What can we make of the prayers of Oscar Pistorius?

When it comes to famous Bible passages, even those favored by athletes, 1 Corinthians 9: 26-27 will not appear near the top of many lists:

I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:

But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

Nevertheless, anyone who pays close attention to the left shoulder of runner Oscar Pistorius will be able to see most of that verse in a tattoo that juts out from underneath his sleeveless running jersey.

Why is it there?

I have no idea. I also have no clue as to the nature or seriousness of this controversial man’s faith after reading the following Agence France?Presse report about an emotional day in his tabloid-friendly “blade runner” murder trial in Pretoria. Here’s the top of that:

Pretoria (AFP) – A weeping Oscar Pistorius shielded his ears as a witness in his murder trial on Thursday gave harrowing evidence about desperate attempts to save Reeva Steenkamp’s life after she was shot.

Rocking back and forth in the dock, Pistorius put his hands over his ears as neighbour and radiologist Johan Stipp recounted how he entered his house to find the distraught Paralympian bent over, attempting to resuscitate his girlfriend.

Stipp noticed a wound on Steenkamp’s right thigh, right upper arm, and “blood and hair and what looked like brain tissue intermingled with that” on top of the skull.

So what does religion have to do with this scene? Stripp’s graphic testimony included the following:

“She had no pulse in her neck, she had no peripheral pulse, she had no breathing movements that she made. She was clenching down on Oscar’s fingers as he was trying to open her airway. …

Stipp continued: “While I was trying to ascertain if she’s revivable, Oscar was crying all the time, he prayed to God to please let her live, she must not die.”

“He said at one stage, while he was praying, that he will dedicate his life and her life to God if she would just only live and not die that night.”

The story goes on to include all of the trial details that one could have heard on tabloid television.

What stands out in this story, quite frankly, is the religious content.

So I will ask: What is the religious background of the famous runner who is now accused of murdering his live-in girlfriend? Has his faith been part of his gigantic public persona in South Africa?

Stripped of any content, what are readers to make of this scene — other than that the runner was putting on a show for the doctor? Yet if it was only a show, what about that famous tattoo (which, just to be clear, is not referenced in the story)? Might AFP have offered, oh, two sentences of content if this material was this relevant?

I’m curious. I’ll confess that.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Nils

    If I remember correctly, he was pretty open about his faith during the Olympics and afterward, and a lot of people saw him as a positive Christian role model for it. I don’t know what that all means now given the murder trial, but I think his faith-life was a pretty important part of his image.


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