Intellectual Dishonesty

Nolan Ryan greets Ventura upon arrival

Nolan Ryan greets Ventura upon arrival

As a fan of baseball, there are certain divisive issues within the sport for which I support the minority viewpoint. One commonly-accepted truism, which I reject, is that there are acceptable reasons for a pitcher to intend to hit a batter.  That mindset is popular in my town of Arlington, TX, (where Nolan Ryan once showed that whippersnapper Robin Ventura a thing or two) and its popularity is pervasive throughout baseball.

Popular or not, it’s wrong. If you have to resort to throwing at the batter, it means you aren’t a good enough pitcher to get the guy out by throwing strikes.  If you are really a better pitcher than he is a hitter, then throw him your best stuff, and you’ll win. If he’s better than you, then he wins. You may not like that result, but it’s the right one. If you throw at him, you’re admitting you’re not equipped to handle him any other way.

Alas, I am in the minority on this one. Most fans feel that while some dirty baseball (i.e. steroids) is wrong, other dirty baseball, such as throwing at batters, is fine. The ends justifies the means.

Taking this observation outside of baseball, as I read and listen to pundits of various schools of thought argue about divisive issues of the day, it’s not hard to notice that many pundits and self-appointed experts shape the conversation by the equivalent of throwing a fastball at someone’s head. There are many ways they do this, but one that makes my blood boils is this: calling someone a coward.

Of course, nobody uses that word. “Coward” is old-school. It’s something right out of a John Wayne western, usually paired with “yellow-bellied” or “lily-livered”.   No, the people of whom I speak use more subtlety and variety while accusing those with whom they disagree of being afraid.

Let’s take a look at some specific examples:

1. I listened to audio of a sermon last week where the speaker said that those who teach a certain thing (intentionally leaving out the specifics here) do so because they are afraid.   Afraid of what, I am not sure exactly. If you don’t know why someone’s doing what they are doing, you shouldn’t be speculating and concluding that they are doing what they do out of fear. Assigning a motive with no evidence to back it up is nothing more than a false accusation.

2. A blog post from a popular author this week suggested entering a new relationship with a list of qualities you’d want in a future spouse. Most comments to the post were in agreement with the blogger, while a few did not concur. One commenter said “the reason we don’t want to make lists is because we’re afraid.”  Really?  I find that insulting, to say the least. But this person has convinced herself that someone who sees things differently than she does is doing so out of fear.  They can’t have formed their opinion by actually thinking about it and considering all the facts. They must be fraidy-cats.

Again, someone is assigning motives without proof. What a cop-out.

3. The prevalent misuse of the word “homophobia” (as well as related words such as “homophobic”.  I shouldn’t even have to say this. Just about everyone who speaks the English language knows that the suffix “phobia” means “an irrational fear of.”  Yet it’s used against anyone who makes hateful statements against gays (the most recent example being Tracy Morgan’s Nashville outburst).  Sometimes, it’s even used to describe comments by a person who simply states that homosexuality is sin.

Whether intentional or not, this is a dishonest use of “phobia”, employed in order to sway the conversation. Once branded as “phobic”, it is hard to bring common sense and a decent defense of your motives back into the conversation.

If you have a phobia of any other kind, everyone understands what that entails. If you are acrophobic (have an irrational fear of heights), everyone who hears this understands that you don’t make hateful statements about heights. They understand you have a morbid fear of them. Tracy Morgan didn’t sound to me like he was afraid of gays. He was hateful. He was a jerk. he was not phobic.

We don’t know where it started, but some years ago, an unknown person decided to employ intellectual dishonesty in defense of gay rights; he or she decided to throw that fastball right at the heads of millions of people who have theological, political, or personal perspectives which differed from theirs. He did it by asserting, as in example #2 above, that such a perspective must be fear-based. Not just fear, but irrational fear.

The fact is that, while there surely is someone, somewhere, who actually is afraid of gay people, such people are surely few and far between. But the mainstream press, supposedly made up of professionals for whom the ability to choose the correct words must be an essential tool of the profession, has decided to toss common sense and common decency out the window, and has embraced this  profoundly inaccurate term.  There is no evidence to suggest that Tracy Morgan has a psychotic tendency to fear gays. Why not simply describe his rant as “anti-gay”?  Why throw in the groundless accusation that Morgan is fearful (and irrationally so) of homosexuals?

In baseball, there are many who believe that throwing at a batter is an acceptable part of the game, and likewise some believe dishonesty is acceptable when casting one’s political opposers in as negative a light as possible.  When it comes to intellectual dishonesty in general, it all boils down to: do your ideas have merit or don’t they? If they do, then you don’t need to lie. You don’t need to play dirty.

Sadly, for every one person who strives to have legitimate and fair dialog, there is another who chooses to misdirect the conversation by employing the “fear” accusation, which is used so often because it’s effective and hard to defend against without sounding defensive. Like the pitcher who isn’t a good enough pitcher to jsut get the batter out, these folks unwisely and unfairly use the word “homophobe” because their actual arguments do not have merit, and their perspective cannot stand on its merits.

Note that, unlike many people, I am not calling for an end to debate, either within Christianity or outside of it. Debate will always be with us because theological differences will always be with us. The bible is ambiguous in places, and when we read it, we all bring our own presuppositions and prejudices, and want to fit the bible into what we already think.

What we should do is acknowledge the fact that we will differ and go from there. In the process, we should offer compelling arguments which are completely honest. Because if we have a legit point to make, that’s all we need. Leave the name-calling to kids.

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Upside-Down Priorities: Who’s the real hero?

Which one is a real hero?A few days ago, my sons and I went to the always-highly-anticipated annual Texas Rangers Fan Fest.

All too often, the high hopes that bring us the this event are not grounded in reality. But it’s fun, so we keep coming. This time, however, the excitement was heightened because the optimism was justified. After all, this team had gone farther than any Rangers team ever: the World Series. It’s like the Super Bowl of baseball. (Or perhaps the Super Bowl is the World Series of football).

Because these players were so successful, they were treated like heroes. My clan didn’t stand in line for autographs, but those in search of signatures waited for hours to get Matt Treanor, CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis, or Josh Hamilton to sign balls, gloves, or bats.  These guys were hailed heroes. For a fan base which has not seen a lot of baseball success before 2010, the hero treatment for a World Series team is understandable.

But I also noticed the legendary Gaylord Perry, sitting there at a table with no line. Sure, his autograph was $20, but so was CJ Wilson’s, and the CJ line was at least 2 hours long.  So why did CJ Wilson, who has been a starting pitcher for all of one year, get so much more love than Gaylord Perry? Before CJ was born, Perry had won a Cy Young in each league. He has struck over over 3000 batters. His status as a Hall of Famer should be enough to warrant a much higher demand. Simply put, he has accomplished much more than all the young guys on hand, combined.

A few minutes after I noticed Perry sitting by himself with barely any attention, I saw something even more astounding. If the ignorance of Perry is sad, this nearly qualifies as tragic. As I was waiting for my sons to take their turn running the distance from 3rd base to Home Plate (in case you are wondering, Jacob did it in 3.89 seconds, and Zachary in 5.17), an elderly man was there, probably watching his grandkids as they stood in the same line as mine. He must have been at least 80, and he was wearing a cap that said “World War II Vet”.

Everyone ignored him. People walked past him like they walked past any other person they didn’t know. I walked right by him myself.  If I were a better person and better father, I would have thanked him, right in front of my boys, for his service to our country. But I didn’t. And I wasn’t alone in that.

OK, so it was a baseball event, not Veterans’ Day. Still,  I couldn’t help but be struck by the way we have our heroes reversed. If all were right with the world, there would have been a long line of people to see the WWII vet, a medium line to see Gaylord Perry, and a few to bask in the presence of the youngsters like Hamilton and Wilson. But, like so many things in America, we have it all backwards.