Clem's Baseball home

Baseball as
Civic Religion:
A catechism for the faithful

"The only church that truly feeds the soul, day-in day-out, is the Church of Baseball."

Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) in Bull Durham (1988)

(See Baseball in the movies.)

Let us play:
Baseball and religion

baseball icon To the utter bewilderment of the rest of the world, the United States is at the leading edge of scientific advance, yet remains one of the most religiously devout countries in the non-Muslim world. Church attendance and professions of faith in miracles are almost without parallel in the developed world. It may not be coincidental that the great late cartoonist Charles Schulz, creator of Charlie Brown and the rest of the "Peanuts" comic strip gang, had a deep appreciation for baseball and often made clear allusions to his religious faith, though in a gentle, non-proselytizing way.

baseball icon While this wide-eyed, potentially gullible mindset may be conducive to exaltating athletic competition to the spiritual plane, we probably shouldn't carry the analogy between Our National Pastime and our nation's religious heritage(s) too far. Indeed, in our modern, liberal, secular society we are perfectly free to poke fun at the pretensions of establisment churches. By "civic religion," we simply refer to the fact that since the days of the Civil War, baseball has been the "gravitational field" that pulls us all together. It inspires just the right combination of individual excellence and group loyalty. It creates a common bond among Americans of all classes, races, regions, religions, generations, and walks of life. It builds a sense of community and national identity and makes us feel proud to be Americans. Is this a great country, or what?

baseball icon This theme of "civic religion" is explicit throughout my favorite book about baseball stadiums, Green Cathedrals, by Philip J. Lowry (Addison Wesley, 2006). This amazing book is, on one hand, a comprehensive and extremely useful factual database about every single stadium in which a major league game has ever been played, including temporary "neutral" venues as well as stadiums used by Negro League teams. Indeed, it is the single most important source of data for most of the stadium pages on this Web site, and I am indebted to Mr. Lowry for putting in so much effort to gather all that information. On the other hand, Green Cathedrals is replete with effusive lyrical prose on all the subtle "mystical" qualities of the stadiums he covers. The author somehow manages to deal with both the technical "yin" and the artistic "yang" of baseball stadiums.

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