Owen Strachan and I appear to have joined a theological team.  Strachan suggested that Christians must support their claims that “Every square inch of the cosmos is Christ’s!” (a quote from theologian Abraham Kuyper) by thinking more biblically about football.

But the views of some critics can be summarized as: “Doesn’t matter. Football makes Manliness™.”

On Thursday, Strachan introduced on Twitter his article, Our Shaken Faith in Football. “Gender roles controversy?” (Yes, occasionally he discusses this.) “Child’s play compared to suggesting for @CTmagazine that football is too violent.” Critics who tackled him only proved his point.

One pastor began by questioning research about football concussions, saying physical activities in general carry risk. That’s worth consideration. But perhaps that pastor tipped his hand with this pragmatism-based appeal:

I’m going with Teddy Roosevelt on this one that the benefits of rough, manly sports outweigh the negatives.

“I snapped my Achilles in half playing rough sports,” Strachan replied. “When an 18-year-old has brain trauma, that gets my attention.”

Here I want to assume Strachan’s critics have good intentions and that their comments are rooted in rejection of “feminized” elitism or risk-averseness, and in a desire to raise godly men.

But I’m not sure how else to read this tweet. Chronic injuries don’t matter? Challenging what Strachan later called football worship is unnecessary? Football makes weak boys into manly men, and that nullifies all other negatives?

For a while I’ve adopted a little axiom for myself (which isn’t directly biblical, though it may be a paraphrase of 1 Cor. 10:12): If I am by default convinced that a thing can’t be made into an idol or that I needn’t worry about this happening, too late. It’s already my idol.

By definition, idols look good. They give us wholesome solid American families, Manly Men, Ladylike Ladies. Idols yield great results — if you’re only caring about appearance.

No, I’m not a fan of football or any sports, but that at least makes it easier for me to see the idolatry. My own city’s “local gods” are worshiped by legions. On Sunday I drove past their “temple.” “Bless thou, local gods,” I intoned, raising a hand to the stadium. Our city’s other “temple” is the basketball arena. In every store are sprawling shrines to both pantheons.

The Apostle Paul had much to say about local temples — you can enjoy their meat if it does not genuinely trip your conscience (1 Cor. 8-10). However, Christians must not knowingly join in pagan sacrifices. Might football or sports resemble such sacrifices? I can’t answer; only individual Christians know their own hearts. But if we don’t even want to ask the question — well, then we may certainly offer idol speculations.

We may also recall that such sports idolatry could end up sacrificing the Imago Dei, the image of God in man, for the images of “manhood” that come from nothing more than the culture of our age. May this be another version of Greek fertility worship of “ideal men” based on outward appearance, physical prowess, beards, sweat, and breaking things?

Men come with all shapes, personalities, leadership modes, and diverse gifts. So let’s stop believing only one popular Manliness™ manufacturer is beyond biblical challenge.

1 Comment

  1. I just want to note that not all those who watch football are like that with treating it like an idol, or dismissing concerns. I think the source of the problem is two sources, one which is misguided (though a sin), and the other one CLEARLY a sin.

    On the one hand, you have those who, as you noted, are concerned about the feminization of sports and men in general, and the risk-avereness/wussiness of society. Their concerns are, to my opinion, valid. What is NOT VALID at all, is the terse dismissiveness of these issues and lack of concern for those who are hurt, so as to be “manly”.

    On the other hand, you have the issue that is clearly a sin. That issue is blood-thirstiness. You have some people, and Rush Limbaugh, who I disagree passionately with here is one of these, who say that part of the draw and greatness of the sport is the “toughness” and the violence of the tackling.

    I think that blood-thirstiness is a sin, and that that is one motivation for it. I believe most of the motivation is the first misguided one, but some of it is the bloodlust. Both are sins.

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