Calvinism, Celtic, and Us vs. Them

Today I’m pleased to welcome to the Rally to Restore Unity my friend Chad Gibbs. Chad is the author of God and Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC—a funny, insightful book that I especially enjoyed as an Alabama fan because it recounted the season in which Bama won its most recent national championship….from the perspective of an Auburn fan. 

Chad’s excited to be part of our virtual rally, which he describes as being “just like a real rally, with signs and guest speakers, but without the porta potties.”  Be sure to check out Chad’s consistently awesome blog

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Sometime during my second junior year of college I discovered the joys of arguing with Calvinists. Before then I didn’t know freewill was even up for debate, and if you’d asked me what an Arminian was I’d have guessed one of the bounty hunters from The Empire Strikes Back.  But one fateful day a friend went all T.U.L.I.P. on me, and it was on.

I suppose at first our squabbles grew out of a genuine desire to bring the other closer to Christ through theology.  Okay, sorry, I couldn’t even type that last sentence with a straight face.  From the beginning our sole aim was to make the other bow down and admit they were wrong. Eventually I was spending most of my days scouring the Internet, finding obscure verses and theologians I could quote the next time my friend and I spoke.  By the end I didn’t really even know what I was arguing, I just knew I had to be right.

I thought about these things a few months ago when I visited Glasgow.  This year I’m writing a book on hate as seen through the lens of the most intense rivalries in sports, and back in February I went to Scotland to watch Celtic and Rangers play soccer.  To make this short and simple, Celtic are a Catholic team that supports the Irish Republic, while Rangers are a Protestant team that favors the United Kingdom.  Basically, you have all the troubles of Northern Ireland wrapped up in a Scottish soccer rivalry.

There is no doubt the hate Celtic and Rangers fans feel is real.  Over 300 arrests were made in the violence that erupted after the match I attended in February.  And just days ago a parcel bomb was sent to Celtic manager Neil Lennon.  But here’s the thing, as Franklin Foer points out in his fascinating book, How Soccer Explains the World, most Rangers fans do not believe in the Protestantism their team represents.  And while Celtic fans certainly consider themselves Catholics, it’s hard to picture them going to mass after chanting “F*** the Queen” for the better part of ninety minutes.  Sure, for some the political and religious troubles of Northern Ireland are represented by Celtic and Rangers, but for many the rivalry is just providing, what Foer calls, “…a kind of pornographic pleasure.”

I think many Christians, myself include, are familiar with the type of pleasure Foer speaks of.  We feel it when we gather with likeminded people, or on message boards, or on blogs, and discuss, in absolute terms, the faults and characteristics of those who disagree with us.  We turn those with differing opinions into easy to hate caricatures, and eventually we forget exactly what it was that separated us.  We only remember that we are right, and they are wrong.

Obviously, Christians are going to disagree on theological issues, and I see nothing wrong with that.  I have friends who were genuinely concerned with the message in Rob Bell’s new book, and expressed their heartfelt views with thoughtful eloquence.  But I also saw some of the same ugliness, particularly on the social networks, that many of you encountered.  Seems the Internet, while bringing us all closer together, is making unity that much harder.  That’s why I appreciate Rachel and her efforts, even though she screams Roll Tide, and not War Eagle.  

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Throughout the rally we've touched on how the Internet and social media can feed the sort of rivalry of which Chad speaks. So what do we do about it? ... Donate to Charity:Water, you say? GOOD IDEA! 

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