An Open Letter From a BYU Football Fan


To All College Football Fans:

If you haven’t seen it already, there is increasing talk about the possibility of BYU going undefeated this season and causing a possible headache for the CFB playoff selection committee.  But getting past questions of the sheer silliness of “Power” conferences — conferences with such illustrious football teams as Duke, Vanderbilt, and the University of Iowa —  I wanted to share my thoughts on BYU football and hopefully put some minds at ease.

I have been a BYU fan since as long as I can remember.  I used to watch away games with my Grandma and attend home games with members of my family.   I was there when Ty Detmer scrambled to throw a touchdown against #1 Miami in 1990.  I was there in 2002 when Brandon Doman and Luke Staley lifted the Cougars over the Utah Utes in the final seconds.

Of course, I was also watching when Hawaii didn’t just beat the 1990 and 2001 teams, they demolished and embarrassed them.  In 1991, just hours after receiving the Heisman Trophy, Ty Detmer led the Cougars to a 28-59 loss, thus dropping the Cougars from the top 10 and putting them out of consideration for a national title.  In 2001 the Cougars beat most of their opponents without problems only to go to Hawaii to lose 45-72.  Both teams followed up these losses to Hawaii with poor bowl performances.  In 1990 matters weren’t helped when Texas A&M’s Slocum instructed his team to injure Detmer, which they did.  Twice.  Oh…. and then they kept their starters in an ran the score up for a 15-65 BYU loss.  Super classy! With the emergence of Johnny Manziel I am now convinced that Texas A&M has one of the most robust policies regarding sportsmanship in all of college football.  *cough*

At this point in the season all this talk of being undefeated is nonsense.  If anything, BYU has shown an uncanny ability to have a standout season marred by an embarrassing defeat.  So if the Cougars go into the 2nd week of November undefeated, let’s have the conversation then.

Should BYU be in one of the so-called “Power” conferences.  Probably.  They are better than many teams in those conferences but certainly don’t compare with teams like Florida State, Ohio State, and others.  Within a Power conference the Cougars may win the occasional conference championship but, I suspect, would most often find themselves in the middle of the pack.

For that reason I don’t mind BYU being independent.  Even with all the scheduling difficulties etc…  Due to its Honor Code and religious education requirements, BYU will always be a middle-tier CFB program.  One that will occasionally pull off a huge upset win over a top 10 school but mostly, a team that will always be competitive against the likes of Boise State and TCU.

BYU has an incredibly limited recruiting pool which is, mostly, limited to Mormon kids who embrace the BYU culture of no sex, no drugs, no drinking.  Any amazing Mormon HS football player is almost sure to go to a big school in a “Power” conference.  BYU will simply never attract the top HS talent because attending BYU is, shall we say, a unique experience not generally appealing to those without Mormon religious convictions.

As a huge BYU fan I have to say that I am completely OK with BYU being a mid-tier team with the occasional big win.  I’m always glad to see BYU put their standards above athletics.  Don’t get me wrong.  Some of the Honor Code is just downright silly and as a BYU student I certainly didn’t enjoy some of the more pharisaical mandates.  But it is what it is.  BYU is a good place to receive an education and also a good place to root for a pretty darn good football team.



Apologists Behaving Badly: Dan Story

I am fascinated by religious apologetics.  Apologetics is the defense of faith or a defense of THE faith, given the particular religion of the person offering a defense.  I consider myself to be an apologist for faith, generally, and have no interesting in defending any particular dogma, belief, or practice.  I have found, however, that most religious apologists engage in the defense of specific religious truth-claims.  Dan Story is one such apologist and defends conservative Christian theology quite confidently and aggressively.  And, while I appreciate Story’s sincerity and faith, I have been disappointed with some of his specific arguments/claims made in regard to 1) the exclusivity of Christian truth and 2) criticism of other religions and/or philosophies.

In Story’s book Engaging the Closed Mind (Story, Dan. Engaging the Closed Minded: Presenting Your Faith to the Confirmed Unbeliever. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999.), Story brazenly states:

Anyone who lives an active Christian life, that is, anyone who is not too embarrassed or intimidated to let people know he or she is a believer, will be called upon to defend his or her faith. It’s one of the ironies of the modern world that Christians must continually demonstrate that what they believe to be true is true. Christians are always put on the defensive.

It shouldn’t be this way. Why? Because Christians are the ones who possess the truth, not unbelievers. We are the ones with a grasp on reality as it really exists. We are the ones who can demonstrate the legitimacy of our truth-claims. Unbelievers—not Christians—are the ones who should defend their worldview. (pp. 63-64)

It is no surprise that Story boldly proclaims his Christian beliefs.  However, Story’s suggested approach is anathema — in my view at least — to the core faith Story is trying to defend.  If Christians had absolute assurance that their beliefs explain “reality as it really exists” then what is the purpose of faith?  Peter counseled the Saints to defend their beliefs with gentleness and reverence.  Trying to shift the burden of proof to critics circumvents this counsel.  No longer is the Christian simply defending their beliefs but rather, they are becoming critics themselves; attacking the beliefs of others, albeit politely.

Story continues:

But there is another apologetic strategy that we will examine in this chapter. In this approach, rather than defending our beliefs, we challenge unbelievers to defend their beliefs. This is “positive” apologetics or what I prefer to call offensive apologetics. I don’t mean offensive as in bad taste, but offensive as in a football game. We become the aggressors. We force the unbeliever to take the defensive position and account for his religious or philosophical beliefs. In this approach, the “evidence” for Christianity becomes the unbeliever’s inability to defend his worldview. Christianity is supported by default. (p. 64)

Story surely realizes that poking holes in competing views does not establish the fact, or reality, of one’s own position.

Story advocates using the Socratic method to essentially tie Christian critics up in knots.  But again, even if a Christian is successful in demonstrating flaws in the metaphysics of others, this does absolutely nothing to promote — or even defend — the worldview of a Christian believer.

Do you see what’s being done here? Rather than defending our beliefs, we are challenging unbelievers to account for their beliefs. We are shifting the burden of proof away from Christianity to the non-Christian. (p. 76)

This advice is completely contrary to the counsel found in 1 Peter 3.  Christians are to defend their faith by answering critics with gentleness and reverence.  What Story is advocating is a rhetorical word game which, ultimately, accomplishes nothing.  Apologetics isn’t about winning debates.  It is about expressing Christian devotion by demonstrating 1) a firm commitment to Christian discipleship and 2) showing respect to critics through understanding their viewpoint and offering a substantive explanation of the Christian position.

I do agree with Story on one important point, however.  And that is the need for Christians — or any religionists — to be prepared to answer questions about their faith with a working knowledge of competing worldviews.

Using the Socratic Method demands that we know the Christian solution to the problems inherent in the unbeliever’s position. If we don’t know the subject at hand, we can’t identify hidden assumptions, inaccurate data, or misconceptions.

Moreover, once an unbeliever concludes for herself that her present view possesses fatal flaws, it’s necessary to demonstrate that the Christian alternative is correct. Otherwise, the unbeliever may opt for still another erroneous worldview, and you are back to square one. It’s impossible to be effective using the Socratic Method (or any apologetic tactic) without a background in evidential apologetics.

Fortunately, a good self-education in apologetics is available to all Christians. The answers to 99 percent of the questions unbelievers ask, and the arguments they present, can be found in many introductory books on apologetics. (p. 84-85)

Of course, I find Story’s confidence to be both misplaced and potentially damaging to the Christian position.  I will provide more detail in subsequent posts but suffice it to say, Story’s grasp on competing views is problematic and his claim that “99 percent” of answers can be found in existing apologetic literature is simply false.

Social Orthodoxy and Silencing Opposing Views

There exists a social orthodoxy; rarely explicitly defined, but clearly and broadly understood.  Such an orthodoxy is not surprising, nor regrettable. Indeed, the prevailing orthodoxy is a reflection of not just current taboos, but long-held and important social mores which govern modern civil society. It is good, for example, that social orthodoxy labels racism and its expression abhorrent and unwanted; that delinquency in caring for children is socially untenable and that women are, by their nature, constrained to a rigidly defined and pre-determined set of roles.  The expression – if not always achieved – that social mobility is the so-called “American Dream” where anyone, quite literally anyone, can go from rags to riches with a good idea, tons of good luck, and a lot of hard work, is also an encouraging aspect of Western social orthodoxy.  Even if some ideas constrained by orthodoxy are problematic — or even incorrect — they are still widely accepted and embraced as part of existing social constructs.

One of the functions of social orthodoxy is that frames political and social discourse within the context of a modern sensibilities.  This is one reason it is so vital when considering the past, that we understand the words and actions of our ancestors within the context of the prevailing orthodoxy adhered to in their time.  Don’t’ misunderstand.  I fundamentally reject moral relativism so this is not to say that historical persons can be excused from bad behavior even if such behavior was in accordance with contemporary social mores.  Relativism exists, without question; even when considering ethics.  But the moral principles – even if not their specific application – are present in considerations of both past or present.  In short, there are many ideas which at one time were not only freely expressed, but widely held, that we reject today because we have concluded that such behaviors or social constructions are immoral.  We may well have good reason to do so.  But we must never forget to ask ourselves, “why did our ancestors think this was morally acceptable?”  Regardless of the answer, we will be instructed; either in the moral rightness of our present view or, in discovering unseen, yet foundational, assumptions used to support our current understanding.

Of course, it is not our adherence to social orthodoxy which is admirable but rather, our willingness to question assumptions and accepted wisdom.  Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr., for example, identified immoral, but widely-held social views and challenged them successfully; bringing about more fundamental civil freedoms for minorities and women.  All social reformers question orthodoxy and raise awareness — often with strong opposition from those who seek to retain the status quo.  And, while it is quite fashionable to cast such opponents as ignorant degenerates seeking only to retain their preferred, or comfortable, social position.  By doing so, however, we rob ourselves of important voices which should be part of broad social discussion.  This is not to suggest, of course, that KKK leaders be invited to a summit on civil rights.  But the KKK are free to hold meetings, public demonstrations, and distribute literature.  They more unorthodox groups express their views we — collectively — have the opportunity to examine their arguments and, if necessary, refute them.  More often than not, however, groups on the fringe of orthodoxy rarely make substantive contributions to social discourse and as a result, are largely ineffective in swaying others to their viewpoint.  So we should not fear the free and open expression of heterodox ideas; we should embrace such expression.  Free and open civil discourse is the easiest way to marginalize a bad idea — not by simply labeling at such but rather, by demonstrating — through reason — why  the idea is incorrect, harmful, or just downright silly.

The absolute worst thing we can do is stifle speech; even the most offensive and inept. Labeling any opinion as “unspeakable” makes us ideologues of the worst kind. We all question social orthodoxy in one way or another and to silence others is to eventually silence ourselves.