Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Seconding an Unpopular Opinion

In internet parlance, an “echo chamber” is a sociological phenomenon produced by the algorithms on major websites that respond to our choices of viewing material with suggestions for other options.

Because web designers want users to ingest their content, read their advertising and buy the stuff they are flogging, anything we look at regularly online generates multiple opportunities to do more of the same and fewer and fewer invitations to do anything different. Amazon does it. Google does it. YouTube does it. Your favorite news website probably does it. Everybody does it.

Sometimes it’s merely irritating. Sometimes it’s downright funny. But you must have noticed it.

More Coffee Anyone?

On the funny side, I recently purchased a coffee machine online, and was promptly bombarded with emails and popups for several days urging me to buy a variety of similarly priced coffee machines manufactured by others. For the average person, these are not useful suggestions. How many coffee machines does any household need?

Sometimes, then, the algorithms operate on a childish level, and sometimes they are more sophisticated, able to slip past our defenses and into our pockets. But the fact that our choices always spawn more choices of the same sort means that if we are not careful, we inadvertently become subject to a sort of intellectual sclerosis. Conservatives end up reading conservative blogs and liberals end up reading liberal blogs. We become familiar with all the most dismissable and inane arguments of the other side, and start to think they are a bunch of morons, when often that is only because the writers of the websites we read tend to seize on the most obvious errors of their left-leaning counterparts, and vice versa.

Among Christians, the same dynamic holds true with denominational affiliations and theological systems: all the technology working in the background reinforces our natural biases rather than challenging us to think about areas of scripture in which our current doctrinal package is a bit deficient. If we read Reformed writers, we will be prompted with more self-reinforcing Reformed writers, and so on. Too much of that, and we find ourselves living in an echo chamber or “silo” in which we endlessly recycle the same stale ideas with no outside input or robust intellectual challenges to our spiritual worldview. We hear nothing but the fading reverberations of our own voices.

Broadening Our Horizons

One of the more helpful ways Christians can utilize the internet to broaden our horizons and get us out of our echo chambers is by actually reading what Christians from other denominations and belief systems are writing for ourselves, rather than reading what believers from our own circle are writing about them. I try to make a regular habit of reading Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics and anyone else who may help keep me sharp. When I try to make a case for what might be considered a “conservative” argument, I’ll make it from the content of leftist websites rather than from those of writers with whom I naturally agree. While this helps to keep a writer’s arguments fresh, his readers may from time to time wonder why he would bother to belabor a point so completely obvious to people in his echo chamber. The answer is usually that the point is not at all obvious to 80% of Christendom.

Here’s one I never thought about before, and it took a Reformed Baptist from halfway around the world to bring it to my attention.

The issue is women’s sports. Those of us who watch YouTube pundits and read conservative websites have probably seen dozens of videos or blog posts protesting the invasion of women’s sports by trans women (biological men) at every level from high school track meets to the WNBA. The unfairness of this politically correct practice is so glaringly obvious to any sane human being that most commentary you will see about it is either hilarious or rage-inducing. We all could easily imagine our high school-aged daughters similarly frustrated by having to compete at a huge disadvantage against athletically superior male genetics. The natural reaction is to shill uncritically for the sanctity of women’s sports: “Should opportunities to compete in women’s athletic events be restricted to biological women? Of course they should!” End of argument.

It rarely occurs to anyone to question whether there might be anything intrinsic to women’s sports that might demand from us a closer, more Christian examination.

An Unpopular Opinion

Matt Littlefield entitled his post “Unpopular Opinion Time”. Uh oh, here we go, I thought. More clickbait. Well, no. What we get instead is a reasoned argument for Christians about thinking twice before promoting women’s sport at all. Here’s what he has to say:

“For one, so few women play sport that even most women are not interested in it. Two, are you aware how much of women’s sport, especially at the higher levels, is a pickup scene for lesbians? ... the gender transgressive nature of women’s sport, especially at the professional level, is well known by many involved. Three, because of the hip structure of women things like football, soccer and many other sports that involve sideways movement have serious negative effects on a woman’s body in ways that they do not have on men’s bodies. So, many sports hurt women in ways that they do not hurt men. Four, women’s professional sport is an inherently feminist issue, it was something that transgressive radical feminists pushed. Why would the church advocate for their position? It is ridiculous. It’s white-knighting on a seriously irrelevant issue.”

Of these four arguments, the second is probably the most alarming for believers with athletic daughters.

Women’s Professional Sports as Lesbian Pickup Scene

Matt goes on to prove his case (at least the lesbian pickup aspect of women’s professional sports) by quoting from The Washington Post at length. Here’s the lead-in to their article on the subject:

“Alyssa is dating DeWanna who used to be married to Candice; Jasmine and Natisha are engaged, and Natisha and Courtney used to date. Allie and a different Courtney are married, while Diana married her former teammate, Penny. No, this isn’t an episode about Alice’s chart on ‘The L Word’: It’s the WNBA, where romances among teammates and league rivals are as expected as a lethal three-point shot.”

Yowza. As a Christian parent, did you have any idea how prevalent this dynamic is? I didn’t.

I mean, I am certainly aware that there are plenty of in-your-face lesbians in women’s sports. That is hardly surprising. The natural attributes required to play them at a high level, such as strength and speed, are essentially male. Competition among women in these areas tends to spark the interest of less-feminine women limited in their ability to excel in areas of life where femininity is an asset, just as it draws interest from low-status, less-athletic men who cannot compete against their peers. Moreover, in our culture, naturally masculine women are subjected to inordinate temptation toward sexual deviancy because it is so heavily promoted as authentic, brave and admirable.

But a lesbian pickup scene? I’m sure gay men play in the NBA too, but it’s not at all part of the culture.

If your athletic daughter showed any interest in taking her skills beyond the high school level, wouldn’t this be a legitimate area of concern worth discussing with her? In fact, if this is how women’s professional sports looks today in our relentlessly woke culture, it’s reasonable to suspect some of these potential dangers and unprecedented temptations also exist for girls at the lower levels of competition, including in high school dressing rooms.

Out of the Echo Chamber

I had to get out of my own echo chamber to come across any sort of discussion of the potential dangers inherent in women’s sports at the professional level. The issue is not a life-changer for me, but next time around, I may come across something more relevant to my current set of responsibilities before the Lord. A fresh pair of eyes on any issue is always a good thing.

How should Christian parents respond? Well, the potential danger of living a significant portion of a young girl’s life subjected to excessive temptation, or the possibility of compromised testimony, doesn’t mean kneejerk refusal to allow a talented young Christian athlete to participate in a sport she loves is automatically the wisest course of action. (Most of us know how well heavy-handedness works with teenage girls.) Nor does it mean that the Christian community should be calling for the wholesale banning of women’s sports. (We know that’s not going to happen, and Matt doesn’t even remotely go there. He writes, “Women's sport is a strange side issue, and even if you win that battle it will not change the trajectory of society.”)

A Reasoned Christian Response

So what would a reasoned response to new information of this sort look like? For the believing parent, at bare minimum being alert to what is going on, talking it through calmly with our own kids and any in our churches who might encounter the problem. A strong Christian teen can do well in an environment hostile to her beliefs, but she needs to know she is going to war.

Most obviously, we need to be careful not to reflexively defend a state of affairs that is not Christian in the least. When you live in Babylon and somebody sends the crazies in to bring down the establishment, cheering for the status quo may actually mean cheering against God. Historically speaking, the Lord has not infrequently sent in the pagans to purge a defiled mess.

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