<

Religion and Sports: Just Cultural Traits?

How similar are religion and sports?Lifelong fans of the Mariners baseball team would be Red Sox fans if they’d grown up in Boston instead of Seattle. Tarheels fans would be Trojans fans if they had gone to USC instead of UNC. People who eat Frosted Flakes for breakfast would likely prefer fermented soybeans (natto) if they grew up in Japan instead of the U.S.

And believers who think that the truth of Christianity is obvious might think that about Islam if they grew up in Morocco or Afghanistan instead of Mississippi or Alabama.

Begging the pardon of sports fans, there is no objective measure that makes their home team the only valid one, with all others being poor imitations of the real thing. The same is true for religion.

Why do people pick the religions that they pick? In fact, most don’t pick. They’re in effect assigned a religion by the randomness of their birth. They take on the religion of their parents or their community, like any other cultural trait such as customary food, dress, or etiquette.

Let’s not take this too far, however. Not everyone born in Mississippi is a Christian—atheist theologian Robert Price is an example. Not everyone raised as a Christian remains one—I’m an example.

So what we’re seeing is a strong correlation—people tend to take on the religion of their environment. What best explains this observation?

The atheist view is that all religions are fiction, but they’re sticky elements of culture. People tend to adopt these elements, but you’ll always have some outliers. In a culture where men wear neckties, a few will prefer bow ties. In a culture where one of the first questions after being introduced to someone new is, “And where do you go to church?” a few will be atheists.

The atheist says that religion is adopted because it’s a dominant cultural trait, not because it’s true.

The Christian view is much tougher to justify. Christians don’t want to discard this correlation because it helps explain why the other guy clings to his religion. Is the fact that there are a billion Muslims strong evidence that Islam is correct? Nope—their belief is just a cultural trait. With well over a dozen countries having 98 percent or greater Muslim populations, being Muslim is just what you do when you grow up in a monoculture.

Christians say that Islam, Shinto, Buddhism, Hinduism, and most other religions are cultural traits that are false. But they need to explain why Christianity is actually true even though it looks just like all those false cultural traits.

Seeing religion as nothing more profound or objectively accurate than a cultural trait is the best explanation of the evidence.

Of all things, good sense is the most fairly distributed.
Everyone thinks he is so well supplied with it
that even those who are the hardest to satisfy in every other respect
never desire more of it than they already have.
— René Descartes

Print Friendly and PDF

Photo credit

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Kingasaurus

    This otherwise interesting post was ruined by the inclusion of a photo of infamous Boston “Superfan” (and all-around object of ridicule) Mike Schuster. Have you no sympathy for your readers? LOL.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Sorry! I didn’t know this photo was iconic. I’d never seen it before.

      • Kingasaurus

        Schuster makes respectable Boston sports fans cringe and facepalm, but he’s good for a laugh I guess. I forgive you, Bob. :)

        • Kodie

          makes respectable Boston sports fans

          The what now?

        • Kingasaurus

          ^LOL
          Your bitterness and jealousy is duly noted. :P
          BTW, Bob, there’s no one iconic shot of Schuster. They’re all horrible, and his regalia is different depending on the season. Tough to look away, though – like a train wreck. Mike seriously wonders why more fans don’t dress like him, but doesn’t realize that he’s Exhibit “A” of why they don’t.

        • Kodie

          Lol, my “bitterness and jealousy” – I live in Boston. Do y’all know how to be cool? No, you don’t. Your assessment of this superfan is outrageously un-self-aware. All Boston sports fans are clowns like him as far as I’ve been able to tell. :)

          My awareness of sports extends to following the Sox home game schedule so I know when the Green Line is going to be untakeable, and whenever the Patriots lose to the Giants in the Super Bowl.

        • Kingasaurus

          That you happen to live there is irrelevant.
          Your admitted inattention to the subject matter (and your insufficient anecdotal analysis of the question) is duly noted. :P

        • Kodie

          May I offer a suggestion for you to pass around to your fellow “respectable” fans: learn how to move into the train. You’re not going to miss the stop at Kenmore even if you are not standing as close to the door as possible that nobody can get on. People just want to go home from work at the same time y’all clowns are going to see a last place team lose again. Also, don’t walk up to strangers on a nice Sunday in February and shout “REVENGE!!!!” in their faces; it’s unpleasant, sort of frightening, and chances do not favor that outcome anyway.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Kodie:

          I’m certain that Kingasaurus is one of the good ones. My evidence? That he hangs out here.

        • Kodie

          Thank you for demonstrating how confirmation bias works. :)

        • Kingasaurus

          If most fans were actually like Schuster, I wouldn’t be one.

          “Also, don’t walk up to strangers on a nice Sunday in February and shout “REVENGE!!!!” in their faces; it’s unpleasant, sort of frightening,”

          What is also unpleasant and frightening is being called a “clown” (by association) by a complete stranger on the internet simply because that person is irritated at the difficulty of navigating public transportation on game days. The nerve of people not informing you there was a baseball team and a century-old ballpark (and 81 home games) in the city before you chose to reside there! My thoughts are with you during this obviously difficult time. Stay strong!

          Nobody has to like sports or be a sports consumer. But its definitely a fun recreational activity for a large number of people, and getting emotionally involved in the outcome is part of the fun. If you’re tone-deaf to spectator sports and the people who attend them, that’s certainly your right. Nobody likes loutish behavior (alcohol usually being a factor in such situations), but nobody likes unwarranted over-generalizing either.

          (As an aside, I’m also having a little trouble reading Kodie’s thinly-veiled missives against the recent results for Boston’s teams, considering I’m being blinded by the glare of seven championship rings in four major sports over a very recent ten-year stretch. Sort of an unprecedented thing, don’t you know? As a result, I’m not really crying myself to sleep over last year’s last-place Red Sox, but thanks for your concern. I’ll survive it, somehow.) ;)

        • Kodie

          Out of 81 home games, how many are scheduled to start right after rush hour on a weeknight? That’s just rude. I didn’t say anything about basketball or hockey because except for championships, they don’t seem to attract that much attention. Simply a diversion between football and baseball. I don’t actively root against the Celtics or Bruins like I love to root against the Patriots only when they get successfully close, and I don’t know why that’s so much fun for me to do, but it is, probably for similar reasons you have for rooting for them to win and feeling some sense of, er, not-fun when they can’t quite go all the way.

          I’m just needling you, guy. I am from New York and I love living here in Boston except for the sports. In New York, I could get by without knowing anything about sports. I might not have chosen to live here if I knew I’d be reviled just for growing up in a particular state, but eh. I can handle it, since I’m from New York. It’s the sheer sport-fan-ness of Boston that I actually have to become aware of sports at all, and navigate my life around other people’s obsessions. In that way, it’s a lot like Christianity, and living in a large city with too many churches and people asking me where I go to church and I say I don’t, I’m an atheist, and they’re all, “whaaaat?” So I say, yeah, that’s right. I don’t like baseball. I don’t hate baseball. How can anyone hate baseball? It’s the fans. I went to see a baseball game last year for the first time, in Fenway Park, and it was ok. I didn’t catch baseball fever or anything, but it was a neat experience. I switched to your weird New England style hot dog rolls at home for a while, even. Of course, I’m traveling from the opposite direction and the train wasn’t crowded at all. Do I need to tell you they lost, I don’t think I do.

  • John Kesler

    This blog entry is related to your recent one about polytheism, Bob. Just as the ancient Israelites had tales to explain why snakes crawl on their bellies (Gen. 3:14), why childbirth is painful (Gen. 3:16), and why different nations speak different languages (Gen. 11:1-9), so, too, they had an etiological explanation for why the Israelites’ deity was Yahweh and other nations had their own gods: the chief deity allotted each god his own land, and the Israelites were lucky enough to get Yahweh (Deuteronomy 32:8-9, DSS). The ancients observed then what we observe today: religion and language vary by geographic area.

  • smrnda

    Because I am sure someone else will say it, a case can be made that atheists are atheists because of cultural factors or because they happen to grow up in an area where few people are religious. I wouldn’t deny that’s possible, but just because a belief or lack thereof has been absorbed from your environment doesn’t mean it’s false the same way that popularity and a chain of transmission of an idea doesn’t prove that it’s true.

    Perhaps some research could be done into what groups people opt into on their own. Do more people become atheists who used to be Christians than the other way around? Do more Muslims become Christians than Christians become Muslims?

    On the sports analogy, if pressed, I think most fans would admit their loyalty is arbitrary, but since sports are connected to geographic regions and where you live/grow up can be a big influence on identity, it’s about as valid as many other forms of identification. Growing up in Boston is a shared experience with other residents, even beyond the sports teams.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      smrnda:

      a case can be made that atheists are atheists because of cultural factors or because they happen to grow up in an area where few people are religious.

      Good catch. Perhaps I should’ve addressed that more directly.

    • Michael

      In areas with a dominant religion (especially if it is a proselytizing one) the children will learn about that religion – the rules, the rituals, the catechisms, the rewards for belief and the punishment for disbelief. They will learn those things (even if only by accident) and they will probably be encouraged to seek membership.

      But children brought up in a non-religious area will not learn anything about atheistic rituals and catechisms, or rewards and punishments, because there are none. They will be atheists, not because they learned to be atheists, but because they were not brainwashed into a religion.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Michael:

        Nicely stated.

        Imagine four people. One has malaria, one smallpox, one yellow fever, and one is healthy. We don’t think of all four equally. We don’t think of them all as having some sort of sickness; rather, we see three having it and 1 not.

      • Mr. X

        I think that’s a somewhat simplistic way of viewing how people learn. People can and do pick up opinions and behaviours from those around them even when such things are not explicitly stated. A child growing up in a household where atheism is the assumed position would normally have such a view rub off on them, as it were, whether or not their mother sat them down one day and said “Remember son, if you ever go to Church, I’ll never speak to you again.”

    • Ryan

      Do more people become atheists who used to be Christians than the other way around? Do more Muslims become Christians than Christians become Muslims?

      There is a decent amount of literature that when people experience stresses and hardships – especially when they feel like they have little control – in their lives they tend to act more politically, economically, and socially conservative, and that when their lives feel more stable the reverse is true. Why should we not reasonably assume that a similar relationship is true when it comes to religious belief? I’d venture that in most cases hardship would cause a shift toward a more hard-line religion, whether it be converting between Christian and Muslim or just between a sect within one’s faith such as Evangelical vs. Lutheran.
      That said, there are barriers to overcome to a major transition, involving reasoning through arguments for and against both specific and general propositions about faith, and I think that we would expect to see exactly what it appears we do: a vastly-greater rate of transition from faith to non-faith (whether atheist, Humanist, agnostic, or just “none”) than the opposite. Note I said *rate*, not just absolute numbers (given that non-theists are vastly outnumbered). The Leah Librescos of the world appear to be the extreme exception, and given the quality of her reasoning for adopting faith, I think we can clearly see why.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        When you’re overwhelmed by the difficulties in life and the potential pitfalls, religion can be a comforting blanket that assures you it can get you through without injury. (Of course, that claim is without evidence, but that’s another story.)

    • Selah

      smrnda ,
      My opinion is that ” christians ? ” who turn to atheism may have never been a christian in the first place.There is joy in heaven when an atheist sees the light and becomes a true follower of Jesus Christ. Talk about a party in heaven !!

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Selah:

        Why is Christianity the default?

        When Christians turn to Scientology, there is joy in the heart of Xenu! Or something.

  • avalon

    “Begging the pardon of sports fans, there is no objective measure that makes their home team the only valid one, with all others being poor imitations of the real thing. The same is true for religion.”

    Not only that, but there is nothing of substance or permanence that a fan can be loyal to. I was thinking about this just after the Superbowl. Consider the history of the winners, the Baltimore Ravens. Once upon a time Baltimore had a football team called the Colts. The team was made up of players, coaches, staff, etc. and each year various parts of the team changed. Yet Baltimore Colts fans were still loyal despite the fact that all the parts that make the team could have changed completely.
    Then something unusual happened. One day, the Baltimore Colts moved and became the Indianapolis Colts. Same players, coaches, staff, etc. in a different location. Suddenly, Baltimore Colts fans stopped rooting for the very same players they used to love. Fans can be loyal even though the parts all change and they can be disloyal even when the parts are still the same. So what is it a fan is being loyal to?
    The story gets even stranger when the Cleveland Browns move to Baltimore and become the Ravens. Then later on Cleveland gets a whole new team. Should a Browns fan be happy that the Ravens won the Superbowl? They evolved from the Browns, just in a different location. What about loyalty to the current version of the Cleveland Browns?
    It becomes clear that fan loyalty is based on geographic location. But even that doesn’t hold up when you consider an ‘away’ game. Fans still root for their team when they play miles away and they’d still root for their team if they built a new ‘home field’ to play on.

    Religion is very much like sports in that there is nothing of substance or permanence that a believer is loyal to. Beliefs evolve and change, the players change and new sects start; and believers can change or stick with the old beliefs. You can even change the way religion is played because there’s no objective set of rules. In fact, changing the rules seems to be an important part of forming a new ‘team’.

    avalon

    • Kingasaurus

      It’s clear that fans “root for laundry” as the saying goes. But the team (as an entity) still has to be based where you live for most people. Only a small minority have allegiances to teams outside their geography – and when they do, it usually something like “My old man rooted for them” or they just like backing a winner when the locals are hapless and terrible.

      The childhood imprinting is very much like religion. ” I grew up rooting for them” is usually enough to cement a lifetime allegiance.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      avalon:

      Great observations. I wish I’d included some of them in the original post.

    • Castilliano

      Great.
      I’ll add that there is a sense of betrayal when a team leaves, and sometimes feeling betrayed by one’s concept of god (i.e. by personal crises) can lead to conversion , sometimes to atheism, sometimes to another god-concept which explains the ‘betrayal’ better (that other god’s the winning god). I would think a lack of god would be a better resolution to feeling betrayed by god then to shift one’s concept of god(s), as the sudden onslaught of multiple options must look daunting.

      And some teams, like the Milwaukee Braves, retain fans even after they cease to exist. My uncle proudly wears a shirt for them and boasts they haven’t lost a game in decades. :) I’ve even seen him run into other fans.

      Also, when we criticize Christianity at its roots (Bible/history/doctrines) are we ignoring the actual banner they operate under? (Community reinforced with positive feelings) Sure it’s fun to take down apologists, but is it like arguing hard stats with a fan…useless?

      Overall, I think the ‘team argument’ shows the strength of having a banner to operate under. Political parties shift, often not resembling previous versions, as do various denominations, and as with sports teams, many fans just ride along under that banner on the strength of past loyalty, or to be part of something.
      So are we atheists just missing the point , loyalty despite shifts=faith without question (?), when talking to theists? Sometimes it is like talking to rabid fans, too caught up in demonstrating their loyalty to realize their team isn’t really that good. Or the fans that think they have a ‘winner’, as Christianity sees itself in its reinterpretations of USA’s founding, laws, its positive influence, et al.
      I guess we just have to chip away at the fairweather fans until our banner’s bigger, and thus, under this logic, more attractive. Until rationality sways to our side those who see both communities as equally viable (as communities that is, not as belief systems).
      Hmm…does one spread rationalism to promote atheism, or atheism to promote rationalism?

      So do we need a banner too? Do we have too many banners of atheism?
      Can we set up community reinforced with positive feelings ourselves? Based around what banner?

      Just some ideas and questions to bounce around.
      Cheers,
      JMK

  • ZenDruid

    Aren’t team sports simply formalized and ritualized inter-tribal warfare?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      ZD:

      Oh, c’mon. Next you’ll be saying the same thing about boxing, WWF, and MMA.

      • ZenDruid

        Actually, I’d like to see something like Don King and Vince McMahon going head-to-head. But yeah.

  • Anthony Nuccio

    As someone who is both an avid sports fan and a moral human being, I have to say that I think the reason for such passion towards both religion and sports lies within a sense of community. Granted, a sense of community did not cause me to stay a Roman Catholic as I was raised, but I believe it is a huge factor towards many people. I don’t believe that they are solely cultural traits, unless we weigh religion as its own culture. Therefore, human beings are not just specific to one culture; rather, we are a collection of many different cultural aspects. The sooner we come to the understanding that every human being has its differences and recognize the legitimacy of those differences, our world will recognize its potential in the fullest. Perhaps then we will be able to finally rectify the common bond that we know as human.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Anthony: I agree that community is a big thing. Religion does a good job here.

  • Mr. X

    Of course, this argument could apply to practically any belief whatsoever. Why do you believe in the germ theory of disease? Unless you’re a biologist or doctor by profession, the answer is likely because this belief is the dominant one in your society. What does this tell you about the truth or otherwise of germ theory? Absolutely nothing.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      X: I believe in germ theory because (1) it’s the scientific consensus and (2) the consensus has been remarkably accurate in the past.

      It’s the smart way to bet.

      This tells me nothing about the truth of germ theory? What fraction of the people reading this wouldn’t be here without modern medicine?

      • Mr. X

        “(1) it’s the scientific consensus and (2) the consensus has been remarkably accurate in the past.”

        Of course, if you’d been raised in some communities, you’d disagree, and think that science was just a blasphemous invention of Satan to test our faith. But does this knowledge cause you throw up your hands and say “Oh, well, I guess it’s all just a cultural trait then”? No, because you believe you have good reasons for believing in the ability of science to discover things. So why shouldn’t somebody who thinks they have good reasons for believing in Christianity not take a similar attitude towards the existence of other faiths?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          There is one science, worldwide. New discoveries spread pretty quickly. Evidence compels it.

          Doesn’t work that way with religion. Evidence is ignored or irrelevant.

        • Mr. X

          “There is one science, worldwide.”

          I’m afraid I don’t see the relevance of this point, even if it is granted.

          “New discoveries spread pretty quickly. Evidence compels it.”

          Not necessarily. See, e.g., the length of time it took for plate tectonics, or the poisonous properties of lead, to be accepted by the scientific community.

          Anyway, though, you seem to be dodging the question. Why is a Christian deciding that they have good reasons for accepting Christianity despite the existence of other faiths any different to you deciding that you have good reasons to accept science? If it’s the analogy to science specifically that’s causing you problems, I can change it to empiricism or rationality or democracy or something else if you’d prefer.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          I’m afraid I don’t see the relevance of this point, even if it is granted.

          Looks like there are whooshing sounds enough to go around.

          You’d compared my pointing to the scientific consensus with a religious person pointing to his religious interpretation. My point about there being just one science and a bazillion religions was to show how these two categories are very different.

          “Science says X” has far more clout than “My pastor says X” or even “the Southern Baptist church says X.”

          Not necessarily. See, e.g., the length of time it took for plate tectonics, or the poisonous properties of lead, to be accepted by the scientific community.

          And contrast that with the time it’s taken all religions to see the one common truth about the Creator of the universe. Science reaches a consensus; religion doesn’t.

          Why is a Christian deciding that they have good reasons for accepting Christianity despite the existence of other faiths any different to you deciding that you have good reasons to accept science?

          Hopefully answered above.

          If it’s the analogy to science specifically that’s causing you problems

          Science vs. religion is a stark contrast. I have no difficulty seeing the difference.

        • Mr. X

          Of course, some people look at science and say “Huh, look at all those mutually exclusive scientific theories out there. Clearly scientists can’t even agree among themselves about anything. And what’s all this about only ever accepting ideas provisionally? Clearly a way of knowing things that doesn’t actually know things is pretty useless.” So I suppose that, according to your argument in the OP, believing in the effectiveness of science is just one of these cultural traits, and you shouldn’t trust your own beliefs in it.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          Of course, some people look at science and say “Huh, look at all those mutually exclusive scientific theories out there. Clearly scientists can’t even agree among themselves about anything. And what’s all this about only ever accepting ideas provisionally? Clearly a way of knowing things that doesn’t actually know things is pretty useless.”

          We must hang out with different people.

          If you don’t see the difference in how science comes to its conclusions compared to religion or the relative accuracy of claims by science vs. religion (or just refuse to see it), then there may not be more to talk about.

          according to your argument in the OP, believing in the effectiveness of science is just one of these cultural traits, and you shouldn’t trust your own beliefs in it.

          So your argument is in tatters and, instead of acknowledging it or bringing up a new angle, you just repeat it and hope it works this time?

        • Mr. X

          You seem to have gone from arguing “People disagree about religion, so it’s just a cultural trait” to “Religion isn’t science, therefore it’s wrong.”

        • Bob Seidensticker

          No, that’s not my argument.

        • Kodie

          I think you are confusing consensus and popularity. You also seem to be confusing critical thinking with confirmation bias, and what science does (repeat results by testing and publish it for scrutiny by other scientists) and what religion does (make stuff up that sounds persuasive and wise). Maybe next post, Bob will post a picture of an apple and see how many call it an orange.

  • http://ownchristianlouboutinsa.0fees.net KeelryBem

    Your place is valueble for me. Thanks!

    christian louboutin for women

  • Pingback: Trackback

  • Pingback: Trackback

  • Pingback: hefalimp cardijon

  • Pingback: air quality houston


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X