God and The Super Bowl

A survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute showed that almost 50% of Americans believe that God, as a supernatural force, is involved and has an impact on the results of American football, particularly the games leading up to and including the Super Bowl.[1]

What this tells me is that for many people their religious beliefs  are no more sophisticated than those of primitive religions of thousands of years ago, religions that were based upon a notion of rewards and punishments.  The mind-set is if we do the right things and perform the right rituals, whatever they may be, then perhaps the Deity will be pleased and bless our team over and against the other team.   In this paradigm winning is the inevitable sign of the Deity’s blessing and losing is evidence of the Deity’s curse.

For me, what underlies all of this is the deeper question, “What is the ultimate goal of religion?”  For me, the ultimate goal of religion is to grow people into a fuller and more mature humanity shaped by love.   That is not merely my idea, but seems to be the core idea of Jesus and the apostle Paul in the New Testament, both who carry considerable weight when it comes to the formulation of my religion.

For example, Jesus encourage his disciples to love with a self-giving and inclusive love.  He taught them to serve neighbor and define neighbor as anyone in need – no matter who.  He mentored them in compassion and peace-making, and his message was deeply rooted in the social prophets who advocated for social justice.  He advanced a love so radical it even included one’s adversaries and enemies.

The apostle Paul wrote, “the only thing that counts is faith working through love.”[2]   He also wrote that the ultimate fruit that one’s religion should yield are things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. “ [3]   There are many more passages like this I could reference, but I would say that both Jesus and Paul are declaring that the goal of a mature religion is to grow into a fuller and more beautiful humanity shaped by the many manifestations of love.

What Jesus and Paul advocated had nothing to do with rewards and punishments and religious superstitions, defeating adversaries and getting God to legitimize our self-serving, tribal -like agendas,  but had everything to do with being immersed in an ongoing process of growing in the many aspects of love.  That is the goal and fruit of authentic  religion.

There are many things about American football that are antithetical to spirit of Jesus and authentic religion including, for starters, the violence and condescending behavior that often occurs on the field of play. Professional sports, in general, show how distorted our societal value system is when athletes make millions upon millions and the needs of the poor and those on the margins are largely ignored, or that income disparity, due largely to systemic greed and plutocracy, is growing frighteningly wider all of the time.

So, this weekend four teams will come together in their respective cathedrals before thousands of congregants and millions more followers watching on T.V., 50% of whom presumably believe that God will have an impact on the outcome, and many of whom will have prayed or performed some primitive religious-like ritual for their team’s victory.

Then, in a couple of weeks the whole process will repeat all over again and the final two teams will play and one will be victorious.  Why?  Well, it will not be because one team was Divinely blessed and had God on their side, or their fans prayed harder or performed better rituals that were more pleasing to the Deity.  It will simply be because one team played better than all the others on those given days.  It is no more or less profound than that.  And mercifully, when it is finally all over, life will go on and we can get back to being about the authentic concerns of religion of growing into a fuller and more mature humanity shaped by love. 


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