Sports over Religion

This post is by Jesse Galef, who works for the Secular Coalition for America.  He also blogs at Rant & Reason

Back at school, I signed up for a class that was listed as “Religion in Culture”.  I thought it would be an interesting overview.

As it turned out, the grad student teaching the class had other, more specific ideas, and the class ended up as “Evangelism and Sports”.  It was interesting, and I’ve been dying to use the “sports” tag ever since I started writing on Friendly Atheist.  And I finally found an excuse: this clever lesson from Dante Shepherd’s Surviving the World:

Sorry, Dwight Howard.

I know religion is notoriously difficult to define, but I still maintain that categorizing say, football, as religion is silly.  Yes, you meet on Sunday, participate in group chants, and have odd rules enforced by men in strange outfits.  But without a belief in the supernatural, I don’t think it should be considered ‘religious’.

About Dr. Denise Cooper-Clarke

I am a graduate of medicine and theology with a Ph.D in medical ethics. I tutor in medical ethics at the University of Melbourne, am an (occasional) adjunct Lecturer in Ethics at Ridley Melbourne, and a voluntary researcher with Ethos. I am also a Fellow of ISCAST and a past chair of the Melbourne Chapter of Christians for Biblical Equality. I have special interests in professional ethics, sexual ethics and the ethics of virtue.

  • http://logofveritas.blogspot.net Veritas

    It’s pretty close though, you have to admit. And most people are praying over and over for their team to win to an invisible sky man. It just so happen that the invisible sky man moonlights for the Christians as well.

  • Sackbut

    The “right” team isn’t the team that wins. It’s the team that you want to win, for whatever intangible reasons that might be. Not because they are the better team, but because you would prefer them to be the better team. A sports fan who switches allegiances just because “his” team loses is hardly a sports fan at all.

    Thus, I disagree with the premise. You don’t actually find out from sports whether you’ve been rooting for the “right” team.

  • Alexis

    “Sports is the opiate of the masses.” Oops, that should be “Reality tv…” Or is it “Soap operas are…”? I’m so confused. Anyhow, the leaders of our nations and our communities promote this mind numbnumbs in order to promote team spirit that can be manipulated in time of war, and to keep us distracted from what the politicians are doing with our tax dollars.

  • Luther

    Like the church, sports prays on the poor and uneducated to provide huge profits to established leaders.

    Unlike the church, public money can be spent building stadiums.

    Is it even possible to consider electing a President who is not into sports and claims local favorite teams in baseball, football, and baseball? Our country was founded by believers in these sports – even if they were not invented until later – look at race discrimination in baseball, what other proof is necessary?

  • Alan

    I was actually thinking about how sports stadiums are like churches the other day. Richard Dawkins points out in The God Delusion that cathedrals in Europe were built, exhausting man hours and resources and served no real purpose. It could be argued that sports stadiums do the same thing, being used between 10 (NFL stadia) and 82 (MLB) days a year.

    On the flipside, one could argue that stadiums can help economies by bringing in tens of thousands of people to one area (and buying food at nearby restaurants or shopping in near-by stores) and the stadiums do offer employment opportunities for people.

  • SarahH

    This gets even more meta if you root for a team *because* it has religious members. My family were HUGE Green Bay Packers fans, and it was a big deal to them (at least in the 1990s) that Reggie White was a pastor and that the team met for prayer sessions, etc.

  • J. Allen

    While sports may provide a (possibly needed) distraction for the masses, at least it is a celebration of the possible, natural, and finite, and not the impossible, supernatural, and infinite.

    A brotherhood of fans can be just as supportive as a group of believers, and in my view shows that communities can be built around fallible and realistic concepts.

  • Sebeka

    Bingo, then?

  • Miko

    Many sports fans imbue the games with supernatural superstitions.

    On the flipside, one could argue that stadiums can help economies by bringing in tens of thousands of people to one area (and buying food at nearby restaurants or shopping in near-by stores) and the stadiums do offer employment opportunities for people.

    They could, but they’d be wrong. Adding a stadium neither changes people’s desire to eat nor how much money they have for shopping. Building a stadium may change what restaurants they eat at or what stores they shop at, but it has absolutely no impact on the overall economy since a gain by a restaurant near a stadium is offset by a loss at a restaurant near a theatre.

    Bastiat told a “parable of a broken window” in What is Seen and What is Not Seen, in which a child breaks a window, causing the shop owner to buy a new window, causing the glazier to buy a new set of boots, etc., etc., leading the people to champion the child for his virtuous civic action in boosting the economy. But Bastiat’s point is that had the child not broken the window, the store owner would have used the money not spent on the window to buy theatre tickets, the actors would have used the revenue to buy new costumes, the tailor would have used the money to expand to a larger shop, etc., etc. In one case, the chain of effects is seen and in the other case, the chain of effects is not seen. This leads people to advocate the first case, although on careful analysis, it becomes clear that the economy in the first case is in fact not benefited by the destructive action, but rather worse off by one window.

    If taxation is used to build a stadium, the people are likewise worse off by the cost of one stadium.

  • Tyler in SoCal

    I just finished reading “Man in the Middle” by John Amaechi. Great story about an English basketball player who made it to the NBA. He’s also gay…and an atheist.

  • teammarty

    Enforced religion is becoming a part of sports more and more. Not only is there an invocation made by players after every 3 yard gain or bloop single to left, there is the enforced public prayer that is a part of almost every game.

    There is good news though, the fan who was ejected from Yankee Stadium last season has settled out of court for (I think) 10,001 dollars and legal fees. At least we get to go. For a while.

  • GullWatcher

    I’m not a sports fan, so maybe I’m wrong about this, but don’t fans have lots of private superstitions about things they have to do for their team to win, and other things that they can’t do lest they jinx it and their team loses? Or is that just something people do in sitcoms? If they do do that, that seems like some level of belief in the supernatural to me.

    If taxation is used to build a stadium, the people are likewise worse off by the cost of one stadium.

    And yet cities and the people who run them are hell bent on building them. In Seattle, it was put to a public vote in 1995 whether we should build the Mariners a new stadium, and we voted no. They built it anyway, with tax dollars, because the team owners threatened to move the team if they didn’t. If there’s anything that really pisses me off as much as public funding for religions, it’s public funding for billionaires and corporations.

  • Alexis

    The same thing happened in Pittsburgh as in Seattle. We (the taxpayers) are now paying for three stadiums, one of which has been demolished!

  • Tony

    I always maintained that my support of Manchester City is my one concession to superstition. But with the vast funds available to the new owners perhaps my prayers have been answered! If there is a god he lives in Manchester and has sky blue bedsheets!

  • The Unbrainwashed

    Does anyone know where the picture above was taken? I swear that’s the classroom I took a bunch of courses in at college.

  • Rieux

    But… but… what are we believers to think when Our Team is defeated in demonic, soul-crunching fashion one night only to come back the next night and avenge the loss with a close win? In that case, we don’t actually have an “immediate answer on whether or not [we]‘ve been rooting for the right team” at all–any more than do people who praise God for helping them get a raise one day and then ask Him for help a day later when their grandmother (whose health they had prayed for) dies.

    Sports can have indeterminate outcomes, too.

  • Bob Dobolina

    Religion is actually quite easy to define: it’s a roadmap. A set of directions. Apply the directions to your life and you’ll see the result. The rest of it is all crap, stuffing and voodoo. The Bodhisattva Way, meditation, the Ten Commandments–whatever. It’s all the same deal. It’s only through direct application that the benefits are realized or understood.

    I realize this is an atheist site, so I’m going to assume a huge, stinky pile of sophist tripe will be dropped on my comment. Fire away. Have fun.


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