Liam Day questions the belief that God helps decide the outcomes of games.
The big game is over. The Ravens have been feted. The refs questioned. The chicken wings consumed, that is if you could find any.
Talk around the water cooler this morning ranged from the hold that wasn’t called on fourth down to the power going out for 33 minutes and the CBS studio commentators having absolutely nothing to say during the delay. (Part of me, well okay, pretty much all of me, reveled in that fact. You can read why here.)
There was also the matter of Ray Lewis’s undershirt, which had inscribed on it the 91st Psalm, which begins:
“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”
Lewis is outspoken about his religious belief. I remain skeptical of the genuineness of his faith. This is partly due to my reflexive aversion to ostentatious shows of devotion to God. I am Catholic. My religion is founded on the belief that man is not saved by faith alone, that to attain God’s grace one must marry his or her faith to good works. Protestant churches don’t hold this doctrine. In them, faith is enough.
I am also skeptical of Lewis’s public displays of religion because of his past. As Patrick Broadwater pointed out on The Good Men Project at the start of the playoffs, he is likely guilty of either murder or accessory to murder for his involvement in the deaths of two men outside an Atlanta nightclub after the Ravens first Super Bowl victory.
It is not for me to withold forgiveness. I was raised to believe that if one sincerely atoned for one’s sins, then God would forgive you, no matter how heinous the sin. However, I also believe that atonement must include an admission of guilt, something that Ray Lewis has never offered. I believe that if he wants to tell the world about his relationship with God, then he needs to first call a press conference and tell us what happened on that fateful night 13 years ago and, more importantly, he needs to tell us exactly what he did with the blood-stained suit that was never found.
Of course, if he were to do that, ESPN wouldn’t be hiring him as a studio host. (To their credit, the network has not been shy about raising the questions itself.) I wonder: does genuine faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ really mean one gets to live a lie so that his material comfort and public standing don’t take a hit?
Ray Lewis isn’t the only person who sees the Lord’s hand in the Ravens victory Sunday night. As reported in Slate, the Public Religion Research Institute conducted a poll prior to the Super Bowl in which 27% of respondents “believe that God plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event,” and a majority, 53%, “believe that God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success.” Presumably this means that athletes who suffer injuries or illness were not among God’s favored. Guess Lou Gehrig must have been a real bastard.
I would like to think God has more important things to do than to determine the winners of sporting events. But of course, being omnipotent, He or She can presumably multitask with the best of them and, so, it’s not as if the time and energy spent determining the winner of the Super Bowl would come at the expense of, say, settling the Middle East conflict.
The belief that the outcome of any contest is preordained strikes me as dangerous. It can lead to fanaticism, which is always dangerous. It shifts one’s focus from the means to the end. For, if winning is a sign of God’s grace, then the converse, that losing is a sign of falling out of grace, must equally be true and what would one not risk to remain in God’s grace. A penalty? Hurting an opponent? Risking brain trauma?
I prefer the wisdom of that most profane of athletic prophets, Bobby Knight. The longtime basketball coach at the University of Indiana had many flaws, but false displays of religion, well, of anything, were not among them. Reportedly, once, when a player of his attributed a loss to God’s will, the cantakerous coach responded, “Son, some day you’ll grow up and understand that God doesn’t give a fuck about Indiana basketball.”
Amen to that.
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel