Saturday, November 28, 2015

Organized Sports as Religious Experience

America: profoundly Olympian
As witnesses to Jesus, one mistake we make is thinking that American society is secular. It isn’t. It is profoundly religious—but definitely not Christian.

By far the dominant religion in America is Olympianity. Olympianity is the religion of power. It is the world’s oldest, most popular, yet least recognized religion. Like all Olympian societies, America is structured in terms of six false yet conventional gods: (1) Jupiter, god of politics; (2) Mars, god of war; (3) Vulcan, god of technology; (4) Venus, goddess of sex; (5) Pluto, god of money; and (6) Bacchus, god of consumption.

From a strictly sociological point of view, we can easily verify this. The gods served by any society are those who provide two essential services. One, they provide us with security, happiness, importance, justification, and meaning. Two, they protect us from insecurity, misery, unimportance, guilt, and meaninglessness. Because of their significance to us, the gods, and the people who serve them best, are the objects of our devotion and the subjects of our conversations.

Our devotion to Vulcan
Vulcan, god of technology, is one such god. You can easily understand how he meets all of our criteria for a god. From the Global Technological System and its myriad component technologies, Vulcan’s finest creations, we certainly feel provided for and protected!

Jesus values truth, freedom, love, and vitality the most. Vulcan doesn’t. As god of technology, he is all about efficiency: obtaining the best possible result with the least possible means. We might also think of efficiency in terms of effectiveness or success.

Football as an important example of such devotion
One important way we Americans express our devotion to Vulcan is through organized sports. Today we will look at organized sports as religious experience using football as an example.

Rigorous methods of training
Certainly football is a fine example of sports technology. Becoming a successful player in the National Football League takes years of methodical training. Nothing is left to chance. Diet and exercise are strictly controlled. Plays are endlessly practiced. Films are studied to rationally develop more effective actions against particular upcoming opponents. Statistics are kept on every important movement made by every player. Players and teams are rated in terms of those statistics.

Emotional intensity
One sign of professional football as religious experience is the emotional intensity associated with it. People experience happiness when they speak about football games casually during the week. It grows in intensity while watching a game and, even more so, when one’s team wins that game. It reaches its peak with a Super Bowl win. After that achievement, there’s enough positive emotional glow to cheer fans for seven months until the next season of football begins.

The opposite, of course, is also true. If one’s team loses, the result is an abiding unhappiness. If one’s team loses a championship game, the loss is profound. If one’s team loses because of a bad call by a referee or a bad play called by a coach, intense anger is the result. These feelings of misery and anger are intense enough to adversely affect one’s relationships with one’s family and colleagues.

Regular Sunday worship
Americans enthusiastically attend Sunday worship, whether physically or virtually through TV, at various large temples (stadiums) of Vulcan where his player-priests perform their Sunday rituals in honor of him. At the temple, we may join our priests in singing the “Star-Spangled Banner”—their opening prayer to Jupiter, the god of politics and chief god of Olympianity. Sometimes Sunday worship is also opened by a flyover by military jets—an awesome if brief sign of the presence of Mars, the god of war. We may appreciate the ministries of cheerleaders who represent Venus, goddess of sex. We may enjoy communion with our fellow believers either before worship, at tailgate parties, or during it, sharing the bread of hotdog buns and the cup of beer, thereby honoring Bacchus, god of consumption. To be complete, we include Pluto, god of money, by betting on the outcome of the game. All the gods are in this together and we celebrate their presence in our lives by immersing ourselves in their crowd. Rarely is Christian worship so emotionally satisfying.

These temples of Vulcan, by the way, are enormously expensive. Why would we as taxpayers spend so much money on constructing them if they were secular and not religious in significance?

Football players as saints
As with all gods, Vulcan has his saints or heroes. In professional football, these are the most successful players and coaches. The best of these are permanently honored in what is called a hall of fame where they live as immortals. Men so honored are said to be enshrined. To “enshrine” means “to cherish as sacred” (American Heritage Dictionary).

Like all good religions, Olympianity provides ways for us mere mortals to enjoy some of the glory of our saints.

Sometimes we get close to them by going to public charity events where they will be present. One current set of commercials shows one professional football saint surprising ordinary mortals by suddenly appearing at their athletic practices. They’re thrilled to see him!

We buy and wear replicas of their uniforms. By wearing the replica of a shirt worn by a football player, we publicly proclaim our personal identification with that player and his team. This increases our own personal importance, gives greater meaning to our lives, and allows us to experience the happiness which comes with the approval of others and association with our chosen team’s success. We’re winners!

We fantasize about them. That makes us happy, strengthens feelings of importance, allows us to bond better with our co-religionists, and gives meaning to our lives.

We have our children join organized football leagues at increasing younger ages. In the not-so-distant past, children created and played imaginary games or spontaneously organized existing types of sport. We demonstrate our bondage to Vulcan by regarding such activities as boring. Now, if we don’t play football with others outdoors, we do it indoors as a video game.

Special calendar
All religions have their own special calendars. Olympianity is no different. Of course the Super Bowl is a major holyday in America. Sundays too are special—Sabbath days for football. Watching the games is so important, especially during playoffs, that oftentimes we Christians abandon worship of Jesus for devotion to Vulcan and conviviality with his community of fans. Even Fridays now are being claimed by Vulcan as people don their team shirts, sweaters, and hats on that day to enjoy solidarity with other believers, honor their team of priests, and show their devotion to Vulcan. Roman Catholics once affirmed their devotion to Jesus and solidarity with one another by not eating meat on that day.

Other organized sports as devotion to Vulcan
What we have said of professional football applies as well to other sports such as basketball, baseball, soccer, and hockey. It also applies to the physical activities recognized as important in the Olympics. We would do well to remember that the ancient Hellenians understood their Olympic games to be of profound religious significance.

Copyright © 2015 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.