Amid March Madness, some Christians decry sports worship
Those kids at Duke sure are passionate about their basketball.
March 25th, 2011
02:21 PM ET

Amid March Madness, some Christians decry sports worship

Believe it or not, there are Duke University students who were fired up Friday morning, even though their Blue Devils lost to Arizona Thursday night in the NCAA basketball tournament.

They may be a minority, but these students feel like the same passion that goes into cheering on the basketball team should go into worshipping the Lord.

They've been holding outdoor worship services on campus all week and are sponsoring an afternoon-long Christian music concert on Saturday. Think of it as faith-based March Madness, though officially the events are part of Blue Flame Worship Explosion 2011.

"While our whole school is seemingly captivated by basketball, we are proposing an alternative to bring more peace to March," said Regine Jean-Baptiste, one of the organizers of the Duke Christian events, wrote in an e-mail message.

“Often times everyone in life gets wrapped up in something … more than they should,” she wrote.

"What we believe is that passion is good,” Jean-Baptiste continued. “...We just believe that those passions are also ways to enter into relationship with God. And if you don't know how, to begin the relationship starting with the worship of God is not a bad idea.”

Her group, which is not affiliated with any official campus organization, says there's nothing wrong with enthusiasm for hoops - just that such passions make this a good time to explore a deeper relationship with God.

Though the men's team is out of the NCAA tournament, the women’s team is still competing.

Duke's worship explosion comes amid a flurry of discussion in Christian circles about whether sports worship is approaching uncomfortable levels.

Some are taking a stand against what they see as a national sports obsession.

“That’s … one of the major things I decry in my book,” said Tom Krattenmaker, author of “Onward Christian Athletes,” who's based in Portland, Oregon. “The lack of that sort of prophetic distance from sports or the willingness to critique sports, the lack of setting priorities so that the worship of God is more important than this idolatrous relationship with sports.”

Sports have been an integral part of life for millenia; athletic contests figure into the Bible.  Many theologians have examined how sport in their culture relates to values, including religious ones.

“There have been changes... in Christianity, particularly in evangelicalism over the years, and as sports has increased its popularity and increased its ways of invading our lives,” said Shirl James Hoffman, author of “Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sport.”

"Instead of exploring creative ways sport might serve true religious purposes such as spiritual growth and enrichment, the Christian community has seized on sport as a tool of status enhancement, advertising, and evangelism," he says.

Christianity and sports are often at odds, Hoffman says, arguing that competitive, high-dollar games can be seen as out of line with Christian principles.

“I would defy anybody to find a piece of research, and there’s been quite a bit done, that shows that participating in sport makes one more sympathetic kind, caring, all the kind of passive values that are talked about and valued in Christian community,” Hoffman said.

A bigger issue, he says, is that professional sports value materialism, commercialism and a Darwinian, hail-to-the winner ethos that jars with Christian values like self-denial and humility.

Krattenmaker agrees, adding violence, sexual aggression and idolatry are often associated with major league sports.Fans become wrapped up their favorite teams or favorite players.

“We go too far,” he says, “when we make sports the center of our lives.”

Hoffman says it would be naïve to think that the fans that show up for the Final Four in a couple weeks are going solely because they appreciate the skill and athleticism of the teams involved. For some, he says, it’s “sheer tribalism.”

“Theoretically it’s fun," he says, "but I’m not sure how tribalism would play out in the Scriptures.”

- Producer/Writer

Filed under: Belief • Books • Culture & Science • Ethics • Faith • North Carolina • Sports

soundoff (607 Responses)
  1. cassie

    The answer is yes. Gone way too far and we're paying way too much for all those guys grunting and butting into each other. Is this the price we pay to keep some of our citizen cave men content?

    March 27, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  2. mick

    Stop this stupid "belief blog" on cnn as mainstream. It is a stupid fringe group of nutjobs trying to promote their religion as part of mainstream media. No more religion!

    March 27, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • Mick Sucks Balls

      You don't actually have to read everything. I don't read MickIsADouchDaily for all my up to the minute reports on how douchie Mick is.

      March 27, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  3. Nate

    I swear there's a bunch of guys at CNN who put these posts up just to get a laugh at the ppl who submit comments. While it usually serves as a good laugh the first few times you'd think that it would get old by now. Stick to relevant news please.

    March 27, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  4. joseph

    for all the non-believers ,i have only one question for you ,if you could answer it ,I will be the first one to quit believing.
    There are lot of miracles registered (google it and pick one) that the science you guys are talking about was unable to explain it or justify it ,if one of you can give me an answer or prove its nature , then i will agree with you that there is no such thing as Jesus or God .
    May Jesus Christ opens your hearts before it is too late

    March 27, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Can you provide an example of a miracle that has any evidence other than witness testimony, which is proven to be terrifically unreliable?

      March 28, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  5. Jaques Maihauf

    It's not news. It's CNN.

    March 27, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  6. cpg35223

    Well, the question really isn't about God or not.

    The question is if we have gone overboard when it comes to sports?

    I'm no killjoy. I have a couple of teams that I follow. And when the win, I celebrate. But if they lose, I'm not smashing furniture or taking it out on my wife and kids.

    Here's the thing. Football, basketball, baseball, hockey, and any other sport you can name are just games. Fun to watch, but games nonetheless. They are a bunch of damned nonsense and certainly not worth the attention and adulation we throw at them.

    And when 18-year-old high school seniors become instant celebrities getting ESPN live coverage on the day they choose a college to attend, then that's when things have gotten totally utterly out of whack.

    March 27, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  7. Bob

    I see myself as a progressive Christian, but I certainly understand the sadness some mainstream churches may feel with the "worship" of sports. I realized long ago that, when the players' health is less important than the fans' thrills, something has gone terribly wrong. We know men are committing suicide after years of getting whacked on the head in football, but we still start our kids playing football as early as possible. (In my small town, that was upper elementary.) When our love for anything supercedes our love for God and, in this case especially, our fellow man, idolatry has taken root.

    March 27, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • J-man

      Try to surpass a logic level beyond upper elementary yourself.

      March 28, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  8. xStevex

    I would expect a loaded article like this from CNN. Focusing on a FEW Christians who denounce something that nearly EVERYONE loves. These journalist are trained to be persuasive. Like it or not this is a loaded article against Christianity. I have never met a Christian that has a problem with athletics or sports.

    March 27, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  9. Gingeet

    Why don't the Christians spend more time studying science, logic and reason? Maybe they could spend less time being enthusiastic about their delusional belief system and come join the rest of us in reality.
    What a pathetic group...

    March 27, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  10. db

    I just believe in me.
    Yoko and me –
    and that's reality

    March 27, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  11. Phillip

    "A bigger issue, he says, is that professional sports value materialism, commercialism and a Darwinian, hail-to-the winner ethos that jars with Christian values like self-denial and humility." – Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't we be speaking German right now if this "hail-to-the-winner ethos" didn't exist? Maybe Texas would still be part of Mexico, or maybe we would still be in the dark ages. Although miracles happen, prayer doesn't consistently save people from their invaders, whether that's a physical army, a desperate individual, or even disease. Quote for me from the bible where it says "God says to sit on your butt, do nothing with what he has created for you (your two hands, etc.), and he will give you everything for free."

    “We go too far,” he says, “when we make sports the center of our lives.” – This statement isn't untrue, however the suggestion throughout this entire article that either religion or sports are more important than the other REAL problems in this world is ridiculous.

    "...sheer tribalism." – "but I’m not sure how tribalism would play out in the Scriptures.” – Has this person not read the old testament?

    A lot of people wish to walk the road of a perfect Christian, but a lot of the content in this article seems more bent on taking advantage of those who practice Christianity and making them feel obligated to buy a few books. Christianity is good, and this article has such an aggressive feel to it that it's going to simply fire up anti-Christian individuals to not only state how they are proud to be atheist or agnostic (which I'm agnostic), but also insult an entire group of people who simply want something to believe in other than nothing.

    Christianity, as well as other religions, teaches people to go out and spread the gospel, or whatever else, because it is a truth that the person who is going out and trying to convert others believes in. I believe these individuals should be respected for staying true to what they believe, as long as they don't get violent, or spend an equal amount of money trying to change someone's mind about Christianity, etc.

    There's a low-budget, and honest way, to spread the word of your religion, and that's by word of mouth, fellowship, and with the bible that outlines said religion. If you need more than that, then the individual is just there because they feel obligated, and not necessarily because they truly believe in what it is that they are there for in the first place.

    March 27, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • J-man

      Weak minds scared of death bind together & spread gospel. Film at 11.

      March 28, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  12. Superhamster

    Wow. Here's a thought: How about taking all the sports fervor AND religious fervor and channeling it toward something like assisting our fellow human beings. How about teaching the illiterate to read? How about feeding the hungry? How about teaching a homeless person needed job skills or helping them get mental health treatment?

    And before you ask what I'm doing for the planet, I write resumes for people who have been released from prison after being wrongfully convicted. My wife volunteers her time to help place abandoned dogs and cats in loving homes. And I still have time for a demanding full-time job as a corporate manager.

    Come on, people! Wake up and ditch sports, religion, pop music, substance addiction and all the other distractions created to keep this planet sick and keep so many of us slaves to debt and the financial elite.

    March 27, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • tim Ricard

      That is what true Christianity teaches to feed the poor and take care of the homeless, so why not energy into both faith and charity

      March 27, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • anonCNN

      Because people can do those things without religion being involved. Why not just do those things yourself instead of having to do those things while also worshiping a God?

      March 27, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • J-man

      Word, hamster.....well put. Turn off Dancing with the Stars & start thinking about how corporations are lobbying on 1000s of issues to keep us in our cubicles. 1984 has passed....wake up & speak against Big Brother.

      March 28, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  13. johann1965

    You've got to be kidding? What's the next great threat to our society? Spongebob? Oh...they already tried that one.
    Maybe this has to do with the total volume of pirates in the world.

    March 27, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  14. Ax

    Like lots of people, Christians can sure be annoying.

    March 27, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • V

      AMEN!! LOL

      March 27, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  15. Publius Novus

    Has sports workship gone too far in this country? Without a doubt.

    March 27, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  16. Hathaway

    I thought this was going to be a legitimate article about society's insane obsession with sports...what is this doing on CNN's main page? Is TBN buying them up or something? Disappointing.

    March 27, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • right

      No kidding. This is the second article that I have thought the same thing about.

      March 27, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • ItSOnLyME

      Wow, only two? I see at least that many every day on CNN. I think the first "N" in CNN is supposed to stand for "News", but don't quote me on that. From the looks of it, I may well be wrong.

      March 27, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • J-man

      Yep, I thought I'd get to read about sports obsession...like what I'm witnessing at the office with this NCAA bracket garbage that wastes millions of dollars of productivity in the workplace. I don't own the place, so waste away! But when I saw the acticle involved a religious spin, I immediately just skipped the article and started reading the comments for entertainment. Thanks, CNN!

      March 28, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  17. The Other Guy

    These fellas are getting worship confused with excitement. Since God is not exciting, you are not going to see drunk frat boys have his name painted on their chests. Sorry, wackos, you dun goofed

    March 27, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • ???

      I would go to church at lest once if drunk frat boys would be allowed in with the letters "G" "D" "O" (their drunk and frat boys so their spelling would probably be off) during services. I would attend more than once if it were filled with drunk sorority girls. Actually the last sentence does reflect the few times I went to church if you change 'drunk' to 'hung over'.

      March 27, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  18. seedobecome

    Geeezzz...... just look at the gladiator days. That's today's football game. In so far as basketball??? That's mostly a rural sport where folks don't have the $$ to support it.

    March 27, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  19. Christopher

    Nazis were not Christians, and just becuase you say you are something doesn't mean you are actually that something. It is your actions that makes who you are, not what you call yourself.
    P:S Hitler was trying to destroy religion.

    March 27, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Hmmm

      Many Nazis actually were Christians. Many were atheists. Almost all were @ssholes.

      It is inconsistent to say all people who were Nazis that considered themselves Christians were not really Christians because they did bad things while saying that the Nazis who considered themselves atheists were bad because they were atheists. The common thread here doesn't appear to be whether or not they believed in a divine power but whether or not they were Nazis.

      March 27, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • @Hmmm

      I agree. This argument is stupid. It makes me wonder if some people think Nazis will be more or less bad because they they were Christians, atheists, or followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Are their actions better or worse as a result? It is a stupid smear attack.

      March 27, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  20. NEF

    Since there's no God...their argument is flawed to begin with.

    March 27, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Randy


      March 27, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • Sebastian Martinez

      2nd agreed

      March 27, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • Rene

      Agreed and also, worshipping ANYTHING is going "too far"

      March 27, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • Steve

      Wow, lots of closed minds here. God exists, even if you are too prejudiced to allow yourselves to see it. Jesus did die to save you. And yes, you are a much better person than I am. I am a sinner, and need Jesus' love. When you open your mind, you will find that you are/do too.

      March 27, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • anonCNN

      Wow, lots of closed minds here. God doesn't exist, even if you are too prejudiced to allow yourselves to see it. Jesus didn't die to save you. I don't need Jesus' love. When you open your mind, you will find that you don't too.

      March 27, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
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