Secularist Faith and College Football

There’s an interesting story in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week. It reports on the football program at Clemson University, where the coaching staff is openly Christian. They have prayer meetings for students and baptize those who come to faith.

Apparently, this is controversial.

Anne Laurie Gaylor is co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. She asserts that “a culture of evangelizing on a football team has got to stop.” She adds that a state-funded institution is an inappropriate place for repeated religious messages.

This is ironic and hypocritical. It is ironic because the university exists for the purpose of influencing impressionable young men and women. Ms. Gaylor knows this. It’s what she does when she advocates for “freedom from religion,” and trains her powers of influence on young adults to persuade them to adopt a liberal, religiously pluralistic, and secular, perhaps even atheist, perspective. Her agenda is threatened by the presence of equally vocal religious believers on turf where she and other secularists have staked a claim and are used to getting their way.

Advocacy of a religious point of view or another is not equivalent to “pushing religion” on others, any more than Ms. Gaylor’s secularist advocacy amounts, in principle, to pushing her religion on others. I say “in principle” because her tactics are exclusivist. She has no tolerance for ideological competition. Her basic outlook on life is her own take on religious questions. It defines her religion. And her religious outlook is reflected in her advocacy. Her organization exists principally for advocacy for this religion.

A football program differs from a religious advocacy group like the Freedom from Religion Foundation. A football program prepares young men for leadership through discipline and sport. At Clemson, the leaders of this program happen to be Christians who, exercising their own freedom of conscience, are openly Christian and interested in the souls of their players. The Freedom from Religion Foundation is all about pushing a set of ideas on impressionable students. Their ideas are overtly secularist and anti-Christian. Apart from that, they have nothing to contribute. They do not even advocate for vigorous public discussion and comparison of Christian and non-Christian perspectives, including their own. They do not invite scrutiny of their agenda, nor do they submit their own worldview commitments to examination suited to university life. They are preachers and missionaries. They expect to exercise the freedom that they insist should not be allowed to others in the university world.

Ms. Gaylor herself probably was an impressionable young student at one time; she, too, probably was influenced by people she wished to please. It is likely that she fell under the spell of an ideology that she now seeks to promote, because she thinks that what she believes is true and that others should believe as she does. She has beliefs about what counts as religion, what it means to be free from religion, what it takes to be free from religion, and how freedom from religion can be fostered through her organization. And she expects others to believe this, too. It is peculiar that she expects religious believers like those on the coaching staff at Clemson to agree with her. She claims that what they believe is their own business. But they should not “evangelize.” They should, in other words, keep their faith to themselves, while she and her kin promote a secular agenda in the resulting vacuum. How convenient for her.

Secularists seek enforcement of the privatization of Christian belief. They do this publicly and generally without censure. But Christian belief is compromised when it is privatized. So the effect of Ms. Gaylor’s missionary enterprise would be the privatization of a faith that is essentially interpersonal and the social advancement of a cult of irreligion that she would not keep to herself.

For the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, click http://chronicle.com/article/With-God-on-Our-Side/143231/?cid=wb&utm_source=wb&utm_medium=en.

 

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking.

5 Responses to Secularist Faith and College Football

  1. Doug Geivett says:

    You make a good point, Justin.

  2. Doug Geivett says:

    Thanks, Anonymous! You never know what will strike a nerve or prove to be a good resource for a reader. Glad to have you visiting my pages.

  3. Anonymous says:

    So well articulated, thanks for posting. This is going in my keep file and on my Facebook page.

  4. bethyada says:

    Excellent. It is as if religion is banned but viewpoints are not, yet secularism makes religious claims. Atheism is a much a religious claim as theism is.

  5. justinyeater says:

    Thanks for the article, Doug. If there’s no coercion on the part of the coaches or other players, then there is nothing to sweat about. However, from the article, there does appear to be a “culture of evangelizing” on the team. The individual the reporter spoke to who was a Jehovah’s Witness felt exluded at times; it would be interesting to speak with a muslim, mormon, or atheist member of the team and see how they felt about the situation.

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