Zebras at a Waterhole in Okaukejo, Etosha Pan, Namibia . PHOTO : J . Rieck

Monday, July 14, 2014

Soccer - the New Religion ?

Soccer world cup 2014  in Brazil  has now truly   come and gone! 

We have enjoyed a  month of  great soccer.  The standard of  soccer is phenomenal, and one cannot but admire the skill of the modern  soccer players whose  brains are surely in their feet.   It is indeed “the beautiful  game” - a term apparently  coined by  the sports commentator Stuart  Hall in 1958 .  And what  a  great demonstration  once again of the fact that a united team   is  a formidable  team !

Statue of Christ the Redeemer  in Rio de Janeiro  in front of a full moon 
And yet  I can’t help but thinking that  soccer  has become  a  religious  affair. 

Think about this :  The  soccer players  huddle together for prayer  before the  game. They  look to   whatever god to answer their  prayer  for a win. They give whatever god the glory when they score  a goal . They  make the sign of the cross  before they go  on,    or  come off the field .  The coach   acts  the “pastor or priest ”,  and the players  perform  the sacred rites  trying to please the gods.  The   strongest god on that day wins !  The stadium is the cathedral (the soccer temple) and the tens of thousands are the worshipers, fervently praying  to their gods  for their team to win. In the process  they  become an emotional community,  singing  their anthems (hymns) ,  and raise their hands  like a bunch of charismatic worshipers!

I came across a blog written by Jonathan A. Lopez,   in which the fact that “soccer is religion  is  unashamedly asserted .  He writes :  “What is it about soccer that creates these emotions and feelings found in events like the World Cup? Well, there is a simple response to this. Soccer is no longer just a sport but a religion. To be specific, it is a civil religion. According to author Jordi Xifra, the term "civil religion"refers to a religion that demonstrates both the moral and spiritual values of a community or modern society. It is meant to uphold the political and social culture of a people. It involves myths, symbols of popular devotion, and public rituals. In light of this, civil religion stresses identity amongst a people. http://soccerisreligion.weebly.com/ .

Sport  in general  is  indeed  the  primary religion of the world of our  day, although  it had been common  in the days of the  ancient Greeks and Romans,   who  in their times had built impressive sport stadiums.  An interesting article in this regard can be found at : http://www.worldstadiums.com/stadium_menu/architecture/historic_stadiums.shtml

A Christian Mind ?

Christians  need to  think  carefully  about the the place and influence of sport  in society . Here are  a couple of my personal  reflections on the matter : 

1.      Our world   continues   to seek human heroes whom they  may  idolize.  Sport  and music  are  the primary  contemporary forums  for this purpose. This desire for  ‘idols‘  is   an indication  of  the fact that the human heart is made for worship.  Unfortunately  human sin and  pride refuses to come  to  God the Creator, choosing   to exchange the truth of God for a lie, worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator (Romans  1:25) 

2.     Is it possible  to  enjoy sport  (soccer)  in a God centred way ?  I believe that it is. There are many things that are good about   sport. Physical discipline , endurance , patience , commitment , fair play , consideration of the other  team member, team effort, enjoyment, skill , humility (the  ability to  lose  gracefully)    are all godly virtues , and those who practise them ,  may glorify God  in them.  Eric Lidell[1] (1902 – 1945)  a Scottish athlete, Rugby player and missionary , made famous by the 1981 film “Chariots of Fire”,    is a famous example  of a  man  who glorified God in  the sport arena.

3.     Having said this, it is doubtful that the 2014  Soccer World cup displayed  much of God’s glory. Rather, it was an exercise of human glory, (and make no mistake – it was glorious!) – but it  was a cheap imitation of  the Glory of God .  Sadly,  when human glory  eclipses  God’s glory    it becomes idolatry  and so we are tempted  to become  children of a lesser god.    

So, how  did  I  as a Christian,  deal with  the world cup?  I enjoyed  it for what it was. I enjoyed the skill  of the players  and the  thrill  of competition. 
I even chose a side  - that side which happened to win the world cup this year! But I refused to pray for the German team to win J. I determined not  to  have a blue Monday, just   in  case they had lost  the match on Sunday evening  L

I refuse to  build my  hope on something  that is  nice but … ultimately oh so superficial and so utterly inconsequential  and  so temporary !

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest  frame , but wholly lean on Jesu’s Name
On Christ the solid Rock I stand!
All other ground is sinking sand !

(Edward Mote – 1832)

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