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Sport Religion

Religious leaders pray next to Olympic Flag by Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro
Religious leaders pray next to Olympic Flag by Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro

I am regularly despondent because of the evil perpetrated by religious people. Religions make such lofty claims – and the result is so often the opposite: disunity, acrimony, not listening to each other, violence, abuse,… – the list goes on, In Real Life, and in the Digital World. Online groups of self-proclaimed “Bible Believing” Christians spend most of their energy arguing with each other – clearly the Bible is not as clear as each of them declares. And there surely is no encouragement for a nonChristian to be attracted to a faith that is so fragmented – each declaring they hold the one truth. Then there was the recent attack I received online from about 8,000 people (Christians calling for my crucifixion, beheading, naming me as apostate and the antiChrist) because I dared to suggest in one tweet that we pray for Muslims as they began Ramadan. The fallout for me from that, two-and-a-half months later still continues.

So, as the Olympics is underway, I look to sport and see celebration of diversity, enjoyment of being human, concern for the environment (declared in the Opening Ceremony), nations at enmity meeting in friendship,…

I have written about sport being religion-like: with rituals, forming community, gathered around a symbol, giving meaning,… (see, for example, here, here, and here).

Now I see the results of sport as doing what religion appears not to be able to do…

But, perhaps I am naive.

I’m aware of cheating, of scandals, of financial issues in sport…

And then I come across an article such as Why I won’t be watching the Olympics by Ian Paul. And he highlights how the Games cost a fortune and often cripple the host city, that they create endemic corruption, promote unhealthy eating and drinking, don’t deliver a legacy, have a huge environmental impact, displace the poor, can encourage sex trafficking, and promote the narrative of competition.

From this, I return to a model that regularly helps me: powerful things are like a lever, magnifying good and bad. Money, sex, and power (for example) can be used for good or ill – great good, great evil. The internet is like that. Religion is like that. And, it seems, sport is like that.

What do you think?

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2 thoughts on “Sport Religion”

  1. In our daily paper the front page pronouces ‘SA prodigy soars to Olympic immortality with stunning gold medal swim’. Really! The patriotic hyperbole, gives the young swimmer nowhere to go. Where and what do you do when you have reached immortality? As a society we need to offer enormous compassion to the athletes, those who at a young age have achieved their dream and those who feel shattered for not living up to their country’s (possibly unrealistic) expectations.

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