From the old Baltimore Catechism:
Question: Who made me?
Answer: God made me.
Question: Why did God make me?
Answer: God made me because he loved me.
Back in first grade I got in trouble the day we went over that lesson by asking, “But, Sister, how could God love me if he hadn’t made me yet?”
I’m not sure why that caused Sister Mary Francis to blow her stack. It didn’t take much to make her blow her stack, but that seemed like a reasonable question to me and still does. Maybe she thought I was being a wiseguy in some way. At any rate, she didn’t give me an answer. She just told me say a Hail Mary and an Our Father and that was the end of it. Over time I came up with my own answer.
God could love me before he made me the same way a writer could love a character in a story before writing it.
This of course implied that God dreamed me up special in all my particulars before my parents’ DNA got all mixed up together and that my DNA is more a description of a me already designed and decided and not the design and decider of me. I didn’t know from DNA at the time, but it wasn’t long before I learned about it, from Sister Mary Catherine in eighth grade science class. Even before that, however, in Mr Schick’s religious ed class in sixth grade, I learned that God doesn’t work like a writer. He doesn’t dream us all up special in all our particulars one at a time. He’s not that closely involved.
We weren’t to take that to mean that we weren’t each of us individually special.
God knows and loves each and every one us. He didn’t have any one of us particularly in mind when he blew apart whatever was there to blow apart when the Big Bang went bang, but he knew that somebody very much like us would come along and he was more than prepared to love that somebody now matter how exactly he or she turned out.
We’re special because God intended all of it, Life, the Universe, and Everything to be special.
This is different from the idea that we’re special because God intended each and every one of us in all our particulars, which seems to be what conservative Christians believe.
There are two ways of looking at this, then. One is that who you are is more or less an accident but you’ special because you are part of God’s creation. Another is that you were specially created by God to be you.
The first puts you on the defensive, or at least it should, always having to wonder why you are any more special than a tree or a star or that mosquito you just slapped. Which is another way of saying humility ought to be one of your principle virtues.
The second is a serious temptation the other direction, towards pride and away from humility, because it supposes that God is really, really, really intensely interested in you.
It also supposes that God put your particular soul in your particular body after serious thought and with serious purpose, which means he picked your parents for you, which means he decided that some children were to be born to abusers and murderers, and some to eleven year old victims of rape, and some into famine, and some into war, and some into prosperous and safe suburbs with good schools that have excellent sports programs.
But it seems to me that whichever way you look at it, whether God just sort of vaguely intended somebody like you or at least anticipated that somebody like you would come along or that he made you you specifically and specially, you would naturally feel intensely grateful and be moved to thank him whenever something good happens for you. You’re either thankful that he created a world in which you have the opportunity to be the you you luckily happen to be or you’re thankful that he gave you the skills and the talents and the body and the brains and the social and cultural and political and cultural conditions you needed to live, thrive, and survive. And feeling thankful, you would be moved to show it, to say thank you right then and there when something good happens.
Of course you can say it silently and he’ll hear it. But you might also feel, in your gratitude and humility, that it’s important to let other people know that it’s not you’re doing, that it’s not you they should be cheering for and congratulating and turning into a hero.
And this is what I tell myself whenever I see an athlete marking a moment of triumph by pointing to heaven or lifting the cross around his neck to his lips for a quick kiss or kneeling in prayer or joining teammates in a prayer circle. I don’t like to see it. It strikes me as praying in public, which, another thing I learned from religious ed, is something Jesus said hypocrites do and it reminds me of the Pharisee at the front of the temple, supposedly giving thanks to God for his good fortune, but actually congratulating himself on being such a fine and upstanding citizen. But that’s me. Religion made me a cynic. There’s no reason for me to suppose those gestures aren’t sincere.
So I’m kind of bothered by this.
The rule is No Excessive Celebrating. A good rule, if reasonably enforced, that bans touchdown dances that go on longer than the eleven o’clock dance number in a Broadway musical, In Your Face-ings, and teammates spilling onto the field to dogpile on a player who’s just bunted a runner over into scoring position in the middle innings of a game that doesn’t matter to the final standings.
Note: The written version of the story accepts that the runner was pointing to heaven. But the video version suggests that the officials saw it as a We’re Number One gesture. The runner himself isn’t quoted in either. His father says in both that he did mean it as a sign of faith.
“It was a reaction. You’re brought up your whole life that God gives you good things, you’re blessed.”
I’m inclined to believe his father would know.
And if that’s the case, then I’m also inclined to suppose that it was the very opposite of excessive celebration. It was a reminder to himself and to the cheering crowd to tone it down and keep things in perspective, to be grateful and humble and not take credit for what was in some way God’s doing.
It’s not what I believe. It’s not what I believed, exactly, back when I believed, know what I mean? But it’s how I’d have interpreted it if I’d been one of the officials.
What’s the alternative?
That the runner was bragging to the crowd and the other team that God chose for him and his team to win that race?
The would like claiming God picks side in a relay race.
And if he picks sides in a relay race then maybe he picks sides in other things. Most other things. Every other thing.
That he decides what school wins a championship. Decides who gets rich and who goes broke. What states get rain and what states parch. What towns get flattened by hurricanes or blown apart by tornadoes. What cities are attacked by terrorists. Whose baby lives to grow up to be a star athlete and whose dies of a treatable disease because God has also decided that it costs too much to pay for that treatment?
What good Christian would believe anything like that?