Atlanta, Feb. 2 (Groundhog Day).
The call of “God bless America,” which we in this benighted county hear so often, should really be “God help America!” But He can’t, because He’s too busy watching the Superbowl. (For you non-Americans, that’s the game that decides who’s the champion football team—as in American football—among all teams in both professional leagues.) The Superbowl is tomorrow (Sunday), and I had to put off my talk in Augusta by one day because nearly all Americans, especially in the South, will watch the game. For your information, the teams playing are the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers.
But I am embarrassed, even in hyperreligous America, to report that many Americans think that God is not only watching the Superbowl, but has an intense interest in the outcome. And Christians are in a dilemma because they don’t know which team God is favoring. As the Washington Post‘s “On Faith” section notes (my emphasis):
Who should Christians root for in Sunday’s Super Bowl: the San Francisco 49ers or the Baltimore Ravens?
It may be a silly question to some, though not to millions of American believers who invest a lot of faith and hope in their sports teams, and see it repaid many times over by the regular public testimonies of numerous athletes and coaches.
A survey released days before the big game shows that more than a quarter of Americans — and about four in 10 evangelicals — think God will help decide the winner of the Super Bowl. So certainly God is rooting for one side or the other, no?
This year’s NFL championship game, however, is especially challenging for those who like their Christian faith to align with their sports loyalties.
Ah, but those clever Christians have a way of deciding who to root for: they simply find out which team has more Christians. But that presents an additional problem because, as we know, some Christians aren’t very moral:
. . . the heart of this moral conundrum is that both the Ravens and Niners have more than their share of Bible-quoting believers — as well as card-carrying cads. And to make matters worse, the saint and sinner can be the same person.
Take Ray Lewis, Baltimore’s defensive standout and future Hall of Famer.
Not only is Lewis a great player, but he is so outspoken about his Christian faith that Sports Illustrated dubbed him “God’s Linebacker” in a 2006 cover story. Moreover, Lewis is retiring after a 17-year career and a season in which he made an improbable (miraculous?) return from a triceps tear that should have ended his year. Redemption, anyone?
On the other hand, Lewis is a fierce and intimidating character who was implicated in a double homicide 13 years ago outside an Atlanta nightclub, an incident that led to a plea deal on a reduced charge. To the anguish of some victims’ relatives, he still has not spoken in detail about what happened that night.
The article lists other “Christian” plays whose track record is questionable. The Post, though, manages to dig up one kineseologist who sounds sensible:
So what is a Christian football fan to do this Sunday? Maybe get some distance, suggests Shirl James Hoffman, author of the 2010 book, “Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sports,” and a pointed critic of the ethics of the modern game.
“I will watch the Super Bowl, but not under the illusion that the game is in any sense blessed by God or that it is going to bolster my Christian faith,” said Hoffman, a professor emeritus of kinesiology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “In fact, I will be very conscious of the fact that it is appealing to instincts that are anything but Christian.”
I’m wondering, though, how Hoffman knows exactly what is blessed by God. At any rate, he’s at odds with a quarter of Americans and 40% of evangelical Christians.
But wait—it’s worse than you think. Here’s a figure from the Public Religion Research Institute:
The key is at the top:
Length of purple bars: percentage of Americans in a category who think that “God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success.”
Length of burgundy bars: Percentage of Americans who think “God plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event.”
It still amazes me, as atheistic as I am, that so many believers think that God takes an interest in who wins the Superbowl. But he’s clearly more interested in that than in the starving children of the world, because at least the Superbowl has a winner.
h/t: Bruce Grant