01 July 2007

God and Sports, not exactly peanut butter and chocolate.

People will often attribute their great acts, or the great acts of others to the divine intervention of their favorite god. How many times have you seen some athelete on the tube saying, all misty eyed, something very like, "Its all because God was on our side," or, "I just wanna thank God for giving us this win," and maybe something like, "with God on my side no one can beat me."
In my youthful naivete I suspected that prayers involving sporting events were typically concentrated on the professional leagues. I'm not sure why I thought this would be so. Perhaps, I suspected a god would really only involve himself in pro sports, more money, more prestige that kind of thing. Maybe he, jesus and the holy spirit would bet on play-off games, and maybe he (all three of he) might have a pool for college football and basketball. In such a high stakes environment, it seems likely that any deity might want to manipulate such outcomes. It turns out however, there is a lot belief that the gods oversee even little league, middle school games. High school too seems to require the intervention of deity to do what, I presume the players practice to do daily.
During my first year at Earlham College I worked for the school on the paint crew, endlessly torturing students with awful bone white. On that crew I worked with a true believer who was about to saunter off to Jerry Falwell's pseudo-university. He carried his good book, heavely high-lighted, and spoke and read of nothing else other than his Jesus and his God. You will see at once what a tedious conversation partner he made. But it was he who got me really thinking about how utterly silly all this praying-not just in sports but in anything-actually is. Before him I thought is was just a kind of mental relaxation technique, a way, perhaps, to come to grips with the essential fact that you cannot do much to affect certain outcomes except hope for the best.
In fact the only difference in hoping for the best and praying is the sheer number of times you hope for the best, and there is the egotisical conceit that your hopes for the best are heard by your pal on the inside. I was talking to the creator of all things for you, he may do something. He may not. I think hoping for the best and wishing people the best is much more genuine than actually praying. Praying takes the focus off the one you are praying for and allows this ego massaging bragging to occur when you tell people you were praying for them during their ordeal, for the purposes of this essay, a sporting event.
Anyway this guy and I were discussing his younger brother's baseball game. He left early he said, because his brother's team stood no chance. "I prayed and I prayed," he said. I guess God was having none of it. This provoked my tactless curiousity. So I asked him, "So..you think the creator of the universe intervenes in middle school baseball games."
"Yes." Without hesitation.
"Really? You think that creator of universe doesn't have more pressing concerns?"
"Have you ever heard of Evander Holyfield?" This young believer had walked into a trap I didn't even know I had laid. But there it was and in he walked.
"Yes I have heard of him."
"Do you know what is written on his ring robe?" He asked. And as a matter of fact I did.
"It says through God all things are possible." I smiled as I said it.
"And do you know of the huge success he has had against so many opponents? He says God is responsible for those wins."
And thus was my trap sprung. I had been following Holyfield for years. He had one of the greatest strength traing coaches ever in 8 time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney. Not to mention Holyfield had a great work ethic, and an even better chin. This got him out of more trouble than his skill ever did. Holyfield was always a counter-puncher with respectable hands, but not devastating. He beat people because he was smart, paid attention to his corner, and he never neglected his training. I mentioned all this to Jesus boy. I even asked why God might allow Holyfield to win against a certified god botherer like George Foreman. I don't remember what he said. And really it doesn't matter. Both sides in almost every sporting event pray. (So how does God decide which team will win? I would be willing to bet that each team has about the same number of believers. So it probably isn't something simple like the number of believers. I've heard people suggest that its the team that works harder. And I wonder...wouldn't they win anyway? Is it the sincerity of belief of the teams?)
Here is what I nailed him with.
"It is interesting that you bring up Holyfeild, who gets by on heart and conditioning. But you have me thinking of a different boxer, one who probably never trained as diligently, but had skill, and ring savy. Muhammad Ali always credited his wins to God. So, was his god pulling him through, or was it just physical conditioning, skill and practice?" I asked him something very like that. And he froze for just a second as if sensing that he had stepped into somthing that was going to make him look just a wee bit silly. But he just plowed on.
"It was his training." He replied.
"Even though he attributed his success to God, or Allah?"
"Yeah, that is a false god. Allah doesn't exist." He said, or something very like that.
"Okay." I replied. And that I decided was that. Conversation over. He had refused to make what I thought was a pretty simple leap. Or he was just incapable. In either event, I was amused by the level of belief necessary to actually say what he had said.

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