On the seventh day, God rested. Yea, God kicked up his feet to watch the Broncos win with only two completed passes. And God grumbled.
Drunkenness, revelry, divisiveness, spewing blistering curses at a radiant screen – but enough about the news. The topic du jour is that holiest of pastimes – sports.
It is well known that professional basketball is the most loathsome of professional antics, though the NBA is madly intent on pressing this point. With the basketball season vanishing, we are left with spare moments for fruitful meditation: which sport is the holiest?
5. College basketball. Compared to its evil older brother Esau, the NBA, college basketball pretends to maintain the purity of 19th century amateur ideals – playing for love and character, rather than fame and mammon. In reality, this is like measuring a 6’7” tall man next to a 7’2” man. A better argument is provided at the Wall Street Journal, which notes the proliferation of March Madness programs with religious ties: Georgetown, Villanova, St. Mary’s, BYU, Baylor.
4. Hockey. All sports require providential referees, but hockey employs a subsidiary system of governance. Because violence is allowed, within limits, the sport contains a degree of self-policing. Rules of society are enforced by the society, and we might even find an analogue to Just War theory. Next, there are beards. Big, bushy, biblical beards. Third, a rule change in 2005 eliminated tie games – it is either to heaven or to hell. Finally, momentary excurses are taken for one-on-one fistfights, which have been sanctified through Jacob’s wrestling match with God, and the Archangel Michael’s with Satan.
3. Marathon running. Surely the most humble of sports. Even as current marathon records have been smashed below two hours four minutes, the 26.2 mile race is an in-your-face reproach to unfettered progress. Man has limits. Indeed, professional competition in the race is dwarfed by an internal struggle, which St. Paul likened to mastery over sin. The first marathoner died upon finishing the course, and death is likewise contemplated (with all gravity) by each participant today.
2. Women’s sports. To the Woman, God said, “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Thus, both the curse and redemption of women take place in an adversarial context, and competitive sports can be seen in that light.
1. Water polo. First of all, we have the analogy of baptism, through whose waters we are saved. Second, the possibility of drowning – as with the marathon, the contemplation of death is an opening to the divine. Both the Bible and modern philosophy (Martin Heidegger) attest to this fact. Third, a minimum of clothes, which depletes the opportunity for corporate sponsorship. Fourth, water polo is the only conceivable sport St. Paul might have played while shipwrecked and lost at sea.
Bryan Wandel works in government finance and has studied history, accounting, and religion. He is a member of the editorial board at Humane Pursuits. Bryan’s writing has appeared at Comment Magazine, First Things, and elsewhere.