Opinion: The Off-Putting Atheism of Tribune Columnist Eric Zorn
17 min read

Opinion: The Off-Putting Atheism of Tribune Columnist Eric Zorn

In a bizarre column published last Monday by the Chicago Tribune, columnist Eric Zorn, informed the city he was super offended by new Chicago Bears kicker Eddy Piñeiro.
Opinion: The Off-Putting Atheism of Tribune Columnist Eric Zorn

In a bizarre column published last Monday[1] by the Chicago Tribune, 61 going on 16-year-old columnist, Eric Zorn, informed the city he was super offended at the audacity and general way in which new Chicago Bears kicker Eddy Piñeiro acknowledged his faith in his own personal lord and savior, commonly known to readers as, Jesus Christ,[2] and that he really wants us to be more considerate to loser atheists.[3] I honestly believed[4] that I had missed a joke and largely brushed it off until later, when I heard Zorn clarify his column while appearing on the Bill and Wendy Show on WGN Radio 720 AM,[5] and reiterate later in the week while appearing on the John Williams Show.[6] As it turns out, Eric Zorn, who I feel the need to reeiterate is an actual adult, was actually offended by Eddy Piñeiro's postgame jubilation.



I mean, it's [current year], okay? Atheists have neural impulses that move an organism to action, prompting automatic reactive behavior that has been adapted through evolution as a survival mechanism to meet a survival need, too, you know?[7]

Considering that any given Sunday, a Vegas sportsbook could set an over/under line at +/- 50 acknowledgments to some sort of higher power on the football field,[8] why exactly Eric Zorn decided to choose THIS ONE RIGHT HERE as the one that crossed the line in his sandbox, he doesn’t make particularly clear beyond some vague yet inherent smugness I'm not talented enough to accurately describe better than if I were to just paste a picture of Johnny Depp being weird and getting paid in pain pills to shill cologne in a generically racist ad campaign.[9]


Johnny Depp - Dior
“Here’s a song called, ‘Religious People are Doo-Doo Heads.’ lol. That was totally sauvage.” – Johnny Depp covering an Eric Zorn original, probably. (Photo from a scene featuring Johnny Depp from the Dior ad for their perfume “Sauvage”. Eric J Guillemain / Dior)

Most viewers and fans saw last Sunday's final kick as a nice feel-good story about perseverance and perhaps smiled watching Eddy's youthful exuberance, but not Eric. Eric was offended. Offended because this young man had faith that wasn't how Eric liked his faith. Which, again, he really wants you to know he doesn't have.

He tried to pass it off and hand wave away that he'd have been okay with it if Piñeiro had a little more humility about the whole thing. If Piñeiro would have shown the type of Grace that Eric possesses he might have let it slide. If Piñeiro were as much a freethinker as Eric, he may have allowed him to think freely.



See, Eric is a rational person, and Eric prefers young people have the type of faith that's only kinda “spiritual” because it’s, like, the type of spirituality that, like, photoshops quotes in white text over filtered landscapes and, like, posts them on Instasnap and, like, that type of spirituality is cool because it’s just, like, yoga or something. And we should understand that seeing Eddy Piñeiro be so aggressive and in your face with all of his Jesus talk makes someone like him a bit uncomfortable and he felt the need to remind us that he is always watching.

To borrow a metaphor, it’s a strange cross for Zorn to carry and an odd choice of hill to die on, but here we are. Let's see if we can better understand?

"Piñeiro’s post-game remarks — including a follow-up tweet that said, “If you don’t believe in God you better start believing he’s REAL” — were a taunt, not an expression of humility. They implicitly derided nonbelievers and deployed his success as evidence of the superiority of his theological outlook.

I made a field goal, therefore Jesus is real and atheists and agnostics should get on board!

Who is he kidding with that nonsense? It’s right in line with the gratuitous and grotesque pronouncements of certain faith leaders that God directs hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters to punish the wicked (except when they strike the so-called Bible Belt) and that disease and violence are the wages of sin (except when the innocent and righteous suffer, as they so often do)."

  • Eric Zorn, Op-Ed Columnist for the Chicago Tribune

Hold on, stop right there. There was a follow-up tweet?[10] Aw jeeze, now I feel like I should pause a moment and give this argument some serious consideration.

I mean, a follow-up tweet? Eddy, bro, everyone knows you can't just follow-up tweet all willy nilly. This ain't the wild, wild west, partner. This is not 'Nam, Eddy, this is Twitter. There are rules.[11]

I mean, it's one thing to misspeak or lack a tempered disposition and reasoned eloquence in a TV interview mere moments after you achieved a professional and personal milestone you've been working toward for a significant percentage of your life because your synapses are firing like a grand finale on Independence Day and your body is jacked and your blood is pumping so hard it feels like you're mainlining adrenaline, but to follow-up tweet when you get back in the locker room and watch your highlight spreading across social media?[12] Come on, Eddy. Everyone knows you don't just drop a follow-up tweet unless you really intend to do some damage.

Maybe Eric Zorn, rational person, is on to something?



CUT TO: HIGHLIGHT

SIDELINE REPORTER

Wow! That kick! Eddy, You’re the hero of the game! How do you feel?

EDDY PIÑEIRO

NO! I had nothing to do with it, woman! God is the hero! My leg is but a tool for His mysterious ways! A tool which he, as you and the world can now see, wanted to use to smite those godless heathens, the Denver Broncos! And let that be a lesson to all you kids out there that God directs hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters to punish the wicked, and disease and violence are the wages of sin!


Hmmm...

On one hand, it's beyond a stretch to imply that's what Eddy meant and borderline reprehensible for Zorn to just toss those words into Eddy's mouth and imply that's the type of spirituality he espouses but, on the other hand, there WAS a follow-up tweet...

I'm still unsure. More research is required.

Zorn continued:

And when Piñeiro misses a big kick down the line, which will inevitably happen, will he rush to Twitter to wonder why Jesus let him down? Will he be OK with it if those of us who don’t share his religious outlook crow that those who believe in God as he does better start believing he’s MAKE-BELIEVE?

We’d never do that, of course. Because we’re of the view that whatever supernatural force guides the universe, if any, it has more things to worry about than whether a booted ball goes through the uprights.

  • Eric Zorn, Op-Ed Columnist for the Chicago Tribune

Mmm, now that's some smug. Pure smug. The good stuff. Smug so thick I can smell it through my screen. Smug so rich it's immersive.



I love pure smug. Crave it. All the better if I can get some of that snooty after taste that lingers off every syllable. It's like I'm really there with Eric working on this piece, his head tilting slightly further back as he types, his nose rising higher with each keystroke, his eyes looking down, down, down his nose until he can barely see the document and he morphs into Eustace Zorn, wannabe New Yorker logo.[13]


Eustace - New Yorker Logo
“WE’D never do that, of course, but we will be snide in our newspapers.” – Eustace Zorn

Eustace Zorn is so much smarter than you, y'see? Don't worry, he's so much smarter than me, too, so you're in good company. He's so much smarter than all you dumb-dumbs who believe in God or believe in a purpose greater than yourself not pre-approved by Eustace Zorn, and he's so much smarter than you simpletons who hope and pray for their loved ones that there's some sort of salvation somewhere over the rainbow and that there's some sort of meaning to this existence and that we're not just endlessly struggling here in a Sisyphean nightmare. HE and HIS people would never misrepresent a concept as incalculable and indescribable as GOD and they would never dare invoke such a preposterous presumption in such trivial matters as a little handegg made of pigskin flying through the air between two poles awarding meaningless points in a game that's utterly pointless. That's beneath both Eustace and your God, which may as well be one and the same.

Eustace is a rational person, y'see? And his mind is pre-occupied with the real questions of life, like, "What if it was the other way around, huh?" And "What if we said that a missed field goal proved God's not real? Huh? How would you feel, HUH? GOD IS NOT REAL HOW ABOUT THAT?! HUH???!!!"


After a long winter and an Augean[14] offseason in which the specter of the kicking game hung high over the Chicago Bears’ heads, Eric Zorn, like all of us, sat perched on the edge of his recliner watching the final second against the Denver Broncos on Sunday. As we now know, the kick was up, the kick was good, and the kid had done it. Piñeiro exploded with emotion and the team burst from the sideline in elation like turned rivers rushing through the Mile High Stables. Bears fans watching at home breathed a sigh of relief that they could officially put that long chapter behind them and, after a hard to watch Week 1, they could breath a sigh of relief that this team, while not perfect, could and would still bring the city more smiles this fall. Smiles they'd share around office water coolers and in sports bars and with their kids.

But not Zorn. No, Zorn remained there in his chair. Stoic. Reticent. Watching... Waiting...

As the celebration on the field continued and reporters reached out from the scrum to grab hold of the young hero kicker’s shoulders and pull him over in front of their live TV cameras and shove a microphone in his face, Zorn’s eyes narrowed at his flickering screen.

“Careful, kid,” Zorn whispered to himself as he switched the toothpick to the other side of his mouth. “Careful...”

And then, it happened...

The new kicker, 24-year-old Eddy Piñeiro, in only his second professional game that mattered, who had been trying to just get the coach to pencil his name on the roster for months let alone be put into a position to succeed and have the opportunity to put some respect upon that name, the son of Cuban and Nicaraguan immigrants, whose father came to this country during the Mariel Boatlift in 1980,[15] in his first on-field TV interview shortly after he made a last-second 53-yard field goal to bring home a win for his new team, had the audacity, the presumption, the GALL, with Eric Zorn in this town, to say:

“For everybody listening, man, if you don’t believe in Jesus Christ, you better start, because he’s real. I promise you that.”

Zorn’s eyes went wide and the toothpick fell from his slacked jaw. Shaking off his disbelief, his eyes narrowed again and he ground his teeth. He snatched his fedora and his typewriter off the table next to him and stomped toward the door.

“Honey,” Zorn called back as he held the handle, “Don’t wait up! It’s gonna be a long night...”

The door slammed shut and the sound of the picture frames rattling on the Zorn house walls blended into the click-clack cacophony of the keys as he pounded his fingers into his typewriter, only pausing to take a sip of Caramel Macchiato as he worked long into the early morning at his local 24 hour Starbucks, the only place where a rational man could get real work done.

“It’s 2019, God damn it!” Zorn growled as he punched the keys harder and faster and harder and faster, his only fuel the espresso and rage coursing through his veins.

"Oops. Wait...scratch that..."

“It’s 2019, damn it!” Zorn thought, the expression in his eyes peering out from under the fedora slung low on his brow were reflected only by the tone on his page.

"I'll show him..."



While I hope I've made clear that all of this is mostly in jest and heavy on tongue in cheek, and that the ridiculousness in this piece is to highlight the absurdity of it all, I admit, I remain both baffled and fascinated by Zorn's decision to have made this his hot take on a victory Monday. I also admit I've already wasted too much time thinking about it, but thank you for bearing[16] with me.

It has been nagging at me. Bugging me, all week. Rubbing me the wrong way like a poorly designed T-shirt with a half torn tag at the base of my neck. The eternal question...Why, Eric? Why?

No, I don't think God directed that kick. I'm not a fundamentalist/literalist Christian and I have zero interest in living under a theocracy of any kind. I'm quite comfortable in my post-enlightenment life here in the rational era and I have no desire to return to any age where centuries are marked by single digits. After reading this, I imagine you'd be surprised to hear my own personal conception of the self and the universe, the nature of the Divine, or my inward reflections on in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil,[17] but that's a conversation for a different day and that's not what this piece is for.

In all truth, I don’t particularly care if Eric Zorn is an atheist or an agnostic and I don't particularly care if he worships Zoltar.[18] I'm not here to debate and compare Christian dogma against the tenets of proselytized atheism/agnosticism.

I'm just here to ask, for Zorn's sake, this is what “we” are doing now? For the love of Zorn, this is what “we” are getting offended over? In the name of the Eric, the Zorn, and the Holy Tribune, can "we" have a little chill? Why did you run to your desk and start typing out your offense at a brief couple of sentences from a postgame on-field interview where a barely out of college aged kid thanked God? Why did you do this, Eric? Can "we" back off a young guy who has been famous for a grand total of 1:00 minute before we try to wryly cut him to his core and yank at the seams of his deeply held personal beliefs?


Eddy Piñeiro - Postgame Face
Behold! The face of a man who has been famous for, literally, 1:00 minute. (Courtesy of FOX 32 Chicago)

I can only imagine what Kafka would have to say about our modern daily lives.



It'd be unfair for me to pretend I know the reason Eric Zorn suddenly decided to try out his third-rate Christopher Hitchens impression but it doesn't appear that Eric Zorn cares to know any underlying deeply personal reasons Eddy Piñeiro may have for his faith, either. Meh, who cares, right? After all, this town's not big enough for the both of 'em.

Are there members and groups of the ultra-religious out there who deserve rebuke? Sure. Of course. Absolutely. But does that give Eric Zorn the go-ahead to hunt down all expression by the religious faithful unless they conform to his standard of that which he lacks?[19] I would hope that some agnostics/atheists out there looked at Zorn's column with the same type of stunned, sheepish deflection that came from 2020 Democratic Presidential Canditates as they looked at Beto O'Rourke announcing during a nationally televised debate, "Hell Yes! We're coming for your guns!"


Jonah Hill - Cut It
Live look at the Democratic National Committee listening to Beto O'Rourke talk about gun confiscation and atheists listening to Eric Zorn take up the righteous cause of individual spirituality in sports.

They say the simplest answer is usually the correct one and, if I had to venture an easy guess, we were simply overdue for yet another of Eric's "Hey Chicago don't forget I'm a totally tolerant agnostic/atheist and you're not" classic lecture columns he likes to revisit every so often. Maybe he saw someone make a comment in the "Super Smart/Cool/Friendly Atheist Kids" Facebook Group and part of his contractual obligations in this brave new world media landscape is to keep those clicks coming, baby, so he went with the premise and kept up the charade because, hey, this little guy has the chance to go viral! I’m sure the reality is Eric was a tired columnist running tight against a deadline and he went for some low hanging fruit.[20]

At least, that's what I hope is the excuse. Because the alternative is a man looking to be offended and seeking out offenses. And that type of behavior, roaming the streets and perusing the airwaves and scanning the world wide web like an addict searching for the next fix, is ugly. It's ugly and it's unhealthy. For both the man and his society. Be careful hunting monsters, Eric, lest ye become one yourself...[21]

Here's the thing, Zorn's argument wasn't wrong it was just cheap. Boring and boorish. Passé and played out. The intellectual equivalent of a denim leisure suit from the Marshall Field’s Christmas '76 collection purchased from a suburban Goodwill store for the Halloween 2019 bash at the Pi Kappa Alpha house that's gonna be totally epic, bro. Maybe, if he were able to hold himself to the same standard of self-awareness he demands of his rookie NFL players, he could have made an argument with substance?

Something like, "Once in a while, wouldn't it be a nice change of pace to hear some postgame commentary in the vein of Joseph Conrad or George Santayana or to have some Spinozisms peppered through our Sunday afternoons?" I might even agree with him. I don't and I wouldn't but I might. It would be a bit tedious but it’d certainly make for more interesting day-after discussion on sports talk radio/television. I can see it now:


CUT TO: HIGHLIGHT

SIDELINE REPORTER

Wow! That kick! Eddy, You're the hero of the game! How do you feel?

EDDY PIÑEIRO

I just want to say 'Hi' to all my friends and family back home and to say thank you to all my coaches and trainers and teachers through the years who kept pushing and preparing me for opportunities like this one and to the Chicago Bears organization for taking a chance on me and I feel grateful that our...what I can only put quickly into words to attempt to describe but will ultimately be hollow, empty descriptors that do not do justice to fully express what I mean...human spirit is joined together here in spite of and to confront an indifferent universe. After all, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it and, I just want to let all the little kids out there know that I stand in awe before you. And I want you kids to remember that, although thou art nothing, less than a shadow, more insignificant than a drop of water in the ocean, and the fundamental nature of our being is more fleeting than the illusion of a dream, at least as far as I understand it and all the evidence heretofore provided me has shown, if you work hard and eat your WHEATIES™ while floating on this magic rock that may as well be dust...of which we are all a part...hurtling toward some unknown and inconceivable destination not worth worrying about, through this ancient æther we now call the fabric of space time in a universe that, æons from now, we will most certainly describe by a different name, all your dreams can come true!

SIDELINE REPORTER

Thank you, Eddy! Back to y...

EDDY PIÑEIRO

Hold on, one more thing to be clear, in case Eric Zorn is watching, when I say dreams, I know that it is a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is the very essence of dreams.

CUT TO: INT. - STUDIO

STEPHEN A. SMITH

First of all, I just have to say I'm very happy for Eddy, as he's a very good friend of mine, but let me tell you something and listen to me when I say, the quintessence of the universe and the fundamental nature of consciousness ain't got nothin' to do with it, brotha! Don't talk to me unless your general principle begins with THOUGHT and EXTENSION, okay Eddy?! Come on now, I know you're better than that![22]



All right, we've had enough fun. It's time to wrap this up.

To all the young people out there like Eddy Piñeiro who still hold a belief in something greater than themselves, even if you only believe based on a choice between a lesser of two pains, over the course of your life, there will be many crazy days and long nights that will make you question your luck, fortune, and fate. Coming your way are problems that will appear insurmountable and coming your way are problems that are petty. In those moments, I don't expect Providence to manifest itself into which way you want your balls to go,[23] but I've been wrong before.

I can't promise that you'll ever fully understand it,[24] but don't let the invisible "we's"[25] shame you for your faith. It's called faith for a reason. Don't let them snicker and snoot you into silence and don't let them guilt you for looking inward for hope and guidance through this incredible thing called life.

For even if the only proof that which you believe in ever provides you is the confidence in yourself to know that you're ready and prepared to take the game winning kick, if the only proof that which you believe in ever provides you is the solace that you did your best and that it doesn't matter whether you win or lose, if the only proof ever provided you is the little soothing thought from somewhere on some far off dark night of the soul after a loved one is long gone that it'll be all right, if the only proof provided you is the strength to continue through a dark night in a cancer ward, if the only proof provided you is the courage to stand up for another, the only proof provided you the gratitude after a hard day's work, the only proof provided you a sweet memory of home and a laugh shared with family or old friends, if your only proof the indescribable and unconditional love felt in a hug from mom and dad...

Do not be afraid. I promise, you are not alone.

Oh, and great kick, Eddy. I’m rooting for you.


Notes & References


  1. Zorn, Eric. “Column: The off-Putting Theology of Bears Kicker Eddy Piñeiro.” chicagotribune.com. Chicago Tribune, September 16, 2019. https://www.chicagotribune.com/columns/eric-zorn/ct-column-eddy-pineiro-credits-god-jesus-bears-zorn-20190916-bkvi573s5ngnbp7zflgypj2jwq-story.html ↩︎

  2. For more information, I would advise you to start here, https://biblehub.com/john/1-1.htm. ↩︎

  3. Calm down, atheists. I'm talking about atheists on the losing team or in the losing fanbase, as Zorn implied. It sounded funny and I'm just having a bit of fun. ↩︎

  4. Aw shucks, there I go...I didn't even make it further than the second sentence. Sorry, Eric. ↩︎

  5. “Chicago Tribune Columnist Eric Zorn Gives His Take on Chicago Bears Kicker Eddy Pineiro's Game-Winning Field Goal against the Broncos.” WGN Radio - 720 AM, September 22, 2019. https://wgnradio.com/2019/09/16/chicago-tribune-columnist-eric-zorn-gives-his-take-on-chicago-bears-kicker-eddy-pineiros-game-winning-field-goal-against-the-broncos/. ↩︎

  6. “Chicago Tribune Columnist Eric Zorn: As Long as You Don't Believe a Field Goal Kick Proves God's Existence.” WGN Radio - 720 AM, September 22, 2019. https://wgnradio.com/2019/09/18/chicago-tribune-columnist-eric-zorn-as-long-as-you-dont-believe-a-field-goal-kick-proves-gods-existence/. ↩︎

  7. “Emotion.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily. Accessed September 22, 2019. https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/emotion.htm. ↩︎

  8. And that's just for acknowledgments that make it to the broadcasts. ↩︎

  9. This particular Depp photo and reference doesn't really have anything to do with anything in this article. I'm being postmodern or something. You should be impressed. ↩︎

  10. GASP! ↩︎

  11. “The Big Lebowski.” IMDb. IMDb.com. Accessed September 22, 2019. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118715/characters/nm0000422. ↩︎

  12. HOW DARE YOU???!!! ↩︎

  13. Menand, Louis. “Mystery Man.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, June 20, 2017. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/02/14/mystery-man-2. ↩︎

  14. “Augean Stable.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Accessed September 22, 2019. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Augean stable. ↩︎

  15. https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Mariel_boatlift ↩︎

  16. Puns! ↩︎

  17. “Hamlet, Act III, Scene I [To Be, or Not to Be] by William Shakespeare - Poems | Academy of American Poets.” n.d. Poets.org. Academy of American Poets. Accessed September 22, 2019. https://poets.org/poem/hamlet-act-iii-scene-i-be-or-not-be. ↩︎

  18. https://zoltar.org/ ↩︎

  19. To be clear, I'm talking about his lack of belief though I understand if you were confused and thought I meant his lack of nuance. ↩︎

  20. More puns! ↩︎

  21. I’m paraphrasing Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146. ↩︎

  22. Taking a quick break while I email ESPN some ideas... ↩︎

  23. Footballs. Get your mind out of the gutter. ↩︎

  24. Just a few more comment threads on the internet and I'm sure we're all going to get this whole religion stuff cleared up and straightened out. Any day now. ↩︎

  25. Future band name idea: The Invisible We's. ↩︎

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