Sports are all around right about now. The NFL season is in full swing, the College Football Playoff is just around the corner, and college basketball has tipped off (Go Friars). It’s an exciting time of the year for sports fans. But even those who aren’t sports fans are surrounded by it. Sports have been dominating the headlines lately, from the NFL players’ protests to the college basketball recruiting scandal, in addition to the regular coverage one has come to expect.
Why are we so captivated with events that do not affect us?
A wise professor of mine once noted that, no matter how hard we may try, we cannot quash our religious instinct. Thus, in the absence of true religion, we seek to fill the void with something else. His example was supernatural movies, whether they be about wizards, vampires, or superheroes, all pointing towards our search for the truly transcendent.
If the void created by ignoring the truly transcendent has been filled by movies concerning the supernatural, it seems that sports, at least for some of the most die-hard fans, have come to fill the void of religious ritual. People rise on Sunday and, putting on their “Sunday best,” head to the stadium, the bar, or their couch to watch their team. As for the unfortunate soul who is rooting against that team, they’d be better off staying far away.
The investment these die-hard fans place in their teams is, on its face, irrational. They will throw down the gauntlet to defend their quarterback, their defense, their point guard, or the latest trade their team has made. Why is this? Their religious instinct is being fulfilled, to some lesser degree, by these sports, yet sports provide an object entirely extrinsic to themselves. These fans can be entirely invested, willing to fight over their beliefs, and treat their support for their team as something deeply personal. The success of their team has no consequences for their life, yet they treat the success or failure of the team as something crucially important to their ultimate happiness.
Our faith in God, the proper object of our religious instinct, however, has eternal consequences for our life. It is deeply personal—it comes with a call to conversion, to change our lives and live for God. He wants us to worship Him as He prescribed, with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and we, whether we realize it or not, want the same.
We should be upset when someone mocks Our Lord or dismisses the faith as absurd. These are things that we are meant to be personally invested in. Are you having this reaction to a sport though? That’s about as irrational as many would claim Christianity to be.