The game of softball is a wonderful American past time. Even more than baseball perhaps, softball is played by teams of men and women for camaraderie and fun. Yet many players take their softball quite seriously. Bars and other businesses sponsor teams, providing uniforms and league fees in return for recognition and community support.
A powerhouse softball team can dominate a softball league for many years. The reputation of a dynastic softball team can go a long way toward defeating opponents before the games even begin. One such team led the softball league in our city for several years before our newspaper-sponsored band of former baseball players and other athletes signed up to play together. That first year we ran head on into the powerhouse team in the quarterfinals and got knocked out. We had not built our roster completely and the home run hitters on the powerhouse team overwhelmed our run production capability.
But the next year we added a couple more former college baseball players and the results of that year’s schedule and championship were entirely different. Our team still looked like the rag tag liberals in the league. We wore sweatpants and old stained hats to play. Our team shirts were nothing special for sure. But we played the game of softball with the practical flair of hit and run offense and great gloves on defense. We lost but two games all season, one to the powerhouse team in the league. The other game we lost because we were shorthanded due to family obligations.
The powerhouse team was still sure they would wipe us out in the championship round. They came to the park as they always did, full of loud voices and swagger. Their crisp new uniforms shone in the sun. Every at-bat they cheered and yelled intimidations at us in the field.
Yet midway through the third inning we had racked up 8 runs to their single home run in the second inning. Suddenly they came to the realization that their brand of intimidation and domination had worn off on us. We were catching their potential home runs, for one thing, and making plays on their other hitters as well. When we came to bat, we moved runners around the bases with hits and speed. They began screaming at each other for missing line drives and grounders that always seemed just out of reach. Their voices changed from a tone of domination to desperation.
For the next eight seasons in a row, our lowly-looking team of fundamentally sound softball players beat that team of blowhards during the regular season and for the championship too. No amount of muscle they added to their lineup really changed things.
They did complain to the umpires a lot more. Apparently they felt persecuted by the fact that the rules of play were not tipped somehow in their favor. They had bigger players and more home run hitters than us. They flexed their arms in the sun and they looked like winners in their uniforms. Yet we beat them year after year.
Finally, after the eighth season of getting tromped in the finals, one of them turned to me after the awards ceremony and pointed at the baseball glove trophy we’d received and said, with a dripping tone of cynicism in his voice, “Congratulations. All that thing will ever do is gather dust on your dresser.”
And he was right. But he was also so wrong. Because we’d accomplished what his team of perceived dominance could not do. We played by our own conscience and methods, and we won.
You could perhaps have argued that the powerhouse team with its pretty uniforms was a better representation of the sport of softball. Admittedly our team received more than one insult about our pragmatic mode of dress and lack of complete uniforms. Our response was always the same: What matters is how well you play the game.
That apparently felt like an insult in some way to our better-dressed competitors. Yet they never seemed to focus on the practical reasons why they continued to lose. The more home run hitters they added, the fewer runs they produced because fewer men ever got on base. As a result, they seemed to feel persecuted in their annual pursuit of overcoming their own flaws.
Hard lessons and loud fans
In sports and life and in business, the most critical aspect of improvement is grasping your weaknesses and understanding your strengths. That is key to making competitive adjustments in this world. It almost doesn’t matter what scale or what cultural meme to which you apply these standards, you either figure out why you’re losing or you keep on losing. Just ask the Cubs, but don’t blame a goat or a black cat. And remember that the team with the loudest fans does not always win.
The loud protestations by conservatives that Christianity is being “persecuted” and “attacked” by liberals is an often-heard meme across the media spectrum. Yet it does more to expose the rightly fallen status of fundamental Christianity as the once dominant religion in America. The plain and simple fact is that it is weaknesses in conservative theology that have done the most to persecute conservative Christianity. Biblical scholarship that does not commence with broad assumptions about the order and process New Testament dogma has done more to undermine fundamentalism as a worldview than secular liberalism could ever do. Yet everyday Christians with a commitment to social justice also find themselves divorced from fundamental Christianity with its often prejudicial treatment of women, people of color, gays and a whole host of other social targets pulled into the mix by conservative Christianity’s alliance with fiscal conservatives as well.
Now there has arisen a new brand of Protestantism of a Progressive brand seeking to reconcile social justice and the Bible. This new progressivism happens to align perfectly with the fundamental tenets of the United States Constitution and its call for equal rights. by contrast conservative Christianity seems perpetually engaged in denying equal rights to anyone judged to stand outside its often literal interpretations of scripture.
Conservative Christianity has long had it troubles with key elements of the social revolution. Inclusiveness proved difficult for people convinced that Christianity was the divine province of relatively wealthy and white people. Then when hippies starting calling on the Lord by name through very liberal productions such as Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar, conservatives felt they had enough and decided sometime in the 1960s to take their softball and go home.
But they couldn’t stay away from the political sandlot for long. They came back bellowing through the lungs of Jerry Falwell and for a few years looked like they might just win a season or two of political softball. The Moral Majority wrapped itself in flags and claimed that conservative Christianity owned the roots of the Constitution itself.
Sticking to what works
Truth be told however, it was liberalism with all its ties to Constitutional justice, equal rights and freedom from religion that was sticking closer to the Constitution.
Conservative Christians backed by political allies accused liberals and Democrats of cheating the political system handing out favors in the form of Social Security and Medicare in exchange for voting approval on the so-called Liberal Agenda.
There was only one problem with this storyline. Those social programs happen to align very closely with the fundamental tenets of true Christianity. Caring for the poor and sick is exactly what the Bible (and Jesus) calls on us to do. Our government basically started an insurance program back in the 1930s to keep people from becoming destitute in their retirement years of when they are elderly, sick and need the most help. That’s not a handout. That’s responsible management that happens to reflect true Christian values.
The abortion debate
That was not the only cognitive dissonance from the Right. Because beyond having failed in making a connection with the American people on compassionate social programs, the Christian Right elected to take issue with other trends they considered social ills. The right to abortion was one of those issues.
The problem with abortion as an issue of Christian concern is that its simple and preventative solutions such as prescribing birth control and delivering sex education have both been branded as liberal, not moral, solutions to the prevalence of abortions. Even the Catholic church with its so-called rhythm method of birth control could not fool its own constituents. This theologically twisted (and often flawed) advice has been ignored en masse by Catholic families, 97% of whom use conventional methods of birth control to avoid unwanted pregnancies.
Wrong again and again on science
Conservative Christianity has executed similarly bold yet spectacularly wrongheaded campaigns against science and evolution as ell. The entire creationist ideology that depends on literal interpretation of the Bible is nothing more than a ‘science of denial.’ Not a single scientific discovery has ever been directed or proven through the lens of creationism. The same goes for the euphemistic Intelligent Design movement that chooses to openly ignore the fact modern medicine and all our sciences depend upon evolutionary theory as a foundational method for proposing and testing scientific facts. The ID movement predictably labels this brand of science a tautology, but again, not a single scientific fact or theory has, or ever can be, tested through ID. The reason is simple. No one can test for the presence or absence of God in a natural or organic process. Therefore it is not a science. It is a religion.
With all these profound losses of credibility and practicality on its ledger, it is no wonder conservative Christianity feels persecuted. If you’re going to stand in center field and yell about how your opposition sucks when the score is 20-1 against your team, that’s a choice some people seem happy and determined to make.
But to hedge its bets and counter these massive losses of credibility over the years, conservative Christianity is taking an entirely different approach to imposing its will on America. It has decided that rather than try to win the game fairly, it is better to simply buy up all the teams and even try to own the league itself.
That’s what the new conservative strategy is all about. If you outright own the league (or the Senate and House that govern it) it doesn’t much matter how good or right your opponent truly is about the Constitution or any other subject. This strategy is abetted by the convenient and persistent transfer of wealth from the middle class, which tends to vote for pragmatically liberal issues and social justice, to the wealthiest Americans in bed with equally conservative Christians.
This strategy is harrowlingly abetted by the convenient and persistent transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthiest Americans in bed with equally conservative Christians. This further removes power from proponents of pragmatical liberal issues and social justice. The Citizens United ruling rubber stamped by a conservative Supreme Court helped usher in a new age corporate ownership of the political process.
The tortured truth of Fox News
The Christian Right even owns its own broadcast team so that fans of the Home Team never hear any criticism of conservative Christianity and its political or business allies. Fox loves the use of strongarm tactics and bullying to get its way. It even cheered and supported ex-VP Dick Cheney when he spoke out in defense of torturing Iraqis. It is hard to believe that Jesus would support such a viewpoint. After all, it could not have been pleasant being scourged by his Roman captors and spat upon, or forced to carry a piece of heavy timber to the place where soldiers nailed his wrists to the wood and let him expire from stress and bleeding. But Fox News and its conservative alliance thought it was fine to torture and persecute often innocent citizens in search of information about a war that America started as a retaliation against a country that wasn’t involved in the 9/11 attacks.
How very Christian of us
But Fox News with its team of mostly white male and female hack cheerleaders loudly proclaims that Christians are the ones being persecuted. Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly love this approach to gaining complicity. It makes them tons of money beckoning to the jingoistic fervor of conservatives who seem to love to have an enemy at which to point their rage.
There is just one problem with this last grasp for victory. Jesus himself told us to love our enemies, not persecute them or claim to be persecuted by others. Turn the other cheek, remember? Or at the very least shake the dust from your sandals (or softball shoes) and move on to make your point in another town.
But even Jesus said to make sure you got the message right before you go shaking the dust off anything. Even his own disciples missed the metaphorical foundations of his teaching, asking him why he was so liberal with his organic symbolism rather than just “telling it straight.”
“Are you so dull?” he challenged his disciples. Or, “Are you also without understanding?’
See, the disciples of Jesus felt a bit persecuted by the fact that more people did not accept what Jesus was teaching. But Jesus had them stop and think about what they were actually saying. “If you can’t understand my message,” he admonished them (and I paraphrase) “then how can you be trusted to share it with others?”
Indeed the disciples never got the whole message until Jesus gave himself over to be killed. In that single act, designed to both liberate and liberalize the faith of the Jewish and the Gentiles alike, he was sending a message that you cannot be persecuted in his name unless you bring it upon yourself and make it so.