Monday, January 26, 2009

Christ Would Not Have Run Up the Score

In a story that demonstrates the essence of religion and the ethical conflict that is destroying America:

The coach of a Texas high school basketball team that beat another team 100-0 was fired Sunday, the same day he sent an e-mail to a newspaper saying he will not apologize "for a wide-margin victory when my girls played with honor and integrity."

Kyle Queal, the headmaster for Covenant School, said in The Dallas Morning News online edition that he could not answer if the firing was a direct result of coach Micah Grimes' e-mail disagreeing with administrators who called the blowout "shameful."

...On its Web site last week, Covenant, a private Christian school, posted a statement regretting the outcome of its Jan. 13 shutout win over Dallas Academy. "It is shameful and an embarrassment that this happened. This clearly does not reflect a Christlike and honorable approach to competition," said the statement, signed by Queal and board chair Todd Doshier.

Grimes, who has been criticized for letting the game get so far out of hand, made it clear in the e-mail Sunday to the newspaper that he does not agree with his school's assessment. "In response to the statement posted on The Covenant School Web site, I do not agree with the apology or the notion that the Covenant School girls basketball team should feel embarrassed or ashamed," Grimes wrote in the e-mail, according to the newspaper. "We played the game as it was meant to be played. My values and my beliefs would not allow me to run up the score on any opponent, and it will not allow me to apologize for a wide-margin victory when my girls played with honor and integrity."

I agree with the administration that this win was not "Christlike". In fact, I would argue the whole notion of competition is not Christlike. The purpose of religion is not to be great at something "earthly" - it is to live a life of asceticism in glorious sacrifice to the almighty God. Would Jesus have played basketball with his disciples much less run up the score on them? The fundamental problem is not that the coach ran up the score - it is the attempt by the school to act out a contradiction. The contradiction lies in reconciling the Christian moral code of altruism with an activity that requires selfishness.

Every sport demands individual effort in pursuit of a goal: winning the competition. Each player seeks to improve his individual skills and ability to function effectively on the team. This is a highly selfish activity in that the individual seeks the pride of having achieved a goal in pursuit of individual and team excellence. The Christian moral code demands not selfish pride and individual happiness but self-abnegation and self-denial. Earthly pleasures are regarded by Christianity as sins of the flesh, and true glory is to be found by worshipping and sacrificing oneself to God.

Note that this inherent contradiction between the morality of sacrifice and the rational egoistic pursuit of happiness is at the root of a conflict that has torn America apart. On the surface, Americans have always admired success, and the cultural obsession with sports and competition reflects this. Yet, at the same time, the culture remains steeped in the morality of sacrifice. For example, what do the anti-trust statutes imply? They imply that if one is too successful at business he must be punished and must be forced to surrender his business to his inferiors. What do marginal tax rates imply? They imply that the more one earns, the more he must surrender to those who have not earned it. Altruism is the basis for the popular socialist principle: "From each according to ability, to each according to need."

Under the morality of altruism, this coach got exactly what he deserved for being excellent at his job and playing with "honor and integrity." He got fired.

3 comments:

Mike N said...

Good post. I'm glad you took on the morality of altruism so evident in the school's firing of the coach. I was thinking of posting on it but you did a better job I think.

Stephen Bourque said...

I heard this appalling story on the radio when I was driving home from work tonight, but as you might expect, the sports talk guys were dancing around the issues.

You've done an excellent job putting your finger on its essence: altruism.

Michael Lynch said...

I've enjoyed looking over your posts, but I would argue that asceticism and denial of earthly pleasures are not synonymous with Christianity. Those values have characterized Gnosticism, some monastic traditions, and various other movements within Christianity, but they haven't been universal. The terms "the world" or "the flesh" in the NT do not refer to the physical world or the body in general, as numerous theologians down through the centuries have argued at length. Paul is quite a bit more subtle than he comes across in translation. The NT position, I think, is that the physical world is marred, but not inherently evil.

--ML