The first NFL football player has come out openly as saying he doesn’t believe in God to ESPN. He’s Arian Foster of the Houston Texans and is being viewed as the Anti-Tim Tebow. He recently uploaded a video on his lack of belief in God at Openly Secular. Today we are going back to atheism or secular humanism and discussing Arian Foster. I am grateful for this discussion and his openness of his lack of faith and applaud his courage. We need to have these discussions on atheism/secularism and the only way we can have them are if people are honest.
“That’s my whole thing: Faith isn’t enough for me. For people who are struggling with that, they’re nervous about telling their families or afraid of the backlash … man, don’t be afraid to be you. I was, for years.”
“He is the first active professional athlete, let alone star, to ever stand up in support of gaining respect for secular Americans.”
Todd Stiefel Chair of Openly Secular on Arian Foster
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”
Psalm 19:1-2 NIV
There’s a lot about atheism or secular humanism that I want to write, after all there’s a lot of information to discuss. I’m hoping to do a post in the next two weeks where I make my case as to why the US military should have humanist chaplains. I’m not trying to be flippant, but I believe that atheists, agnostics have faced a lot of discrimination by evangelicals and fundamentalists, and I believe that’s something we need to repent. Give me time this is a one man show. 😉 But there is another thing that I learned recently that was brought to my attention by Scott in Kansas City, Missouri. Recently Arian Foster came out and said why he doesn’t believe in God and recorded a video for Openly Secular. In an interview with ESPN he explained the reasons why he doesn’t believe in God, and how he dealt with this issue for years. There’s a lot of information to explore and I would like to cover a good amount of ground. The amount of information on the internet on Arian Foster is incredible, and he’s coming across as the secular answer to Tim Tebow . After all he’s the first pro football player to publically take such a stand.
Brief Background on Arian
Arian Foster was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His father signed up with the Denver Broncos but was not able to make it through the summer and never made it into the NFL. Arian has a brother named Abdul who is also an accomplished athlete. Abdul ran track in high school and in college for Florida A & M. According to Sporting News Abdul is one of Arian’s biggest fans having watched “every snap of every game Arian has ever played.” Arian’s mother encouraged him to try football at age 7 much to the dismay of his father. When asked in elementary school, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Arian replied that he intended to become “a star in the NFL.” Arian’s parents divorced in 1998 and in 1999 he moved to San Diego. He played football at Mission Bay Senior High School and became a full time running back in his junior and senior years. He was Mission Bay’s featured running back and led San Diego County in all purpose yards with 2,500 while compiling 2,093. The San Diego Union-Tribune named him the All San Diego Western League Player of the Year. The offensive coordinator at that time for the University of Tennessee, Randy Sanders, were impressed and recruited Arian. He committed and was part of the 2004 signing class. Foster red shirted for the Volunteers the first year, and then started as a running back. He was a talented player, but some of his critics have pointed out how he fumbled in key games. That criticism led his former Coach Fulmer to state, “There were a couple of fumbles that were untimely that people want to remember; they forget about his full career, about how special he was. He had a couple of fumbles after a couple of big runs. They were costly, but we probably wouldn’t have been there without him.” Foster finished his career as Tennessee’s all time leading rusher with 3,338 yards. In 2009 Foster signed on to Houston where he has played since. If you want to learn more about Arian’s football career at the Texans to include his stats, history and other information you can do so in this link. On a quick side note Arian Foster started his own foundation to help and support children and youth in underserved neighborhoods. If you would like to read more about that you can do so here.
Arian Foster on Secularism
When Arian Foster came out and stated that he didn’t believe in God it was news, and covered by many organizations. This is but a mere sampling of how this was reported, feel free to read all these links. Arian Foster’s atheism was covered by Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News, Washington Post, NBC Sports, Washington Times, USA Today, Religion News Service, and the Sporting News. It was also mentioned and covered at Richard Dawkins and The Friendly Atheist blogs. Actually when I dug a little deeper at the Friendly Atheist Arian Foster got on their radar due to a tweet he sent out in January 2015. I’m sure if I dig deeper I will find many, many more atheist posts about Arian Foster. For the Christian reaction there has been some, Al Mohler put it in his feed on August 10, and Barnabas Piper wrote a response here.
Abdul Foster refers to his brother as “the anti-Tim Tebow.” Arian in the ESPN interview explains the problems he has had with faith in football and in the south. “Everybody always says the same thing: You have to have faith,” he says. “That’s my whole thing: Faith isn’t enough for me. For people who are struggling with that, they’re nervous about telling their families or afraid of the backlash … man, don’t be afraid to be you. I was, for years.” Arian Foster who is influenced by both Bill Maher and Penn and Teller decided to come out, declare his unbelief and in the process put a face on secularism at Openly Secular. Openly Secular is a campaign that has the following mission statement. The mission of Openly Secular is to eliminate discrimination and increase acceptance by getting secular people – including atheists, freethinkers, agnostics, humanists and nonreligious people – to be open about their beliefs. As a result Openly Secular is using his coming out as a means to draw attention to secularism, and encourage acceptance and awareness of non-believers in sports. While Arian has been open about his beliefs in the locker room he has held back from telling the public for fear of being misunderstood or mislabeled. Religion and sports have long been married and that’s part of the reason why the Tim Tebow sensation worked. Arian said his father encouraged him to question, push back, and challenge the conventional belief system. When Arian struggled with drugs in his youth, his father intervened and helped him. Despite his deep skepticism Arian explored both the Quran and the Bible. During those days at Mission Bay he dealt with a lot of questions. Some of those included, “Why is this relationship so one-sided? Why would a loving God create evil? Why would he allow eternal damnation? ” In his junior year of high school Arian told his father that he didn’t believe in God. His father told him to go find his truth.
In college he clashed with his fundamentalist leaning team mates. He was contrarian during this time and was challenged about where he was in his beliefs. He was raw, and edgy in these times and he also had to contend with the ignorance of unbelief. As Arian says, “I get the devil-worship thing a lot. They’ll ask me, ‘You worship the devil?'” to which he would reply, “‘No, bro, I don’t believe there’s a God, why would I believe there’s a devil?’ There’s a lot of ignorance about nonbelief. I don’t mean a negative connotation of ignorance. I just mean a lack of understanding, a lack of knowledge, lack of exposure to people like me.”
The other thong about Arian that is touched upon in the ESPN article is his humility, and a keener lifestyle. Despite his $43.5 million contract he lives in a modest house. Arian describes it like this, “I don’t want or need much,” he says. “Just something fairly safe for the kids to grow up around, and that’s about it, really. The rest is luxury, fluff. I’ve saved about 80 percent of what I’ve made, and I will continue that. I won’t have to work when I’m done — live off the interest, put my kids through college, let them have the money when I’m in a box and call it a day, man.”
In a game that is charged with religion football really stands tall. We in the United States have married faith and football and this is touched on in the article. What popped in my mind as I processed this article, and the culture of football and evangelicalism are movies such as Facing the Giants and Hometown Legend. In regards to the prayers, and appreciation expressed towards God Arian wonders the following, if God is going to help your team win, then does that mean he wants the other football team to lose? Why would God care about football in light of other needs. Or as Arian Foster says in the ESPN article, “If there is a God and he’s watching football, there are so many other things he could be doing.” He continues in saying “There are hungry children and diseases and famine and so much important stuff going on in the world, and he’s really blessed your team? It’s just weird to me.” Arian talks about going to church a few times because of the pressure but he also observes the racial divide in evangelicalism as well. He notices when he did go to church how many of the congregations were white. Arian describes the experience like this, “So I went, probably five times. I don’t want to bring race into it, but we never went to any predominantly black churches. We went to a lot of those upper-middle-class white churches, which I always found interesting because the majority of the team was black, so I thought the majority of the team would relate to a black church. I would rather go to a black church, honestly, because the music is better to me. If the majority of your team is black, why wouldn’t they try to make them as comfortable as possible? But I guess when you’re dealing with religion, color shouldn’t matter.”
While Foster doesn’t believe in God he is short of calling himself an atheist. He has an open mind, the way he describes it, “I’m not a picket-sign atheist. I just want to be a happy human being and continue to learn.” Arian dislikes labels. On June 28 he tweeted, “hop in the uber and the driver immediately turns it to the rap station. he’s absolutely correct, but don’t judge me, yo.“, “If I tell you I’m a Republican, your mind immediately starts telling you all the things I must believe,” he says. “Same with the word ‘atheist,’ and I don’t like people making assumptions about me. Neil deGrasse Tyson said any time you attach yourself to a group or an ‘-ist,’ you get all the stereotypical baggage with it. I’m not going to picket the White House lawn to get atheists a voice in Congress. But I have questions and concerns on our origins as human beings, and the best way to go about that is through science.” Just like there are fundamentalist Christians, or Muslims there are fundamentalist atheists. While Arian Foster has read Richard Dawkins he doesn’t agree with the militant approach. While not believing in God Foster understands why people want faith, or why they need to believe in God. He can understand why some people need religion as a way of dealing with life. In a more moderate tone Arian says, “The more empathy you have toward people and their belief system, the more productive the relationship will be. I get it. I understand why people believe.”
A Relationship with Justin Forsett
One aspect about the article that I found interesting is the relationship between Arian Foster and Justin Forsett which grew out of a Texans training camp in 2012. Forsett at first wanted to keep his distance. Then Foster asked him a question, and his answer piqued his interest. Foster and Forsett began to discuss religion and morality and Foster just fired question after question and challenged him every day with a new question. They became friendly adversaries and exchanged thoughts and feelings back and forth. I would ask you to read about the relationship in the article. Many Christians could learn a thing or two from what is presented. Today Justin Forsett is with the Baltimore Ravens, and when asked about Arian Foster he said the following, “Arian is going to voice his thoughts whether you want them or not, or whether you ask for them or not.” He continues by saying, “He’ll make a statement. You can choose to respond or you can let him speak. He’s very smart, very witty. If you’re not confident in what you believe, and if you don’t know what you believe, you’ll get caught up and probably look silly. Most guys want to let Arian be Arian. They might get embarrassed, and that’s why they don’t engage.” In continuing to discuss how they relate I want to lift the next several paragraphs from ESPN. They are too good in its form, and I am afraid that if I put them in my own words much will be lost.
There is an edge to Foster and a predator’s sense of weakness. Letting Arian be Arian is a euphemistic way of saying he can be cutting and abrasive, eager to display his intelligence like plumage. Perhaps because of Forsett’s refusal to back down, a friendship sprouted. The two running backs communicate almost daily, and when Forsett ends a conversation or text exchange with “I’ll pray for you” — as he often does — Foster responds with “And I’ll think for you.” When Forsett tweets out, “The [Bible] verse for tonight is …,” as he does every night, Foster has been known to tease him by replying, “When are you gonna give us your least favorite verse, though?”
“Arian pushes me to be a better man and a better man of faith,” Forsett says. “He’s going to ask questions, tough questions, and I take that as a challenge. I have to be prepared to give a response at any given moment. If I don’t have a response, he’s going to push me to go get it.”
Says Foster: “Here’s what I respect about him: Justin was never like, ‘Hey, man, you’re going to go to hell.’ He was like, ‘This is what I believe is the right way, and I’ll pray for you.’ I never feel arrogance or judgment. He never acted like he had something I don’t have. He said, ‘I would love for you to experience this,’ which is more divine than anything I’ve ever come across.”
Forsett laughs at the irony. A man with no faith poking and prodding the faithful to come to a better understanding of their beliefs, and a devout man displaying tolerance that helps his friend become less contrary, less argumentative, less intent on embarrassing those who have difficulty defending themselves. Truth be told, Foster would demand answers from teammates and classmates at Tennessee whenever they reflexively employed their version of Christianity to defend their social or political positions. He’d listen impatiently and fire Bible verses back at them like throwing knives, anything to show he knew more about their religion than they did.
“I used to try to argue people down and show them the fallacies in their own religion,” Foster says. “That used to be a big deal to me, but now that doesn’t serve my ethos at all.”
My Thoughts and Analysis
I’ve written a number of pieces on atheism that I want to feature for a second. In this post I made my case why I don’t believe many evangelicals are going to be able to reach atheists. Plus a personal reflection on what Christopher Hitchens meant to me at one point in my life. Plus there is my case on the differing kinds of atheists that exist. Then there is Richard Dawkins reading his hate email from Christians as well as my chronicling of how I cycled out of Christianity for years which was inspired by a good post at Neil Carter’s Godless in Dixie. When I read about Arian Foster and read the interview in ESPN there was much I could relate. When Arian asked questions such as, “Why is this relationship so one-sided? Why would a loving God create evil? Why would he allow eternal damnation? ” How many people here can relate? How many people can honestly wonder about why a loving God created evil? (Eagle raises his hand….) The problem of evil drove me from the Christian faith for years. I could not comprehend or understand why a loving God would allow evil, and each day is like a parade of evil with more stuff happening that churns the stomach. Though I believe in God I honestly still wrestle with evil. But let me explain how I think. The other day I was driving home and I called up my sister and I told her about some of what I read on the BBC online. It was a number of things from more ISIS executions in Syria, to a movie chain searching bags to keep out weapons out of movie theaters, Jared Fogle and child pornography while claiming “the younger the better…”, and murder. My stomach still gets in knots as I reflect upon all this information. I wrote this about the problem of evil and how I found a working solution to the problem of evil for me. But who wouldn’t ask questions? Asking questions is normal its healthy, its what humans are supposed to do. We’re supposed to ask questions. I have to tell you that when I read about Arian asking questions my first thought is good for him. Its great that he asks questions more people need to ask questions. Questioning faith and the existence of God is good. I look at my ability to question and ponder difficult topics not as a curse, but as a gift. Wisdom begins by asking questions, and the key to knowledge is not knowing all the answers but the key questions to ask.
When Arian spoke about being nervous and how many people struggled with how to tell people about lack of faith I could understand that as well. The years 2008 until 2013 were the hardest in my life, they were dark, not as dark as walking through a false accusation; but they were indeed dark. The closest way I could describe what it was like to lose faith was almost experience a physical form of death. I felt like I was dying, and something was leaving me against my will. The more I resisted the more I fought, the more that accelerated the process. There was no stopping it. Losing faith in God was not easy. You can ask many people who knew me during this time and ask them, what was Eagle like? I was belligerent, combative, harsh, frightened, and unsure. I write this with all sincerity, but I never could have imagined where I would be in a few years, or even today. I never imagined I would go to the Reason Rally and clap and cheer Greta Christina, or Hemant Mehta. Likewise I never thought I would come back to a working place of faith, as I couldn’t foresee that either.
I’d like to direct the next part of this to James Crestwood, Dee Parsons, Scott Van Swernigen, Danny Risch, and Andrew White; please read what James Forsett says here. “Arian is going to voice his thoughts whether you want them or not, or whether you ask for them or not.” He continues by saying, “He’ll make a statement. You can choose to respond or you can let him speak. He’s very smart, very witty. If you’re not confident in what you believe, and if you don’t know what you believe, you’ll get caught up and probably look silly. Most guys want to let Arian be Arian. They might get embarrassed, and that’s why they don’t engage.” That combined with the information about how Arian fired off question after question…James, Dee, Andrew Danny or Scott does that not describe in some way how I was in the 2009-2013 time frame? Scott how many questions did I hammer you with? How many emails, text messages or Facebook messages did you get that were full of questions? James how many times did I pounce on you about the problem of evil? remember the couple of times I went to National Community Church and sat next to you in the service and just dissected Mark Batterson and tore his talk apart? Remember how I sat next to you and sent you the texts of all the questions I had? Danny how many times did we discuss the problem of evil in a Panera Bread? You’re probably sick of the problem of evil thanks to me. Andrew how many times did I voice my thoughts, or was intentionally provocative? How often did I come down like a pile of bricks in tearing something apart? Then there is Dee Parsons, man I lite up her blog like New York City Harbor on the fourth of July with profane language, harsh questioning, and provocative line of thought. Remember the back and forth back and forth on the problem of evil Dee? Remember that animated phone call that went on for nearly two hours over the problem of evil? It was like this push and pull. I remember at the time getting off the phone and thinking to myself, $%#@!!! Providence Baptist in Raleigh had one hell of a Sunday School teacher!
When Arian speaks, this is how some atheists or those in the secular camp operate. Now I want to be clear that not all of them are like this, but some are just driven by questions. Those in the atheist, or secular camp think very differently than many evangelicals. Its just how it is, and I am not trying to knock either. Atheists are very driven by knowledge and a search for truth. That’s part of the reason why I love to interact with some behind the scenes. I have a deep sense of respect for someone who is searching for the truth. Meanwhile many Christians have found the truth in their mind and are content with the status quo or what they get. Christians often don’t ask questions like atheists. The questions I would hear at an event like Center for Inquiry vs. what I heard at church were very different. Its one of the reasons why I liked listening and watching videos of Christopher Hitchens, with Hitch you could almost watch his mind chew on something. It was a joy and a delight to watch. Christians in contrast I would suggest try and fit a mold. What I honestly hope for is that more Christians would ask and pose questions. After all Jesus was all about questions! How many times in the New testament did Jesus ask questions? Frequently, plus he would answer a question with a question.
I do know that there are varying camps of atheists and secularists. Some people don’t want to be referred to as atheist. As they don’t like the label or the description. Others like to refer to themselves as humanist, or avoid any kind of label. When I pushed back from the Christian faith for years I claimed agnostic, but in reality I was probably more militant atheist due to how I operated. Here’s something that I honestly do not get and I would appreciate others discussing. Why is the word atheist so touchy for some? I know William Lobdell in his book “Losing my Religion” said he didn’t want to be an atheist and that the word had negative connotations. While I was scared of becoming agnostic and thought that was how my life was going to be different there is a sense of pride of saying that one is agnostic. I felt like that often…was it just me? Why do some people want to avoid the word atheist?
One other aspect that I find fascinating is the relationship between Arian Foster and Justin Forsett. There is a lot that can be learned here, and here is a brief list.
- As I read the article I don’t get the vibe that Justin feels responsible for Arian, instead I get the vibe that he genuinely loves him. Many evangelicals are terrible about evangelism, and those that do it feel a sense of personal responsibility at times for someone. That is a common mistake in that many evangelicals put undo pressure on themselves.
- Justin knows what he believes and why, in that sense I think its rare.
- Justin absorbed the questions or blows it appears early on which meant he is not insecure about what he believes.
- Justin engaged and did it in a way that avoided pressure. For example in the article I don’t see any mention of him pressuring Arian to attend church. That would have backfired as Arian would then become more of a project and less of a person to be loved. As I write this I remember of all the pressure I was under to attend Redeemer Arlington by Andrew White. That was one of the reasons why I reacted the way that I did.
- Justin was open to the discussion. I find it interesting as to how the relationship appears to have started. It sounds similar to how I initiated the relationship with both Scott Van Swernigen and Andrew White.
What I find unique is how Justin engaged Arian. Note how he was one of the only people that could. I think that happens because there is both a deficit of love and intellectualism in modern day evangelical Christianity today. Not a lot of people could do what Justin is doing or has done and it really speaks to the problems that exist today. The questions Arian asked are legitimate and good ones, and many Christians can’t answer them today. There is much that can be learned here.
In winding this down I want to focus on this final point. As a Christian I enjoy the discussion taking place around Arian Foster. I find it refreshing, healthy, vibrant and needed. We really need to have these discussions about atheism, secularism, and the problems why people reject faith or God. The conversations are not going to happen in a vacuum, they are going to happen when people like Arian become news and explain why they don’t believe in God. Some people are not going to like these conversations because they are frightened, nervous or don’t know what they think themself. But in order to have these conversations we need to have honesty. That is something I respect about Arian, is his honesty and his courage. This is not an easy thing to do, and while some will respect him others will have problems with it. This story is still young, and we shall see what happens, but I want to let Arian know that I do respect his decision. I would love him no matter where his life would go.
Normally I would close with one video but today I will close with two. The first one is a video of highlights on Arian Foster. It shows him as a player and talking about his mother. I would encourage you to watch it. The second one is Bill Maher talking about Christian hypocrisy. I decided to include it since Arian credits Bill Maher to influence him. I watched Bill Maher in my faith crisis often, and I watched videos like this often. If you are a Christian I am going to challenge you to watch it, as its something many Christians need to see. Many Christians need to step back from their world and realize how the world sees them. This has explicit language and I would recommend you don’t watch this at work. This one is notorious in which Maher explains “how Gandhi was so fucking Christian he was Hindu.” Its different but it reflects a militant atheist mindset, and I think it makes its point. I have a secret to confess to if I can do so here…I still watch Bill Maher on the net and he still gets me to chuckle. During my faith crisis I consumed so much atheist material I guess that’s what allows me to read and process stuff like this today. After all how many other Christians do you know that head off to church listening to The Thinking Atheist from time to time? So with that all said I hope we can discuss this topic. If you are an atheist or agnostic, what do you think of Arian Foster? if you’re a Christian what do you think of Arian Foster? If you are a fan of Tim Tebow, what are your thoughts? I hope this will generate discussion. As always I love you guys!