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.