Friday, June 02, 2006

Religious fervor

Welcome to a "faith-based nation". Whether or not people want to admit it, religion is playing a larger and larger part in our day-to-day lives as Americans, just as it is the world over. Evidence of this is popping up all over the place, with various forms of Christianity taking the forefront, and any other form of religious expression being relegated to a backroom, where people don't ask or tell about it.

The first example of this is the "Faith Nights" being held at minor-league baseball parks. These promotions are causing spikes in attendance, and are bringing out something other than just a baseball game for those of the flock. Everything ranging from Christian musical acts to bobbleheads of figures from the Bible (excepting, of course, Big J) are being tied into a world that formerly was known as the location of soon-to-be and has-been big leaguers and semi-reasonably priced beer. Given the willingness that athletes themselves have shown towards talking about their faith, these promotions are really not that different from any other promotion that's thrown together. As these stadiums look at things, anything that gets butts in the seats is good, and Faith Nights are driving attendances up.

But there's always a flip-side to the fervor, and this flip-side is manifest in the new video game slated for an October 2006 release: Left Behind: Eternal Forces. This is a game where some of the worst aspects of the 9/11 attacks (religious fundamentalism, bodies strewn about, smoke filling vision) are praised, as opposed to decried. The big difference seems to be that the proponents of all these things are the "heros" portrayed in the Left Behind world, the conservative Evangelicals, as those that are left after the rapture work on converting the country into a theocracy to defend against the Anti-christ. And hey, if the people won't convert, well, then they'll quite obviously have to die, because they're heretics and they are standing in the way of the true glory of the Lord. And this "game" is being marketed through churches, and praised by religious leaders like Rick Warren. The very notion that this game exists is sickening, and the way that it co-opts some of the most visceral parts of 9/11, and then twists them to their own purposes should cause an enormous public outcry. Unfortunately, there's just as high of a chance that those that will rise up to rail against the game are merely heretics in and of themselves, and examples of why the game is needed to "educate the faithful" (no, nobody's said that specifically as of yet, but I'm waiting for it).

Finally, in a world where there is no apologies made if you've reached enough celebrity that you practically have a cult surrounding you and your words, Bill O'Reilly has choked on his hip, as Keith Olbermann of MSNBC recently pointed out during his program. Olbermann, some of you may remember, was one of the most vehement of news anchors shortly after the Hurricane Katrina FEMA collapse, and he recently trained his eye towards O'Reilly for the huge mistake of not checking full facts before announcing his news. This particular instance that Olbermann was referring to is related to O'Reilly's (glaringly) incorrect statements regarding what happened at Malmedy during WWII. As Olbermann points out, the issue is not simply that O'Reilly was so horridly incorrect twice (both times, while trying to rip apart statements made by Gen. Wesley Clark), but that FOXNews corrected the transcript in an attempt to cover his error, and that, when confronted by a viewer, O'Reilly did nothing to apologize, he merely changed his wording ever so slightly, and then moved on as though he had done nothing wrong. A partial transcript and full video can be found here...

This type of refusal to back down, showcased by the Left Behind people and by Bill O'Reilly, is part of what makes me afraid that eventually the "Faith Nights" are going to lead minor-league baseball fans down a similar path. Thankfully, the stadiums will still have things like "Nickel Beer Night" and foam bat giveaways to keep things in perspective. Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to grab myself a foam bat and take it on a road trip. I think Mr. O'Reilly could use a little perspective...

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