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Zero-Sum Games & the Church

kinnon —  November 5, 2012 — 15 Comments

ZeroSum Games w 3D Shadow

a zero–sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which a participant’s gain (or loss) of utility is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the utility of the other participant(s)Wikipedia

I Win! You lose! It’s a zero-sum game.


This is, effectively, an extension of a previous blog post from January of this year, Theology — Is It a Bloodsport? It came out of a heated “conversation” Jared Wilson and I had on Twitter. One that may have not been the most productive. What I found most disquieting in that discussion was the language of team sports as a metaphor for interaction regarding Christianity’s different theological positions.

In that post, I spoke about my own lack of indoctrination into what I see is the idolatry of sports.

I make no bones about the fact I’m not into sports. From the time I was 8 until I was 13, I lived in Europe on Canadian Air Force bases. My family didn’t have a TV and neither did any of my friends’ families. If I listened to any sports, it was on Canadian Forces Network radio—a week tape delay of Hockey Night in Canada. And as much as I love the sound of Foster Hewitt’s voice, I rarely listened to him. So I guess I was never predisposed to view life through the lens of professional sports.

I, therefore, don’t find what appears to me to be the language / actions of team-loyal sports fans being applied to theological discussions as particularly helpful.”

I would state, rather categorically, that if there is a state religion in the U.S., that religion would be organized sport. The level of angst that exists for the success or failure of one’s team is more than a little disconcerting – especially when the fan is a Christian, or a “Christian leader.”

Pascal put his finger on the problem of human life when he saw how entertainment had come to occupy a place, not as the necessary and momentary relief from a life of work, but as an end in itself. When entertainment becomes more than a pleasant and occasional distraction, when time and income become devoted to entertainment and to pleasure, when sports teams become more important to us than people—even the people to whom we are close—then something has gone badly wrong. The frothy entertainment culture in which we live is a narcotic: not only is it addictive, so that we always want more; it also eats away at us, skewing our priorities, rotting our values as surely as too much sugar rots our teeth.” — Carl Trueman, Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread, Page 111.

In my childhood, I was taught the lie, “it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” The truth is closer to, ‘it doesn’t matter how you play the game, it’s whether you win or lose.’

Trueman again,

For many, though, sport has become an integral part of their identity, and, more often than not, it is watching sport, not actual participation, that does this. The success or failure of a team becomes the vicarious success or failure of the supporter. In other words, sport becomes a means of finding authenticity and value. Other areas of life can be neglected, malfunction, or simply go to the dogs; but as long as “the team” is doing well, all is OK with the world. Indeed, in good “opium” fashion, we can be enduring all kinds of garbage being dropped on us; but the “team” gives us hope—albeit specious and illusory—of fulfillment and happiness.” Carl Trueman, Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread, Page 123.

Many, if not most North American children are indoctrinated into their particular team fandom at a young age.

Rachel Held Evans, in her latest book, talks about her Roll Tide addiction,

I grew up in the great state of Alabama, which journalist Warren St. John deems “the worst place on earth to acquire a healthy perspective on the importance of spectator sports.” 1 In Alabama, the third most important question after “What is your name?” and “Where do you go to church?” is “Alabama or Auburn?” So soon after I learned to identify myself as a nondenominational, Bible-believing Christian named Rachel, I learned to identify myself as an Alabama fan. My little sister and I knew what intentional grounding was before we’d acquired the dexterity to play with Barbie dolls, and as kids we liked to imitate my mother, who had the habit of willing an Alabama running back down the field by moving closer and closer to the TV set the longer he stayed on his feet. By the time he danced into the end zone, the whole family—Mom, Dad, Amanda, and I—would be huddled together around the TV, screaming our heads off, nervously looking for any yellow flags on the field.” Rachel Held Evans, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Page 2

At it’s very worst, this American obsession with winning teams is exemplified by what was allowed to happen under Joe Paterno’s leadership at Penn State. Winning at any cost — even if that cost was children sacrificed on the altar of pedophilia. UPDATE 3: View this graphic. And weep.

But I would suggest that for most Americans, the worship of sports is milder than that, but perhaps more insidious.

Trash Talking

One of the manifestations of this is the prevalence of trash talking that began in sports but has become a very noticeable part of social interaction. It’s roots may be in the rather innocent, “Hey batter, batter” of baseball but the language is far stronger today — and much more destructive.

I note these two stories on American President, Barack Obama, known as a hyper-competitive player. From CNN,

Reggie Love, the man by President Barack Obama’s side for two years in the White House, said the president leads like he plays basketball… …“He’s a competitor, and I think when you compete … you can’t spend all your time sort of being overly emotional or reactional to what’s going on,” Love said.

Obama trashing Rubio2

And then from Politico,

It is Obama’s own burning competitiveness, with his remorseless focus on beating Mitt Romney — an opponent he genuinely views with contempt and fears will be unfit to run the country…

Obama is sometimes portrayed as a reluctant warrior, sorry to see 2012 marked by so much partisan warfare but forced by circumstance to go along. But this perception is by most evidence untrue. In the interviews with current and former Obama aides, not one said he expressed any reservations about the negativity. He views it as a necessary part of campaigning, as a natural — if unpleasant — rotation of the cyclical political wheel.

Obama’s trash-talking competitiveness, a trait that has defined him since his days on the court as a basketball-obsessed teenager in Hawaii, was on display one night last February, when the president spotted a woman he knew was close to Sen. Marco Rubio in a Florida hotel lobby. “Is your boy going to go for [vice president]?” the president asked her. Maybe, she replied. “Well,” he said, chuckling, according to a person who witnessed the encounter. “Tell your boy to watch it. He might get his ass kicked.” [emphasis added]

Obama is simply a product of the dominant culture.

His team will do anything to beat the other – and that sentiment is reciprocated. To a Democrat, Republicans are knuckle-dragging fools who hate women and want to return to the 50’s. To a Republican, Democrats are Socialists who will steal the election in order to worship Stalin or Satan, take your pick.

The trash-talking, zero-sum gaming of U.S. Politics is in danger of destroying the American nation.


I’m more concerned about what it’s doing to the church.

Matthew Lee Anderson, in his review of RHE’s new book, says this at the end of his rather long (but must read) review:

…I am increasingly saddened by the state of our Christian discourse online, including my own involvement in it.

I’m no Roman history expert, but I take it that it was their love of entertainment that led them to the Coliseum. It’s a bloodthirsty idol, entertainment, for it knows no boundaries nor respects no persons. Over the past two years, Christians have engaged in a variety of controversies—which they have been doing for a long time, but which seem to be coming and going with a greater rapidity while being discussed at a significantly more shallow level. I think of Rob Bell’s book, Jesus>Religion, Mark Driscoll’s book, the Wilson dustup, and now this conflagration. And there are, I think, others I am forgetting.

In each, the form of arguments have rarely been commendable and the level of discourse ennobling. We have increasingly, it seems to me, been taken by these controversies and fought for pageviews in the midst of them. And that has meant mostly fighting each other, clashing verbal swords and letting the digital blood flow in the streets. I know well that there is a time to disagree and to draw lines. And I also know that when the controversy is upon us, the drumbeats of war always beat the loudest, and it is usually in such moments that we should speak of peace. Perhaps we would all do well to wield our intellectual swords with a good deal more care.

One of the reasons I’ve had such a hard time blogging in these past six months, is what went down this summer on The Gospel Coalition blog of Jared Wilson’s when he used a Doug Wilson quote on his Fifty Shades of Grey Post, now deleted – and the Internet blog storm that was created — the Wilson dustup mentioned by Anderson, above.

I’ve known Jared through our relationship with the late Michael Spencer, for probably five years. I’ve held him in high regard for most of the time. But I was shocked by his response to the people who were profoundly offended by his blog post, particularly in the way he trash-talked them on Twitter, as well as in the comment sections of the multiple posts he wrote based on his first post.

If you follow Jared on Twitter, you’ll know he’s a huge sports fan — especially football. I honestly believe that Jared was engaging in social media debate in a manner little different than what he would do amongst his friends known as The Thinklings. His responses were simply representative of the perspective formed by the culturally dominant world of sport. Trash-talking being a normative response.

Jared is hardly the most egregious example of Christian trash-talking. And its not limited to his fellow Calvinists.

Some of the stuff I read from Christian Progressives in response to Evangelicals and other Christian conservatives is really little different from how Democrats feel about Republicans — only its shared with less love and affection. (That’s sarcasm, by the way.)

As I bring my own, too long, post to a close, I realize that perhaps all this is a plea like that of the late Rodney King, “Can we all get along?”


Perhaps, we could all simply become less resounding gongs or clanging cymbals — the ones Paul, the Apostle spoke of here.

UPDATE: Read Michael Kruze’s post here: America’s Increasingly Tribal Electorate

UPDATE 2: Todd Littleton advances the conversation much further.

The Stillers in the Super Bowl

kinnon —  February 1, 2009 — 2 Comments


OK. Really they’re the Steelers. And after Sunday’s Super Bowl, the Cardinals will feel like they’re the Stealers. But once again, the only team in the NFL I really care about, from the Kinnon family’s second home, are in the Super Bowl.

You gotta love a team that has the new President and Rush Limbaugh as fans!

Yinz* just need to know that the Pittsburgh Stillers are there to win.

*For comprehension.

…nothing will. Sent to me by my buddy, George, this morning. This horse has more rhythm than a lot of people I know. (Heck, she has more rhythm than me.) Approaching a million views on YouTube!

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Canadian Saves Pittsburgh

kinnon —  October 5, 2006 — Leave a comment

…well, the Penguins, anyway.

The ‘burgh is my most loved city in the US. Populated by some of my favorite people on the planet. It’s great when a fellow Canadian can help out the sports-crazed folk in the city of three rivers.

TORONTO — Jim Balsillie , the 45-year old hockey fanatic and co-chief executive officer of Waterloo, Ont.-based Research in Motion Ltd., has signed a purchase agreement to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Rumours have swirled about Balsillie perhaps moving the team Hamilton, which is close to his home and RIM’s head office in Waterloo, Ont., but he indicated Thursday that he plans to keep the team in Pittsburgh.

“Pittsburgh has shown itself to be an outstanding hockey market, and the team has an incredible tradition of success and fan support,” he said in a statement. “With young stars such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, we all know the Penguins have a very bright future on the ice. I look forward to owning this team for a long time in Pittsburgh.”

And, heck, it’s only an hour flight from Waterloo, directly south to the ‘burgh – or under a five hour drive. (We’ve done the Toronto – Pittsburgh trip hundreds of times. Imbi once did it in under four hours…very late at night.)

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Kayak Revolution

kinnon —  July 31, 2006 — 2 Comments

My back is a little sore this morning. It would seem that my attempt at exercise yesterday was a little too exuberant.

Imbi and I decided to kayak around a chunk of our island. The lake was relatively calm, save for the wake caused by idiots in their cigarette boats who thought it fun to zoom around the island – burning fuel at a rate of around 2 miles per gallon. But their long-term madness only momentarily disturbed our pleasure.

Banana Tomato Kayaks-1There’s a revolution happening on the water. Personally-powered boats are surging in sales, as boomers and their children get out of their power boats and get a lot closer to the water – and kayaks lead the surge. At one point yesterday morning, there were six kayaks within a hundred feet of each other. And the two-person kayak in that traffic jam, even carried a puppy.

We bought The Tomato and the The Banana at the end of the season last year from the Muskoka Paddle Shack – a new business with one location. This year they have three locations. I may just drop into their Toronto location today as I’m in town doing business. A friend showed me new paddles that will increase the speed of our kayak…if my back can take it.

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Would Someone Please Tell…

kinnon —  July 5, 2006 — 1 Comment

…the Italian-Canadians out on St. Clair Ave (and their loud compatriots staggering down Glenholme) to go to bed. It was just a game, people. Grown men kicking around a little white ball. Grown men who are paid staggering amounts of money…to kick around a little white ball. Into a really big net. Like how hard can that be. Except they spent 90 minutes missing the net – and had to go into overtime – and now these people are out on the street keeping me awake. Its after 1AM. Don’t you people have jobs! Enough with the car honking. Enough with the car horn theme from the Godfather. (I mean, was Don Corleone a football soccer fan.) GO TO BED.

(Here are some shots from earlier in the evening as the noise making began. Taken with my Sony Ericsson S710A phone – when I still thought the celebrations were cute.)

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Canadian Athletes are…

kinnon —  April 6, 2006 — Leave a comment

…good people to help. Anyone need some Maple Syrup in Norway? Bjoernar Haakensmoen is not sure he’ll be able to use all the 5.2 tons of the stuff Canadians sent, eh.

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Joga1Soccer (football) fans unite. You have your own website. Brought to you by the good folks @ Nike and Google. It’s called Joga and it’s available by invitation only for now.

Joga is unique, because it’s an organically growing network of trusted friends. It is one of a kind network that focuses solely on a common interest around the game of soccer. Joga will help you connect to people who share the same passion for the game and also access exclusive content around athlete profiles, video clips and photos.

From BusinessWeek:

Following the raging popularity of such sites as and in Brazil, Nike executives approached Google with the idea of creating a social-networking site revolving around the world’s most popular sport: soccer.

Unlike, however, will be a community that focuses on one topic and one passion: soccer, or “football,” as it is known outside the U.S. “As we saw the social networks grow in the U.S. and elsewhere, we asked, ‘What if this was around sports, a specific sport?'” says Trevor Edwards, Nike’s vice president for global brand management. “We are really excited about it.”

JOGA – a little Web 2.0 group therapy for the soccer mad world.

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Golfing @ Breakfast

kinnon —  March 17, 2006 — Leave a comment

I met a former NASA engineer @ breakfast this morning and we began talking about…golf. John is the VP of Sales & Marketing for a company called Balance Certified Golf – and if you love one of the two great games the Scots foisted on us (the other is Curling), you owe it to yourself to check them out.

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Skateless “Joe Jackson”

kinnon —  February 9, 2006 — Leave a comment

"Say it ain’t so, Joe" was the refrain heard throughout the U.S. nation when Shoeless Joe Jackson was accused* of fixing the World Series in 1919.  Canadians are echoing the refrain today as Wayne Gretsky is accused of knowing about the illegal gambling ring his wife participated in – something he has vehemently denied, but wiretaps seem to indicate otherwise.

The Great One is a Canadian hero. If he was truly involved with this gambling tale, then Canadians will have to accept that his blades supported feet of clay. Say it ain’t so, Wayne!

*Many historians believe Jackson was falsely accused.

ASIDE: One of my favorite songs from the 70’s was Murray Head’s "Say It Ain’t So, Joe." It’s how I remembered the Shoeless story. Click on the above hyperlink to hear it. Murray Head was Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar.

[HT: Nealenews]

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