non-football-centric quips are a part of your routine, I've always been fine with the religious content, as relatively scarce as it was.

But in your most recent column, about 1/12th of which actually dealt with football, it appears you have made a conscious decision to begin banging the same drum that luminaries like Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter have made ignominious careers of percussing. The pro-Christian rhetoric was voluminous — you use the terms "christian" or "christianity" nine times, quote two bible passages, take two different digs at psychics (whose brand of mysticism you conveniently dismiss), and state the "worship service-attendance figures" of Europe are "troubling" — to the point where I was wondering if you had lost a bet to your pastor/priest/reverend (in spite of your anti-gambling stance). Is this what you think intelligent football fans want to read?

Two things you said, in particular, led me to believe that your otherwise rational world view is being seriously compromised by your spiritual zeal.

• In your apropos-of-nothing "review" of the latest Harry Potter book, I quote:

The postwar United Kingdom has produced three blockbuster young people's fantasy series, the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, the "Golden Compass" series by Philip Pullman and now the Potter volumes. All feature astonishingly capable English schoolchildren with magic powers. The Narnia books are explicitly Christian; the Golden Compass books are explicitly anti-Christian; what about Potter? Though J.K. Rowling's 4,000 pages concern supernatural forces, the soul and communication with the dead who exist in an afterlife, religious issues are missing from the series. The wizards and witches of the Potter world celebrate Christmas, but otherwise seem to have no religious views and never pause to reflect on where their power comes from or what the spirit world might be. Perhaps Rowling concluded that in the contemporary milieu, it's totally fine to market a children's story containing numerous scenes in which children are tortured or murdered, but mentioning God would be too controversial. (Emphasis mine)

I understand that you see the Potter series as part of a larger body of U.K.-based children's works, but I fail to see how the religious content of the first two have any bearing on the latter. Did it ever occur to you that Rowling may not have considered herself a part of this group, and thus saw no reason to add the variable of religion into her stories? I, as one, did not realize that the onus was on children's authors to make definitive statements regarding the worthiness, veracity, or societal role of religion. Yet, as opposed to simply assuming that Rowling saw no need to involve such content in her works, you infer that is in fact the author's desire for a lack of controversy that serves as motivation for the omission. This is precisely the kind of bullying that the Jesus jackyls have been laying on the American public since the Clinton years; the second anyone disregards religion, it's an automatic condemnation of it, or the result of some fear of running afoul of the "massive" anti-Christian population that accounts for roughly five percent of the population. For a man of your considerable intellect, it's a particularly indefensible position to take. Remember, it's you, not Rowling, who introduced the subject in the first place.

• Later in the same section, in reference to Golden Compass author Philip Pullman:

I found Pullman's arguments against Christianity puerile -- like recent anti-Christian books by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, the "Golden Compass" volumes resort to the cheap subterfuge of cataloging everything bad about religion while pretending belief has no positive qualities. Pullman, Dawkins and Harris are anti-faith jihadis: they don't just want to argue against the many faults of Christianity, they want faith forbidden.

I will not insult you by claiming that you haven't read the works of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, both of whom recently authored books taking different angles in the argument against religion and a belief in God. However, I wonder if the same perspective that causes you to view Rowling's non-involvement in the debate as either condemnation or cowardice has also influenced the conclusions you've drawn of those clearly anti-Christian works. Both state they believe religion is a destructive force on both a personal and societal level, but to state that either of them wish to have religion "forbidden" is an outright lie. The furthest either of them go is to state that theocracies, like the ones that exist in the middle east, should be fought against at all costs. Your routine mockery of blitzes involving more than five defenders does not suggest you think the NFL should outlaw them. Likewise, Harris' and Dawkins' mockery of religious faith does not suggest they believe faith itself should be against the law.

Furthermore, to refer to both of them as "jihadists" of any kind is the kind of flippant rhetoric we expect from your intellectual lessers, no different than the idiocy of people who refer to strict school administrators as Nazis. Agree or disagree, these men have written books in an attempt to add to the ongoing conversation about religion and society. They have not killed anyone, coerced children into becoming suicide bombers, or threatened the life of those who dare to disagree with their theological stand. One wonders if, upon reflection, you would be willing to consider the writing of either Harris or Dawkins as being equivalent to the kind of hatred that's spawned the murder of Theo Van Gogh, to name one victim of Islamic jihad.

However, it's your criticism of Harris' and Dawkins' methodology in defending their arguments that really struck me as stunning, particularly when you were guilty of using the same tactic in your "defense" of the NFLPA later in the column. You claim both authors were guilty of "... the cheap subterfuge of cataloging everything bad about religion while pretending belief has no positive qualities," which isn't an entirely unfair assessment. I'd argue with you as to whether either had an obligation to actually do so, as neither claimed to be presenting a "balanced" assessment of religion or belief in god, and I can imagine that had either attempted to do so, the books would have been so onerous as to be unreadable. Anyone with a single brain cell to his or her credit can find plenty of works that attempt to justify religion or prove the "positive qualities" of spiritual faith. I doubt a single one of those books treats the opposition with any more concern or respect than those of Harris or Dawkins.

(And, anyway, the authors didn't so much pretend that belief has no positive quality, as much as challenge that particularly trite justification. Believe it or not, there's an argument to be had that all supposed "positives" of religion are overstated and scarcely substantiated. I can argue that I once saw a seven-man blitz work for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2002 against the Giants; does that mean that I can say you "ignore the positive qualities" of the seven-man blitz?)

But considering your view on Harris' and Dawkins' work, I found your cherry-picking of the NFLPA's "accomplishments" with respect to player contracts to be ironic. I'll assume everything you say is true, and concede that the recent barrage of criticism directed toward Upshaw and Co. is both unfair and exceedingly shrill. However, when discussing the average contract figures, percentages of revenue, and growth of the salary cap, you completely fail to mention one huge factor: NFL players' contracts aren't guaranteed. I know you know this, Mr. Easterbrook, so I'm forced to conclude that you felt the inclusion of such information would dilute your argument.

This issue is the easiest source of derision for the NFLPA (the disability benefits issue notwithstanding, since you've correctly pointed out that we really don't have a clear view of whether or not that many legitimate cases are being denied). No sport is more loaded with occupational hazards than the NFL, nor does any sport chew up and spit out players like the NFL. Currently, the players assume all of the risk when it comes to career length; owners can cut ties with damaged goods at any point (or at least until the end of the season in which the injury has taken place), even though it was for the franchise's benefit that the player became hurt in the first place. Of the football/baseball/basketball troika, the most dangerous sport of the three is the only one that doesn't offer guaranteed contracts to players. That the NFLPA hasn't managed to advance further in this cause is the union's biggest black eye, and I'm pretty sure football players wouldn't mind taking the MLBPA's smaller cut of revenues in return for the security offered by guaranteed deals.

Quibbling aside, I don't suppose to tell you what to write or not write, Mr. Easterbrook, and I certainly wouldn't wish to do any more censoring of your columns than what's currently taking place. But I do hope that you can see why the content of this particular work is so bothersome to people like me, who already spend too much of their time dealing with the vitriol spewed by a society of people who use god as a bludgeon against their enemies, and act as if non-belief is a sin against America.


Phoenix, AZ

1 comment:

Iosef St. Alin said...

Troika! I love it! Ah, to be back in the days of the NKVD.