This past Saturday, something extraordinarily rare took place: My team, the Anaheim Angels, was positioned to win a post-season series -- against the New York Yankees no less. And my friend and radio colleague Hugh Hewitt, who could not use his seats (first row, near home plate), sent them to me.
Only other diehard fans of such teams as the Red Sox and the Cubs can fully understand how much I wanted to go to that game with my young son. After all, who knows when such an opportunity will come again?
But the next day, Major League Baseball announced that the game would be a day game, not a night game, presenting me with an insurmountable obstacle. Friday night and Saturday until sunset are my Sabbath, and while I am not an Orthodox Jew, I am a religious one. I take the Ten Commandments seriously, and the Fourth says, "Thou shall remember the Sabbath Day to make it holy." No amount of rationalizing could convince me that going to a baseball game is a holy act.
And I really did try to rationalize. God will forgive me, I told myself. Hey, all in all, I'm a good guy. Anyway, this is a one-time event -- what's the big deal of one Sabbath afternoon lost in the scheme of all the Sabbaths I will have observed? And I can attend synagogue in the morning and then go to the game. I won't even buy anything at the stadium (commerce is forbidden on the Sabbath). I tried every rationalization.
But in the end, no argument worked, and I gave the tickets away.
Why I didn't go is the reason for this column, because the reasons -- both religious and nonreligious -- can apply to everyone, whether religious or atheist.
One religious reason was the need to affirm in action that God and my religion are more important to me than attending a baseball game, no matter how significant the game. If I had violated the Sabbath to attend it, I would have been saying that in the competition for my priorities, the Angels defeated God. And if a baseball game leads me to compromise my religious beliefs, what would happen if I were really tested? What if I had to risk my life for a persecuted stranger, as Christians in Europe during the Holocaust had to (and only a noble few did)? We practice for big sacrifices by passing the tests of smaller ones.
A second religious reason concerned my children. They have been raised to forego some fun things like watching television on the Sabbath. How could I look them in the face and tell them that some of their desires have to relinquished, but mine don't? My son will always remember that Dad, whom he knew to be a big Angels fan, gave up his final-game tickets because the game was on a Saturday. I hope that will count for something in his life.
The nonreligious reason is as important. I have devoted many years to studying, lecturing, and even writing a book on happiness ("Happiness Is a Serious Problem," Regan Books/HarperCollins, 1999). One of the themes of my approach is that fun and happiness are often related, but at least as often they are in conflict. For example, eating desserts is a great deal of fun, but it can also lead to great unhappiness, as many overweight people can affirm.
How does this apply to the playoff tickets? Keeping the Sabbath, my weekly day away from the world, away from television, radio and even from newspapers (the reading of which for me, a radio talk show host and columnist, is work), spent with family and friends and at synagogue, is a major source of my stability and happiness. The Angels game, when all is said and done, would have been great fun, but the Sabbath brings me happiness, and I opt for happiness.
A touching epilogue: Hugh could not use his tickets, which he also cherished, because he had a commitment to a church retreat. So here were a Christian and a Jew, each foregoing a very rare pleasure for his God and religion.
Now, two days after the great game, having had another meaningful Sabbath and having enjoyed watching the game Saturday after sunset on tape (without knowing the final score beforehand), I know I made the right decision. I suspect that Hugh feels the same. In much of Western life, religion has descended into simply making people feel good. At its best, however, religion teaches what is ultimately important and what isn't. Neither a good nor a happy life is possible without knowing that.
That is why God must always be higher than the Angels.
Dennis Prager is an author, lecturer, teacher and theologian with a nationally syndicated radio talk show originating from Los Angeles on KRLA 870 AM.