Saturday, July 16, 2011

Secularism—A Major Cause for Hockey Riot (3)

Post 40--:

My Connection with Sports
I promise: this is the last one on Vancouver’s hockey riot. It’s the closest thing I have ever written about sports and its associated culture and certainly the most—4 posts. I did not know I had it in me, for sports is not a major factor in my life, though I do enjoy watching a game on TV now and then and even try to attend a live game once or twice a year, games other than hockey: especially baseball, soccer or tennis. I watched a lot of Vancouver’s Winter Olympics on TV and was intentionally sucked into its very exciting atmosphere. After all, the major street crowds were less than fifteen minutes walking from where I live, as was this year’s hockey riot. While the Olympics were very orderly and made Vancouver proud, the aftermath of the final hockey game was anything but that and made the city bow its head in shame. So, yes, both about sports, but very different events, not to say opposite.

However, different as these events turned out, they generated the same question in my mind and the same tentative suspicion. The question is the same that thousands of people are asking, including columnists in our local press: How could this have happened? When I try to formulate the question to make it appropriate for both events, it becomes: How can so many people, a whole city, be so infatuated and caught up in sports, so influenced by it? Even to the point of sporting t-shirt slogans like “This is what we live for?” In the past posts I have summarized some of the public discussion and opinions about the cause(s) and acknowledge that most of the explanations and theories offered have elements of truth to them.

The Secular Factor
I am going to suggest one more explanation. It does not invalidate the others. Mine is neither the only nor the entire explanation. I do not expect mine to be popular or acceptable to most Vancouverites, for it will touch many in the centre of their soul, but it is one entirely in tune with the spirit of this blog. If you have been following this blog regularly, you may already suspect the point I am about to make: secularism. Yes, secularism is a major cause for the hypnotic drawing power of sports and for the violence sports can generate, not only in Vancouver but in many cities around the world. This does not hold true for every sports fan. I know some very religious and spiritual people who are sports fans, hockey fans even—I think of my pastor—practitioners even. Here I think of a close friend of mine in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. Sorry, Nick, I’m not going to mention your name or list all your sports achievements.

Secular and ….
But I do seriously propose that secularism is a major underlying cause of sports riots in the Western world in general, including Vancouver. Secularism has replaced Christianity as the major mainstream worldview or even religion. If that sounds outrageous to you, check out discussions by sociologists and philosophers of religion. An 2010 Olympic slogan appearing on the streets read, “I believe.” That’s kind of religious language and not simply a coincidence. Secularism affects even people who officially adhere either to Christianity or another religion, for secularism spreads by stealth: It influences people and slowly changes their values and standards without their even being aware of it and without their foreswearing their official religion. Their hearts and minds are divided; they adhere to both, though they may call themselves Christian, Muslim or Sikh or whatever. These bifurcated people are also sucked into the world of sports and, given the right circumstance, may participate enthusiastically in the sports culture and fall out of sports events. They have traded in the strength and standards of their religion for the values of the secular pop culture around them.

A Secular Vacuum
In earlier posts, I have argued that secularism is basically just another religion with its own sets of beliefs and unproven assumptions. As mainstream Vancouver veered farther and farther away from its previously more influential religion a lot of meaning and standard was lost. A vacuum was created that humans cannot tolerate, a vacuum of meaninglessness and purposelessness. As nature abhors a vacuum, so does the human soul. Such a vacuum demands a replacement to fill it.

Secularism a Religion
The replacement can take many forms. It can be art in any of its variations. It can be reason, money, fame, power, nature or some addiction. It can also be sports. Apart from addiction, none of these things are negative per se, but when they take on the power of directing your life and become your central concern, then they become, as it were, your god. The Bible calls it idolatry: replacing God with something in creation. And you will replace Him with something. That’s just the way we are by nature. Every culture has its pop stream, the one most secularists will follow, unless they happen to be of a more reflective, intellectual type. It is no accident that the negatives of our culture, drug addiction and homelessness, have been on the increase, for meaninglessness will drive many people in that direction either to search for new meaning or to drown their meaninglessness.

From Vacuum to Violence
For many people naturally caught up in our pop culture, sports is a natural choice they embrace without much thought. You just go along with the crowd. It’s almost automatic for many. You give yourself over to it lock, stock and barrel. You participate in the shouting and whooping that is part of that world. It gets hold of you more and more. As the shouting and whooping and other forms of excitement increase and you descend into an almost religious trance, mindlessness sets in and all reason and other restraints are suspended. Given the vacuum of values and standards with which you have grown up, you have no resistance to your adrenalin rushing to a boil and there you go. It only takes a few intentional purveyors of violence to start the ball rolling and the adrenalin-driven crowd, full of either excitement or disappointment and anger, gets whipped up into a frenzy. Add a little booze to the mix and the rest is history. The next morning hundreds of people kick themselves for the stupid frenzy that overtook them. Their vacuum, their lack of internal restraint, deep down, that they should have learnt from their parents, took its toll. They just went for it.

I advise you to read a column by Penny Gurstein and Howard Rotberg in the Vancouver Sun. They ask, "What if these young people do represent what Vancouver is and what it shall be?" Another of their question: "What if what we see being reflected are the cultural consequences of a post-religious society with no clear moral compass and no overarching guiding values?" Then this statement: "Vancouver has adopted a Lotus Land ideology of cultural relativism in which we tell our children that there are no good cultures and bad cultures and no good versus evil." Or this: "A vast number of people in Vancouver view themselves as 'secular but spiritual.' Too often it means a worship of nature and the absence of discussion of values and morality. If they are raised without any clear values, is it any wonder that young people....?" Finally: "The riots are reflective of a loss of hope and deep-seated anger that we have created in our own children" ("Have We Lost Our Moral Compass?" June 24, 2011).

I invite you to spend some time meditating on these paragraphs. Is there a vacuum in your life? That means you are standing on the edge of a steep cliff with a deep ravine just before you.

(For further reading along this line go to volume 5, part 2, of my series Studies in Christian-Muslim Relation. This is an ebook you can access free of charge at < >. Just type in < jan h boer >.)

Thanks for sticking with me--Jan

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