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