The Public Religion Research Institute is a great site to visit for anyone interested in the role faith plays in the United States. For example, here’s something to wrap your head around: 27% of Americans believe that God plays a role in deciding which team wins a sporting event.
You can’t help but wonder what criteria God would be using to make that decision. Would it be purely statistical? The number of Christians on the team? The number of sins committed by the team that week? The number of prayers offered up by fans on either side? Or was He really impressed by that fervent Hail Mary as the quarterback released that pass with two seconds left on the clock.
This thinking in nothing more nor less than a corollary to that old chestnut “Everything happens for a reason,” one of my least favorite sayings. Students in my humanities classes frequently trot this one out in discussions, but when pressed a bit– what would be the reason for Hurricane Katrina, or the Holocaust, or the death of that innocent woman in Chicago shot accidentally by police through her door? They have to retreat back to the Maginot Line of “God Works in Mysterious Ways,” or in other words, we can’t know the mind of God….but of course, that’s what they are claiming they can do when they say “Everything happens for a reason.”
It often turns out that what they really mean is not that God has a plan when He makes bad things happen to good people, but rather, that there is a silver lining to any dark cloud. Yes, I was in a car accident, but no one was hurt, and it was a wake-up call to my careless driving. Yes, my father has a terminal illness, but it’s made both him and me focus much more on spiritual things, the things that really matter in life. This is a lot different than the oppressive, predestinatory view that there is a divine Cause and Effect in everything we see happening around us. It’s the “Life is what you make it” school of thought. Although the clichés can make you blanche, this is a healthy way to wade through life’s vicissitudes.
Coming back to the statistic: it’s difficult to know what to do with it. If you had someone in the room who believed God favored one team over another, how could you convince him or her otherwise? Perhaps they never really thought it through and, hopefully, some non-confrontational appeal to reason would be an eye-opener. Who knows? But before leaving this subject, it would be just as well to point out the differences regionally. Here are the statistics for the percentage agreeing that
“God plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event”
The regional relationships are similar for many other questions asked by the Institute, including “God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success” (53% of Americans agree) or those disapproving of same-sex marriage. In this latter category I was surprised that my home state of New Hampshire led the pro same-sex marriage group with 75%, while the southern states were in the 30s and 40s, with the exception of Florida. We should all work on shrinking that divide between the Old Confederacy and the North and West.