Honor the Sabbath…with Football

September 12, 2011

It’s that time of year again.  Football season is upon us.

Tens of thousands of fans attended season openers in stadiums and millions watched from home.

Pro football is practically the only sport I enjoy watching at all.  But it’s a love-hate relationship, with more hate and less love lately.  I’ve never attended a game in person.  I don’t play fantasy football.  And I don’t blog about football.  In fact, if you blog about football, I guarantee I will not read your blog.

Today’s post is about football.  But the less you like football, the more you’ll probably like what I have to say.

Because I’ve realized something this football pre-season more than ever.

Football hasn’t just passed up baseball as our national pasttime.  It’s become our national religion.

Don’t believe me?

You Think This Is A Game?

High churches, like Catholic, Lutheran and Episcopal have a reputation for, well…being high.  They’re full of pomp and circumstance, ritual and ceremony.  People dress up.  There is a specific, prescribed order of worship to follow.  It all comes together and creates a sense that these churches take themselves very seriously.  

And if there is one organization that takes itself as seriously as the Catholic church, it’s pro football.  Don’t think about the drunken, shirtless Oakland fans right now.  Think about how football is marketed.  Think about the ever-evolving NFL logo that gets a little shinier every year, or the jingle that sounds like it was performed by a full orchestra at Carnegie Hall.  Every halftime and postgame show now has a minimum of four to five football clergy and bishops, giving little homilies about the games.  Hundreds of players have been canonized as saints in the Hall of Fame to be venerated for all time.  And with more rules and regulations to the game today, only the most dedicated football Pharisee can possibly keep track of them all.

Everything about today’s NFL is full of religious ceremony, and the sense that everyone takes this game more seriously than anything else in life.

Honor the Sabbath and Keep It Holy

If you’re like me, you have a hard time going an entire day without doing something that could be considered “work.”  Even with the stamp of God’s commandment on it, it is hard to just rest for a day.

Today, it is more possible than ever for football fans to keep the Sabbath day holy by doing absolutely no work.  Even if you aren’t a football fundie who can attend every game religiously, all hope is not lost.  Marketing campaigns have ramped up, advertising satellite TV packages allowing every fan to watch every game, on every Sunday.  That’s sixteen pro games each Sunday adding up to about 48 hours of football.  With more hours of football than there are hours in the day, anyone can spend their entire Sunday bowing down in reverence and laziness in front of their televisions.  Football is the opiate of the masses.

And for those people who still feel their lives are too productive, you can always waste time when you’re supposed to actually be doing work, by tinkering with your fantasy football team, or playing the annual installment of Madden.

You know how communists and fascists are so completely opposite on the political spectrum that they end up meeting on the other side and really being very much alike?  It’s the same with fantasy footballers and nerds who play Dungeons and Dragons.

All About the Benjamins

A common complaint about the church is how it’s “all about the money.”  Preachers are just charlatans out to get your cash so they can live in luxury.

It’s true that Jesus generates a lot of money, and it’s true that the Pope lives in a big old house.  But the football faithful have lots of ways they gladly plunk down billions of their dollars too.  Pro football builds the biggest megachurches in any city.  One man of the jersey makes the salary of dozens of men of the cloth.  And, like Jesus, football is endlessly merchandised.  So even when you aren’t paying a couple hundred bucks for a ticket or fifty bucks for football’s eucharist meal of beer and hot dogs, or making a monthly donation for your complete football TV package, you can outfit yourself with all the expensive accessories designed to display your faith in football, and shove it down everyone’s throats.

I’ll be watching a little bit of football this fall…in between doing work around the house.  What about you?  Are you a fan?  A rabid, football fundie?  Or are you on the sidelines, staring in disbelief at how some football fans actually make the hyper-religious look good?

31 responses to Honor the Sabbath…with Football

  1. I’ve been known to compare devout religiosity to extreme sports fandom — I find both phenomena equally arbitrary, mindless, and frightening. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say that some football fans make religious fundamentalists look good, but I have laughed at religious groups that try to appropriate sports cheers for T-shirt slogans about their beliefs … or religious folks who denounce those who worship “false gods” and turn around and throw themselves into something like what you describe. (Or, religious folks who denounce those silly “football fundies” by comparing them to religious zealots, without apparent internalization of what that implies. 😉 )

    If I believed in the god that the Bible describes, I think I’d be so afraid of committing idolatry by caring about anything other than that god, I’d spend all my waking hours in church and ministry. What some Christians have told me, though, is that it’s okay to really enjoy non-religious things as long as you do so while appreciating that God has given you that stuff to enjoy, and framing your enjoyment as worship of God’s creation. Curious what you and your other readers think about that.

    • To answer your question, I think that’s where I’m at. In things expressly forbidden, Christians should not touch. With everything else, moderation. It’s as good a system as I can imagine without going nuts.

      • I guess the weird part comes up when you’re talking about things that couldn’t have been expressly forbidden (in the Bible, I assume you mean). Nobody played football thousands of years ago. Nobody had iPads or Facebook accounts. But I’ve read big-name preachers denouncing caring about all these things as obvious idolatry, and I’m sort of torn about it. On the one hand, it’s like, obviously checking Facebook multiple times is very different from dancing around a golden calf. But on the other hand, I don’t believe in an all-powerful deity that demands primacy in all my thoughts, and it seems both silly and improbable to believe that people should/will act as though Facebook, iPads, and football were intentional gifts from God to humanity.

        • I think the fact that we don’t have rules from on high to cover everything has always annoyed people. The Pharisees went to great lengths to avoid breaking the Sabbath laws – by creating a bunch of legalistic rules. Then Jesus comes along and tells them they’ve missed the whole point. The rules weren’t meant to enslave them. They were for their own health.

          • Fair enough. One last question to clarify your comment here, though: Are you saying Jesus objected to the rules God gave the Israelites, according to Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and meaningful parts of Exodus and Numbers? Or are you saying Jesus objected to the Jews’ attempts to make sure they were following those laws as accurately as possible — the sort of interpretation debates recorded in the Talmud?

          • The latter. Jesus said he came to perfectly fulfill the law.

    • @ NFQ

      your Christian friends are more or less right, but i’d prefer to rephrase what you said to say “…and framing your enjoyment as -praise- of God’s creation,” (“praise” instead of “worship”) directed to God.

      as a Christian, i believe it was God who inspired man to invent games and sports because to work all the time, or to even go to church and do ministry all the time, would be very robotic and draining. God also created rest and relaxation (on the 7th day of creation, God rested) and i think its safe to extract recreation from that day as well, which we can then derive sports. as an aside, to work and do ministry all the time can become idol worship because from personal experience, sometimes you may just end up doing stuff for the sake of doing it because it has to be done, not because you’re doing it out of love. i hope that doesn’t confuse you.

      anyways, God’s creation (which can include the inventions of man, ie. sports) are benign (for lack of a better word). they are neither good nor evil, and like most things, are not mentioned explicitly in the Bible. this is where matt’s comment about moderation as a simple guideline for most things is useful.

      sports can be a means to worship God when done with the correct intentions. to use one’s athletic abilities to compete and play to the fullest is an acceptable means of worship to God because He gave those skills and strengths for a reason (as opposed to just using our athletic abilities to carry our enormous Bibles everywhere [yes that was sarcasm, in case it didn’t come across right]). the best example of this is Eric Liddell, (made famous from the movie “Chariots of Fire”) and quoted from the movie he said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” by competing in a sport to the best of his abilities, he worshiped God.

      when it comes to watching, following, and being a fan of sports, i think your main question would be, how much is too much before it becomes idolatry? sometimes it really depends. thats such a crappy answer, but its true. in other cases, its downright obvious. if your activities and thoughts as a fan are a hindrance in your life in that they are keeping you from doing things that are more beneficial or useful or just plain taking up too much of your time, then its obvious.

      i’m a hockey fan. i follow the canucks and try to watch every game i can. i have been known to rearrange my schedule to catch a game on tv (eg. especially during the playoffs…shush david :-p ) but i refuse to get caught up in knowing individual player stats and doing fantasy teams or whatever. a few months ago, i contemplated buying a team jersey in “support” of the team, but it was about $150 (for those interested, the vintage skate logo) and for the longest time i couldn’t get myself to spend that much money for something that was essentially advertising. in the end, i bought two t-shirts with the team logos for $12 each on clearance.

      i hope that helped.

  2. Hi Matt,

    When tv bandits changed the settings to whatever it is they changed it to, we lost all tv service. Including dearly-loved football games. We chose not to have tv at all.

    However, we still have the DVD and VCR players. So Ginny and I watch old movies all the time without having to pay for the new kind of tv channels. We miss seeing news programs and football.

    However, being foresighted Christians, back in the 1980s we recorded many, many NFL games on vcr tape. Now, when worship times comes on Sunday afternoon or Monday nights, all we have to do is plug in a tape and watch a game played 20 years ago.

    It’s just like watching a current game because who remembers who won even Superbowl six years ago. It’s all just like a brand new game. We enjoy the game just as much and nap to the white noise as well as people watching a game played today.

    Spiritual lesson here: Consider the ant, thou sluggard, they record NFL games for future viewing.


    • On second thought, if the liturgical dancers I’ve seen in church services dressed more like the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders… I think we’d have something there!


  3. Me and my wife were talking last night after dinner and I said, “I just can’t get into football. I’ll watch it, maybe if I’m surfing, but I don’t rearrange my schedule to make sure I see a game.”

    Believe me, I’ve tried hard for the past 5 years to really get into it to be one of the “guys.” But I just can’t. It doesn’t interest me and I couldn’t care less about the NFL.

    In general, I think I just hate tv. (Not trying to sound holy at all, just a fact)

  4. Hey Matt its the same down here in South America but fubol is spelled a little differently and uses slightly different equipment. Oh, and one more difference- from time to time the fans take a more Crusade-like stance in converting their opposition. Good Post.

  5. Pete and I enjoy watching a game or two every year, but prefer college to pro sports. (We and our two kids all went to rival schools, so we have some fun.) However…

    The one NFL game we ever attended, a friend gave us tickets to the last Broncos game of the season. Pete had recently broken his leg, so we asked if we could trade for more accessible seats on the aisle. The stadium ushers ended up asking a couple of guys if they would move over ONE seat so we could sit together.

    At first they said no! They were convinced that if they weren’t in THEIR season seats, it would “jinx” the game somehow and the Broncos would lose. Good grief!

    It took a lot of pleading and bribing (programs, pennants, etc.) before they finally agreed to scoot over. And yes, the Broncos still won.

    • You know, we think shamen doing rain dances was silly. Then people pull stuff like that and we think it’s perfectly reasonable.

      • Agreed! Though I think I’d make an additional analogy to Rick Perry exhorting the citizens of TX to pray for rain. More or less silly than the shaman’s rain dance? More or less silly than caring about which seats you get at a Broncos game?

  6. I don’t really like football. The most exciting parts of the game are always in the 30 minute after game show. All the rest of the mostly stopped play is out weighed by the few seconds of go. I find that boring. I like the continuous action of hockey, basketball and soccer.

    Though my local team has won the Super Bowl a number of times, I still can’t get into it, but I do watch it each year.

    When I was in High School we challenged the football team to 2 games, one of football, and other in hockey. We won both, and when I heard the excuses from one of the line backers about having weak ankles I just laughed so heard I spit out my drink.

    I do think that church should put on a super bowl each and find a way to make Jesus so exciting that every one would want to go.

    But I am lone voice crying in the wilderness. 😉

  7. I watch the Super Bowl every year for the commercials (although the quality of those has been going downhill as of late.)

    I never could understand why a guy that wouldn’t think twice about making fun of a Trekkie would make a complete a$$ of himself just to get someone to flip the channel to Sportscenter.

    I also have to admit that I was kind of miffed that one of my favorite songs–“Change of Time” by Josh Ritter–is being used in an NFL ad. I know, it’s probably snotty of me and Mr. Ritter needs to eat, but it still bugs me.

  8. Right on. Pro-football fundies drive me crazy. I watch a few college games a year, whenever my Oklahoma State Cowboys play on tv. It’s way too easy to become consumed by it. Great post, Matt. You’ll probably tick some people off with this one, but I’m not sure how much different that is :)

    • Hi Seth,

      Thank you for the comment you left on my blog yesterday; you gave me such a lift.

      Unfortunately, your blog setup would not take my comment on your latest post, concerning loyalty and forgiveness, so I’m leaving it here:

      I know I’m commanded to forgive; and I know King Solomon said, “faithful are the wounds of a friend”–which I suppose is loyalty. But I’m not sure how these work out in balance.

      After WWII my father would never buy any product made in Japan. I was brought up believing two A-Bombs were not nearly enough. All “loyal” Americans though that way. I don’t recall ever hearing anyone talk about forgiving the japs for the horrors they started… Yet, nowadays that attitude seems to have worn away by attrition. The attitude seems to be don’t bother to forgive, don’t bother to be loyal, just make cash.

      And Americans are now somehow guilty about bombing the enemy???

      But, if I think things are confused on a national level, it gets more so on a personal level as I try to forgive the folks who did me dirt and as I seek forgiveness from the people I offend. This is hard because the people who hurt me most often–and the people I bug most– are the same people–members of my own family!

      No wonder I need a Savior.

      John Cowart

  9. I don’t watch football…only maybe the playoffs and superbowl…maybe….

    Honestly…i think it’s a waist of team….

    oh boy….i’m gonna get stoned by a blog mob arn’t I….


  10. Apostates, all of you! 😛

  11. Awesome post.

    I’m a passive football fan, but I like the comparisons you make with organized religion.

    Sort of makes me wonder if Christians tithed as much as people spent on football whether or not we’d have as many issues funding charities and mission work.

  12. I would rather watch my kids compete in any sport than watch it on TV because a great play on a kid’s league is more like an answer to prayer than an expected event, which makes it all the more thrilling. Only

    We watch the Superbowl for the commercials and don’t really give a rip who wins unless it would ever be the Vikings or the Bears. We aren’t holding our breath on either team.

    We all worship something, whether it’s youth, music, art, movies, technology, man’s praise or something else. Whenever we criticize anyone for their devotion to something, we are ignoring the plank in our own eye.

    • I don’t know if I agree that everyone worships something (other than God), but I do think that ANYTHING can become an idol – even things that are “good!” You can idol your spouse, your children, your job, your ministry, your hobbies, blogs, and of course sports.

      I think the best way to find out if something is an idol is ask yourself, “If God asked me to, could I give this up?” If your answer to this question is, “aww do I have to?!” then it has probably become an idol in your life.

      Psalm 23-24:
      Search me, O God, and know my heart;
      test me and know my anxious thoughts.
      See if there is any offensive way in me,
      and lead me in the way everlasting.

  13. I have been saying this for years. Just in case, though, I made sure to share this with all of my online social networking friends.

    I brought up this subject in one of my theology classes, and half of my class got on my case for being mean and stupid and flat out wrong. They were actually attempting to defend football more than they had defended the Church in most of our class discussions!

  14. I like football, but for me it would be basketball that I go crazy about. Not as much as when I was childless and single though. I do try to keep up as much as possible, just that now it is more reading about it online than watching games. I think that may have some to do with me working 3rd shift though.

  15. Stop Watching NFL Football Or Change Your Day Of Worship! – If you go to church on Sundays and are a NFL Football Fan, then you must either change your Day of worship or stop watching NFL Football! Watching NFL Football on Sundays is promoting WORK on Sundays for NFL Players get paid millions for working on that day. So if Sunday is your Sabbath, then you must stop watching NFL Football! But there is good news for NFL Football fans: SUNDAY IS NOT THE SABBATH!! So keep watching NFL Football. Just change your Day of worship to SATURDAY the true Sabbath of Yahweh your God. Remember Saturday is the Sabbath! And Sunday is just plain PAGAN!!

  16. Well hello ,I hope you read this but actually the correct Sabbath is Saturday not sunday. God rested ,Blessed and made holy the seventh day of the week not the first day witch is Sunday just in the commandments were he actually command us to remember it …and keep it holy …The true Sabbath was changed by the catholic church in 321 a.d they have no authority but yet made it a Law so if any one didn’t keep it on sunday they were put to death. Jesus kept the Sabbath on Saturday the apostles also think Jesus was raised on the first day of the week everyone knows what day that was…. sunday!!! Just because most churches keep sunday as there Sabbath its a catholic man made rule not Gods or something he thought they have no idea …..God bless you