Sports, our national religion

The United States has a national religion. A religion which takes precedence over the traditions of the faithful followers of the 10 Commandments including, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:3 (NIV).
“Sports has become a kind of civic religion in much of the world, and the useful lies coaches tell have become articles of faith,” wrote Philip Martin in the Aug. 17, 2004, Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
The idea is also reflected by Mitch Albom in “Tuesdays with Morrie” where he wrote, “I began a year-long project on how football in America has become ritualistic, almost a religion, an opiate for the masses.”
The faithful in the pew have become the faithful few as sporting activities pull them away from established times of worship and fellowship to go to a Wednesday night basketball practice, a Sunday morning soccer match or a Sunday afternoon road trip to a Monday tournament. Parents rationalize their child has to go – if they don’t, the coach will not let them play. And everyone knows that playing is always more important than praying.
In the past, minor children knew that they had to go to church. Now, minor children know that they have to play a sport. Today’s teenagers have the option of attending church, but can not skip anything related to their sport.
Forty years ago only sickness or a family emergency warranted an early departure from church camp. Today’s moms shuttle their children away from church camp for a few hours to play a game or attend a practice, but would not even consider taking them out of basketball camp to attend a choir practice.
A cartoon in the Parade magazine on Super Bowl Sunday reflects our increasing assumption that sporting events take precedence over church attendance: The signboard of a country church declares, “Yes, we’re open Super Bowl Sunday.”
The encroachment of our civic religion on our sacred beliefs would recede – if a few parents and players would take a stand as runner Eric Liddell did before the 1924 Olympics in Paris – when he refused to run on Sunday.
In the 1981 Oscar winning movie “Chariot of the Gods,” Liddell said he ran because he believed it glorifies God. He practiced long hours to prepare to run in the Olympics for the glory of God – only to have his Olympic race scheduled on Sunday. Liddell believed and adhered to his faith. Not even for a chance at the Olympic gold would Liddell run on Sunday. “God honors those who honor Him,” Liddell said in his refusal to run.
Ultimately, he was assigned a race later in the week – for which he had not trained – and won that gold medal. God honored Liddell.
Because our civic religion takes precedence over our sacred faith, the Liddells of today are hard to find. Our civic religion demands legalistic adherence to its schedules and rules. Fear of being cut from the team binds the tongues of players and parents from saying they want to go and worship.
Yet, if one player would take a definitive stand, or if a few players or parents would bond together and agree to abide by the fourth of the 10 Commandments, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy,” as mandated in Exodus 20:8 (NIV), it would make a difference.
But who will do it?
Not players who fear peer pressure to conform and are under parental pressure to play a sport.
Not parents who fear their child will miss elusive opportunities if they step outside the mainstream of American life and its civic religion.
Not coaches who fear parental and community pressure to win at all costs.
None of them will take a stand – because all these fears of the temporal carry far more weight than the fear of the eternal, Lord God of the Universe. And that is why, although we do not have a state religion of the sacred, the U.S. does have a civic, ritualistic religion of sports.