Baseball and Belief

Hello all.

I’m excited and grateful to join this blog – both because it’s a chance to write alongside my brothers, and because it’s a community of believers.  So, putting myself in your shoes, dear reader, I found myself wondering what this new guy might write about. And so I thought I could begin my blogging efforts trying to answer those questions and giving an example of what I mean.

I’m a philosopher by training and interest, but I am a huge sucker for pop-culture (yes, I watch Jersey Shore), good music (Bob Dylan’s Every Grain of Sand is a major touchstone), and sports (no, I am not a Brett Favre fan). But I’m a Catholic – a Jesuit – first and foremost.  And it’s this intermingling of pop-culture and religious tradition that I‘m finding absolutely fascinating right now. Basically all these cultural influences (stuff we’re all exposed to to whatever extent) get run through this Jesuit filter in my heart & head anyway, so I figure I’d try to share that process with you in this blog.

Hope that sounds interesting to you all. Anyway, here’s a first effort at what I just described.

Last Thursday I was reading espn.com (I will no doubt write the phrase “reading espn.com” 14 million times on this blog – please forgive me now), and I came across this article by Jeff MacGregor on what sports fans can let themselves believe these days.  Fascinating. If you’ll stick with me for a moment, I’ll set the scene and then explain how I can possibly think this is relevant.

Ok. So, MacGregor took the premise for his article from a tweet made by one of my favorite sports writers, Bill Simmons. Near the end of baseball’s regular season Simmons tweeted: “Whoa! 54 home runs for Jose Bautista. Tied for 19th all-time. Nobody from 1962 to 1996 hit that many. I’m still buying it. Like his swing.“

For those of you with lives out there (read: non-baseball fans) Bautista plays right field for the Toronto Blue Jays. And before hitting 54 big flies this year, his previous high for home runs in a season was… 16. Now we should be clear, ever since Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds shattered the trusting hearts of baseball fans, a jump of 38 homers in a year screams one thing: “STERIODS!” And the scream of steroids begs a question of every sports fan: is what you’re seeing real? Do you believe it?

This is what I love about pop culture in all its cushy, seductive, destructive, divine forms: the same human beings with and to whom I want to minister have created this very popular culture. It’s got to tell me something about them. Even more, the questions of belief that the sports fan faces are largely the same questions I face as a sports fan.  And those questions human beings face as sports fans are largely the same questions we face as believers. For example, take MacGregor’s words in this next quote from his piece and just substitute “believers” for “sports”:

“That might be the tipping point phrase for 21st century sports right there. What we believe to be authentic has become the exception. What we can accept without cynicism is now remarkable. That’s when it hit me: What we think is real now seems rare.”

And that’s where Simmons’ tweet slips in. “I’m still buying it,” he says. And so am I.

And so are an awful lot of those who responded to MacGregor’s challenge to fulfill the duty of a fan and “make a case for our belief in the game.”  You can read what people said in response here.

Reading through online comments can be a sketchy and depressing thing, but reading through these I felt edified. Hopeful. It seemed to me that Pope Benedict, when still J. C. Ratzinger, would have fit right in with these baseball junkies. After all, it’s he who wrote: “No one can lay God and his Kingdom on the table before another man; even the believer cannot do it for himself. …In other words, both the believer and the unbeliever share, each in [their] own way, doubt and belief, if they do not hide from themselves” (Intro to Christianity, 2004 edition, p46).

A homerun swing – the cliched crack of the bat – can be a pure moment of belief. A secular transcendence. But Jose’s 54 moments of potential pure belief have all happened against the horizon of doubt caused by steroids. And believers in Bautista and in God seem today to be in an awfully similar position: believing in the face of, within a horizon of, doubt.

No one can lay Jose Bautista’s innocence before us.  No one can force us to believe that Jose Bautista didn’t use steroids. But an awful lot of sports fans out there sure seem to want to believe. My bet is that those same humans that want to believe in baseball’s secular transcendence want to believe in deeper forms as well.

Maybe as ministers in our days and in our culture one of our main tasks is to do what Benedict advises us to do: help people not hide from themselves; help people to see who’s found them. I’m still buying that.

– Paddy Gilger, SJ

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10 Responses to Baseball and Belief

  1. Sam Sawyer SJ says:

    Good to see you on here, Paddy.

    The example you give puts the “problem of secularism” in an interesting light — because to work for belief within the horizon of doubt, and not just against it, means to work not only and not primarily to undermine doubt, but to build up trust and hope that real desire is really directed somewhere and to someone.

    (Now off to reread what Benedict XVI had to say about the eros/agape connection in the beginning of Deus Caritas Est.)

  2. Qualis Rex says:

    Hello Paddy, and welcome. Your points regarding faith are especially poignant in light of the drastic drop-off in church attendance from the last 40 years. When certain elements from within the magesterium do not appear to enforce the faith, specifically with regard to how priests teach it, it comes off at best as they are ineffective and at worst as they themselves do not believe anymore.

    If a priest or bishop believes in hell, the last judgement, and Gods mercy manifest in the grace we can receive with the sacraments, then they must not only lead by example but WARN and proactively BRING people to this belief. When this finally occurs (and I do believe this has at least BEGUN due to the efforts of our present and blessed pontiff) we will all see a drastic rise in church attendance as well as a change for the better in how ours and other societies influenced by Christianity view the value of human life and justice.

  3. Joe Simmons, SJ says:

    Paddy, I’m delighted to see you writing for Whosoever Desires…I look forward to reading your insights from sunny California. Peace, JS

  4. Michae! Magree, SJ says:

    Paddy – great to have you on board, and a great first post. I’m looking forward to many more. MCMsj

  5. Baseball says:

    By all accounts, the coaching staff is Showalter’s call, but you can bet there will be more accusations of meddling by Angelos when the final staff is announced.

  6. Xavier Gilligan says:

    Your analysis of the interesting relationship between religion and modern culture is extremely fascinating. Especially in relation to how difficult it is to be a person of faith in a consumer society. More specifically how a person of faith is not portrayed as the ideal person of a consumer society. Meaning someone of faith is usually not necessarily wealthy, content, happy, has a good family, etc whereas a person of a consumer society is often lonesome, rich, etc. Society and modern culture can negatively effect religion because it often encourages a false sense of humanity because people judge each other by the amount of money or possessions they have and not who they are as a person. One very interesting point you made was when you related believing in God to believing in the true athleticism of Jose Bautista: believing in the face of doubt. I believe this is the basis of being a disciple of Christ. I highly respect you for your firm stance on Jose Bautista however what if it turns out he did use steroids? How would you relate that to believing in God? Overall a very good reflection and truly makes you think about the role of religion in your own life.

  7. Ignacio Maximillian says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your article. I was glad to see you recognize religion in the midst of our present day culture. I agree with you that many of us want to believe that Jose Bautista hit all of his homeruns without any help from steroids, but it is hard to trust in something that has been tarnished by many others. It is a shame to see this, especially since many of these players were role models to children. As these children grow older, are they going to be desensitized to the use of steroids given that its use is becoming more common? I have found it hard to become excited about new baseball records because I question if the players cheated to get there. The same thing is happening to religion in today’s culture. People want to believe in God, but the distractions of today’s technology present the lure of instant gratification that pull people away from the Truth.
    However, I noticed that you failed to mention the positive aspect of pop culture. You mention the “cushy, seductive, and destructive” sides of pop culture but I believe that there is so much more to it. Pop culture and the advancement of technology have allowed for greater communication, productive outreach to the poor, and many other things that I God would be proud of. That being said, your article addressed many great points that I all people should be exposed to, especially the younger generation as they grow up in this “tainted” generation of sports.

  8. Buckying A says:

    Hey Paddy I really enjoyed reading your blog. I especially liked the quote in this blog, “both the believer and the unbeliever share, each in [their] own way, doubt and belief, if they do not hide from themselves.” In a society today, people seemingly want to express a truth and say what the public wants to hear. This undermines the value of human beings and it questions ourselves, “What type of person am I.” We see this in the media, sports, entertainment etc. The real question is, “What type of person does God want me to be,” and only ones self and God can figure that one out. So thanks again, and also I wanted to know if this man, Bautista, is truly accomplished a record or if he falsified it by using steroids? This is relating to our consumer society these days because we are not learning to be honest with whom we present our audience too. If we are not true with ourselves we will learn to live a life of lies and deceit. This strays us away from God and we become a lost sea of human beings with all shallow goals without Christ leading us in the path of enlightenment.

    Thanks Paddy

  9. The Dream says:

    Hello Paddy — I would like to first congratulate and welcome you to this blog. I, along with many others, deeply appreciate the time and effort you spend putting your ideas up on the web. I will also like to compliment you on your focus revolving the relationship between pop-culture and religious tradition. The topics of religion and pop-culture are very subjective to begin with, but to relate the two topics takes great courage and expression of thought. I also liked how you used sports, specifically baseball, to demonstrate the mixing of pop-culture and religion and appeal to a society that is fixated (not in a bad way) on such activities. In your article, you highlighted the concept of belief; what do we really know to be true? Do we know, using an example from your article, if Jose Bautista truly uses steroids? Regardless of what anyone individually thinks, belief demands an amount of faith, a concept that could fit well in this article pertaining to the relationship between pop-culture and religious tradition.
    One thing I would like to bring to question is the overemphasis on the baseball story itself. Although the baseball story is used as an aid to provide an example of where pop-culture meets religious tradition, the story could also consequently distract the reader from the actual point of the article. I’m suggesting a “short and sweet” type of example for any possible new article you plan on writing about.
    Overall, I enjoyed reading your article and found myself to agree with mostly everything you said and disagreed with very little. I look forward to reading your future writing.

  10. Ryan Coon says:

    I feel that you make a very good and applicable point. I too find myself questioning my
    beliefs in both my faith and in the ethics of some of my favorite baseball players. As you said, no
    one can coerce us into believing that Jose Bautista was, or was not, using performance enhancing
    drugs. Instead, we have to make that decision for ourselves. The same concept is relevant to
    one’s Faith as well. There is not a single person on Earth that can bully me into believing in any
    given religion. However, through my own thought process, I can make a definitive conclusion
    for myself whether or not I believe in any given concept. For example, if I step back and look at
    all of the blessings I have received in my life, the gratitude for those blessings foster a deep
    desire to believe. I feel that the virtue of gratitude is one that is often overlooked with regards to
    our faith. We are often asked what we can do for God, but not as often are we asked to
    contemplate what God has done for us. I also have a question for you as both a Catholic and a
    baseball fan: How can we be sure that what we choose to believe in, whether it is religion or something completely different, is worth believing in at all? Thank you again for your message and I look forward to reading your posts in the future.

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