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The Need To Be Seen -
Public Piety In Sports
by Ron Barrier
American Atheists, Inc.

The role of religion in sports has become an increasingly visible social phenomena. Pro players have taken to a variety of gyrations, contortions, and incantations in order to demonstrate to the viewing public that they (the athletes) have the unflagging support of some invisible sports nut sitting in a divine skybox.

This has been manifested in what I call an “instant seance” - that brief moment after the game-winning hit, crucial pass, last-second basket, or overtime goal, when the triumphant athlete attempts to contact beings from another dimension and assess them of the current situation. This also insinuates that there was some prior collusion and that these same non-human, invisible beings had a vested interest in the outcome of the contest, or at least, the welfare of the particular athlete. Apparently, they had no vested interest in the vanquished foe.

I find it curious that the losers are rarely to be found bouncing, kneeling, or convulsing over their specific deity. Except for a scant few, no one in the loser’s locker room is attempting any such conjuring. Never is he (or she, or it) thanked for receiving a trouncing, but rather they are thanked for providing someone else to trounce.

What is it that these athletes are doing? What messages do they think they are sending beyond Earth? What messages do they think they are sending to the fans. What messages are they really sending?

The motivation for such public displays of attempted “spirit appeasement” is power. It is designed to show just who is the boss and who is in control. It is a display of testosterone-driven faith - Jesus on steroids. Jesus didn’t carry his cross to Calvary - he pumped it up!

I conclude this based on the observation that Christians, and only Christians, are compelled to demonstrate their self-centered importance to the rest of us poor, basic, human beings.

Never do we see a Jewish athlete participate with a mezuzah attached to his equipment. Santerian baseball players do not bite the heads off chickens after a defensive gem in the field.

Snake-handlers do not cruise the dugouts during late-inning rallies.

Most religious people are content to practice their respective faiths within the context where they perceive it does the most good - at home, in their temple or synagogue - among those of similar supernatural leanings.

But not so the militant Christian.

Christian athletes do these things to demonstrate superiority. They are saying, “My god is bigger than your god,” or, “My god wants us to win, not you.” (More than likely they are thanking whatever they are thanking for the fat paycheck plus bonuses they are “about to receive.”)
When the Christian athlete falls on his knees he is, unconsciously more than consciously, saying:
“My religion is better than your religion.”

“My religion says, if you don’t agree with what I’m doing, then something terrible is going to happen to you and your family.”

“My religion says, if you don’t have sex with the type of humans I have sex with, something terrible is going to happen to you.”

“I have surrendered my intellectual freedom to an invisible being. You should, too, or else something terrible is going to happen to you.”

“I am incapable of doing anything on my own. All of my achievements are because of this invisible being, not me. If I didn’t do this, something terrible might happen to me.”

“Read the bible and agree with the stuff in it I agree with. The rest you can ignore. If you don’t agree with me, something terrible is going to happen to you.”

“Everything I like, you should like, because the bible tells me to like it. Everything the bible tells me to hate, I hate. Why? Because the bible tells me so. If not, something terrible will happen to both of us.”

“I am a mental submissive to the will of non-human, invisible lifeform. I have a personal relationship with that lifeform. However, I can’t introduce you to that lifeform. You see, it really doesn’t have a physical form like everything else. You’ll have to read this bible, and recite these chants, until you convince yourself that you have a personal relationship with this lifeform also. This lifeform loves you and me. If you don’t do these things, something terrible is going to happen to you.”
There is a deeper, more sinister meaning to these “Christ-centered mini-ads.” Christianity is convinced that is must conquer the world. It must, by any means possible, be the major, dominating faith. Therefore every moment, every opportunity, every event, must be exploited to the fullest in demonstrating the overbearing, irrational and narcissistic aspects of Christianity on as many people as possible with the most economy.

Christianity must inject itself into every aspect of life. Its parasitic tendencies are not hard to detect, but they are difficult to cure. The more unwilling or uninterested the observers, the more likely a display of submission and call to conformity will be forthcoming from the evangelical Christian.

Evangelical Christianity is the only religion that measures its religious freedom only in direct ratio to the number of observers, whether those observers are participants or not.

As H.L. Mencken once said, “Inside the heart of every evangelical lies the wreck of a confidence man.”

The need to be seen is more important than the need for sincerity.

The need to be seen far outweighs the need to respect.

One final thought:
Are such displays protected by the First Amendment? In certain instances, yes, in others, no. We must remember that many times such displays are more of a marketing tool for religion than an expression of true “devotion.” Should religion be given free advertising time during sporting events, while secular businesses develop hefty advertising budgets just to buy 30-seconds of ad time during a major sports telecast?

At what point does so-called “religious expression” cross the line into marketing and advertising? Since religion is big business, should it be treated any differently? That is another issue for another discussion.

But, on the other side of the coin, free speech is free speech, even when one is demonstrating willful intellectual submission or supernaturally dependent tendencies. Although it is embarassing, it is protected.

What should not be protected is the unspoken threat of Christianity. The threat to punish for nonconformity. Such evil and viciousness should never be protected, but yet, in this country, it is more than protected. It is ignorantly considered desireable, even highly-prized and advocated by both clergyman and elected official.

Be Real, Ron Barrier

Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 by American Atheists.