Thomas Bergen spoke on “Liturgies of the Stadium” as part 2 of 3 in his sermon series. Cultural institutions like the Mall (Sept. 28), the Stadium (today) and the University (Nov. 23) have intercepted humanity’s spiritual longings and use rituals that promote idolatrous versions of religious worship. A religion is more than a set of beliefs, it is more about what it makes people do, and what does for them. As we saw during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Futbol in Brasil is not just a national pastime, it looks more like a religion in that society! Liturgies capture our imagination and direct our hearts towards an object of love and worship: idolatry is about the things we love. Beyond the superficial resemblances like saints & shrines (Hall of Fame) and houses of worship (arenas and fields), sporting events reveal their religiosity in three ways:
- Intensity of devotion. Our culture glorifies professional spectator sports, with fans (short for fanatics) showering top talented athletes with attention and compensation. Athletes too have bought into a whatever-it-takes attitude, sacrificing their health for the game.
- Social cohesion. Like praise choruses in church, a chant of “GOAL” celebrates a collective triumph, and wearers of team jerseys feel an instant affinity for each other. Football sanctifies specialization and pushing over (or running past) your opponents to gain territory. As a substitute for ancient war-preparation exercises, sports are now associated with patriotism, starting with the singing of national anthems.
- Suspension of the normal rules of morality. Sports builds character, but what kind — only the characteristics that fit with the competitive imperative to win the game? The “killer instinct” must be nurtured to arguably psychopathic levels in order to win by ruthlessly out-competing your opponent without guilt.
Can we imitate the playfulness that God demonstrated in creation? Like sports, the rules of the game of life (love God and love your neighbour) give us the sacred bounds within which to play in our lives. How can we as Christians redeem sports and resist the idolatrous liturgies of the stadium? Play sports with joy, in the image of God. Unlike a sports celebrity, Jesus will never let us down. [KH]