Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

March Madness? Just Say No

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

March Madness? Just Say No

Article excerpt

A recollection from my childhood: In the (relatively) small Midwestern town in which I grew up, many businesses would close on Good Friday from noon to 3:00 p.m. More than a few of the employees would spend that time in church before returning to work for what remained of the afternoon. At the time I think I took this pretty much for granted. Today, however, even in that same town, we would, I am sure, be hard-pressed to find even a single business doing anything similar.

A recollection from when I was just a bit older: The first game of the 1965 World Series fell on October 6. Because in 1965 that day happened also to be Yom Kippur, Sandy Koufax did not pitch. This was the Koufax who had won twenty-six games that season (pitching twentyseven complete games, a number almost incomprehensible these days to younger fans, who are accustomed to think that six innings from a starting pitcher can be a "quality" start). He had a 2.04 ERA that season, along with 382 strikeouts. That was the Koufax who did not pitch because Game One fell on Yom Kippur. I'm not certain I knew what to make of it at the time or even understood the full significance of Koufax's decision. But it must have made an impression, for I have never forgotten it.

Fast forward to March 2015: The state of Indiana passed its Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), in the midst of that year's March Madness, offered obeisance to the great gods of inclusivity and diversity, issuing not-very-veiled threats to remove its headquarters and future events from Indianapolis. Nor was this the first time the NCAA had used its considerable corporate heft to try to shape public opinion on social issues.

Look forward now to March 2016: The tournament's first full weekend of play, in which sixty-four teams are reduced to (the sweet) sixteen, will take place from Thursday, March 17, to Sunday, March 20. The second weekend of play (March 2427) will reduce the Sweet Sixteen first to the Elite Eight and then to the Final Four, who will have to wait yet another week before the tourney is finished and a champion crowned. True fans immerse themselves in the entire tourney, of course, but they may have different opinions about which weekend is most exciting. The second full weekend happens to be my own favorite. By that time the remaining sixteen teams are in large part the cream of the crop, and the competition is intense.

But there is a case to be made this year for suggesting that Christians should pass on this weekend-and perhaps on the entire 2016 tourney. Their God, after all, is not the NCAA's god. And the dates for the games on the second full weekend should concern us. They are March 24 (Maundy Thursday), March 25 (Good Friday), March 26 (Holy Saturday), March 27 (Easter). Could it be that other things-things more earthshaking than March Madness-should occupy our attention in that span of days?

Someone might point out, of course, that I could take time out from watching basketball games to get to church services on those holy days. But that very way of putting things already suggests what would be occupying the center of my concern. That way of thinking would more or less accept the Obama administration's view that religion has to do with worship and not much else. …

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