Hallo again to all.
Today is the Super Bowl of American Football. There aren't many places in the English-speaking world that haven't been reached by its publicity machine. Only Americans would argue that it's the biggest or the best or the most important sporting event; the FIFA World Cup or the Summer Olympics or the UEFA European Football Championship or Wimbledon would have to be included in any calm discussion about biggest sporting events.
But there is no argument that the amount of money involved in the American Super Bowl is the biggest. Forbes Magazine reported not long ago that the gross revenue it generates is about the same as the 2nd and 3rd place events combined.
Anthropologically, sporting events have always been surrogates or at least metaphors for war. Combat between players or teams satisfies some innate reptilian urge to fight. And sports teams ask God to favour their side every bit as often as armies have done since the dawn of civilization.
The Bible is rich with references to war, to God's warlike nature. Proof-texting has been taken to championship levels in support of the claim that God wants us to smite our enemies. If you use a search engine to look up terms like 'battle bible verses' or 'smite enemies' you'll have much to ponder. General George Patton (an Episcopalian) famously had drafted a prayer for his troops to say before battle, and distributed hundreds of thousands of copies of it. Both sides of every conflict say prayers for victory, asking God to help them vanquish their enemies, or to do it for them. But at least one side is always disappointed.
When we talk to people who are unable to believe in God, they often mention their unease with a God who could allow war to happen, who could support violence and could favour one side over the other. Mark Twain was such a person, and he expressed his feelings in his War Prayer.
When we watch a world-class sporting event, we often feel the sublimated violence and are uncomfortable. Watching a chess match or a poker game is boring; watching a rugby match is unsettling. We haven't watched a war since the era of the Vietnam war being on television news every evening, but of course we only got to watch what our side wanted us to watch. The televised war was too abstract and the anonymous casualties were just statistics, but it was still unsettling.
Unvirtuous Abbey offered via Twitter the prayer 'For those who think God alters the outcome of a football game while today 30,000 children die from preventable disease, we pray.' It made us grimace and gives cause to think.
Is it possible that the reason God so rarely answers prayers for vanquishing enemies or sports teams is that God doesn't want us asking for that kind of intervention? That we should be praying for the needy and the sick and the downtrodden, and not the combatants?
See you next week.
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