Plato Would Have Been a Baseball Fan, But What About God?

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“I know there are those who will accuse me of exaggeration when I say this,” writes essayist David B. Hart in a metaphysical explanation of the Great American Pastime for First Things, “but, until baseball appeared, humans were a sad and benighted lot, lost in the labyrinth of matter, dimly and achingly aware of something incandescently beautiful and unattainable, something infinitely desirable shining up above in the empyrean of the ideas.”

To be fair, baseball has always had its share of eloquent, celebrity boosters–American litterateur Mark Twain was a fan. Journalist George F. Will has deemed the game “Heaven’s gift to mortals.” But few have elevated baseball to such a lofty perch as Hart. “My hope, when all is said and done,” he says, “is that [Americans] will be remembered chiefly as the people who invented–who devised and thereby also, for the first time, discovered–the perfect game, the very Platonic ideal of organized sport, the ‘moving image of eternity’ in athleticis. I think that would be a grand posterity.”

Baseball’s inherent spectacle and hard to master skill-set, Hart argues, are interpretive launching points for all faiths.

My friend R.R. Reno sees a bunt down the first-base line, in which the infield rotates clockwise while the runner begins his counterclockwise motion, as a clear evocation of Ezekiel’s vision of the divine chariot’s living wheels, and so an invitation to Merkabah mysticism. A Buddhist acquaintance from Japan, however, sees every home run as a metaphor for the arahant who has successfully crossed the sea of becoming on the raft of dharma.

As a Christian and a die-hard Baltimore Orioles fan, Hart contends that baseball speaks to a biblical worldview:

First, there is simply its undeniable element of Edenic nostalgia: that longing for innocence, guileless play, the terrestrial paradise–a longing it both evokes and soothes … I only observe that the ballpark is a paradise into which evil does occasionally come, whenever the Yankees are in town, and this occasionally lends the game a cosmic significance that it would not be improper to call ‘apocalyptic.’ This, in fact, is why that dastardly franchise is a spiritually necessary part of the game in this country; even Yankees fans have their necessary role to play, and–although we may occasionally think of them as ‘vessels of wrath’–we have to remember that they, too, are enfolded in the mercy of providence.

And, second, the game is, for many of us, a hard tutelage in the biblical virtues of faith, hope, and love.

Source: First Things

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