Christians Can Play Chess...
Thanks to all who have weighed in on my original post. Even those who were skeptical of the arguments I mooted helped prove my claim that at least "[s]ome of the arguments...require deep responses, responses that may have real implications going far beyond the question of playing (or not playing) chess."
(1) For starters, the Jollyblogger (see here and here) notes that if my arguments are correct, this would undermine Christian participation in all competitive activities. (Or at least those which aren't intrinsic to the Christian life.) I think that gets to the heart of my concern, the fear that competition qua competition is at least a dangerous thing for one's character.
(2) Victor Reppert writes that many of the good things in his own life "are the result of having spent a lot of time hunched over [the chess] board," and I could say the same as well. What I can't say, however, is whether that means it was right for me to have played and to continue doing so. Good things can result from activities that are morally neutral or bad (cf. Rom 8:28), but those activities aren't therefore automatically good.
(3) Serge elaborated some of the goods to which Reppert may have been alluding: (a) rational thinking, (b) the cultivation of a non-instant gratification mindset, and (c) helping to build up one's opponent by pushing them to use his or her God-given rationality.
I've certainly seen counterexamples to (a)/(c), but studies, common-sense and, I suppose, the preponderance of my anecdotal evidence supports it. As for (b), however, I'm far less sure. One quickly learns that the Scholar's Mate isn't going to succeed against even mildly experienced players, but the overwhelming success of chess books in the "get rich quick" genre and of opening books in general would suggest otherwise; to say nothing of the overwhelming popularity of 1-minute and 3-minute chess compared to even 5-minute, let alone slower time controls.
Even if (a)-(c) are granted, however, they are evaluatively secondary to the moral question. If playing chess is morally inappropriate to the Christian (and here I note that my hypothetical arguments aren't really restricted to the Christian at all, but apply to anyone concerned with the relevant issues of character), then the presence of likely positive goods is irrelevant (unless those goods outweigh the negatives and unless there isn't any other way to achieve those goods).
(4) My friend Dave (aka "Anonymous") suggests that "to some degree...playing a game of chess with a friend is a good work and is helpful," as it contributes to that friend's significance by showing that we value the other person's company and enjoy spending time in his or her presence.
My responses to (2) and (3) would apply here as well, but my impression is that in the scenario Dave describes, the competitive element has more or less dropped out of the picture. Winning or losing has become at best secondary to the real purpose of enjoying the other person's presence and the goods of friendship.
In truth, I can recall occasions when playing against a close friend was very difficult for me, precisely because playing chess is an intrinsically competitive activity, while my affection for the friend was such that the antagonism intrisic to competition was just repulsive to me. Maybe if one can play without caring about the result, and if playing doesn't generate competitive attitudes, then it may be morally unproblematic. Which leads me to
(5) The Jollyblogger, redux. He begins his discussion of my question "Can Christians Play Chess?" with a glib answer (click here and scroll down a bit): "some can, some can't." Maybe that's right: those who can compete without being competitive can play, and those who can't perhaps should avoid it.
(6) Ken offers a lexical comment on the koine Greek word translated "rivalry," and I see no reason to dispute what he says there. Perhaps his implicit point is that there are two senses of rivalry: a good sense and a bad sense. What I want to know is what the good sense is! A rival is one with whom we compete, presumably with the intention of inflicting defeat on him or her. Doesn't that suggest that the priority is on competitive aims rather than the other goods mentioned elsewhere in this post?
(7) Last but not least, I turn to Rakshasas' lengthy reply.
Let me start with a clarification: the arguments I offered were not presented as my version of the gospel truth (pun intended - people who write "no pun intended" should just come clean!). Rather, I offered them because it seemed to me that they introduced some interesting issues and required answers making non-trivial committments concerning what is and isn't appropriate for the Christian who wants to play chess.
Rakshasas' primary objection, it seems to me, is that all of the arguments assume that the Christian chess player can only play from egotistical motives rather than to attempt to use one's mind as well as they can to try to produce something artistic, something beautiful, in collaboration with one's opponent.
I'm inclined to agree that those are noble motives which are certainly consistent with a Christian (and not only a Christian) worldview. But here I want to ask how realistic this is. Here I ask the reader to consider the following scenarios and ask yourself which you would choose, or which seems to more accurately represent how things tend to be in the chess world. Be honest!
Option 1: Losing every game in one's life (because one plays only computers and/or GMs, say) but clearly having the ability of a 2500.
Option 2: Scoring around 60% in one's career and achieving a peak rating of about 2000.
Option 1: I primarily buy books highlighting the beautiful in chess, especially books featuring the greatest players' greatest games.
Option 2: I primarily buy books I think will most directly improve my results, especially opening books.
Option 1: The main thing that won me over to the game, and what gets my children interested is the sheer beauty of the game. My kids roll their eyes at the mention of Scholar's Mate and ask to see endgame studies by Mitrofanov.
Option 2: The main thing that won me over to the game, and what gets my children interested is competitive success. My kids feel good about winning games with the 4-move checkmate.
In each case, option 1 is the one we'd like to embrace and that is most consistent with the respondents' replies. And yet the reality I see with my own eyes is a consistent (but not universal) preference for option 2-type answers: in my students, in my friends, in the chess world at large, and at least sometimes, in some ways, in myself.
So in sum, I think the respondents have the right answers: if we can play for the love of the game, for friendship, for the intellectual challenge and so on, then great. But there's the application question: do we really play for those motives? Would we continue to play without any competitive successes at all? And is the nature of the game and the general chess environment such as to foster the noble reasons for playing or the baser ones?