On Further Review: Replacement Refs

As the referee peers “under the hood” during a football game to review the call on the field, I am reminded of an ancient staring at the entrails of a beast. In both cases visual evidence allegedly will clarify everything, but in both cases it is a human that makes the call.

And to err is human.

At least in the case of studying the guts of a slaughtered sheep there was no actual evidence and a highly sophisticated priest. He knew if he made a bad call people might start doubting the whole scam. . . so he brought all his knowledge to the job and often said important and insightful things.

The same cannot be said about referees in NFL football games who peer endlessly at evidence we see quickly only to announce something as controversial as the first call.

But now the NFL faces an epistemological crisis. Why? The presumption in the rules is that the referee on the field has made the right call. I think after this weekend we can no longer rationally assume the referee knows the rules. Witness the end of the Packers game when the officials apparently did not know that the game must end with an extra point. Perhaps the NFL should buy all the replacement officials a copy of Madden 2013 and allow them to play it for hours.

This would have helped them last night.

Or perhaps not.

Why not?

Replacing people with skills turns out to be harder than folk think. When Walt Disney died, his company discovered you cannot accumulate genius by putting together a room of mediocrities. One wave of an Ed Hochuli arm is worth more than a shuffling and anxious group of replacement refs.

Of course, sometimes one discovers that a highly paid profession is dubious. The relative success of homeschool moms should make our education programs worry. Nobody, however, longs to see replacement doctors, lawyers, and as any handyman knows when they try it: replacement plumbers are another way of saying “bigger bill later.”

The NFL has tested the proposition that officials can be replaced and it has discovered that they cannot. My suggestion is that the idea that “anybody” could be President with little training in politics also has been tried and found wanting . . . but that may just be my partisan opinion.

The replacement refs often seem to make things up as they go, but there are not nearly so bad as “replacement religious leaders.” All my life I have witnessed folk distraught about some error in organized religion lurch off to create their own.

Usually this involves making things up . . . as when modern pagans “discover” history that never happened or “Christians” recover rites long “missing.” Like the quest for “lost” Atlantis, these replacement clergy end up creating a religion in their own image. If charismatic enough, this goes well at first as the new religion is in the spirit of the age, but as fashions change or reality bites they are left in confusion.

Major religions survive, because they have dealt with the truth. They have adapted to reality and built on the best of their revelations. Christianity keeps growing, because it alone deals with the natural and supernatural world fully. It creates a scientific outlook, but not one that reduces humans to computers made out of meat.

Heretics come and go. . . and just NFL saves some money in the short term at the cost of credibility . . . so replacement religion fails when most needed.

Religion is there to adjudicate the close calls of life. Anybody can pastor in the good times, but it is in the hard times that a stable and discipled clergy matters. Charisma is good, but charisma without knowledge is no more useful than a replacement referee knowing the “touchdown” signal, but not knowing when to apply it.

My pastor could be “better” if all I wanted was saving money (those tithes!) or more “relevance.” When he sat with me when my child died, I appreciated his gentle wisdom gained through association with the historic Church. He did not tell me what I wanted to hear, but what I needed to hear.

Or so it seems to me.

Here is hoping that the NFL abandons the experiment that tarnishes her shield and here is a commitment to look to reason, revelation, and historic orthodoxy, not the replacement religion of the moment, when I face hard calls in my life.


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