RtO: The Jefferson Bible

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Each week, author and poet Y.S. Fing looks at the state of baseball, the movements of the game, the ebb and flow and soul of America’s pastime in Roaming the Outfield. This week: “The Jefferson Bible”

The next game happened to be a 7-0 hosing by Jose Fernandez and the Miami Marlins v. Dan Haren. What can you do? All season the purpose has been to contain frustration, to avoid speculation, to be in the present. And the Reds won last night, so they had to win 11 and the Nats had to win 19. There was no reason to believe in a miracle here.

Which reminds me of Thomas Jefferson and his ballsy abridgement of the Bible, which he entitled, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Jefferson was a scientist, that is one who sought after and trusted the accumulated human knowledge of the Enlightenment. What he did not trust was miracle. Beyond some startling hypocritical racial beliefs and behavior, reason was his sine qua non of human achievement.

So, Deist that he was, he brought together the four gospels of the Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – in Greek, Latin, French, as well as the King James English version, and he excised all the miracles and distortions he saw. (Talk about Nietzschean insouciance!) What resulted was a cut and pasted version of the New Testament, focusing on a man and teacher, whom the reasonable Jefferson could revere as, “the most innocent, the most benevolent, and the most eloquent and sublime character that ever has been exhibited to man.”

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

In Jefferson’s Bible, we first get the story of Salome, Herod and John the Baptist. (Poor John, so badly used, so glorious.) The Sermon on the Mount occurs on the sixth page, which directs the proper focus toward Jesus’ teaching. I’m not a great believer that the poor in spirit are blessed. And I don’t advocate for any heavenly reward, but I think this is fine, “Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great…” And when Jesus says lend, I don’t think he means money or even material, he means lend your love.

To this year’s Washington Nationals, I have lent my love. I’ve devoted myself to looking at this season in a different way. So even the mediocrity of the team has done me some good, because I’ve had to face the adversity that they faced. I continue to lend my love, such as it is, because I gain by that giving. I understand that a team can have a baffling year. I understand that all the explanations are ex post facto. The reality is the challenge. So there is no reason to believe that a miracle can occur. Because reason tells us to be prepared for the reality of failure and recognition of our inadequacy to the great tasks to which our ideals call us.

Within the Sermon on the Mount is the “Our Father,” where we get, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…” I hope that the players can endure their frustration and anger, that both players and fans will be ready to try again. No resentments, no hard feelings, just determination to learn and progress. Further on, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” If a task has been performed with a good spirit, although not done particularly well, then we should acknowledge the spirit. And this year’s Nats exuded no bad spirits, at least not long-lingering ones. Ian Desmond has demonstrated that well in the last weeks.Jesus Christ

For Jefferson, these were the important things to know about Jesus, not that he walked on water, or raised the dead, or ascended into heaven. Jesus, like all the great thinkers we’ve dealt with, wants us to know that our reward for being a well-composed person is a well-composed life. If we expend our energy in recrimination, our lives will be full of it. “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them…” If the team is .500 and readily letting go of its last chances at the playoffs, then it’s time to let go of the probability of a miracle.

It seems to me that Jefferson’s purpose is to show that when we filter religious beliefs through reason, we can find the reason within them. And when those miracles are stripped away, what is revealed is a philosophy of assertion of the will in the direction of good. That is the secular, atheistic ideal we want to strive for. Baseball shows us, even in the utter mediocrity of what could have (dare we say ‘should have’?) been a miracle season, there is good reason to hope.

Could this team go 19-3 over its last 22 games? That seemed about as likely as a Pharisee getting through a meal with Jesus without a parable. But strip away the miracle, and observe what this team is.

They need a new manager who will drill them on defensive fundamentals and offensive patience and pitch selection (I’ve previously mentioned Ryne Sandberg (now officially the Phillies manager); Matt Williams is ok with me too; Joe Girardi?). They need to solidify a more productive bench (Look no further than the September call-ups). They need 5 healthy, dependable starting pitchers (I leave that to Nats GM Mike Rizzo). They don’t need much else. They’re young.

The reason to hope is that next year is coming. One is only a failure (or a champion) for a few months, then it starts again. Please note that as of September 6, last year’s World Series Champions, the San Francisco Giants, were 15 games below .500, last place in the National League West. No miracles forthcoming there either. Still, hope.


Y.S Fing loves baseball the way that his parents wish he loved Catholicism.