Religion occupies that same ambiguous position as obscenity and culture do in our lexicon. We may not be able to define it, but we know it when we see it. Seeing as how I'm taking a religion class this semester that focuses on the many different denominations of Christianity that have appeared in the United States and how the two have impacted one another, I think it would be worth my (considerable) time and (infintie) space on this blog to try and define it.
In the broadest terms, religion is best defined against science and ethics all though the three are inextricably bound up. The primal religions see every event as a suprenatural one caused by divinities, science can become a religion unto itself and ethics cannot be separated from either. Science describes the world. Ethics inform us as to what we should do. Religion is purpose.
It's not hard to recognize Christianity and Buddhism as religions, but when you start to break them down and try to sift what makes them different from things like your job, it becomes difficult to see exactly what it is that separates them from something as ridiculous as sports. Rituals, community, mythology, rules, transcendence all of those can be found in both the major world religions and sports. Muslims have the Five Daily Prayers. Every team has a chant to get fired up before a game. Jews and Christians have church and synagogues to reinforce community. Even sports as apparently individual as distance running, one still needs teammates to set a strong pace and a coach to train them. Hindus have the Vedas, and Jews have the Torah. Baseball has its own origin stories. Jews have the Ten Commandments and Leviticus. Sports have rules. Religions seek to break out of the common and touch the divine. Sports movies set up the 'big game' as that place where ordinary people become superhumans and legends, outside the pale of the normal. As far as I can tell, it is as apprpriate to call football a religion as Sikhism.
Like I said, it's tricky. All you can really do is try and separate the good religions from the bad ones. Which then are good and which are bad? I'm copping out here because the right answer is whichever religion is true, but that is a topic for volumes. For me right now, the good ones are those that do not depend on humans, the ones that look beyond. Sports are a human creation. Every tradition, mythology and other aspect I identified earlier is derived from human actions. When sports are taken up as a religion, they proclaim the ultimate superiority of humans, something I do not accept. In contrast, religions like Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Judaism are good because they are exterior to humanity. Though they may not exist without our presence on earth, their origins would still be here. Sports, on the other hand, simply would not be.
For those of you who took World Religions with me at MITY (2002?), I own up to it that I owe a lot of this post's inspiration to that class. I remember my roots and give credit where it is due.
2 years ago