Ritual, Religion, and the Superb Owl

The Super bowl is upon us. On February 2nd, my home team the Seattle Seahawks will go up against the Broncos. It is a pretty big deal around these parts, with many in my own family ready to watch a game that could change Seahawks football forever.


I think.

Personally, I don’t watch a lot of football. I used to play when I was little, so I don’t get the same rush from watching other people do it. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t influence me though, I still have flashbacks to the energy that a football game creates, the stands can explode with the sort of dynamic human emotion that you can only find in a stadium, or in a church.

With that clumsy segue, according to a survey, more than 50% of American’s believe that the supernatural is at work to effect the outcome of sporting events. Let me repeat that for you, 55% of American’s think that angels, demons, god, or curses, are influencing whether football team A bests football team B.

I like sports. Unlike many of my nerd-kin, I was quite the athlete. Not a good athlete, I just did a lot of sports. Ran track, played football, baseball, basketball, and I was even a wrestler for about two weeks (no homo). While I understand people’s complaints about sports, and there are some serious ones to be laid against sports, I think a lot of people miss the point. This survey, done by the Public Religion Research Institute, has some insight into why that is.

The world is dangerous. Many of us, including me, live in a relatively safe place and don’t face that danger. That doesn’t change that as humans, we are adapted to a world of struggle, physical and mental. I’ve always considered sporting events to be the complete replacement for more gladiator-like affairs of the past (ignoring that sports and games would have existed well before gladiator combat), and wargames. We want to see battle, we want to let out something primal, listen to those base instincts. For the players, and those viewing, sports let that happen. You use your body and mind to best those around you, sometimes in single combat, sometimes in small unit tactics, and winning the day means conquest for you and your tribe (that would be the fans, if this metaphor has gone too far). 

So, as people have prayed for victory in war in the past, asked oracles for signs, or performed rituals for favor, so do humans now for sporting events. It may seem silly to think that an all powerful deity would care what teams win a game about pushing an odd-shaped ball from point A to point B by arbitrary rules of progression, but it is only slightly more silly than thinking that same all powerful deity would care which tribe of humans slaughters and enslaves another. I guess what I’m trying to say is, same shit, different game. 

Now there is another aspect of this that we haven’t talked about, which is that we ARE in the middle of wars, with real fighting between real people who really die. So why isn’t there nearly as much prayer and ritual to win that battle? Well, the moral and physical aspects of winning a war are complicated, football isn’t. Hockey is also complicated, but screw that sport, no one plays it but Canadians.

Good luck to the Seahawks in the Superb Owl 2014. To assure your success, I’ll finish my taxes, and browse the internet. It is secret code between me and god.



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