Does God Play Games?

Is there a secret version of the Bible that I don’t know about? One that’s being covertly circulated among today’s Christians here in America?

I have to wonder, because I went to church every Sunday for the first 15 years of my life. I also attended Sunday school. My father was a Deacon in the Catholic Church, having earned a doctorate in theology, and my mom volunteered as a secretary for the local parish.

But many of the words and actions of today’s most vocal Christians seem utterly foreign to me. They profess their faith, but seem to act according to an entirely different doctrine.

So Many False Followers
As one example, I could focus on the Christians who go to church every Sunday in luxury automobiles and designer clothes. I do recall a Bible passage along the lines of, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Does Jesus want you rolling in to Sunday services in luxury vehicles that are designed primarily to flaunt one’s wealth and cost enough to feed a family of four for 10 years (quite literally…I did the math)? Is that how the Bible teaches us to behave? Is that how Jesus rolled? What about the meek inheriting the Earth?

I could also focus on the behavior of certain Christian conservatives, who often object to programs that help the poor and less fortunate, who seem far more eager to strike down their enemies than to turn the other cheek, and who focus on hate and intolerance when so much of their Lord’s message is about love and tolerance. What would Jesus do? Would Jesus oppose taxing the rich to serve the poor? Would Jesus build a wall? Would Jesus own an assault rifle?

Instead, I think I’ll take this in an entirely different and unexpected direction. I’m going to talk about professional athletes. Specifically, those who all too often invoke God in their preparations, performances, and celebrations.

Does Jesus Score…or Save?
I love sports. I’m not a betting man, and neither was Jesus…as far as I can tell. But I do love sports, for the benefits they bring to participants (from physical activity to learning to work together in harmony towards a goal) as well as for the entertainment and joy they provide spectators.

But why is it that some people clearly believe that God actually takes sides in such spectacles? Given all the misery and suffering in the world, why do people think God has any vested interest in who wins or loses something as trivial – in the grand scheme of things – as a game? Yet so many athletes, coaches, and fans invoke the blessings of their chosen God before, during, and after sporting events.

Even as an atheist, I’ve always found this behavior to be somewhat sacrilegious. Because, after all, these are just games. Our team wants to beat their team, to prove that we are more talented than they are, or at least willing to work harder – not that we are somehow “better” children of God then those other “lesser” children of God.

And for those who argue that it’s more than just a game, that modern professional sports are ultimately a business, this only makes such prayers and praise all the more sacrilegious. Instead of asking for God’s blessings to perform better than another group of individuals for the sake of entertainment, you are asking God to help you get rich – at the expense of others. Or, in the case of most professional athletes, even richer – and often filthy rich. Is that a lesson from the Bible? What would Jesus do? Was he all about gettin’ paid?

Let’s overlook the fact that many modern sports, their superstar athletes, and their legions of tribal fans engage in borderline idolatry. And the fact that many sporting events are played on the Sabbath, turning a day that’s supposed to be sacred into a day of frivolous spectacle and shameless profit. Even though, right there, we have evidence that fans, athletes, and owners are already violating 20 percent of God’s commandments.

But let’s put all that aside for a moment and ask whether it jives with the teachings of the Bible, Torah, or Qur’an to ask God to help you beat your rivals for financial gain and personal glory? And do you really believe that God helped you score that goal? Of all the things that God is supposed to be involved in, do you sincerely believe that this omnipotent being is actively favoring you to succeed in a sporting event, to provide you with personal glory and riches at the expense of someone else?

It’s strange that you rarely see a doctor, scientist, or winner of the Nobel Peace Prize thanking God for helping them achieve success or glory, when – if God were willing to intervene to help someone achieve success and glory – those are the kinds of things one would assume God would get involved with, at least if you take the Bible and its lessons to heart.

God-Given Greed?
It’s just as strange to see professional athletes talking about their God-given talent. And some of that talk goes beyond sacrilege and borders on blasphemy.

For example, American football player and infamous press conference pouter Cam Newton appeared in a Super Bowl advertisement entitled Cam’s Prayer. This “prayer” was a paid endorsement to help himself and others achieve even greater wealth (he earned $24 million the previous year, while the company who paid him to endorse their product had earnings in excess of $233 billion).

The voiceover – which the athlete surely approved, as it’s designed to make the viewer think it’s actually him speaking (and it may, in fact, be him speaking) – claims that God has given him these gifts, his talent as an athlete, so that he could be the best, that he could succeed, and gain wealth and glory by triumphing over his fellow man. It proclaims: “You placed purpose on my shoulders so now I come to you. Lord, give me the strength to finish this… my way.” Not God’s way, mind you, but his way. As if to say, damn it, God, give me what I want! You made me great (or so my Mommy says) now give me the glory and riches I deserve!!!

That doesn’t sound like the God I read about in the Bible. Bestowing special gifts on select individuals so that they can achieve riches and glory? No, I don’t think so. According to the Torah and Bible, God is more interested in putting gruesome burdens and obstacles into people’s lives to test their faith – not providing them with advantages that enable them to gain individual wealth, privilege, and glory.

But claims of divine favoritism are prevalent in the world of professional sports. Athletes flash shirts saying “I Belong To Jesus” as they mug for the camera and then thank the Lord for making them a winner before driving off in their Lamborghini to their mega-mansion so they can count their money. Sounds to me like they belong to someone else, perhaps even Satan.

Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there is some other version of the Bible, some other Christian doctrine that guides these people. For there is nothing in the Bible I’ve read that condones such behavior. In fact, there’s plenty that not only contradicts it, but outright condemns it as well.

What Would Jesus Do?
Which leaves me wondering, what sort of athlete would Jesus be? Would Jesus even take the time to play a sport? Or would he spend what little time he had in this world, what little time any of us have, and help those who are in need? And I’m not talking about making a handful of pro-bono tweets for a charity and a contractual appearance at a benefit dinner, but a full-on commitment to helping those in need.

Sure, you could argue that people are in need of entertainment. But that’s not really true, is it? No, people want entertainment. They need food, shelter, and compassion. There’s a big difference between want and need, just as there is a big difference between the what Cam Newton does and what Mahatma Gandhi did. And Gandhi wasn’t even a Christian.

Arizona: Land of Hate?

AZflgWould it be reprehensible for me to ban people from Arizona from reading this blog? Or would that merely be a justifiable exercise of my rights?

OK, I don’t mean to sweep all residents of Arizona into the same asbestos-lined basket of rotting rat turds. In fact, I like everyone I’ve ever met from that state. But the majority of voters in Arizona seem to be assholes of the highest order.

First they pass a law on par with those of the old East Germany, giving the police the right to demand proof of citizenship from anyone who looks the least bit suspicious. So if I, with my Mediterranean good looks, were to walk into a dinner outside of Tuscon, the local cops could saunter over to my booth and legally demand “Papers, please!” It must be like living in a Cold War spy movie, except this is your home – not some Iron Curtain backwater.

Then the esteemed citizens of Arizona tried to pass a law on par with Uganda’s recently enacted official hatred of all things homosexual. Clearly looking to outmaneuver Mississippi in the race to be the Shithead State, Arizona tried to pass legislation that would give businesses the right to refuse service to anyone they deemed gay.

How exactly would that have worked? I mean, Richard Simmons is about as flamboyant as the stereotype can get, but he’s never openly discussed his sexual preference. Would he be able to order a gluten-free kale wrap at an Arizona diner with more enthusiasm than the entire cast of Glee? Or would he be refused service simply based on appearance, like the state’s “I Hate Hispanics” law? And what if someone is bisexual? Does that mean they can only order half a sandwich?

HoBiReligious Freedom, Religious Liberty
Look, I understand where these people are coming from. They do not believe in homosexuality, just as a significant portion of like-minded individuals in this country don’t believe in science. It’s ludicrous and shameful, but they are certainly entitled to believe what they choose to believe. The problem is that these religious fanatics are now trying to legislate their beliefs, insisting that we must all adhere to their extremism as as if this country were some sort of medieval theocracy.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve also flirted with the notion of religious freedom as an excuse to shape legislation. Though, rather than using it to oppose a behavior I found objectionable, I was thinking of using it to support one that I enjoy: the legalization of marijuana. After all, I reckoned, the practice is considered a sacrament in the Rastafarian religion. So, if I grew some dreads, I shouldn’t have any trouble with the feds, right? Religious freedom…religious liberty!

Wrong. I quickly dismissed this notion because it is hopelessly flawed. Religious freedom is about the freedom to believe whatever you want, not necessarily do whatever you want. Of course, you are free to practice your beliefs in whatever way you want as long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others, who may not share your beliefs, or the laws of the land, which are – and should always be – secular, just like our Constitution. And that’s where the problem lies, in that these boneheads think the law should be dictated by their own religious beliefs, like the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Besides, if we had to allow everything that is illegal simply because someone claims their God says it is or is not permissible, then we’d have to allow clowns like David Koresh and Warren Jeffs to freely molest children. Is that what Arizona wants? I don’t think so.

Leave Judgement To Your God
OK, so you still insist that your invisible being in the ether says that homosexuality is a sin. An abomination, if you choose to interpret it that way (I have a friend who is fluent in Hebrew and she argues that the biblical passage says it’s merely frowned upon, not an “abomination” as some – particularly those who aren’t fluent in Hebrew – claim). But if that’s what you believe, then simply don’t practice homosexuality. Don’t commit that sin.

Why must you judge others based on your beliefs? Isn’t it part of your beliefs that only God can judge your fellow man? Or is that now your job because the omnipotent one is having a little trouble multitasking as he tries to assist every single high school football team in Texas that has a pre-game prayer, with the team that prays harder winning in the all-too-likely event that both teams engage in this ridiculous and surely blasphemous practice?

LeeringLegislationComplete Bullshit
How do I know this is nothing more than blatant homophobic bullshit? Because the Bible also claims that coveting thy neighbor’s wife is a sin. Is anyone pushing for legislation to refuse service to men who leer? Strangely, no, these pure adherents of the Bible have chosen to ignore or overlook that one.

Many Christians also consider gluttony to be a sin, one of the Big Seven. So where was the Religious Right when Mayor Bloomberg tried to ban large servings of sugary sodas in New York City? Shouldn’t they have thrown their millions of dollars and supporters into that well-intentioned effort to combat the sin of gluttony?

The Bible’s Book of Proverbs contains a list of six things that God allegedly hates, and one he considers an abomination. The first two items on that list are a proud look and a lying tongue. Why is it that Christians, particularly those who think every word of the Bible was written by God, never concentrate any of their venomous judgement and well-financed lobbying on those two offenses?

There’s a lot more vanity and deception out there than homosexuality. But rather than focus on these two offenses, among the first things their God is clearly said to hate, Bible thumpers are totally obsessed with one obscure passage that may or may not claim that homosexuality is an abomination.

If these people genuinely believe that the Bible is the word of God, and have dedicated their lives to following it, then why do they ignore that passage in the Book of Proverbs? Perhaps its because the seventh offense on that list, the one that God supposedly does consider an abomination, is one that doesn’t fit well with their chosen lifestyle: him that soweth discord among brethren.

Hmm, that sounds a lot like the voters of Arizona.