Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Christians and War, Part I

When it comes to war, Christians generally adhere to either the pacifist, holy war and just war tradition.  The just war tradition takes a bit of time to flesh out, so I'll return to it in a later post. Suffice for now is to  say that advocates of the just war tradition either view war as a necessary evil or as moral good that sometimes calls on Christians to fight on behalf of the rights of others. However, while just war advocates often disagree over whether war is a necessary evil or as a moral good, they do tend to agree on a series of guidelines as to when a war can be fought and as to how a war must be fought in order for it to be a just war.  In other words, not only do the reasons for going to war need to be just, so do the means for fighting a war.

The holy war tradition differs from the just war tradition in at least two ways: success does not have to be probable (to fail in a holy war is sometimes seen as a moral victory, while to die in a holy war is often viewed as a quick way to heaven) and enemies have no rights (in a holy war genocide is often the norm).  Holy warriors also believe that a holy war is divinely sanctioned (known through some form of revelation). Christians, of course, haven't cornered the market on the holy war tradition. Other cultures such as ancient Israel and certain strands of Islam have embraced it as well. Within the Christian tradition, a holy war hasn't been declared since the 12th-century (President Bush's use of the word "crusade" notwithstanding).

Contrary to attempts by critics to lump all pacifists together, there are actually several  pacifist traditions. In fact, the late Mennonite theologian, John Howard Yoder, identified at least 22 different forms of pacifism. For simplicity sake (plus the fact that I am not the scholar that Yoder was) I will limit the following discussion to three of the more common types of pacifism: 1) What would Jesus do (WWJD) pacifism, 2) instrumental pacifism and 3) eschatological pacifism. WWJD pacifism is relatively simple to understand and can be illustrated by a story told by Baptist theologian Tony Campolo.  During the Korean War Campolo was called into the draft board office for a preliminary examination by an army colonel, who asked Tony if he was flying over enemy territory whether he would be able to drop a bomb. Tony replied, "I'd have to ask myself, "If Jesus were in my shoes, would he drop a bomb?" To which the officer retorted, "That's the dumbest thing I ever heard! Everyone knows that Jesus wouldn't drop any bombs."  So, Tony concluded that he wouldn't be able to drop any bombs either. 

Critics of of this tradition argue that it is too individualistic in that it ignores the claims that the communities in which we live (and move and have our being) have on us and how they influence our behavior.  Others (Max or John Stackhouse, I believe) have argued that rather than asking WWJD, we should be asking WWJHD (i.e., what would Jesus have us do?). In other words, because Jesus lived in a different time and faced different realities, we can't always follow in Jesus' steps. Instead, we need to take his vision of what God's kingdom entails and do our best to apply it to our current situation.

Instrumental pacifism contends that pacifism is the right thing to do because it works. Adherents of this form of pacifism often point to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi as empirical proof that it does.  I remember once visiting a booth at a peace fair that had a calendar where each month included an example of where the pacifist approach has worked. This form of pacifism has come under withering criticism from a number of quarters as being hopelessly naive (i.e., history shows that it doesn't always work), with Reinhold Neibuhr's (a liberal) Moral Man and Immoral Society probably being one of the more compelling. (As a side note, Neibuhr is President Obama's favorite theologian. Obama was certainly channeling Neibuhr in his Nobel Peace Prize's acceptance speech, and it helps explain why he hasn't turned out to be the "dove" that many on the left seemed to assume that he would be.)

Eschatological pacifism, associated primarily with John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas, differs from the previous two in that it's emphasis is more on the collective than the individual, and it makes no claims that it always works. It is rooted in its belief in Jesus' incarnation and resurrection. The incarnation is seen as necessary because if God is not reflected in Jesus' life, death and teachings, then there is no reason to believe that the peaceable kingdom which Jesus preached and lived reflects God's will for the world. The resurrection is deemed important because it is seen as God's vindication of Jesus' life and ministry.  By raising Jesus from the dead, Christ not only became head of the church but the Lord of history, thus making God's coming nonviolent kingdom accessible for Jew and Gentile alike (The Hauerwas Reader, p. 439, 440). So central are these two beliefs to this strand of pacifism, I am certain that if Hauerwas ceased to believe in either one or both of them, he would cease to be a pacifist.  A key difference between this form of pacifism and instrumental pacifism is that it doesn't believe that pacifism always "works." It will sometimes fail, and as a consequence the innocent will suffer. Nevertheless, eschatological pacifists argue that Christians should embrace pacifism because the primary calling of the Church is to be a witness to God's coming (nonviolent) kingdom.  Or as Hauerwas likes to put it, the church is called to be a peaceable kingdom in the midst of a world at war.  This last point highlights how this form of pacifism differs from WWJD pacifism: the latter is highly individualistic, while this one is not. WWJD pacifism is something individuals do by themselves.  Eschatological pacifism is something that the church does together.

Needless to say, eschatological pacifism has come under criticism as well, the most common one being that Christians have a moral responsibility for their neighbors, that we cannot, in good faith, let them suffer if we are in a position to do something about it.  A critique such as this, of course, brings us back to the just war tradition, which as I noted at the outset, I'll cover in a later post.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Da Vinci Code, the Gnostic Gospels, and Wishful Thinking about Jesus and Sex

It has been a few years since The Da Vinci Code was a literary sensation and created something of a stir in Christian circles. If you recall, the novel asserted that contrary to accepted church history, Jesus and Mary Magdalene actually married and had a child. The novel's protagonist, Robert Langdon, discovers this secret and learns that the Holy Grail is not the cup that Christ used in the Last Supper (as it is portrayed in the movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) but rather it's Jesus' bloodline that began in the womb of Mary Magdalene and has continued down to the present day, protected by a secret order (the Prior of Sion) against the Roman Catholic Church, which will stop at nothing (including murder) to suppress this truth.

Empirical evidence for this version of the legend of the Holy Grail is found in two of the Gnostic Gospels, in particular, the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, both of which state that Jesus kissed Mary (Magdalene). The Gnostic Gospels are some of the most famous "gospels" that are not included in the Christian New Testament, and a theme that runs throughout The Da Vinci Code is that the Roman Catholic Church suppressed the Gnostic Gospels because they celebrated human sexuality while the Church (and the Gospels it included in the New Testament) did not.

Such an assertion, however, is patently false. Wishful thinking aside, the Gnostic Gospels actually hold a negative view of sexuality. They see the material world as evil and believe that the path to salvation lies in "cultivating the spark of gnosis (from the Greek word for "knowledge") implanted in each person" (Murphy, p. 70)
"In these gospels, you won't find any bodies healed, any meals with sinners, any enjoyment of the earth, and any teachings about marriage.  In fact, the only intercourse that happens in these texts is the union of of human reason with divine reason. These gospels were labeled heretical because the mainstream Church had a more positive view of human bodies, sexuality, and the material world in general. They (i.e., the mainstream Church) valued the human and historical Jesus" (Murphy, p. 71).
Thus, the kiss between Jesus and Mary is probably better understood symbolically, as the divine revelation that passes from Jesus' lips (Murphy, p. 72).

Don't make the mistake of dismissing Catherine as a reactionary conservative simply because she teaches at a Roman Catholic university. Trust me, she isn't. I know and have talked with her about the quest for the historical Jesus.  She teaches an undergraduate class on the topic at Santa Clara, much of which has been captured in her book, The Historical Jesus for Dummies(Don't let the fact that it is part of the "Dummies" series fool you. It is an excellent summary of current research and is far more accessible than the books by CrossanRobinson and Meier.)

Another book worth exploring if you're interested in some of the historical and theological problems of The Da Vinci Code is the book by the agnostic/atheist New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman (he lost his faith while getting his PhD in New Testament), Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why the Quest for the Historical Jesus is Good for Mainline Protestant Christian Ethics (The Quest for the Historical Jesus, Part I)

A few years ago my daughter was listening to one of our pastors give the children's sermon. About half way through she raised her hand and asked, "Does this have something to do with Jesus?" This came to mind as I was reading The Christian Century's editorial in support of the proposed mosque/community center near Ground Zero in New York. It wasn't clear that it had anything to do with Jesus (as an aside, our pastor's children's sermon did). While I agreed with the editorial's conclusion, I was disappointed with the reasons it marshaled on its behalf. I would have hoped since the Century is a Christian publication that Jesus' vision of the Kingdom of God might have informed its argument instead.  The editorial did make a passing reference to the freedom that God grants to all human beings, but to me that sounds more like something John Locke would say than Jesus Christ.

I think that the Century's editorial illustrates what is wrong with much of what has passed for mainline Protestant Christian ethics in recent years:  Many Christian ethicists seem more concerned to make Christian ethics acceptable (and relevant) to a secular audience rather than explicating (and debating) how Jesus' life, death, teachings and resurrection inform what it means to live as a Christian in today's world.  The irony is that in their attempt to make Christian ethics relevant, they have made them irrelevant.  That is not to say that what they write is wrong or not insightful, but rather that because they have detached their ethics from a distinctly Christian perspective, they sound just like any other secular ethicist. Moreover, by doing so they have effectively ceded the Christian perspective to more theologically conservative scholars who aren't afraid to talk about Jesus.

Perhaps, the following story will help illustrate what I am attempting to say. When we lived in Bend, Oregon, a conservative Christian group attempted to pass a series of state propositions that sought to limit the rights of gays and lesbians.  The mainline ecumenical council of the time decided to craft a pamphlet that could be handed out in our churches that would offer a Christian perspective as to why Christians should vote against the propositions.  One of the local pastors took up the task of writing the first draft.  I remember looking at it when it was done and thinking that it was fine.  I then showed it to the assistant pastor as the local Methodist church, and he remarked that there wasn't anything distinctively Christian about it.  Looking at it again, I could see he was right.  It was essentially a poor-man's version of a pamphlet that the ACLU might turn out.  But if that was the best we could do, why even bother?  It would be easier to simply hand out ACLU pamphlets in our churches than to take the time to produce one on our own.

Perhaps it is the lack of relevance among among many (most?) mainline Christian ethicists that explains the popularity of the most recent quest for the historical Jesus. While questers such as John Dominic Crossan, Bart Ehrman, Amy-Jill Levine, Paula Fredrikson, John Meier and James Robinson don't agree on the details of Jesus life (e.g., whether he was apocalyptic or non-apocalyptic), they do seem to share some common vision of what Jesus preached and how he perceived what God's Kingdom should look like. As a consequence, mainline Christians finally have a nail on which they can hang their ethical hat. Because the questers have provided them with a sense into how Jesus envisioned God's Kingdom, mainline Christians now have a moral vision from which they can derive an ethic that is distinctly Christian.  And that's why I think that the most recent quest for the historical Jesus, in spite of all its methodological problems (a topic for a later post), is good for Christian ethics.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Carpool Lanes and Driver Intelligence

Two to three times a week I commute from San Jose to Monterey and back, and most of the time the diamond/carpool lane is in effect. While I generally travel against the traffic so that I seldom get caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I still witness some interesting behavior on the part of my fellow motorists.  One phenomenon that I find fascinating is when (solo) drivers weave in and out of the two (or three) right lanes, traveling between 70-80 MPH, steadfastly avoiding the diamond lane, no doubt because they don't want to get ticketed for a carpool violation.  I'm curious, though: Do these drivers really think that a CHP (i.e., California Highway Patrol for those of you non-Californians) who notices a single driver traveling 65 MPH in the diamond lane is any less likely to notice the same driver weaving in and out of the right lanes traveling in excess of the speed limit?  I do worry about the intelligence of some of the folks on the road these days.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On the Relevance of Fiction

More than one person has remarked to me over the years that they only read non-fiction because novels are not about "real" life. While I certainly read my share of non-fiction (that is a part of my day job, after all), I generally prefer reading good fiction when I have the time. This is because fiction not only tends to be more entertaining than non-fiction, but it is often better at offering insights into human nature than is non-fiction. Consider, for instance, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. No doubt, there are great books about the period, but if you really want to learn about its impact on those who lived through it, read John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath instead.

I suspect that it is because fiction tends to reach a wider audience, that many non-fiction authors often try their hand at fiction. Yale law professor Stephen Carter is a good example. The author of widely-acclaimed and controversial non-fiction books, such as Reflections of an Affirmative Action BabyThe Confirmation Mess and The Culture of Disbelief, in recent years Carter has turned to writing fiction (e.g., The Emperor of Ocean ParkNew England White, and Palace Council) in which he explores many of the same themes he expounded on in his non-fiction books. However, in a much more entertaining way.

I write this post as I reluctantly read Dick Francis's final novel, Crossfire (co-authored with his son Felix). Francis, a former steeple-chase jockey who died earlier this year, wrote over forty mystery/thrillers novels that were related in some way to the racing industry. While his novels have always been fun to read, they have also touched on a number of issues that got to heart of what it means to be human (e.g., honor, loyalty, doing what is right) in a world that is not always fair.  My guess is that his insights (as well as those of other successful fiction authors) have touched far more people in the real world than have most academics such as myself.

Property Rights, Secular Interests and Religious Freedom

Lost in the debate concerning the building of the mosque/community center near Ground Zero in New York is the fact that other religious groups often face near insurmountable hurdles when it comes to building or expanding their facilities. University of Washington Political Scientist Anthony Gill has written a paper (Septics, Sewers and Secularization: How Government Regulation Flushes Religiosity Down the Drain) long before the controversy concerning the mosque arose on this issue that may be of interest to some of you. Here's the paper's abstract:
In recent decades, religious organizations have seen an increasing assault on their property rights. Various regulations have been imposed by local governments that restrict the ability of churches to build and/or expanding meeting facilities, and have increased the general cost of “doing religious business.” Such burdens represent a significant assault on religious liberty as enumerated by the free exercise clause in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. While the U.S. Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in 2000 to deal with this issue, many local governments continue aggressively to limit the property rights of churches. This paper presents a number of causal factors explaining this trend, highlighting the important role that tax revenue and public school enrollment plays in determining the nature and extent of property regulations. I also highlight how asymmetries in power and resources favoring local governments over independent congregations enable violations of religious property rights to persist despite federal regulations guaranteeing churches from such abuses.
Gill has also written an excellent book on religious liberty for those of you who may be interested in exploring the issue in more depth.  Gill has also written a great book on the rise of liberation theology (Rendering Unto Caesar). Unfortunately, the latter is only available from Amazon as a hardback. There are paperback copies out there, however.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Debating the Ground Zero Mosque

There has been a cacophony of voices concerning the building of the mosque two blocks from Ground Zero in New York City.  Libertarians, who believe that all of us have a fundamental right to do what we want with what we own as long as we don't violate someone else's right to do the same, have, for the most part, come out in favor of the mosque, such as the Libertarian Party candidate for mayor of New York.  Kantian/Rawlsian egalitarians, who, like libertarians, embrace individual autonomy but are more likely to support government programs that promote equal rights, have also voiced support on behalf of the proposed mosque, such as recent editorials in New York Times and Christian Century.  (I confess that the Century's editorial was something of a disappointment to me.  I would have hoped that Jesus' vision of the Kingdom of God might have informed its argument instead. The editorial did make a passing reference to the freedom that God grants to all human beings, but that sounds more like something John Locke would say than Jesus).

In my opinion one of the more interesting aspects of the debate is that so many people frame their arguments in utilitarian terms. You may recall from an earlier post that utilitarians believe that when it comes to making choices between various alternatives, the right thing to do is select the option that provides the greatest utility or pleasure for the greatest number of people.  That is, an action is considered just if it increases happiness and unjust if it causes suffering.  So, for example, some have argued that because the building the mosque will cause so much emotional pain, especially among those who lost loved ones on 9/11, it shouldn't be built.  Others have argued that its construction will help promote the growth of a religious worldview that is incompatible with American values such as democracy and will thus hurt America in the long run (note: similar arguments were made against the "Catholic menace" back in the 19th-century, Chinese immigrants in the early 20th-century and Japanese-Americans during WW II).  Still others have argued that the imam behind the mosque's construction is really a closet radical, who will promote a form of Islam that condones terrorism and, as such, be bad for America.

Interestingly, some terrorist experts argue that the debate over the mosque is fueling the growth of Islamist terrorism both at home and overseas, concluding that the best thing to do from a practical point of view is to build the mosque.  For example, Evan Kohlman, who monitors radical Islamic chat rooms and websites for the New-York based security firm Flashpoint Global Partners, notes that the Two-blocks-from-Ground Zero mosque has become the number one topic in these chat rooms and websites and is being seen by some Islamists as proof that the West is at war with Islam:
"Extremists are encouraging all this, with glee. It is their sense that by doing this that Americans are going to alienate American Muslims to the point where even relatively moderate Muslims are going to be pushed into joining extremist movements like al-Qaida. They couldn't be happier."
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has jumped into the fray in arguing that building the mosque will benefit American society in the long run because freedom of expression and association helps promote creativity.  While watching a Broadway production at the White House, he remarked
"Feeling the pulsating energy of this performance was such a vivid reminder of America's most important competitive advantage: the sheer creative energy that comes when you mix all our diverse people and cultures together. We live in an age when the most valuable asset any economy can have is the ability to be creative... And where does this creativity come from?
"I like the way Newsweek described it in a recent essay on creativity: "To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result)."
"And where does divergent thinking come from? It comes from being exposed to divergent ideas and cultures and people and intellectual disciplines... which is why I'm glad the mosque was approved... Countries that choke themselves off from exposure to different cultures, faiths and ideas will never invent the next Google or a cancer cure, let alone export a musical or body of literature that would bring enjoyment to children everywhere."
No doubt some of the folks who framed their arguments in utilitarian terms did so because they are utilitarians or because they believe that their positions might gain wider appeal than if they draw on a particularistic moral tradition (e.g., Christianity).  I suspect that others, however, did so because they were reluctant or embarrassed to state the real reasons why they support or oppose the building of the mosque.  Reframing one's argument in utilitarian terms doesn't always work out quite the way one hopes it will, however.  For example, when Michael Sandel was a graduate student at Oxford, there were separate colleges for women and men, and there were rules against men staying overnight in the women's rooms.  While he was there a reform movement emerged that sought to relax the rules, but at St. Anne's College (and all-woman's college) many of the older women on the faculty were opposed on moral grounds.  They were embarrassed to express the real reasons for their objections, however, so they framed their opposition in utilitarian terms instead.  They argued that if men stayed overnight, the costs to the college would increase.  Mattresses would incur more wear and tear, and if the men took showers, they'd use more hot water.  In the end, a compromise was arrived at.  Each woman could have an overnight guest three nights a week as long as they paid fifty pence per night to cover the extra costs.  The next day the Guardian's headline read, "St. Annes Girls: Fifty Pence a Night!"

Utilitarian reasoning is suspect on other grounds too.  How is utility defined?  Should some pleasures be accorded a higher value than others? Who decides? A simple majority? In that case, we could argue that Southern Whites behaved justly by doing all they could to keep African-Americans "in their place" since they (i.e., Southern Whites) derived considerable utility from the institution of slavery and the Jim Crow laws that institutionalized racial discrimination throughout the South after the Civil War.

One person who was interviewed by the New York Times remarked that while he believed that the Muslim community had every right to build the mosque but he just wished they would build it somewhere else. 
“Freedom of religion is one of the guarantees we give in this country, so they are free to worship where they chose.  I just think it’s very bad manners on their part to be so insensitive as to put a mosque in that area.”
While its hard to know the actual reasons lying behind this statement, I believe that this individual is drawing on some moral worldview (religious or otherwise) that provides him with a sense of what constitutes being a good citizen in today's world.  And while I think emotions are running a little too high at the moment to have a reasoned debate about the mosque, in the long run it would probably be helpful to have a public debate about what role religion plays in contributing to the functioning of a good society.  What ends do religious beliefs and practices serve?  What qualities of character do they promote and how (or do) they contribute to society as a whole?  If we seriously take up these questions, then perhaps we will gain a better understanding as to whether (and how) religious belief is deserving of free expression.  I confess that I'm not holding my breath, however.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Worship or Entertainment?

In a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, United Church of Christ pastor G. Jeffrey MacDonald argues that the primary source of clergy stress is a consumer-driven religious marketplace that rewards clergy who entertain and comfort their congregants. He notes that his own church's advisory committee told him to keep his sermons to ten minutes, tell funny stories and help people feel good about themselves: "Give us the comforting amusing fare we want or we'll get our spiritual leadership from someone else." However, as MacDonald points out the pastoral vocation is not to entertain but "to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways."

MacDonald's remarks capture part of the reason I refuse to clap after choir anthems or special music performed by the numerous talented individuals in our congregation: the primary purpose of worship is to worship God, not to be entertained. It isn't that the performances aren't worthy of applause; they almost always are. But if worship becomes just another form of entertainment, then the harder aspects of the Gospel will almost surely be lost. It is true that the Gospel offers comfort to those who are suffering, but it also calls us to step out of our comfort zone, to go places and do things that we otherwise would not do, which is why MacDonald calls on congregations to recognize that
Ministry is a profession in which the greatest rewards include meaningfulness and integrity. When those fade under pressure from churchgoers who don’t want to be challenged or edified, pastors become candidates for stress and depression.
Clergy need parishioners who understand that the church exists, as it always has, to save souls by elevating people’s values and desires. They need churchgoers to ask for personal challenges, in areas like daily devotions and outreach ministries.
When such an ethic takes root, as it has in generations past, then pastors will cease to feel like the spiritual equivalents of concierges. They’ll again know joy in ministering among people who share their sense of purpose. They might even be on fire again for their calling, rather than on a path to premature burnout.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Leaving Afghanistan Smartly

Counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen, one of General Patraeus's advisors in Iraq during the "surge" (and someone who believed that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a huge mistake), reportedly remarked that just because you invade a country stupidly doesn't mean you have to leave it stupidly (see Tom Rick's book, "The Gamble," page 29).

We would be smart to heed his advice when it comes to Afghanistan.  Regardless of how we may feel about the wisdom or morality of the Afghan war, we should probably not be in too much of a hurry to leave.  If we leave too soon, if we leave before we've secured the safety of most Afghans, we may leave them worse off than they were before.

I think it is telling that Greg Mortenson, who has built over 150 schools (mostly for women) in Afghanistan and Pakistan and author of the books, "Three Cups of Tea," and "Stone into Schools" (wonderful books by the way) has a similar take on the situation.  In a recent interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Mortenson remarked that we need to put more money into empowering Afghans rather than building bombs, but while he's aware that Americans are weary of staying too long in Afghanistan, he also believes that it is "premature to begin pulling troops." If we leave too soon, he fears that the Taliban will return and reverse the gains that have been made in women's education, human rights and health care.  I share Mortenson's fear and hope that the Obama Adminstration gives General Patraeus enough time and troops so that we can leave Afghanistan "smartly."

Friday, September 3, 2010

Cheating and Sports, Part II: What are the Rules about Breaking the Rules?

I have yet to arrive at an answer as to what the rules are about breaking the rules in sports, but I did come across a few books that appear to address the question.  I haven't read them, so I'm just posting a link to where you can find them on Amazon and a brief description of the book (from the Amazon website). This first one looks like a lot of fun:

Baseball blogger Zumsteg (ussmariner.com) argues that cheating-within reason-is not only not a bad thing, it actually makes baseball a more nuanced game. Using a wealth of anecdotal evidence and some statistical analysis, he argues that baseball has evolved hand-in-hand with the aid of its scoundrels, scamps, and shifty characters-and that doctoring the ball or stealing signs necessitates teams, umpires and even fans adopt more complex strategy. Zumsteg draws the line at gambling, game fixing and steroid use, showing little sympathy for the Black Sox and even less for Pete Rose. While baseball aficionados will be familiar with many of Zumsteg's stories, his wit will keep most casual fans entertained. Whether he's describing what might happen in a car crash with Pete Rose ("I admitted that I hit your car ... Can't we stop this witch-hunt and get on with our lives?") or laying blame for the steroid era on everyone from the commissioner to the fans, Zumsteg dispenses with the sanctimoniousness of most current sports writing. Although his prose style and humor are sometimes better suited to the Web (a few lengthy asides come across as amateurish), Zumsteg still creates a funny, honest look at the history of baseball's black arts.  Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From beanballs to basebrawls, the most important rules governing the game of baseball have never been officially written down—until now. They have no sanction from the Commissioner, appear nowhere in any official publication, and are generally not posted on any clubhouse wall. They represent a set of time-honored customs, rituals, and good manners that show a respect for the game, one's teammates, and one's opponents. Sometimes they contradict the official rulebook. The fans generally only hear about them when one is bent or broken, and it becomes news for a few days. Now, for the first time ever, Paul Dickson has put these unwritten rules down on paper, covering every situation, whether on the field or in the clubhouse, press box, or stands. Along with entertaining baseball axioms, quotations, and rules of thumb, this essential volume contains the collected wisdom of dozens of players, managers, and reporters on the secret rules of baseball.

Nearly as long as baseball has existed in its current form, so too have unofficial rules that professional players have strictly adhered to. Yet as Turnbow demonstrates in this highly entertaining read, every rule of the code has certain variations. Most casual baseball fans are keenly aware of many topics that Turnbow broaches, and some are universally agreed upon—hitters admiring home runs is severely frowned on, as is arguing with one's manager in public view and being caught stealing signs. But other rules are less cut-and-dried. On the subject of retaliating for a teammate being hit by a pitch: some believe the pitcher should be plunked in his next at-bat, while others say it should be a player with corresponding talent to the hit batter. Turnbow has an example for nearly every conceivable situation, and with quotes from dozens of former major league players, managers, and broadcasters, the reader can better understand the actions that can set off even the most even-tempered ball player. It's a comprehensive, sometimes hilarious guide to perhaps a misunderstood aspect of our national pastime, and will come in handy should one ever be involved in a beanball war. (Mar.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

The Code is an indispensable guide to the inner workings of baseball's internal system of justice and sportsmanship, all described by the men who've enforced it. You'll never watch a game the same way again