Friday, August 6, 2010

Steroids and Orthodoxy

Steroids have nothing to do with homeruns.

OK, if you follow baseball at all, then that statement will, in all likelihood, seem beyond ridiculous to you. Everyone knows that steroids are the biggest reason that there has been a surge of homeruns in God’s Most Perfect Game. Everyone knows that the only reason that Mark McGuire beat the single-season record, only to have it smashed by Barry Bonds, who also stole the all-time record, is because they were juicing like a High School kid working at Orange Julius. Steroids have ruined the game, and corrupted everything in baseball. It’s obvious.

Except, that it’s probably utterly wrong. Joe Posnanski* wrote a blog post which summarizes and comments on a much larger piece – Eric Walker’s ongoing study of Steroids and Baseball. Walker has, for some time now, been doing a serious investigation into the reality of steroids.

* I think that this point, I have to add Joe P to my list of people whom I quote way too often. That list now looks like this:

  • Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
  • Rabbi Larry Kushner
  • Joe Posnanski

I’m hoping to get Joe ordained as a Rabbi, so I can balance that list out.

As Walker says, everyone “knows” a few things about steroids, including that they are dangerous, and that they give baseball players and unfair advantage and let them break records they couldn’t otherwise break

Using actual science (as opposed to just rhetoric and “it’s obvious”), Walker manages to seriously challenge, if not utterly dismantle, each of those claims. In essence, he shows that by using steroids (and similar drugs), baseball players are probably giving themselves no material advantage, while doing no substantial harm to themselves, either. It’s all a big nothing. If you are now saying to yourself, “but, then how do you explain Bonds, or McGuire, or X, Y and Z?” then click through and read Posnanski’s blog, at least. I’m not smart or knowledgeable enough to comment on the research, but it sure seems compelling to me.

But, why am I posting about this on my blog? Well, there are at least two reasons. One is, I get overly invested in baseball issues, especially this one, and I never promised that this blog would be only about Jewish topics.

But, there is a larger point to be made, one which is essential for any religious person to remember: don’t trust orthodoxy. Please notice, I didn’t say, “don’t trust Orthodoxy.” I’m not talking about a particular movement of Judaism, which has some wonderful things about it, and some problems (like all of us). What I’m talking about is the very concept of orthodoxy – the idea that there is One Truth, and everyone must believe it, without questioning it.

This should be pretty obvious, but there is a staggeringly long list of things which everyone once knew to be true. The Earth is flat. The Sun is pulled across the sky by a giant, golden chariot. Disease is caused by sin. God created every species exactly as they exist today, 5770 years ago. The Red Sox will never win a World Series.

And, it’s pretty darn clear that each of those things has been proven to be factually wrong (I’m almost over that last one). What we once knew, for sure, patently and axiomatically, is false.

Things which are obvious to anyone who cares to look are sometimes false. Things which have been proven beyond a doubt are regularly disproven. No one ever got to truth by starting from the assumption that they already knew it. No one ever encountered revelation by assuming that everything has already been revealed. If someone tells you that something is undeniably true, the first words out of your mouth should probably be, “how can you be so sure?” If someone tells you not to question a belief, then run like hell from that belief.

In the words of Tommy Lee Jones, “Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”

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