Over at Defeating the Dragons, Samantha wrote a post in which she settles on God as a football coach to explain her faith.
With God as football coach, she writes, humanity is the team which carries out His divine directions but He is not an active participant in the game of life.
This works pretty well insofar as God doesn’t intervene to solve all our problems because humans, Christians in particular, are supposed to be representing God and following his ‘playbook.’
Here’s why it doesn’t work for me, although I want to be clear that this isn’t meant to recruit her or anyone else over to ‘my side.’ This is merely semi-coherent thoughts from my perspective.
I view religion as a parallel to the history of baseball and in this analogy Alexander Cartwright is God.
Cartwright isn’t baseball’s inventor, but he is credited with publishing the first rules of the game which became baseball. In the same way, God is viewed by three major religions as having given us the first divine guidelines, the Ten Commandments.
But we don’t have Cartwright around telling us how the modern game should be played, we only have the rules he came up with in 1845. Jews have their own rulebook, the Christian rulebook is newer and, to throw in the other Abrahamic religion, Islam’s rulebook is newer still.
These three rulebooks are not compatible in the same way the National League and American League rules are similar, with the World Series games between the two leagues alternately allowing the designated hitter and not allowing one.
Maybe it’s more useful for the sake of this ‘baseball’ metaphor to call Judaism “cricket”, Christianity “baseball” and Islam “golf”; they are similar in that you hit a ball in each sport. It’s also reasonably apt in the sense that baseball was probably derived from cricket, as Christianity was a spinoff from Judaism. And calling Christianity “baseball” is apt because there are two major baseball denominations: the National League and the American League.
But no one, to my knowledge, has died arguing the merits of the designated hitter.
Here’s where the “religion as sport” metaphor comes to a head for me: rules of any game are completely arbitrary in the same way rules to any religion are arbitrary.
Why is a football field 100 yards long? Why does a baseball field cover 90 degrees? Why does a basketball team have five players? Why can’t soccer players come back into game once a substitute takes their place?
The answer to all these questions? Because those are the rules as made up a long time ago or as agreed upon by all participants recently, just like the rules of religion. Much ink has been spilled by Christians as they have tried to tease out exactly what God’s purpose was or even what he said. We don’t even have God’s rules in any modern language, having to depend on translators to approximate what the original authors meant.
Is God three or one? What is God’s purpose for women? Is God against gay marriage? How does God feel about killing?
Bud Selig, baseball’s commissioner, doesn’t travel with Cartwright’s original rules, defending today’s version of baseball against the purists. But that’s what Christians do. They have to worry whether their lives conform to 2,000-year-old writings, in the case of the New Testament, or more even farther back, if they find inspiration in the Old Testament. And sometimes obeying these rules can actively get in the way of doing good for and to one’s neighbors.
Because I don’t believe any part of the Bible is divinely inspired any more than the NFL’s rulebook is God-given, I’m able to condemn what’s bad and admire what’s good in both.
In the same way, I can pick what’s good from people and try to change what I don’t agree with. I can admire Richard Dawkins’ books illuminating science while disagreeing with his misogyny. I can admire Martin Luther King Jr. for his works with the Civil Rights movement while acknowledging his infidelity. I can let Abraham Lincoln’s inspire me while still knowing his inconsistency with the treatment of blacks. I can marvel at Greek art and philosophy while being horrified at their treatment of children.
In another post, Samantha ponders whether she can call herself a Christian. Even though she is reacting to a fundamentalist background similar to my own, I wasn’t able to transition to a more liberal Christianity. I have given some consideration to re-joining a church and ‘plugging back into the Matrix’ as Cypher does in the movie, but I find the whole church experience saddens and irritates me now. What was unseen cannot be seen again, almost.
It seems like my views on social issues and morality align very closely with those of Libby Anne and Samantha. The major difference: Samantha calls herself a Christian and I am an atheist. Libby Anne, as an atheist, calls herself a feminist first.
Are these differences worth fighting over when the end goal is making the world a better place? I don’t think so.