Sunday, November 06, 2005

"Sporting" a Postmodern Theology

Everyone who knows me has no doubt about my love for sports . . . most particularly football. Though I generally march to the beat of an anti-institutional drum, sports is one area where I am caught up in the institution. It is in the realm of sports, and most particuarly college football, that I have recently uncovered a parallel that helps me understand (and perhaps explain) a central theme to the changing epistemological shift in theology and philosophy. [The mere mention of "college sports" in the same sentece with "epistemological" shows that I have problems.]

Growing up in northern Ohio I was destined to be a Big Ten fan. Ohio State first . . . all the others second . . . and M****gan at the bottom. Good ole' Midwestern smashmouth football. Defense (believe it or not the Big Ten used to play good defense.) That was really the only conference I knew much about growing up. Going to college in Tennessee would change all of that. My friends there made fun of the Big Ten calling them fat and slow. I couldn't believe my ears . . . how could they be so misled.

Of course they were not all SEC fans . . . our dorm quickly separated into factions, but really only two emerged: Big Ten folks and SEC folks. Not suprisingly, the Big Ten faction hailed from Ohio and Indiana while the SEC folks were from TN, AL, KY, and LA. The older I've gotten, the more people I've met from all over who root for teams from all over (I even know a guy from New Mexico who roots for Miami University - please make them stop referring to it as "The U.") - that's for you Brian.

OK . . . now to bring all this gibberish to its epistemological implcations (epistemology refers to the idea of how we think . . . how we know what we know). Our collegiate alliances are rooted in our heritage - usually where we grew up (except you Brian). Once a Buckeye, always a Buckeye. But this doesn't simply impact who I root for in the fall (and winter for basketball). It impacts the way I think about college sports in general. Here are some of the rather far-reaching implications that I think stem from my Buckeye and Big Ten allegiance (see how far they go from the actual football game).

* Fact: The Big Ten Conference is one of the few football conferences not to have a conference championship game at the end of the season.
*Implication on my thinking: Conference championships are stupid. They throw out years of tradition for the sake of finding a "winner." What happens in one game can override an entire season's worth of accomplishments.

* Fact: In 1998 Ohio St. was left out of the BCS championship game because of one-loss Florida St. FSU lost to Tennessee in a game that I strongly believe Ohio St. would have won.
*Implication: The BCS stystem is flawed and should be overhauled. Either pick champions through the polls like it's always been done and allow for shared champions (imagine if I was an Auburn fan), or choose eight teams for a playoff and then we'll have a winner.

* Fact: Ohio St. and Michigan have been voted the biggest rivay in college sports (and usually overall.)
* Impact: This is the biggest game of the year. It is simply referred to as The Game because the implications have always been so much.

OK . . . that's enough ramblings about shallow sidepoints to college sports. College sports are not even my real point. This is the part where I bring it home. We grant each other the benefit of the doubt for rooting for another college team. If you are from Indiana I would expect you to be a Purdue fan (Indiana is just too bad for now) or a Notre Dame fan. If you're from southern California I'm sure you're rooting on those Trojans.

And more than that, I would expect and understand your biases. You USC fans can legitimately complain about an "east coast bias" (although not right now, all the media is on your bandwagon). No doubt, you would see the college football world differently. If your team is watching my team and there is a close play, we'd probably see the outcome differently.

And that brings it to "epistemology." How can we sit and watch a catch or a fumble being reviewed on replay - seeing the same "truthful" event happen, yet see things differently? Because we come from different worlds. You come from the world of Michigan (or wherever) and me from Ohio St. We can watch the same thing and see a different outcome.

Why can't this be allowed to hold true outside the world of sports? My upbringing had a larger impact on my thinking in areas more significant than sports. My family is overwhelmingly Democratic . . . thus I lean left in politics . . . they were pro-union . . . and I remain a ltitle leary of the "white collars" . . . I grew up in a conservative, near-fundamental church . . . and I still have a strong emphasis on the Bible and prayer . . . and on an on it goes. I like to think that I haven't simply taken on these things without considering them further, but after I consider them, I usually end up where I started.

This seems to be ok, everywhere but in religion. Why is it so hard for us to see why people see things differently and won't (can't?) see things like "I' see them? They have had a different life experience. The idea that truth is out there somewhere, and if we would just pray hard and give it an authentic try and we'd find it just isnt' fair to the un-ending stories people find themselves in.

I will always be a Buckeye fan. No one is going to change that. You can only hope to help me be a better Buckeye fan. You can help me understand you better. YOu can help me respect your team better (I have really come around with Vanderbilt and Northwestern), but I'm still going to be a Buckeye fan.

I'm also always going to be a Christian. You can only hope to help me be a better Christian. You can help me understand you better. You can help me respect your religious tradition better (I have really come around with modern day Judaism, and Native American spirituality), but I'm still going to be a Christian.

Hopefully these parallels have come out of my mind well enough to make a discernable point. I find it very interesting that we grant people so much grace in stupid areas like sports but are unwavering in our stance in religion . . . the source for grace.


Brian said...

First, please define epistomological for those of us that have not been in a Masters of Religion program.

As to my college football allegiance, it is The University of Miami, not Miami University. Miami University is an Ohio school in the MAC. The fact that you call it Miami University proves the point of your post in a way. Your frame of reference, growing up in Ohio, is Miami University, so you refer to UM that way. As to "the U", that is a reference to the helmet logo, and it will always be about the U baby!

For me, I became a Miami fan because UM was on TV when I was young. High School and College footbal in New Mexico is pretty unextraordinary to the point where the local media really did not even cover them. I grew up in the days when college football was not on every night on every channel. So I liked who I saw. Now I have a connection to UM as an alumnus. But my regional ties do pull me to root for the New Mexico teams in their various sports. And now I can see them from time to time thanks to ESPN.

As to the actual point of your post, your points are very good points. (How many times can I say point in one sentence?)

Metz said...

Hey I set you up to come back about the way that Ohio St. alums always make a point to say, "The Ohio State University" . . . equally abrasive to many I'm sure.

And you're right . . . the MAC is the other conference round these parts, so I don't venture too far from there either.

Now . . . a lesson in epistemology. It's a lot funner to use the word than to actually explains what it means.

It's actually a word from philosophy more than religion. There are several factors that impact the way people think. Epistemology is a big fancy word that refers to the way that we know what we know. You can get really techinical and talk about metaphysics and all that, but I think there is a simpler road.

Epistemology helps explain the ideological paradigms that guides our thinking. It explores the interplay between logic, experience, and reason. How do they impact each other as we strive to learn and know things?

It especially comes into relevance in discussions of propositional truth that are popular among postmodern thinkers. Is there propositional truth? Few say yes. If not, then what? If there are not objective, identifiable truths out there to observe and digest, how do we know what we know. This is where experience comes into play. Through my experiences of this, that, or the other (from my example, college football) I come to understand the world a certain way. This has much more impact on the way I view the world than on some absolute truth I can wrap my mind around and allow to transform my life.

Like I said . . . I have no business comparing this to college football, but hopefully that helps a little. I, by no means, know much of what I'm talking about.

Brian said...

Totally off topic reply to your original post/point:
To be honest with you, it did not even occur to me so say something about "THE Ohio State University." I like to see these guys have some pride for the school that helped get them ready for the NFL. This has become more true as guy give shoutouts to high schools, middle schools, etc. There is a reason that UM and OSU are successful programs: their alumni are big supporters of the school.

What did surprise me about your post as an OSU guy was that, when talking about perceptions, you did not mention that awful call at the end of the first overtime of the Fiesta Bowl. But I digress.

Metz said...

What in the world? I happen to know that you were in a horrible position to make the call. I am truly unbiased in my opinion that the call had to be made . . . ha ha . . . but O, how Columbus rejoiced at the call being made. By the way . . . since we're digressing, I saved a newspaper article about that game that appeared in the Columbus Dispatch before the season that reported on the number of players from that game that were currently on NFL rosters. It's unbelieveable. They said that it may never happen again that that many NFL caliber players were in one game at the same time. All in all . . . we did see something special . . . even if the officials happened to take center stage.

Hey . . . maybe the Bucks will make a trek to Miami this bowl season and we can finally make a visit to Miami??????????

Brian said...

I don't know about OSU, but Miami still has some guys who were Freshman that year that are likely to be playing on Sundays next year, most notably Eric Winston who was the intended receiver on Dorsey's last pass in the Feista Bowl. He's predicted to be a first round draft pick.

If OSU is in the orange bowl, you guys are more than welcome to come and stay with us.