More religious lunacy: why God loves sports

August 17, 2011 • 6:22 am

If you live in the American South, you’ll know about the deep connection between religion and sports, particularly when the sport is football at a major university.  Although the First Amendment now prohibits most pre-game prayers, the contests are seen as reflections of God’s will, as if he cares deeply about which team scores the most touchdowns.  Alert reader Sigmund, following a story broadcast on CNN, found an article explaining why sports confer glory to God.

The piece, at Church Sports Outreach, is one of the greatest post facto theological rationalizations I’ve ever seen.  It’s called “Was there competition in the garden?“; the “garden” is, of course, the Garden of Eden.  The purpose of the piece is to show that although sports originated after humans became sinful, it’s okay—in fact, godly—to love and follow sports. Here’s the dilemma that must be rationalized:

If competition only came after the Fall in Genesis 3, then as followers of Christ we should move people out of competition and sports rather than into them.  Jesus Christ came to overcome all of the corruption from the Fall.  If competition is a part of this corruption, then, in our work as fellow laborers with Christ to build the kingdom of God, we should work to eliminate, not encourage competition.  However, if there was competition in the Garden, then the Fall didn’t bring competition into existence, it only corrupted it.   Our work would then be to overcome the corruption and restore competition to the original design, not to eliminate it.

Remember, this is not a parody!  Now to show that God really does loves sports, one simply has to do a judicious reading of Genesis:

To answer the question, we need first to define what we are looking for in the Garden.  The word competition comes from the Latin word competere, which means to seek or strive together.  In our culture, we typically think of competition as striving against.  In our search, we will look for the first idea – striving together.

I find at least two places in Genesis 1 & 2 where this striving together, this competition takes place.  The first comes in Genesis 1:28 where God says to Adam & Eve, “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”  These verses have been referred to as the Cultural or Dominion Mandate. . .

. . . Notice, this command was given to both of them.  They were to unearth treasures together just as they were to multiply together.  This required cooperation, a striving together toward this end.  Here we see competition.  As they strived together, each one brought out more of the image of God in them.

You can see where the author, Bob Schindler, is going with this.  And he proposes the following scenario, which I am not making up:

I can imagine one day Adam says, “Eve, would you toss me an orange.”  Now Eve had never tossed before but she picks up the orange, reflects for a moment and throws it.  It is a little high and Adam has to jump up from his seat to catch it.  He has never jumped but reflexively does so.  “Hey that was fun.  Do it again only higher,” Adam says.  Eve picks up another oranges, thinks for a moment and throws it higher.  Adam has to really jump but stretches out and catches it.  On and on it goes with lots of laughter.

Do you see what is happening there?  More of the “treasure” within them is being unearthed.  Adam’s ability to jump and Eve’s ability to calculate angle, velocity, distance for a perfect throw are coming out.  Can you sense the joy?  The fun?  Can you taste this original game?  And in the process, God is glorified.  His image, Adam & Eve, are showing off more and more of the “glory” given them.

Ergo, football and Jesus.  But there is one obvious problem:

You may respond, “But that isn’t there in Genesis.  There is no tossing, no “original corn-hole game”.  It doesn’t say there is but I can’t help but think this happened because of the second place I find competition in Genesis 1 & 2.

With a little more logic-chopping, Schindler explains:

Genesis 1:26, 27 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God, he created him; male and female he created them.”  God is speaking to someone here.  Who is it?

He’s speaking to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, obviously—the other members of the Trinity (the “Godhead”). And, if you drag in C.S. Lewis, and mix in a bit of imagination, you get the solution:

The Godhead dancing.  Ever thought about that?  C.S Lewis adds, “In Christianity God is not an impersonal thing nor a static thing – not even just a person – but a dynamic pulsating activity, a life, a kind of drama, almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.”  [3]

For us dance is choreographed movement typically to music.  Play is choreographed movement without music.   Could we even think of this as THE ORIGINAL TEAM, the Godhead, playing?  Creation was the result of the Godhead dancing, may we say even playing!

If Adam and Eve were made in this image, would play have been a part of their lives?  Absolutely!!!!

And so he concludes that “Christian competition”, i.e. Alabama and Auburn football, gives glory to God.

Now maybe university theologians wouldn’t find this logic sufficiently “sophisticated,” but remember that university theologians aren’t the same thing as garden-variety believers. And this noisome bit of Biblical exegesis still illustrates the three salient aspects of modern theology, including the “sophisticated” variety:

  1. The assertion that the Bible doesn’t really say what it seems to say.
  2. The fact that theology (despite the assertions of its practitioners) doesn’t involve a search for truth, but a rationalization of things that you already believe to be true from revelation or church dogma.  I’m now convinced that there is nothing that can’t be rationalized by a judicious reading of the Bible. I’m sure that sects that consider sports immoral can rationalize that as well.
  3. Gross fabrication of arguments from whole cloth, i.e., the faithful make stuff up.

More rationalization, which you can buy from Amazon. The description is below:

“Scripture calls Christians to do everything for the glory of God. That means every thought, every word, and every deed are to be done in a way that brings pleasure and honor to him. Believe it or not, this includes playing, watching, and talking sports! But most of us fail to recognize how sports fit into the big picture of a God-glorifying life, unable to imagine that the God who created the universe might actually care about Little League games and Monday Night Football.

So how do we play, watch, and talk sports for God’s glory? Game Day for the Glory of God seeks to answer that question from a biblical perspective. Sports fan Stephen Altrogge aims to help readers enjoy sports as a gift from God and to see sports as a means of growing in godliness.”

117 thoughts on “More religious lunacy: why God loves sports

  1. Oh. My. God.

    Why are these people not hanging their heads in shame?

    At least the Trekkies have the common sense and decency to acknowledge that it’s all made up and they’re just having a bit of fun.

    I just…this is utterly incomprehensible, how it could even occur to an adult to think that any of this is any more real than Tinkerbell riding a unicorn to harvest leprechaun gold under the hurtling moons of Barsoom.



  2. There has been a lot of discussion regarding how one can tell which parts of the Bible are true or not. Equally perplexing is how one can tell which religious seat-of-the-pants arguments are parody or not. Is this author a lunatic? How can we be sure?

  3. This whole exercise still only argues that cooperating in teams toward a common goal is holy. It in now way addresses direct competition between individuals or teams, which certainly didn’t occur before the Fall. He can argue that communal striving fits an archaic definition of competition, but that doesn’t mean God condones every action that falls under the current meaning of the word.

    1. Since God is nothing more and nothing less than the person who speaks of It, it has no positive value to a thoughtful society. Take the gods out of the picture and we can begin to see. The christian gods are roadblocks that stand in the way of clarity and a psychologically healthy society.

    2. …but that doesn’t mean God condones every action that falls under the current meaning of the word.

      Do you think God is for or against the new NFL 35-yard line kickoff rule?

    1. Never mind logic. This is a story about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry giant we’re discussing. Bob should have outgrown this nonsense when he was old enough to need to take off his shoes to count his age.

      The man is, simply, an idiot. There’s no other way to put it.


  4. Here’s more supporting evidence: I’m not into sports, and I’m not into god.

    I’m now convinced that there is nothing that can’t be rationalized by a judicious reading of the Bible.

    That is succinct and memorable. I am so using that. With appropriate attribution, of course.

    1. I mostly agree, but think, instead of judicious reading, it should say judicious interpretation of the bible.

      1. Also, perhaps “judicious” should be replaced by something like “convenient”, or “disingenuous”.

        “Disingenuous interpretation.” Yes, I think that’s it.

        1. On second thought, perhaps just “selective” would do. There’s an awful lot of awfulness that can be quite genuinely condoned with the bible.

          But “judicious” just has too positive a connotation.

  5. There’s got to be some opportunities here. I can see a whole line of fan gear. Maybe a jersey with H. SPIRIT and number 3 on the back.

    1. It’s ok tho, cause, like, um, (trying to rationalize like a theologian) if the throw was “high”, it was going from an origin of “low”, if the throw ended up “low”, it would’ve implied a throw from “high” or “overhand”, but that is not what happened, so god is clearly implying that Eve tossed it underhand, so it’s ok that she participated because she was playing girly softball, which we all know is the only acceptable way for a girl to throw a ball, while Adam clearly invented both manly baseball and football at the same time. /Where’s my Theology degree?!

    2. Notice Eve is the one who messed up and threw the orange too high, while Adam’s superior agility enabled him to turn a bad throw into saving catch!

    3. Steve, this was before the Fall, remember? So Eve hadn’t yet lost her ability to throw correctly, which was no doubt replaced by her desire to have her husband rule over her.

  6. If you remember Chariots of Fire, God showed no favouritism by allowing both the Jewish Harold Abrahams and the Christian Eric Liddell to win.

      1. Yes, although the film suggested that he found out about the date of the heat at the last moment. The dates were actually published a few months in advance, and Liddell withdrew from the race long before the start of the games.

  7. I know it’s easy to think of these folk as cranks, but at least we should be confident that theological peer review will iron out all the wrinkles.

    1. Yes, fortunately there is a set of well-established, objective, agreed-upon methodologies that serve to weed out theological falsehood and ensure continual progress in theology. (Boy, just imagine what a mess theology would be otherwise!)

  8. I’d be curious to learn what theology, sophisticated or not, has to say about how these divinely sanctioned (mandated?) games are implemented.

    I often wonder what discoveries we might have made, what diseases we might have cured, how we we might have improved our quality of life, if funding for such endeavors wasn’t being siphoned off to fund the exercise in bloated, decadent waste that us the sports industry.

    Is god cool with that? Does god prioritize Joe Buck’s bank account over potentially life-saving research?

    Dollars to doughnuts Schindler or Altrogge would NOT argue for an overhaul of current sports culture.

    1. Look at it this way, the sort of moron who devotes their lives to running faster than all the other morons is at least being kept occupied by spending their time running round and round in circles rather than mugging innocent citizens on the streets. Cheaper than keeping them all in prison at least.

    2. In what sense is money being siphoned off by pro sports? Are you suggesting that fans would donate their discretionary entertainment dollars to medical research if football didn’t exist? Seems unlikely to me.

      Now I grant that university funds would be better spent on education and research than on sports. But even there, the reality is that much of that money wouldn’t have been given at all if it couldn’t be earmarked for sports.

      1. “Siphoned off” in a more figurative sense. Many people are willing to foot the bill for sport’s extravagances, but not for more learned AND more useful enterprises.

        It makes me ill that the market will tolerate the disparity between the amount of resources allocated to sports and the amount allocated to scientific research.

        1. That’s what we have governments for — to take the long view and fund projects that short-term market dynamics undervalue.

          Unfortunately, politics itself has become short-sightedly market-driven in the race to buy votes with tax cuts.

  9. And for those that would say, well what harm can this possibly cause, this is the same sort of post hoc rationalization used to justify slavery, misogyny and homophobia.

    1. Actually, I think more theological gymnastics would be necessary to biblically condemn rather than justify those concepts. Unlike sports, slavery, misogyny, and homophobia are variously condoned and encouraged in the bible.

  10. IMO he’s only halfway there. What he really needs to show is why God loves it when we drink beer while attending a football game. Saying that God loves sports without the beer drinking is sort of like saying that God made Eve to be Adam’s companion but no sex allowed. You’ve eliminated some of the most fun bits!!!

    1. Good call! Though in team sports how would you know who was on which side? Perhaps god only intended games of nude orange throwing. Perhaps there is a US church where they already do that – they seem to cover most forms of bonkers behaviour!

    1. What language would god have used? The language of a lunatic if he talked to himself – his selves. Here is a theory – there were originally multiple gods, only by competition (Natural Selection?) one god one out over his competitors. Oh, that is what happened, only the gods were ideas. I know I am rambling but not it seems to me that IF god is competitive he has to have invented the rules & be the umpire/referee as well. Probably god is a cheat as he has fixed the results.

  11. Throwing oranges is a Bob theme as per his bio

    [Bob] hasn’t yet repented of throwing oranges at the UT basketball team while he was at Vanderbilt

    An engineering + sports background too ~ that’s almost as bad as mathematicians in the woo stakes 🙂

    1. I have (not yet) seen any well-designed surveys, but I gather that a significantly greater per centage of engineers are religious, compared to scientists. (I wonder which branch of engineering are the most religiously-inclined? Civil Engineers? Electrical? As engineers are about “design,” I’ve read a few comments online by engineers who recognize [intelligent] “design” when they see it. And I bet engineers – of the Amuricun type – are significantly more sports-oriented too.) Why should that be? Engineers stand on the shoulders of scientists and mathematicians. Dr. Coyne, if you read this and are inclined to make the subject a posting, surely a few of us here would be interested.

      1. Good post today by Prof. Larry ‘skeptical biochemist’ Moran @ his Sandwalk blog:

        characteristics of Intelligent Design Creationist proponents:
        (1) religion
        (2) a background in engineering and/or computer science
        (3) no obvious expertise in evolutionary biology
        (4) multiple Ph.D.s
        I’m really intrigued by the fact that so many IDiots have more than one Ph.D. because I hang out with real scientists all the time and none of them have ever felt the need to be a graduate student more than once in their lives

        1. Substitute Climate Change Denial for Creationism & I bet you would have a similar list. Conservative thinking narrows your mind & has more certainty, whereas a more liberal view will be readier to embrace investigation & speculation I would suggest.

    2. My high-on-woo list (in no order) is mathematicians, engineers, dancers, actors, surgeons, musicians

      Cosmologists are almost immune ‘cept for string theorists ~ I haven’t any idea what they think

      1. Speaking as a musician, I’ve found that we tend to be about average for woo, maybe even a bit better than average. The wooiest ones have tended to have other factors — such as being engineers or surgeons.

        You’ll note that there are a number of other musicians who are regulars here.



        1. I think it could be sectional. Speaking as an ex-brass player in England, the typical brass playing Brit was into alcohol, practical jokes and playing the highest possible notes that didn’t lead to a burst blood vessel. “Woo” was not part of our mental apparatus. Now, string players, that’s a different story altogether.

    1. I can see that making sense if there are many gods & the aim is to promote your one, but most of the godly competition is wiped out, so how does it bring god glory – surely he would get glory no matter which team was playing as he would be behind all the winners. On the other hand he would also be behind the losers. You are right – ridiculous!

    2. In that case the god of cricket is clearly Hindu. India, mostly because there’s over a billion of them, totally dominates cricket these days and they are almost never beaten on their home turf.

      1. No no no – you have NOT been following the test series with India Marella! England have just beaten India in three matches & the last one starts today, though London will have showers & rain interruptions. If anyone out there has spare time or is doing a job that requires just sitting at a computer, try listening to the commentary on the BBC – it is really entertaining:

  12. “Now Eve had never tossed before…”

    I think I might toss now.

    My favorite Christian sports trope is when a coach or QB says something along the lines of “We couldn’t have done it without Jesus helping us every step of the way,” which basically translates as “It’s a fracking miracle we won any games at all.” Way to represent, guys!

  13. I’ve always wanted to give Texas high schools a choice:

    Prayer in school but no sports
    Sports in school but no prayer

    Which would they choose?

    (Cut to youtube cat twiddling paw).

  14. Adam: “Eve, would you toss me an orange?”
    Eve (who had never tossed before): “What’s ‘toss’?”
    Adam: “Oh, I forgot. I named all the animals, but I never got around to making verbs for all the actions.”

  15. I think it is better to view physical competition as a tribute to and a byproduct of evolution. God of the bible seems to delight in his competition with Satan for human souls. Not sure how football or baseball have anything to do with God’s plan and find it funny that theists pray for god to help them win these competitions.

    I wonder how they reconcile competing against other teams with equally enthusiastic theists praying for their team to win.

  16. The problem with this argument is that it is based on a Latin etymology. That’s irrelevant since we all know Adam and Eve spoke English. (BTW they were Caucasian too)

  17. this was a grown up that wrote this, right? this is such a childish essay. i’m sorry. it’s just too ridiculous to even consider interesting.

  18. I don’t care whether he is literally or metaphorically analyzing Genesis since it is not the word of a god but a pseudohistorical story by bunch of semi-literate old men. It says or means nothing to me. This is like Furman justifying the Civil War. These old men never heard of football but if you currently believe it you can justify killing, incest and any other game.

  19. He’s speaking to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, obviously—the other members of the Trinity (the “Godhead”).

    Actually, is Asheroth speaking to El. Not Jehovah speaking to Jesus. The voice, in the ancient texts, was in the feminine, not the masculine.

    It was changed by Josiah in 600BCE when he changed the Jewish religion from polythesim to monothesim and wrote-out all the other gods/goddesses. Josiah also added the other creation story in Genesis, the one which has Adam created first and then woman created from Adam’s rib.

  20. We have all seen the athlete thanking God for his victory. But if God really intervenes in the outcome of sporting events, how come he has allowed Man Utd to win the English Premier League so often ? Let’s see a theologian explain that one.

  21. Actually a god who is obsessed with sports to the exclusion of all the world’s other ills would explain a lot …

  22. One might have thought that if god cared so deeply about football, he’d have made sure his biggest cheerleader, Tim Tebow, could accurately throw the ball and be able to read a defense better than an 8th grade CYO quarterback

  23. Actually, sports existed even before the Garden of Eden. It’s right there in Genesis 1:1″ “In the big inning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

    See? There was Baseball when Creation started!

  24. Barely credible that this hasn’t been written in the rich ironic tradition of British comedy.

    Is this really serious?

  25. Years and years ago, we had a conference worship CD professionally recorded at my home church in Tuscaloosa, AL (home of the Univ. of Alabama, for those who might be unfamiliar). In order to get a high-quality applause soundtrack, the director told the congregation to cheer just as we would if Alabama had just scored a touchdown to beat Auburn. Funny how simply saying “applaud for Jesus” apparently wouldn’t do the trick nearly as well as “cheer for the Tide.”

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