Written July 4, 2009.
“Underneath this flabby exterior is an enormous lack of character.” ~Oscar Levant
My former pastor, a sports fan, recalled a time when he saw his son playing basketball in a sports coliseum. He remarked that in the building there were 10,000 people who needed exercise watching ten people who don’t. Such is the condition of American sportsdom. Having addressed the soul and heart of the game, I now wish to diagnose the body, namely, the spectator, those many plump, proud, self-righteous armchair quarterbacks who mutate private endeavor into public display and adore the objects of their affection as they did the dolls (ahem, action figures) of their youth.
The festival of Superbowl Sunday is where such religious celebrations find their zenith. We bless the Pepsi and Tostitos to our bodies and celebrate our bounty, a cornucopia of processed foods to aid the warriors of Vicarity into battle. Of course, sports is hardly a required license for Americans: if we must eat, let us eat boldly. The modern soul now “tantalized,” ever reaching and never satisfied. On any given Sunday we imbibe mettle and mirth, perpetually suckling sea water for our souls.
J.P. Moreland describes the “empty self” in seven talking points of his book “Loving God With All Your Mind.” Two properties of the empty soul include the soul being passive and sensate. “We let other people do our living and thinking for us…we let our favorite sports team exercise, struggle, and win for us” (p. 90). Moreland goes on, tracing the roots of our words ‘holiday’ (holy day) and ‘vacation’ (to vacate, to leave). “Even the language is passive.” For Aristotle, leisure lead to the highest good, for leisure time was “free time” to ponder the good (philosophize). Such pensiveness was active: men put demands upon their mental faculties for the yield of wisdom. Television and spectator sports are often facilitators of a life unlived, a life lived “on the sidelines.”
Prior to this I mentioned lookism and the glorification of the physical in athletics. I see a growing trend to value the sensate in our society. I can only speculate how much sports feeds into how much we value the physical aspects of our world, or if we are drawn to athletics because we are drawn to the superficial. Do we enjoy watching men hitting fast moving objects with sticks because we lack a cultivated inner life? Is the shallowness of our endeavors equaled only by a dearth of soul?
To put our souls on the dock, I press the sports junkie to ask of their soul the most pertinent question of their leisure time: For what purpose do I seek this thing? In my own life I fear, far more than an uncrafted physique, a mind easily pleased with distraction, spectacle, and the vacuous. Souls awash in wisdom and love, may my heart seek and my eyes find. Two areas where Greek philosophy and Christian love find common ground are these: to corral the passions so they may not enslave but serve the soul; and, to properly order the soul’s loves, that is, learning to love each thing according to how meritorious each thing is, starting with God/The Good, and working our way down. To the degree we fail in this task is the degree to which we have failed as human beings.