No matter how bad things get, we have baseball

April 4, 2016

Major League Baseball Opening Day.

Just typing that phrase makes me feel a bit better. I mean it. Mentally and physically better. I cannot sufficiently explain the way the game is good for my soul, but I know that it is. I take pleasure from the game, and I am thankful to God for that pleasure. Opening Day certainly involves optimism as fans attempt to convince themselves that their team has at least a chance this season. Of course, as an Atlanta Braves fan, I know such thoughts are currently an empty sentiment, but I still enjoy the mental dance.

My delight in the game came to me the way it has for many—my dad loved the game, and passed that love down to me one ground ball, fly ball, game of catch and batting practice at a time. Baseball is a communal and conversational sport that cannot be played or practiced for much benefit in isolation. My parents bought a house, in part, because it was next to baseball fields when I was young. I had a makeshift-pitching mound in the backyard where my father catechized me on the finer points of pitching. I played baseball informally and formally, as often as possible, under a sunny Alabama sky.

Baseball is not simply a sport that I enjoy. The game is baked into who I am. What I have learned from the game, and just being around it, affects the way I lead, husband and parent. Now, do not get me wrong, baseball is just a game, but our games can be formative, and none are more so in American history than baseball. It was former Major League Baseball pitcher Jim Bouton who said, “A ballplayer spends a good piece of his life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.” I am creeping close to having lived half a century, and I find myself just as eager and excited for Spring Training and Opening Day as I have ever been.

A shared passion

Growing up, morning breakfast always included checking the Braves box score of last night’s game and family talk of the game to come. My dad would throw with me almost every day the weather permitted, and thankfully in central Alabama that was most days. Now, my wife and I laugh about one of our sons who was homeschooled and wore a full baseball uniform almost every single day for about five straight years. This is the way a passion for baseball, a love for the game, is passed on to the next generation. I know there have been days in my life I have not thought about baseball, but I do not remember them, and I suspect the same will be true for my sons.

Roger Angell has written, “Baseball and memory come together so naturally.” In what other sport are children playing today able to recall the games heroes of the past? I have tried asking kids on a youth basketball team if they knew who Wilt Chamberlain was, only to be met with blank stares. The same was true when I have asked young football players if they knew who Jim Brown was—nothing but silence. But, there is always a kid on a youth baseball team who knows of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth or Willie Mays. Baseball encourages its participants and followers in the discipline of communal memory.

When I meet someone for the first time who loves and knows the game, then they are not entirely a stranger to me because we share a common history and language. One of the amazing things about baseball is its consistency. It is essentially the same game that was played in earlier eras. Unlike most major sports, if you were able to take a couple of fans out of the stands of a major-league baseball park in the 1940’s and transport them to a park this opening day, they would be at home because they would still understand and enjoy the game they were watching.

A lesson in American history

I teach my children American history using baseball as a touchstone. Before the Civil War, baseball was played recreationally in communities. After the Civil War, professional teams started forming. The roaring 20s were the end of the dead ball era, and the Great Depression was the era when Babe Ruth starred and the home run became a significant part of the game. Baseball historian John Thorn contends that the 1940s was baseball’s greatest decade, which was the coming of age for the generation some call the greatest. The 40s produced Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson. Robinson, along with Branch Rickey helped the growing the Civil Rights Movement by breaking the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947. The Negro Leagues existed prior to the Civil Rights era and ended a few years before passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Amendment. The 70s and 80s were the era of disco, parachute pants and big hair. The scene was equally bad in baseball with artificial turf, the DH and multi purpose stadiums.

A constant source of encouragement

As this season begins, I have been more discouraged about the American cultural landscape than I have been in a while. The American culture seems to be descending into moral chaos at warp speed. The tone of the current political rhetoric would be considered childish, petty and crass on a fifth grade playground. The modern cultural dialogue also resembles a rival sports team chat room where the goal is to vilify, castigate and humiliate one’s opponents without mercy or reason. Consequently , my soul needs the familiar sights and sounds of spring and Opening Day because, even in the midst of it all, baseball is still baseball. Pitch-by-pitch, out-by-out, inning-by-inning, game-by-game, baseball marches on for a wonderfully rhythmic 162-game season that is built into the very fabric of our lives until the chill of fall.

Though there are plenty of things I am not happy about in the game today—the DH, instant replay and that absurd single-game wildcard that mocks the integrity of the regular season—it is still baseball, and my family is ready for the journey of a new season. My love of the game cannot be separated from other cherished realities in my life: Baseball brings to mind memories of my Mom and Dad and Joe Marshall Field in Montgomery, Ala., where I grew up playing the game. I think of friends like Rusty Cone, who I played the game with from six-years-old through college, and Buddy Boyle, who took batting practice with me in the snow. More recently, I think of my wife Judi, who has grown to love the game, and of course, I think of my eight kids.

I think one of the reasons baseball means so much to me is because it is so rooted in my life; it helps me remember who I am. And I haven’t even paused to point out the way baseball serves as a metaphor for what is of ultimate importance to me, my Christian faith. Words like hope, delight, rhythm, community, passing on to the next generation, rootedness and history are also the language of my faith commitment. I understand the sentiment of theologian Stanley Hauerwas when he writes, “No matter how bad things get, I have always thought, at least we have baseball.” I am confident that some of you will identify with that sentiment as well. Play Ball!

David E. Prince

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24