Posts

Abraham Joshua Heschel, George Carlin, Philosophy and Baseball

According to the theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel, the difference between Judaism and other religions is time and space. According to the theologian George Carlin, the difference between baseball and football is time and space. Kevin Youkilis and Ian Kinsler see … Read More

By / April 16, 2010

According to the theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel, the difference between Judaism and other religions is time and space. According to the theologian George Carlin, the difference between baseball and football is time and space. Kevin Youkilis and Ian Kinsler see the connection.

Carlin’s famous baseball vs. football routine contrasts eternity with finitude. Whereas "baseball has no time limit" and may never end, "football is rigidly timed, and will end even if we’ve got to go to sudden death." Whereas "baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life, football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying." Whereas "baseball has the seventh inning stretch, football has the two minute warning."

Football is a frantic fight over space- measured in yards- before time runs out. One wins a baseball game, however, by extending time. To not get out is to live forever; a perfect offense is an eternal offense.

According to Heschel, the Jewish creation story is unique in containing no holy spaces or sacred objects. Instead, only a time- the Sabbath, the day of rest- is made holy. For Heschel, "the meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space."

Football has a holy space: the end zone. (Upon entering, one prays and does a dance.) But baseball has no holy space. Because one starts and finishes at home plate- in the same place- it’s when you’re there that counts. (So many players cross themselves at both ends of the journey; perhaps the Shehecheyanu- the prayer expressing gratitude for having reached this occasion- is appropriate.)

 

Heschel claimed that humanity seeks to "triumph over space", and that advanced civilization "is man’s conquest of space". Carlin claimed that "Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle." Football plays out the drama of conquest. Every yard a Maginot line, every down a battle.

But according to Genesis, what was created on the seventh day? "Tranquility, serenity, peace and repose." According to Carlin, "baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game" which feels like a "picnic".

Space can be occupied and controlled; football encourages feelings of dominance. But time cannot be occupied, only passed through. As Heschel put it, "Man transcends space, and time transcends man." As Carlin put it, "You can’t tell time, time tells you". Baseball suggests humility; the best hitters fail to reach base 60% of the time.

For Heschel, "six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self." Though football may be played on (or around) the seventh day (depending on circumstances or circumcisions), every game is life or death; in colloquial terms, a playoff atmosphere. Baseball, though, values steadiness and calm. The best pitchers know to throw softer, not harder, in hazardous situations. The best hitters know to wait for their pitch. Dominance is self-control. (This is measurable; in FiP, we see a pitcher’s essence.)

Einstein has it that space and time are not so separate, that they are interchangeable aspects of a single manifold. Steven Wright concurs: "I Xeroxed my watch. Now I have time to spare." (Wright’s other relativistic one-liners include: "Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time", "I went to a restaurant that serves ‘breakfast at any time’, so I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance", and "Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.")

But Einstein can’t be quite right; for time passes and space doesn’t. Carlin, when asked the time, quipped "You mean now, or when you asked me?" (thereby mirroring Yogi Berra, on the charitable interpretation). Football concedes to the passing of time. It’s structured by the countdown towards heat death; football revels in the ticking of the thermodynamic clock. Its order at the line of scrimmage rapidly disperses into chaotic interaction. It responds to impending death with aggression and battle. Because fuck it, that’s why.

But baseball aspires to a nobler fate. There is a promise of eternity in never getting out, where to be safe is to live forever. For Heschel, "the Sabbath is the day on which we learn the art of surpassing civilization" by sharing in eternity. Baseball surpasses football by living in a more idealized conception of time, where death and decay can be temporarily removed by well-honed acts of skill. It’s a chance to rejoice. Heschel wrote "It is a sin to be sad on the Sabbath day." And there’s no crying in baseball.

Tagged with: