Follow by Email

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Greatest of These is Love (Charity)

In the 13th chapter of his first letter to the Christians at Corinth, the apostle Paul penned a passage that has become quite popular at weddings:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 
Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
What's interesting is that the Greek word (agapé) translated as "love" used to be translated as "charity," which is a clue that the form of love Paul writes about here is not feelings of affection for others. Rather, it's about acting charitably to others and that includes those we don't like. Charity, in this sense, isn't limited to giving to the poor and unfortunate (although that's certainly part of what this understanding of charity or love involves). Rather, it's about acting charitably to others in all that we do, regardless of how affectionate we fell for them or not. As C.S. Lewis once put it:
Charity means "Love in the Christian sense." But love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people. (Mere Christianity, p. 115)
Of course, it's one thing to "love" those whom we like. It's quite another to love those whom we don't like. The former is easy; the latter isn't. It takes work. As Lewis puts it, it takes an act of the will. It can be done, however. Over the weekend, I attended a memorial service for someone who had been a member of our church for over 50 years. And the stories people told about her repeatedly emphasized the unconditional love (i.e., charity) with which she treated not just them but others. She had a knack for seeing the good in people, regardless of whether they were "lovable" or not.

So, yes, loving others (in the charitable sense) is doable. However, if we sit around waiting for feelings of affection to develop before we act, we're missing the point. Those of us who consider ourselves Christians are called to act charitably today, not tomorrow, not next week, not next year. And we're called to love everyone, including those whom we dislike or those who have treated us poorly or those who hold beliefs we find reprehensible. Of course, if we're arrogant or rude, insist on our own way, and rejoice in the missteps of our "enemies," learning how to love others won't be easy. But if we look for the good in others, regardless of whether they're likable or see the world in the same way we do, it shouldn't be quite so hard.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Networks and Religion: What is Social Network Analysis? (Probably Not What You Think)

Nicholas Christakis begins his widely-viewed 2010 TED talk, The Hidden Influence of Social Networks (which can be viewed at the bottom of this post), with a story from when, in the 1990s at the University of Chicago, he was studying the “widower effect.” And he tells how he was caring for a woman who was dying from dementia and being cared for by her daughter. “And the daughter was exhausted from caring for her mother. And the daughter’s husband, he also was sick from his wife’s exhaustion. And I was driving home one day, and I get a phone call from the husband's friend, calling me because he was depressed about what was happening to his friend. So here I get this call from this random guy that’s having an experience that’s being influenced by people at some social distance." This led him to experience an epiphany:
I suddenly realized two very simple things: First, the widowhood effect was not restricted to husbands and wives. And second, it was not restricted to pairs of people. And I started to see the world in a whole new way, like pairs of people connected to each other. And then I realized that these individuals would be connected into foursomes with other pairs of people nearby. And then, in fact, these people were embedded in other sorts of relationships: marriage and spousal and friendship and other sorts of ties. And that, in fact, these connections were vast and that we were all embedded in this broad set of connections with each other. So, I started to see the world in a completely new way and I became obsessed with this. I became obsessed with how it might be that we’re embedded in these social networks, and how they affect our lives.
Christakis is not the first to become obsessed with social networks. Since the early 20th century, social scientists have explored the dynamics of the networks in which individuals are embedded. For instance, Georg Simmel argued that in order to understand social behavior we must study patterns of interaction, and he offered novel insights into the nature of secret societies and how increasing social complexity contributed to the rise of modern individualism. And beginning in the 1960s Harrison White, who also earned a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, argued that in spite of its claim to study social phenomena, sociology was beholden to individualistic forms of analysis based on the aggregated characteristics of individuals. This, he believed, was a mistake, and, along with his students, he developed an approach that drew on case studies that focused on social ties and the patterns that emerged from them. These efforts didn't occur in a vacuum but were instead informed by other theoretical traditions, such as graph theory, exchange theory, and research into the recruitment of individuals to religious and social movements.

To say that the discipline has come into its own would be an understatement. Social network analysts have created their own organization, launched their own journals, and produced a number of excellent monographs. In recent years, economists have become increasingly interested in social networks, as have physicists and other scientists.

What is social network analysis (SNA)? Briefly put, it is a collection of theories and methods that assumes that the behavior of actors (whether individuals, groups, or organizations) is profoundly affected by their ties to others and the networks in which they are embedded. Rather than viewing actors as unaffected by those around them, it assumes that interaction patterns affect what actors do, say, and believe. Although some interactions are random, many are not. Actors tend to interact with similar others and repeated interaction can lead to the emergence of social formation at multiple levels. SNA differs from more traditional approaches in that while the latter tends focus on actors’ attributes (e.g., gender, race, education), SNA focuses on how interaction patterns affect behavior. It notes that while attributes typically do not vary across social contexts, most interaction patterns do, suggesting that interaction patterns are just as (or perhaps more) important for understanding behavior:
A woman who holds a menial job requiring little initiative in an office may be a dynamic leader of a neighborhood association and an assertive PTA participant. Such behavioral differences are difficult to reconcile with unchanging gender, age and status attributes, but comprehensible on recognizing that people’s structural relations can vary markedly across social contexts (Knoke and Yang 2007:5).
Consequently, a primary goal of SNA has been to develop metrics and algorithms that help us gain a better understanding of a particular network’s structural features. It has been used successfully to explain a variety of behavior from Fortune 500 corporations (Mizruchi 1996) and Christian denominations (Chaves 1996), to social movements (Hanssanpour 2016) and terrorist organizations (Cunningham et al. 2016).

Misconceptions

Sometimes SNA is confused with social media (it doesn't help that the movie about Facebook was called, "The Social Network"), but while we can use SNA to analyze Facebook, Twitter, and the like, it isn't the same. SNA is a collection of theories and methods that have been developed to understand the structure of social networks, whereas social media is user-generated content that can include text, pictures, videos, connections among users, and links to websites. Analysts can extract network data from social media platforms and use SNA to understand those social media networks, but that is different. The fact that social media content is often relational and can therefore lend itself to SNA, only adds to the confusion.

How some use the term “network” can also be confusing. Some use it to refer to decentralized, informal and/or organic types of organizations. And while this distinction can be useful in some contexts, within the world of SNA, all organizations are seen as networks. Some may be more hierarchical than others, but they are still networks, which is why social network analysts have developed algorithms that measure the degree to which a particular network is hierarchical.

Networks and Religion

That social networks play a central role in religious life is fairly well established. We know, for instance, that they are crucial for the recruitment and retention of members, the diffusion of religious ideas and practices, motivating individuals to volunteer and become politically active, the health and well-being of people of faith, and conflict, radicalization, and (sometimes) violence. However, most of the research in this area has been conducted by social scientists unfamiliar with social network methods and thus use proxies for networks that are marginal, at best. Thus, a primary purpose of my new book is to facilitate the study of networks and religion using formal SNA methods.

References

Chaves, Mark. 1996. "Ordaining Women: The Diffusion of an Organizational Innovation." American Journal of Sociology 101(4):840-73.

Cunningham, Daniel, Sean F. Everton and Philip J. Murphy. 2016. Understanding Dark Networks: A Strategic Framework for the Use of Social Network Analysis. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Hanssanpour, Navid. 2016. Leading from the Periphery and Network Collective Action. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Knoke, David and Song Yang. 2007. Social Network Analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Mizruchi, Mark S. 1996. "What Do Interlocks Do? An Analysis, Critique, and Assessment of Research on Interlocking Directorates." Annual Review of Sociology 22:271-98.

Video: The Hidden Influence of Social Networks


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Networks and Religion: Tradition, Class, and Networks

Although much of the story concerning the Buddha's enlightenment may be apocryphal, it is fairly well accepted that he came from a princely family. What's less well known is that most of his first converts came from the two upper classes of Indian society: the Brahmins and Kshatriyas (Collins 1998:205), and according to Robert Lester (1987:27), 55 of the first 60 converts were from “prominent families.” Buddhism’s beginning was not unusual. Most new religious movements disproportionately attracted converts from among the privileged (Stark and Bainbridge 1985). For example, although for years many assumed that Christianity began as a movement among the poor and dispossessed, more recent research has laid to rest “the romantic idea of a proletarian Christian community, a religious movement of the lower classes” (Theissen 1982:70). And the same is true for most of today's new religious movements.

To understand why, it's helpful to distinguish between churches, sects, and independent (or new) religious movements (IRMs). Churches are low-tension groups that accept the social environment in which they exist, while sects are high-tension groups that reject the social environment in which they exist (Johnson 1963). Churches tend to be “closely allied with national, economic, and cultural interests,” and their ethics often “represent the morality of the respectable majority, not the heroic minority” (Niebuhr 1929:18). By contrast, sects are generally composed of the poor and disinherited and tend not to be “allied” with the majority’s interests and, thus, often embrace an ethic that's at odds with the dominant culture. That's why they're more likely to not to participate in the government (e.g., Jehovah Witnesses), refuse to fight in wars (e.g., Quakers), and separate themselves as much as possible from American society (e.g., Amish).

The theologian H. Richard Niebuhr (1929) was one of the first to note that most church-type groups began as sects. In their infancy, groups such as the Congregationalists, Methodists, Northern Baptists, and Presbyterians were sectarian protest movements that split from church-type groups because the latter had become too worldly, too secular. However, over time these same Congregationalists, Methodists, Northern Baptists, and Presbyterians took on a worldliness of their own and became the very type of church their forerunners ran from in the first place. This transformation, in turn, set the stage for the birth of new sects, such as the Conservative Baptist Association, which left the Northern Baptists because it believed the latter had become too liberal (i.e., worldly, secular). Sect-to-church transformations are quite rare, however. Most sects stop growing or die out within a few years because they exist in such a high state of tension with society, they simply are unable to recruit enough people to keep their movement going.

IRMs are similar to sects in that they exist in a high state of tension with the their surrounding environment. Unlike sects, however, they do not have ties to an established religious tradition in their particular society. They “are new faiths, at least new in the society being examined” (Stark 1996:33). Whereas sects leave a “parent body, not to form a new faith, but to reestablish the old one” (Stark and Bainbridge 1979:125), IRMs arise either by being imported from another society (e.g., Zen Buddhism in the United States or Christianity in China) or through cultural innovation, that is, when new religious insights succeed in attracting followers (e.g., Mormonism in the United States or Buddhism in India) (Stark and Bainbridge 1979; Stark 1996).

IRMs differ from sects in another respect: sects tend to attract people of lower socioeconomic status while IRMs tend to attract people of higher socioeconomic status (Stark 1996:39–44). This is because people who join new faiths generally find older, established faiths unsatisfying, and those who are most like to be dissatisfied with established religions are the highly educated. This may seem counterintuitive, but conversion to a new religion generally involves being interested in a new culture and new ideas, and better educated individuals tend to be more capable of consuming and mastering new ideas (Stark 1996:38). That is why in the United States, Zen Buddhism and Mormonism tend to appeal to people with higher levels of education (Stark 1996), while in China it is evangelical Christianity that attracts individuals from the privileged classes (Stark and Wang 2014, 2015).

Consider the table below. It presents the percentage of Americans who attended college by churches, sects, IRMs, and the irreligious. As it indicates, a higher percentage of members of church-type religious groups and IRMs have attended college as compared to sect-type groups. It is also worth noting that, on average, a higher percentage of IRMs (including Mormons) have attended college than have those who identify as irreligious.


All this has implications for the density of church, sect, and IRM networks. For a variety of reasons (you'll have to read my book to learn why), the networks of high tension groups tend to be denser than those of low tension groups. This suggests that the networks of churches should be less interconnected than are those of IRMs and sects. However, there is also a inverse association between a group's average education level and its interconnectedness, suggesting that church and IRM networks should be less interconnected than those of sects. Taken together, this suggests that church networks should be loosely interconnected, sect networks highly interconnected, and IRM networks somewhere in between. And available evidence suggests that they are (it's in the book).

Finally, the tendency for IRMs to disproportionately attract from among the privileged is why when Rodney Stark first came across the discussion of New Testament scholar Robin Scroggs (1980) about how biblical scholars no longer viewed early Christianity as a proletarian movement, his initial response was, “Of course it wasn’t; [IRMs] never are” (Stark 1996:47).

References

Collins, Randall. 1998. The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Ehrman, Bart D. 2003. Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Johnson, Benton. 1963. "On Church and Sect." American Sociological Review 28(4):539-49.

Lester, Robert C. 1987. Buddhism: The Path to Nirvana. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. 1929. The Social Sources of Religious Denominationalism. New York: Henry Holt.

Scroggs, Robin. 1980. "The Sociological Interpretation of the New Testament: The Present State of Research." New Testament Studies 26:164-79.

Stark, Rodney. 1996. The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Stark, Rodney and William Sims Bainbridge. 1979. "Of Churches, Sects and Cults: Preliminary Concepts for a Theory of Religious Movements." Journal For the Scientific Study of Religion 18(2):117-33.

________. 1985. The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival, and Cult Formation. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Stark, Rodney and Xiuhua Wang. 2014. "Christian Conversion and Cultural Incongruity in Asia." Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion 10(Article 2).

________. 2015. A Star in the East: The Rise of Christianity in China. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press.

Theissen, Gerd. 1982. The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Networks and Religion: Social Networks and Attracting New Members

C. S. Lewis, who is probably best known as the author of the Chronicles of Narnia (1950–1956), was also a popular Christian apologist whose books, such as Mere Christianity (1942a), The Screwtape Letters (1942b), and The Problem of Pain (1940), became best-sellers. In fact, Lewis’s Christian writings became so popular that he was featured on the September 8, 1947, cover of Time magazine with the caption “His Heresy: Christianity.” Lewis didn't come by his Christian faith willingly, however. Although Lewis had been born into a religious family, by the age of 15 he considered himself an atheist. He later remarked that when he “gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed ... that night [he was probably] the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England”  (Lewis 1966 [1955]: 228–229).

Lewis attended Oxford, where he won a triple first, that is, highest honors in three areas of study (in his case, Greek and Latin literature, philosophy and ancient history, and English). He was “elected a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, where he worked... from 1925 to 1954,” and then moved to Cambridge in 1954 where he remained until his retirement in 1963 (Wikipedia). Lewis’s interest in Christianity was rekindled, in part, by his reading of the works of the Scottish author, poet, and minister, George McDonald, but it was primarily his discussions with his close friends and fellow Oxford colleagues J. R. R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson that eventually brought him back to the faith. In fact, it was after a long discussion and late-night walk with Tolkien and Dyson that he became England’s “most dejected and reluctant convert.”

Lewis's experience is not unusual. Social scientists have known for some time that people are far more likely to join, convert, or be recruited by groups (religious or otherwise) if they have a social tie with someone who is already a member of the group. The first study to highlight the link between social ties and conversion was John Lofland and Rodney Stark’s 1965 study of people converting to a Bay Area congregation of the Unification Church (more commonly known as the Moonies). The congregation was founded by Young Oon Kim, who was a university professor in Korea before coming to the United States as a missionary. When she first arrived, she spoke at a number of public events, but these yielded no converts. Instead, her first converts were women who she got to know after she became a lodger with one of them. Next, some of the women’s partners joined, who were then followed by their friends from work. The next converts “were old friends, relatives, or people who first formed close friendships with one or more members in the group." As Stark later noted, when he and Lofland began observing, the group “had never succeeded in attracting a stranger” (Stark 1996:16).

Lofland and Stark observed a number of people who were sympathetic to the group’s doctrines, but ultimately they did not join because of their numerous ties with people who disapproved of the Moonies. They also observed others who initially found the group’s doctrines unappealing but later became full-fledged members. Stark recalls one who was genuinely “puzzled that such nice people could get so worked up about ‘some guy in Korea’ who claimed to be the Lord of the Second Advent. Then, one day, he got worked up about the guy too” (Stark 1996:20). In the end, Lofland and Stark concluded that the people who ultimately joined the Moonies tended to be those whose ties to group members exceeded those to non-members (Stark 1996:16).

The figure below illustrates the role of social ties in the conversion process identified by Lofland and Stark. Imagine that individuals A and B have ties to both members (M) and nonmembers (N) of a particular religious group. However, A has ties to six nonmembers and only two members, while B has ties to six members and two nonmembers. According to Lofland and Stark, B is more likely than A to join because B’s ties to group members outnumber his or her ties to nonmembers, while A’s do not.


Subsequent studies have yielded similar results. For example, Rodney Stark and Bill Bainbridge found that 50 percent of the people who joined the Mormon faith did so through social ties (less than 1 percent joined because they were randomly approached by a missionary), leading them to argue that it was the laity not the missionaries who were the primary means by which new people joined:
Another way of looking at these findings is that missionaries do not serve as the primary instrument of recruitment to the Mormon faith. Instead, recruitment is accomplished primarily by the rank and file of the church as they construct intimate interpersonal ties with non-Mormons and thus link them into a group network. (Stark and Bainbridge 1980:1387–1388)
At about the same time David Snow and his colleagues examined several social movements and found that all of them, save one, recruited more than 50 percent of their current members through either of friendship and kinship networks. Several, in fact, recruited more than 90 percent. The lone exception was the Hare Krishnas, which only recruited 3 percent. Why? Because they demanded that members sever all non-member ties. Thus, it had few, if any, social ties outside of the group through which to recruit, which led them to focus their efforts in public places (Snow, Zurcher, and Ekland-Olson 1980). Studies of the Civil Rights movement (McAdam 1986), left-wing Italian militant groups active in the 60s and 70s (della Porta 2013), and contemporary terrorist groups (Sageman 2004) have found essentially the same dynamic.

Conversion and recruitment are the topic of the 3rd chapter in my forthcoming book, Networks and Religion. There, I explore in more detail these and other studies, along with others that have helped clarify the dynamics involved.

A takeaway for any group or movement, but in particular faith communities, is that if you want to attract new members, take a cue from the Mormons (rather than making fun of them): the most effective way to grow is through your current members' social ties. Invite your members to invite their friends and family, perhaps not to a worship service, but maybe to a church-sponsored event (e.g., musical, speaker, etc.) that's less threatening. The goal should be to form interpersonal ties with non-members and link them into the church's network. With a little luck, you may discover yourself growing and not just hanging on. Of course, getting people through the door is just the first step. Holding on to them is the next. Social ties can help there too, but that's a topic for a future post.

References

della Porta, Donatella. 2013. Clandestine Political Violence. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge Univesity Press.

Everton, Sean F. 2018. Networks and Religion: Ties the Bind, Loose, Build-up, and Tear Down. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Lewis, C. S. 1966 (1955). Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. London: Harvest Books.

Lofland, John, and Rodney Stark. 1965. "Becoming a World-Saver: A Theory of Conversion to a Deviant Perspective." American Sociological Review 30:862-75.

McAdam, Doug. 1986. "Recruitment to High Risk Activism: The Case of Freedom Summer." American Journal of Sociology 92:64-90.

Sageman, Marc. 2004. Understanding Terror Networks. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Snow, David A., Louis A. Zurcher, and Sheldon Ekland-Olson. 1980. "Social Networks and Social Movements: A Microstructural Approach to Differential Recruitment." American Sociological Review 45:787-801.

Stark, Rodney. 1996. The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Stark, Rodney, and William Sims Bainbridge. 1980. "Networks of Faith: Interpersonal Bonds and Recruitment to Cults and Sects." American Journal of Sociology 85(6):1376-95.

Bryan or Mencken?

Typically when people tell the story about the Scopes trial, Clarence Darrow emerges as the hero, the one who defended science in the face of religious anti-intellectualism, and William Jennings Bryan is seen as a religious conservative who ultimately lost the battle in the fight against teaching evolution in U.S. schools. Our source for much of how we retell the story of the trial come from the journalist and cultural critic, H.L. Mencken, who covered the trial and was the one who dubbed it the Monkey Trial.

The contrast between Bryan and Mencken is interesting. Bryan was a three-time nominee for the Democratic Party, an outspoken critic of crony-capitalism, an advocate for socialism, and a pacifist who resigned as Secretary of State because of the U.S.'s entry into World War I. It's doubtful that he could secure a nomination for President in today's Republican party (or the Democratic party, for that matter). Bryan objected to evolution on two grounds: (1) one was that he believed it contrary to the account of creation in Genesis; (2) the other was the popularity of social Darwinism, which embraced the idea of the survival of the fittest, the implications (e.g., eugenics) of which Bryan found appalling.

Mencken, by contrast, had no issues with social Darwinism. He was an admirer of Nietzsche, an advocate of eugenics, an opponent of representative democracy, a racist, and an anti-Semite (some have excused the last two points, noting that Mencken didn't like anyone). In short, apart from his rapacious wit, Mencken had few redeeming qualities (unlike Bryan). Thus, I find it curious that today many continue to mock Bryan's life while celebrating Mencken's. I'd like to think that if they actually took the time to compare the two, they'd change their minds. My sense is that few actually will (or even want to). It's so much easier to hold on to our prejudices than hold them up to the light.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Is Sport the New Opium of the People?

The recent passing of Erin Popovich, wife of the San Antonio Spurs' head coach, Gregg Popovich, has led many to remark that it puts the game of basketball (and other sports) in perspective. As the Mercury News sports writer, Dieter Kuertenbach, observed ("‘Bigger than basketball’ — Erin Popovich’s death puts the game in perspective for the Spurs, Warriors"):
Sports are an escape, a distraction, and, for us lucky ones, profession. Sports might be a prism into the human condition, but the ballgames are inherently unimportant.
At the same time, the sporting world has so many layers and wrinkles — so much hype and exposure — that it’s easy to become entangled. At this juncture in the season, playoff time, it’s easier than ever to find yourself in that web — to think that the game is bigger than anything else.
But it isn’t.
Unfortunately, for some, it is. Some take sports way too seriously, not just in the U.S., but everywhere. In fact, the British literary critic, Terry Eagleton, has remarked that as traditional sources of "meaning" in the UK have declined, people are increasingly identifying with their favorite football (soccer) teams and putting the "fanatic" back into "fan."
In our own time, one of the most popular, influential branches of the culture industry is unquestionably sport. If you were to ask what provides some meaning of life nowadays for a great many people, especially men, you could do worse than reply 'Football'. Not many of them, perhaps, would be willing to admit as much; but sport, and in Britain football in particular, stands in for all those noble causes - religious faith, national sovereignty, personal honour, ethnic identity - for which, over the centuries, people have been prepared to go to their deaths. Sport involves tribal loyalties and rivalries, symbolic rituals, fabulous legends, iconic heroes, epic battles, aesthetic beauty, physical fulfilment, intellectual satisfaction, sublime spectators, and a profound sense of belonging. It also provides human solidarity and physical immediacy which television does not. Without these values, a good many lives would no doubt be pretty empty. It is sport, not religion, which is now the opium of the people. (The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction, p. 26)
As someone who has played a lot of sports and still loves to watch the Giants, Warriors, and Niners, I wish I could disagree with Eagleton, but I can't. In so doing, I'm not thinking of those fans who like watch their favorite sports teams play, either on TV or at the ballpark, but rather about those who turn on ESPN to watch programs like the college combine, the NFL draft, and (just yesterday) the unveiling of next year's schedules for NFL teams. Really? The unveiling of next season's schedule is must-see TV? Obviously, enough people watch these shows (and shows like them) so that it's worth ESPN's time and money to broadcast them. I'd like to think folks had better things to do. Evidently, some do not.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Can the Warriors Repeat?

Can the Warriors repeat as NBA champs? Yes. Will they? Probably not. Why? Ever since they experienced a rash of injuries in the second half of the season to their four key starters -- Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green -- not to mention those to two of their best players off the bench -- Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston -- the Warriors have been unable to regain any rhythm to their play. All but Curry have returned, but they aren't playing (together) up to the level that one would expect.

Some believe that once Steph Curry returns (which won't happen until the second round of the playoffs), all will be right with the world. That's possible. Curry brings a level of "fun" to the game that is infectious to those around him. Plus, his passing abilities are among the best in the league, so it's not unreasonable to believe that if the Warriors survive the first round, they have a good shot at repeating.

Still, I am skeptical. When Curry was injured early in the regular season, the Warriors managed to win most of their games without him. That was not the case late in the season when he was reinjured. Over the last few weeks of the season, they have looked lost and out of sync, and I'm skeptical as to whether Curry's return will right the ship in time. Eventually they will rediscover their rhythm, but it might not happen until next season.

The one hope I have for this year's playoffs is that they rediscover it before Curry returns. If they do that, then they might discover a way to win the 3rd championship in 4 years. Put another way, they need to do more than survive the series against the Spurs. They need to be hitting on all 8 cylinders by the time Curry returns. This is not an unreasonable hope. After all, they do possess an incredible amount of talent, and they have one of the best coaches in the NBA. We'll just have to wait and see if they can pull it off, or rather, pull it together before it's too late.