The beginning of football season brings the inevitable weekend cookouts, cheese dip, and the occasional yelling at the television. Religion isn’t usually mentioned -- except for the casual blasphemy and overtime prayers.
Religion and football, though: they’re not so different. To begin, you’ve got your NCAA and NFL football fans. Your lesser-know Arena football fans, and even intramural, flag, and touch fans. You’ve got Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and an array of smaller, lesser-known religions.
You have your die-hard fans, the ones who attend every game, no matter how far away. They spend fortunes on tickets and RVs and concessions. There are those who attend every church function, religiously bow five times a day, never miss a meditation, and yes, sometimes give a lot of their money.
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You have your fanatics. Those that paint and expose their bodies in single-digit temperatures or wear cheese hats. Those who defile statues and poison trees and beat their spouses after a loss. Then there are those who blow up federal buildings and skyscrapers and rape the innocent in the name of their beliefs.
To many’s dismay, you have those that don’t care. Who wonder what all the fuss is about and become annoyed when it’s the topic of daily conversation.
You have the devoted fans, and this is where you find the strongest similarity. They’ve been fans since childhood and will be fans until they die. The ones that support the players, the program, the team no matter what. No scandal, no bad publicity, no bad season can deter their devotion. They follow off-season trainings and recruiting stats and drafting speculation. They live and breathe for their program. Likewise, there are those devoted to their religious beliefs. They've been raised by their parents in this belief. No scientific data nor fear of damnation will deter them. They create shrines in their homes, travel long distances to attend temple, they fast or completely refrain from certain foods, they perform complicated customs and rituals and celebrations. They live and breathe their belief.
Both are usually ingrained and often command extreme adherence.
The NFL and NCAA (Div-I) make up approximately 150 teams. But whether you’re a Dallas Cowboys or Notre Dame fan, the combined number of people who don’t cheer for your team will always outnumber you. There will always be more people who devote themselves to different colors. Similarly, there are approximately 20 major religions in the world. Whether you’re a Christian or a Muslim or an Atheist, the combined number of people who don’t carry the same beliefs will always outnumber you.
We seem willing to accept others’ allegiance to different teams, and might even poke at each other about which is best, usually in good fun. We recognize others don’t share the love for orange and blue or crimson and white. We understand, and it’s okay.
Yet most often we’re unwilling to accept different beliefs about religion. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we simply recognized that others don’t share our belief in Buddhist philosophy, the teachings of Muhammad, or even God?
Perhaps the beginning of this football season, along with tailgating and foam fingers, let’s consider understanding and acceptance. Toss the idea around in your mind while you watch the players toss each other around on the field.
And let it be okay.
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