Smile Politely

Your Soul on Cubs

To be honest, I’m really not that interested in watching sports. They all have pretty much the same narrative: a bunch of big, sweaty guys run around chasing a ball. Sure, the shape and size of the ball might change (it might even be a puck), the uniforms might be different styles and colors, and the action might take place on a diamond or a field or a court. But it’s always the same old story: Guys playing with their balls.

Sorry, just not that interesting. Maybe for some. Not for me.

Then again, for some strange reason — and I’ve never really known why — I’ve always identified myself as a Cubs fan. Ever since I was around seven years old, I have been a Cubs fan. Why? My parents aren’t Cubs fans. Nobody ever told me I have to be a Cubs fan. It’s not like being Jewish or Christian or Muslim where you’re just sort of born into this cultural/religious identity.

So why in the heck am I a Cubs fan?

Well, I think I may have figured it out. There’s an interesting new book out called Your Brain On Cubs which explores the psychological and neurological bases of the behavior of sports fans. I haven’t actually read the book so I can’t comment on it. But its premise has inspired me to reflect on some of the theological bases of being a sports fan. For if there’s one thing in U.S. culture that rivals the zeal of religious fanatics, it’s the zeal of sports fanatics. Where do you think the word fan comes from anyway? It’s short for fanatic.

Yes, sports and religion are evil twin brothers. And we can learn about one by studying the other.

For example, in most religions, there is a sense of hope. A looking forward to a day when God’s Kingdom will break into this world and Heaven will reign on Earth. Sometimes it is called Paradise or Eden or Shambala. For us Cubs fans, it is the ever-elusive day when we will once again have won the World Series.

The last time we won the Series was 1908 which makes this year the 100th anniversary. This illustrates another similarity between sports and religion. There’s something magical about nice round numbers like 100 or 1000 or 2000. Those round numbers tend to induce fanaticism much like when religious nuts prematurely proclaim the end of the world at the turn of every century and every millenium.

But I will just keep my mouth shut about the Cubs and the World Series. I don’t want to sound crazy. And I don’t want to jinx the Cubs.

That brings me to another parallel between sports and religion: superstitions. There are some pretty weird stories about why the Cubs haven’t won the Series in so long. Strange tales about curses and goats. Kind of sounds like some versions of Christianity: Humanity is cursed by its sin. God demands sacrifices (goats) to atone for the sin. God sends a savior to replace the goats.

I wonder who the Cubs’ savior will be.

Another commonality between religion and sports is the worship of idols (mascots). Well, I don’t need to tell the people of Champaign-Urbana about that one. Let’s just move along.

For me, there is something appealing about Cubs fans. The brotherhood, the camaraderie. I guess they remind me a little bit of the early Christians — when Christianity was pure and hadn’t yet been corrupted by the Roman Empire. They were simple, humble folk, caring for one another as they looked forward to a day when their patience would triumph and they would no longer be persecuted for their beliefs. They were underdogs.

I have to root for the underdogs. That’s just what we liberals do.

But what happens when that long-awaited day of emancipation comes? Unfortunately, when Christianity became powerful, it became corrupt. It started doing to others what had been done to it, namely killing. We killed other religious peoples: Jews and Muslims. Hell, we even killed ourselves: Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants.

And that kind of insanity still goes on. Just look at what has transpired over the past eight years from having someone in the White House who was elected by a large conservative evangelical vote.

Power and Religion just don’t mix. Religion is supposed to speak truth to power, not get into bed with it. That’s when it’s time for a prophet to appear and tell the Church that it’s a whore.

And I don’t want that to happen to the Cubs. I would rather be a lean, hungry and humble Cubs fan forever waiting for The Day than an arrogant, fat follower of some slut team like the St. Louis Cardinals.

If the Cubs win the World Series, I guess I’ll just have to give up being a sports fan. I’ve got better things to do anyway.

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