Imagine for a moment that a cataclysm happens tomorrow and most records of our civilization are wiped out. Five-thousand years later the archaeologists of the next civilization study our stadiums, monuments, and statues for clues to what our civilization was like, specifically, what we worshiped.
They might conclude that we worshiped lions, bears, eagles, ravens, jaguars, rams, tigers…
I got the idea for this post after watching Monday Night Football. Redskins vs. Cowboys. The game took place in a stadium with 100,000 people in it. The largest churches are a fraction of that size. The stadium has screens that are 60 yards wide. It is littered monuments dedicated to their most notable “warriors.” It’s fair to say that archaeologists of the future would assume that a society that put such incredible resources into their Cowboys actually worshiped them as gods.
It’s not such a stretch of imagination.
Now consider how we view civilizations from 5,000 years ago. We say that they worshiped this god or that god or many gods. We consider them primitive, misled. We assume they actually fell on their knees enthralled and enraptured by their gods.
But what if their “gods” are akin to our football teams?
Again, use your imagination to picture walking into a city in ancient Mesopotamia. At the city gates are grand and massive statues dedicated to their “gods.” You see bears, eagles, jaguars — or live animals leashed like mascots. Some are half-human depictions. Some wear uniforms and carry weapons. The scene could be confused for a football rally.
You walk through the city and hear the excited conversations of citizens. You see related paraphernalia in shop windows, colorful clothing, posters on house doors, flags waving along avenues. Groups of citizens shout chants and sing songs. City leaders make speeches praising their lions and tigers and bears.
Point is, I think we have made some wrong assumptions. We dig up statues dedicated to gods of old and assume that the people viewed them the same way we view God. We find tablets with a few words inscribed on them and draw conclusions about entire populations. We say the people of old worshiped these so-called gods, and some certainly did. But my hunch is those assumptions are mostly wrong.
What we fail to realize is that the gods of old are similar to our football teams of today. They were cultural markers. They were rallying cries for a civilization. They were focal points for bringing people together and creating a sense of cohesion, same as our sports teams bring us together today. Some citizens might have believed that the gods of their culture actually existed, but I think what the majority of people believed is similar to what we mean today when we say “Joe Montana is a god,” or, “Ray Lewis is a god.”
When tribute was given to the gods of a particular city or country, the tribute was really to the people and their culture. The same idea carries over to today. If you move to Wisconsin, for example, you will be a Packers fan, to some extent, whether you want to or not. At least, you will not dare to speak against them in a public setting or you risk getting beat down. Because if you speak out against the Packers, you actually speak against Wisconsinites. The Packers are very closely associated Wisconsin itself.
View today’s sports teams and the frenzy that surround them from a distance and it would be easy to assume they are gods, the players their earthly emissaries, and the fans their worshipers.
In many ways sports have replaced religion. They shape values. They create myths and legends. They focus attention and resources.
So the next time you hear the claim that ancient peoples worshiped gods that were obviously figments of their imagination, realize that “gods” to them might be more like what football teams are to us.