Along with many other people, I love rugby. It’s been said that for many people in New Zealand, rugby is the closest thing to religion.
As I was walking to the Westpac Stadium last Saturday night for the Bledisloe Cup match, along with thousands of other black clad supporters, it was easy to see why. All of us, in a sense, were walking to a cathedral like arena, where we all shared a spiritual like experience in something we believe in.
Figures suggest that sport is gradually replacing religion as the main form of personal identity, firstly among men, but, also increasingly among women. It’s true that many of us relate to others when talking about sport. Sport provides a key mechanism through which we develop a sense of bonding and belonging. It used to be said that a family that prayed together, stayed together. You could argue now that that family that stays together is the one that participates in, watches and talks about sport.
It’s well known that the very ritual of coming together to watch and play sport helps create a sense of community, creates a collective excitement and a sense of consciousness. Sport helps people transcend the material conditions of their current existence; so, in a certain sense, sport is spiritual.
For many people, being completely consumed by the unfolding of a game is as close to a religious experience as they will ever have and as Christians, this should make us feel sad.
Let’s be honest, sport has many good points. It helps build bridges; it allows us to relate and reach out to strangers who may be divided by ethnic, racial, political or religious differences. In a globalised world, sport has become a key language of cosmopolitanism. Through creating a sense of identity and belonging, sport gives purpose and meaning to many people’s lives.
In a world where God and salvation have sadly begun to take a back seat, sport has moved to the front of social life. It has become one of the main mechanisms through which people create a sense of their shared understanding. Sport is a metaphor for life. It may not answer the big questions of death, illness and tragedy, but it has become a major distraction, a major form of comfort and consolation. It has become the thing we turn to give us a sense of joy.
For those reasons, it’s easy to see that sport can become idolatrous for many people including Christians.
An idol is defined as an image used as an object of worship, or something that causes excessive devotion. It’s easy to see how too much time spent focusing on sport could be deemed at best unhealthy and at worst, idolatrous.
In 1 Corinthians 10 the Bible clearly tells us to “flee from idolatry”. Not “stay away from”, not “make sure you don’t go near it too often”, but “flee from” it. That is pretty clear isn’t it?
Anything that takes our eyes and our passion away from God or takes up more of our time than anything else, should be considered an idol.
Maybe sport isn’t the idol for you, maybe its shopping, trashy celebrity magazines, the latest electronic gadgets, or always having a nice car. Whatever it is, it is worth considering how much of your life is spent investing in that thing.
So next time you are the game or watching back to back matches on TV, and praying for your team to win, remind yourself that its just a bunch of guys playing a game.
While it’s ok to get excited over it, we should always ensure that our strongest fervour, our greatest joy and our deepest passion, is reserved for the amazing God who made us.