While church attendance in North America has been in decline for the past few decades, it would be ill-advised to suggest that worship is no longer a part of our culture. In light of the devotion that marks professional football fans this time of year, it would be safe to suggest our inbred worship instincts have simply been redirected.
We still worship on Sundays, just not the way we used to. The Sunday-go-to-meeting garb of years gone by has been replaced by team logo sweatshirts and replica jerseys.
Every Sunday football’s faithful, robed in sacred color schemes, chant their praises to the pigskin god on high. In both domed and dome-less cathedrals throughout the country, devoted fans converge at the appropriate hour to confess their belief in something bigger than themselves. With unguarded emotional responses they raise their arms heavenward. Their week-in and week-out rituals verge on superstition.
It’s religion pure and simple. But the liturgy observed is not limited to those in the “pews.” I’d call attention to the priests who officiate the three-hour service. (Can you believe we used to complain about mass lasting 60 minutes?) In their black-and-white vestments, the pastoral team directs the sacred drama and prompts the congregation’s responses with their amplified announcements.
On the field, some ancient sacrifice is reenacted. The obvious pain and suffering call to mind the brute and gore of gladiator days when the faithful hid in catacombs as opposed to sipping beer and eating brats comfortably seated in outdoor stadiums. With rapt attention, the worshipers vicariously feel the pain of those who suffer on their behalf. In both joy and in sorrow, they pray to the pigskin god pleading that this deity above will fix the score.
Yes, it appears that football’s faithful comprise the fastest growing religion in our nation. The conversion rate is stunning. Sadly, the longing for belonging and community many failed to find in their local church has been met in sports bars and stadiums. Equally sad, what was once a source of benign amusement has become idolatry. For too many, the Lord’s Day has given way to Game Day!
Mercer Islander, Rev. Greg Asimakoupoulos, is a regular contributor to the Mercer Island Reporter.