Saturday, September 7, 2013

Religious Identity and Sports Teams

9/7/2013—A couple of weeks ago, in the magazine Sports Illustrated, there appeared a column in which a writer, whose name for the moment escapes me, described his effort this summer to inculcate his five-year-old son in the father's long time love of the San Diego Padres baseball team. Unfortunately for the writer, his family had since moved to Los Angeles. Therefore, he was now taking his son to baseball games at Dodger Stadium. The writer was afraid that his son would develop a team loyalty to the Dodgers, a team whom the writer had always hated.

Before the All-Star break, the Dodgers were playing so badly that the writer felt safe. Unfortunately for him, after the All-Star break the Dodgers caught fire and played tremendous baseball. His son was entranced and began to identify with the Dodgers. In terms of sports, his son was lost to him.

The writer was of the view that there comes a moment in a young person's life in which a commitment like identification with a sports team is made for life. That moment had come for his son and could not now be undone.

Reflecting on this story, I was reminded of a time when my younger daughter was in middle school. She informed her parents one day that she was interested in reading with an evangelical Christian group. I reacted very negatively to this news.

Neither rationally nor theologically did my reaction make any sense. My daughter had not developed a particularly strong Jewish identity, nor, given the way that my children were raised, was it likely that she would. In addition, I had especially taught my children to be open in terms of religion and it was no secret that Jesus was a very important figure in my own life. In addition to all of that, my daughter was going to go to a private high school in which she would obviously be reading in the New Testament.

I now see that my reaction was very much of a piece with that of the writer in regard to the Padres and the Dodgers. I simply had a visceral feeling that I wanted my daughter to share my identification and loyalty. And even if I had always had doubts about religion, and even if I had always identified with Jesus of Nazareth, my loyalty to Judaism was never really in doubt (and is not in doubt today, despite my nonbelieving situation). My daughter was simply identifying with another team.

Of course, the fact that I see this does not in any way lessen the feeling that I had at the time. And I must admit that this entire episode makes me much more sympathetic to members of religious groups who are not particularly observant and not particularly savvy theologically, but who care passionately about the religious affiliation of their children and other family members. If it feels like rejection, then it is a form of rejection.

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