I live in Indiana, where basketball, football, and racing are widely popular. Yet, I am agnostic with regard to spectator sports. I don’t deny that great teams and great athletes exist, or that sports are generally harmless to watch, but I have never personally experienced salvation by watching sports.
Spectator sports are often beneficial for their followers and the society that allows and encourages them, and people who criticize sports for being a waste of time need to realize that much of what anyone does is a waste of time. Not only that, much of what any society supports is practically useless, since its primary function is to promote cohesion and complacency, not well-being.
Nevertheless, I simply have no use for spectator sports. I am alternately amused and annoyed by all the painted and dressed-up folks who come out on game day: They hoard all their little relics; they make their big pilgrimages; they rehearse their chants and rituals; they venerate their idols; they start stupid arguments with followers of rival teams.
So, here I am in the middle of this religion, the Church of the Holy Sport, that I don’t like and that I think is only for losers who have too much leisure time, too much money, and not enough brains. And these nutcases are constantly evangelizing to me and preaching to me and praising their idols for all these imaginary superlative qualities.
I’ll tell you what: I feel imposed upon. I feel like I am somehow immoral because I don’t care about their idols. Every time I see some ordinary sports fan wearing “the uniform,” I think that if someone wanted to do any crime or terrorism at all, they should dress like that, because no one would ever suspect them of doing anything antisocial. I guess this is what it’s like to be on the outside of a religious majority.
The funny thing is that church-religion doesn’t seem nearly as popular as sports-religion. I know there are lots of churchy religious performances and rallies and TV shows, but none of them are as commonplace, as well attended, or as heavily supported by local business and government as sporting events are. Maybe it’s different in certain areas of the US or in other countries, but where I live, publicly supporting any sport is way more important than publicly supporting any church.
I think I’ve only been “witnessed to” by a Christian stranger twice in my life. Both times they were very polite about it, and when I told them I agreed with them, they said goodbye. Maybe they just wanted an atheist to argue with, but on the other hand, only an argumentative atheist would have responded with a hostile attitude. So, I’ve always been baffled by people who complain about having Christianity forced on them.
After considering the comparison to sports worship, I guess I’m willing to admit that some people may make themselves a big target with regard to non-sports religion. And if they already have some problems with society not affirming them enough or with society not looking enough like they do, they might get kind of resentful and start whining about persecution against atheists. But until their favorite atheist TV show is pre-empted by a televangelism crusade, I just don’t think I’m going to feel sorry for them.