Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Super Bowl and Prayer

"Prayer is superstition, plain and simple," AA President David Silverman said in a statement [regarding a billboard making fun of prayer placed outside Metlife Stadium in New Jersey]. "It trivializes the dedication of the players and takes away from their achievements. A third of football fans pray in hopes of helping their team. These are adults we're talking about – people with children, people with careers, people who vote. It's 2014; it's time to stop believing that prayer works. Give credit where credit is due and celebrate what this is really about-coming together to cheer on hard-working athletes doing what they do best."

Source: Joe Heschmeyer, "American Atheists, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Straw Man," Shameless Popery Blog, February 3, 2014, accessed February 4, 2014, http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/2014/02/football-formal-logic-and-new-atheism.html.

Seth Godin recently wrote a blog post on the anthropological (and marketing) relation between the Super Bowl (and other secular holidays) and personal identity in the context of the larger culture. I think the full post is worth quoting:
One way the tribe identifies is through the observance of a holiday, of a group custom, of the thing we all do together that proves we are in sync. People thrive on mass celebration, but as our culture has fragmented, these universal observances are harder to find. We used to watch the same TV shows at the same time, eat the same foods, drive the same car. Given a choice, though, many people take the choice—and so, as the culture fragments, we move away from the center and to the edges. 
Halloween and the Super Bowl are the new secular holidays, the group-mania events that prove we're able to stay in sync. Every year, signed up for it or not, each of us is expected to survive the relentless hype. We see almost a month's worth of never-ending media about the Super Bowl—business articles, travel articles, legal articles, cooking articles—a huge onslaught of content-free noise. 
And every year, the commercials disappoint, while the game includes eleven minutes of action over the course of four hours of not so much. 
And yet we do it again and again. Because the corporate hoopla is beside the real point, which is a chance for all of us to talk about the same thing at the same time. This is part of what it means to belong. 
While the Super Bowl is a large-scale example of this happening across a huge swath of people, these occurences [sic] happen often in much smaller tribes as well. The buzz about Fashion Week or CES or the latest from Sundance are micro varieties of the same desire to be in sync. Your customers and your employees want to feel what it feels to do what other people are doing. Not everyone, just the people they identify with. 
It's easy to be persuaded that this event is somehow about the game, or the coverage or the hype, but it's not. Like Groundhog day, it's a pointless thing we do over and over again, because hanging out with people you care about (even if it's just to eat junk food and talk about how bad the commercials are) is almost always worth doing.
Source: Seth Godin, "Groundhog Day and the Super Bowl," Seth Godin Blog, February 2, 2014, accessed February 4, 2014, http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2014/02/groundhog-day-and-the-super-bowl.html

My point is this: Silverman and Godin are right about sports and secular holidays—they're not about God but us.

The Jews wanted nothing to do with the stadium built in Jerusalem (1 Maccabees 1:14) because of its association with pagan living, frivolity, and immodesty, and Jewish rabbinical tradition expands on these points (http://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/Shokel/870901_Olympic.html).

St. Francis de Sales writes of lawful and necessary recreations that "need no rules beyond those of ordinary discretion, which keep everything within due limits of time, place, and degree. [...] Only one must avoid excess, either in the time given to them, or the amount of interest they absorb [....] After five or six hours spent over chess, one's mind is spent and weary, and too long a time given to tennis results in physical exhaustion; or if people play for a high stake, they get anxious and discomposed, and such unimportant objects are unworthy of so much care and thought. But, above all, beware of setting your heart upon any of these things, for however lawful an amusement may be, it is wrong to give one's heart up to it. Not that I would not have you take pleasure in what you are doing [...] but I would not have you engrossed by it, or become eager or overfond of any of these things" (Introduction to the Devout Life, Vintage Spiritual Classics ed., pp. 161-162).

The Doctor also explains that we must not play games that "can only be enjoyed at the expense of your antagonist," such as gambling or other games of chance (p. 163). He cautions us against "frivolous amusements [which] are for the most part dangerous; they dissipate the spirit of devotion, enervate the mind, check true charity, and arouse a multitude of evil inclinations in the soul, and therefore I would have you very reticent in their use" (p. 164).

Even Mr. Silverman unconsciously recognizes the discrepancy between prayer and the Super Bowl (although, of course, because he believes no one should be praying at all). What do the two have to do with each other? If St. Francis de Sales would caution us against playing chess for a few hours, then what would he say about the Super Bowl? (http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2014/02/04/super-bowl-xlviii-breaks-record-for-most-watched-tv-event-in-us-history/).

And Groundhog Day? It's not as peaceful or clean as the movie depicts it to be.

"Bethink you that your Dear Lord, Our Lady, all the Angels and Saints, saw all that was passing. Did they not look with sorrowful pity, while your heart, capable of better things, was engrossed with such mere follies?" (p. 165).

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