The saying, “In the South, football is a religion,” has been attributed to historic coaches Eddie Robinson, Bear Bryant and countless others. Willie Morris and seemingly all the sports bloggers South of the Mason-Dixon Line and half of those North of it have said the same thing. Tragically, it’s sometimes true. We’re certainly not here to bash football. The claim about football as religion could as easily be said about hockey, hip-hop or a hundred other pursuits = sport or otherwise - depending on the region, the crowd or the individual.
It does behoove all of us, though, to ask ourselves if such a quote says more about us as a society than we really want it to - even when the assertion is made in jest.
We submit that any worshipers of God owe it to themselves, to their fellow believers and to their God to ask seriously, “Does football - or whatever - sometimes become my religion?” Still, as we ponder where we direct our money, our efforts - even our thoughts - it’s useful to consider how our faith fares compared to our fun:
• If we eagerly purchase sports season tickets each year, shouldn’t we be at least as enthusiastic in financially supporting our worship congregation’s efforts or other spiritual endeavors?
• If it is no imposition to drive 18 hours and live out of a hotel to follow our team, should shuttling teens to church camp in the next state seem a great sacrifice?
• If we take such pleasure at the water cooler in proclaiming loyalty to a group of athletes we’ve perhaps never even met, is it right that faith - ostensibly the most important element of our lives - be taboo in everyday conversation?
• And do we think more about football or fishing or our particular brand of fun than we do about what supposedly defines us, sustains us through this life and opens the door to the next? Secular and religious writers from Solomon and Emerson to Earl Nightingale and Norman Vincent Peale have told us that we become what we think about. Jesus also told us, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
So, is football - or whatever - our religion? Or is what we believe about God and our relation to him paramount? Just asking.