Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A-Rod, McGwire and the meaning of life


the latest baseball steroid revelation, namely alex rodriguez's admission that he took performance enhancing drugs, once again brings to the forefront the staggering and rampant drug use generally found in sports, but especially found in baseball. the taint is strong.  

it reminded me of the march 2005 performance by mark mcgwire before the government when all he could say about his use of steroids, or lack thereof, is that he was not going to talk about the past. being from the st. louis area, this was a particularly difficult spectacle to watch. at that time i wrote a series of posts about the greater issue behind the steroid issue. i've revised one of them, and as they say, extended my remarks...

McGwire At Bat -- 2-15-07 (revised)
recently, i watched a replay of mark mcgwire's 1998 historic 62nd home run, the one which broke roger maris' 1961 record for hitting 61. i watched the fans give a rousing hero's chant to this famed athlete. and then in my mind I did a fast forward to the government hearings on steroid use and mcgwire's tearful testimony, a testimony that really spoke loudly for what was not said. and even more recently we learned that mr. mcgwire did not make it into the hall of fame.  a wise decision, I think, both for baseball and mr. mcgwire.  for baseball, how could the sport look the non-cheaters in the face -- which apparently mr. mcgwire was able to do when facing the family of roger maris on that evening in 1998 -- if they let him or those like him into that select group? and as for mr. mcgwire? his shame is apparent by his continued unwillingness to make much of a return to st. louis, or anywhere for that matter.

speaking of shame, wikipedia says:
"shame is a psychological condition induced by the consciousness or awareness of dishonor, disgrace, or condemnation. genuine shame is associated with genuine dishonor, disgrace, or condemnation..."

therapist john bradshaw calls shame the "emotion that lets us know we are finite".

shame is an interesting subject, especially in today’s seemingly “shameless” culture. that is, huge areas of what used to be considered shameful conduct has disappeared from the social landscape, and i can’t help but wondering if this is altogether a good thing?

of course, the rag on the religious is that they miss the good old days of being able to apply the guilt that goes along with shame. and, while this may be true for the red-veined pompous preacher, breathing fire from the pulpit (and this is not a straw man for these guys are clearly still around), several important ideas are left on the table with this generalization. for one, it assumes that all guilt and shame is without merit. that, there is no redemptive quality to feeling the misdeed that one has done is actually wrong (guilt) and has consequence (shame). said another way, genuine shame -- as opposed to false-shame -- is about honor and dishonor, character and integrity.

[this truth was powerfully brought home to me two years ago when i screened the 2007 film, In The Valley Of Elah. rarely have i viewed a film from a serious post-modern point of view that lays out the struggle of shame verses an amoral view of the world]

the second idea left on the table with the religious generalization is it assumes that the religious live lives of hidden guilt and shame, and that they consistently cover their own shame by pointing out the guilt of others. that is, we are all of us mere actors and hypocrites. first, most of the religionist's shame is hardly hidden. if there is one area where shaming is practiced as a fine art it’s when the religious are captured in a “gotcha ya” moment. but more to the point, few religious people I know believe they are without guilt. this, of course, could be seen as part of the problem with the religious mentality, but in fact, an argument could be made that most of us became followers of the christ as a way to move beyond the true moral guilt we know we own. now, some would see this as weakness, of course, and others as life denying, but there still are words like metanoia in the vocabulary of both the text and the canon practice. and what are we to do with those?

anyway, bradshaw is probably correct in saying that genuine shame, genuine acts of wrong, show us that we are finite, but it also reminds us, sadly, that in our social-setting finite people do shameful things for which they are sorry only when they get caught. let's hope that someday mark mcgwire distances himself from that trap. the only way to do so is to work through our own actions, and to own them. but how difficult is that for any of us?