05.04.09 Seventh-Inning Stretch Gone Bad (or Why My Deity Hates Baseball)

Little affronts to freedom of conscience are steps down a slippery slope to fascism and theocracy.

Back when I used to go to Baltimore Orioles games (before Peter Angelos’s misrule and disgusting politics soured me on the team), I used to get upset every time 7th inning rolled around.  Everyone’s favorite baseball song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” lasted all of about 45 seconds and was immediately followed by John Denver’s (ah-hem) classic “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” which seemed to go on forever.  Not only is it an awful song, but what the hell does being a country boy have to do with downtown Baltimore?

Now I long for the days of simply hating a baseball team’s taste in music.

Following the horror of 9-11, Major League Baseball ordered all teams to play “God Bless America” during the 7th-Inning Stretch, because – evidently – it wasn’t enough to sing the national anthem at the beginning of the game.  Those were the days of Freedom Fries and “if you’re not with us, you’re against us,” when national paranoia could only be combatted by US military aggression and nose-thumbing at the Geneva Convention.  Invoking God’s special love for the Best Country Ever fit right into the ethos of the time.

Even the superpatriots of MLB backed off a bit the next season, requiring teams to play the hymn just on Sundays and holidays, a rule which is still in effect.  By 2007, only the New York Yankees – under the enlightened leadership of George Steinbrenner – saw fit to subject their fans to enforced religious patriotism at every single game. 

So, you want to quibble with “enforced,” do you?  After all, there were no brown-shirts or Iranian-style morals police punishing nonbelievers and non-nationalists, right?  Wrong!

Beginning in late 1991, Steinbrenner hired off-duty NYC cops to restrict fan movement during the “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.”  Mean stares from the cops were not enough, though, so the team actually has ushers stand holding chains to block aisles and prevent fans from leaving their seats!  (Eight other teams — the Astros, Athletics, Marlins, Padres, Phillies, Rangers, Red Sox, and Twins  — also have ushers restrict movement during Moments of Enforced Religious Patriotism, but they don’t use cops or chains.)

According to the Yankees, they have never gotten any complaints about their ongoing exercise in compulsive observance.  And the ACLU, while warning against “enforced cultural conformity and the use of a ballgame to impose political correctness on a captive audience,” said that the Yanks apparently were free to do as they wished, since they are a private entity.

That changed when the Yanks decided last August 27 to arrest someone for going to take a pee while he should have been standing still and pondering how perfect our country is and how much the Judeo-Christian deity loves it.  Yep, Bradford Campeau-Laurion (note the French name!), of Astoria, Queens committed the crime of daring to walk past a police officer during a Religiously Patriotic Moment and got his sorry ass thrown out of Yankee Stadium.  Now, he and the ACLU are suing on the grounds that forcing everyone to think and act exactly the same might not be the greatest embodiment of freedom (and might not be constitutional, either).

Having recently read about that incident, I trotted out to a Washington Nationals game last Thursday evening (note: not a Sunday or holiday).  I was enjoying a pleasant evening with friends, in a gorgeous new stadium, watching the Worst Team in Baseball prepare to drop yet another one when BOOM!  God Bless America came blaring out of every loudspeaker in the stadium and everyone around me – folks who moments earlier were thinking for themselves and holding various opinions about various things – stood bolt upright and all thanked God for His love of Our Special Country.

What’s my problem, you ask (apart from my little constitutional quibbles).

Well, for one thing, I don’t believe in God.  (I write this with a capital “G,” because it is the name of one religious tradition’s top being.)  No less a figure than the president of the United States grudgingly accepts my right to live here and have rights and everything, even though I don’t buy the whole thing about some white dude up in the sky who made everything and decides everything.  So, I also don’t feel like I have to listen to songs about deities, unless I’m going to an event (a Christmas concert, say) where that is the purpose.

I also don’t believe that deities should be in the business of determining which teams win or favoring certain teams over others.  (If deities are going to be in that business, the least they could do is make the Yanks lose!)  And I think they should turn deaf ears to humans who think of themselves – or their particular countries or teams or gardening clubs – as better than everyone else. 

No, if I had a god, he/she/it certainly wouldn’t be blessing America without also blessing Mexico, France, and Iran.  In fact, my god would also bless North Korea and Sudan (though, not their current leaders), not to mention cats and trees and amoebas.

There is nothing wrong with being proud of oneself or of one’s country, on those rare occasions worthy of pride.  But such pride ought not be competitive or zero-sum.  And that’s the problem with almost all patriotism: it isn’t sufficient to be happy about ourselves.  Rather, it’s about our victory over others, or the fact that we’re richer than they are, or have more and bigger tanks.  Such patriotism is inherently aggressive and hostile.

When aggressive patriotism is combined with a certainty of heavenly favor – and when that combination is then enforced on captive masses — I see great danger.  At the very least, the captives lose their ability to ask hard questions and challenge ingrained assumptions.  This loss of individual freedom or ability to think is also a loss of constraint on those in charge.  Little affronts to freedom of conscience are steps down a slippery slope to fascism and theocracy.

This is why I will not stand up for patriotic displays or pretend to worship a god I don’t.  This is why I object to being requested – nonetheless required – to do so.  And this is why I will not be attending any more Washington Nationals baseball games.  Even once the team gets on God’s good side and is no longer Among the Worst Ever, they’ll have to carry on blessing America without me.

©2009 Keith Berner

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6 Comments on “05.04.09 Seventh-Inning Stretch Gone Bad (or Why My Deity Hates Baseball)”

  1. Seth Berner Says:

    Oh Keith, not only will you never be older than I am, you will never be more of a curmudgeon than I am. I started refusing to stand for anthems and other loyalty oaths 35 years ago. I was routinely told that I should go back to Russia if I didn’t love America. Even as a high school student I understood that “Russia” to that protector of America stood for absence of freedom, but if America stood for presence of freedom then why was I not free to dissent? And if he felt that dissent should not be tolerated then wouldn’t he be the one who would be happier in a fascist regime? That was the humorous part – the terrifying part was that every time I exercised my right to be American I risked not being arrested but being assaulted before stadium security intervened – and then arrested me. Steinbrenner can’t win the legal case. He doesn’t expect to, and he doesn’t need to. Whatever it costs him to settle is tax-deductible (thank about that!) small change, the media will probably not tell of the settlement, and those who fear dissent will be assured that they will not have to face it at Yankee Stadium (paid for with tax dollars – thank about that!). Our mistake is in thinking that the Constitution has anything more than symbolic value. It is a set of good dishes brought out to impress guests, and otherwise kept locked up out of the reach of the great unwashed.

    Here’s a little poll for Lefthandview readers – do you think that non-citizens should be allowed to vote? If not, what is your definition of democracy? And if you find that you don’t really believe in democracy after all, and you think that a First Amendment is nice and all that but shouldn’t we all be grateful for all this country gives us and not do something frivolous like eat or defecate or other natural bodily functions during the playing of a song as stirring as “God Bless America” then what is it you are proud of America for? I certainly am *glad* to be American – I am cowardly enough to want not to be where the bombs are dropping – but proud? Of a hypocritical bully? “Why don’t you go back to Russia?” Don’t have to, it came to me.

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  2. Keith Berner Says:

    I’m happy to come in a distant second in the Curmudgeon of the Universe competition! 🙂

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  3. Leon Morse Says:

    Fully agree with you about pride. In the international sense, national pride indeed needs to be tempered. Always saying you are “the greatest” etc. to your domestic audiences gets old for foreign audiences. It’s time to cut that nonsense out.

    I also agree on “God Bless America.” If we must rely on such trite reminders at things like sporting events we are really in trouble. Otherwise, it seems rather hollow to me. It’s the Seinfeld episode where Kramer refuses to wear the AIDS pin.

    All the lock stepping after 9/11 was really politics at its worst. Mindless partisanship would have been politics at its worst also. But dissenting opinions, based on sound information, are our real strength in this country. You can’t get at the truth, at the best way to tackle a problem, by leaving such major decisions to a handful of people. I’ve posted before about this: this kind of stuff–by both political parties–really hurt our policy decisions over the past several years. But no one in high elected office was really willing to point that out.

    Orthodoxy in any pursuit leads to numbness and stagnation.

    However, Seth, your right to dissent aside, my opinion is that you don’t really have grounds to characterize the Constitution as having “anything more than symbolic value.” Sure, there are problems, mistakes, and things could be executed much better (and I would say that here a modicum of patriotism can serve as a motivator to make things better). But your position is needlessly extreme.

    I would also apply that to your point about non-citizens voting. How would that make us that much better of a democracy (especially if you believe your point about the constitution)? Citizenship is actually rather liberal here in the first place. In the second, excluding foreign nationals from the vote does not seem to me to be outside of the bounds of a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” (as imperfect as it may be). Citizenship simply defines “the people.”

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  4. Mathew 6:5: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing … on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
    6:6: But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

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  5. Seth Berner Says:

    My deity doesn’t hate just baseball, he hates balls period. Regretted giving them to us as soon as he did it. Knew they’d be nothing but trouble. Keep ’em in our pants or go to hell, he told me. He was drunk when he said it but I think he meant it.

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  6. […] As I have previously written, the baseball “industry” has gradually, but steadily alienated me, over the years.* The year 2016, when — ironically — four of my “natural” clubs (Cubs, Indians, Nationals, Orioles) made the playoffs, was the first in my life when I didn’t follow baseball at all. […]

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