Football: America’s National Religion

People in America check ‘Christian’ on religious identification surveys because football is usually not one of the choices.

America is a Christian nation. You hear that a lot from pastors, pundits, and politicians, and of course whenever someone tries to build a Mosque. And maybe we are. Wikipedia, which is on the Internet and therefore infallible, puts the percentage of Christians in America at 76 percent. Over two-thirds of those are Protestant, half of those are Baptist, and the largest denomination of Baptists are the Southern Baptists, who count me among 16.3 million adherents.

And 16.3 million is certainly a lot of people. In fact it’s almost as many as 17.3 million, which is the number of people who attended an NFL game in 2009. You see the reason so many people in America check ‘Christian’ on these Religious Identification Surveys is because football is usually not one of the choices. Because if we are being honest here, and who isn’t honest on the Internet, America is really a football nation.

If you don’t believe me all you have to do is take a look around you next Sunday as you sit in your pew. Halfway through the sermon men, women, and children will begin nervously glancing at their watches. If the alter call goes long, some will become visibly agitated, while others will just get up and leave. God is eternal, but kickoff is at noon.

There but for the grace of Tebow go I. You see, I adhere to the collegiate sect of the football cult in America. Our services are held on Saturdays, leaving Sundays free for us to worship our God without fear of missing the first quarter. Of course it’s hard for me to worship on Sundays following a tough loss, because I’m either too busy sulking, or because I skipped church altogether to avoid the knowing smirk of rivals fans. And it’s also hard for me to worship on Sundays following a big win too, because instead of meditating on God’s Word I keep reliving the big plays over and over in my mind. And forget singing, my voice was lost by half time the day before. But prayer and song aren’t all there is to a service, I can still worship through giving, but sometimes that’s even hard for me because ticket scalpers are usually not concerned if I’ll have enough money leftover to tithe.

I talk about these things half-jokingly, but I do realize it’s a problem for me and countless others. Last fall I took a pilgrimage to all 12 Southeastern Conference venues, talking to fans of various faiths, trying to learn how they balance their passion for pigskin with their devotion to God. But fanatics are generally not known for their ability to keep things in proper perspective. In fact, most of us identify more strongly with our team than we do our religion, and for churches, this is a problem they’ll need to address sooner than later.

It’s something I’m working on, because football, as great as it is, is only a game. And if I truly believe the things I profess, then I should never let the outcome of a game hinder me from serving my God. I’m working on it, but it’s difficult. American is a football nation. Maybe the next time we take a religion survey we’ll be honest enough to admit it.

So what do you think? Does America’s passion for football pose a serious risk to organized religion, or do you think deep down we know it is only a game?

Image courtesy of spirit of america/

Chad Gibbs
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  • allknowingguy

    Anything that poses a threat to theism, organized or not, is a good thing. But fear not, deluded christians, football has a concussion issue that will eventually send it into obscurity aka pro boxing.

  • eezmamata

    isn’t this why god invented tivo?

  • alert4jsw

    I don’t think that football poses a threat to organized religion, but apparently many evangelicals do, because they constantly seem to try their best to infuse football with Christianity. Witness all of the incidents of evangelical coaches leading prayer in the locker rooms (they may say it’s not mandatory, but if you’re on the team…), or the “pointing at the sky” after scoring a TD. And don’t get me started on Texas, where high school football is so infused with Christianity that you would think it’s an official denomination.But be careful about basing the argument on numbers. If we take the low estimate of those who consider themselves non-religious in this country (10 percent) that gives 30 million non-believers, which outnumbers any individual Christian denomination, and the total membership of most other faiths in the U.S.

  • ctenwith

    Would that ‘organized religions’ just go away. Imagine the heartache, misery, death, and destruction that would NOT occur if homo sapiens could just throw off this most noxious human ‘invention’. There will NEVER be any inter-ethnic peace and harmony as long as human-contrived, male-dominated sectarian creeds divide us into hate-fueled little groups.

  • switzerchris

    the biggest threat to organized religion is rational thought.

  • patrickbarry2


  • switzerchris

    And why does the Post, a NEWSpaper, have a section on Fairy Tales, i.e religion, anyway? Where is the news value in discussing other people’s delusions? Why not devote more resources to covering science, education, the environment, or anything REAL?

  • mickster1

    This column is quickly headed towards the bottom of my just plain stupid list. The Onion has better satire. This kind of “journalism” is just awful. Does anyone regard this column as anything other than a very bad joke?

  • hipshot

    Silly boy. Diversity is our national religion.

  • tippicanoe

    Almost everyone in America has physically held a football in their hands at some point in their lives. If you don’t have one in your own house, you can see a football any time you want – just walk down to the neighborhood sporting goods store. Hold one in your hand. Feel it.It would be pretty hard for anyone to argue that there is no such thing as a football, because the physical evidence for it is so ubiquitous and incontrovertible.And THAT is something I can worship. Because being real – actually EXISTING – is a big plus for me. I’ll choose Football over Gawd any day.

  • topwriter

    The tangible and real is always a threat to the intangible and mythical.

  • bozhogg

    Football is inclusive.. religion isn’t.

  • FrankSmith123

    I am surprised at the amount of antistatic antipathy toward people of faith. The evils ascribed to religion are more appropriately born by those who distort or pervert religion’s original intent. I read this column because I assumed it was of a serious nature. It is filler and not worthy of the Washington Post. So goes the state of journalism in the waning days of newspapers. I will miss them.

  • FrankSmith123

    I am surprised at the amount of antistatic antipathy toward people of faith. The evils ascribed to religion are more appropriately born by those who distort or pervert religion’s original intent. I read this column because I assumed it was of a serious nature. It is filler and not worthy of the Washington Post. So goes the state of journalism in the waning days of newspapers. I will miss them.

  • loulor

    So what do you think? Does America’s passion for football pose a serious risk to organized religion…..?Let’s hope so. The only thing football fans hate is the other team, and that only lasts 3 hours.On the other hand, many so-called Christians spend their pious lives hating entire denominations that don’t believe what they believe. They even rally together to stop others from building houses of worship that don’t look like theirs.

  • honestliving

    Organized superstition is still superstition to govern the ignorant masses–football is at least real–regardless, enjoying nature and letting your fellow humans and nature live freely without destroying or controlling either is much more fulfilling, spiritual and “God worshiping” than either. If there were a God as Christian’s describe, she/he or it would command totally different behavior than those that follow it in the name of Him but write their own exceptions to fit their desires.

  • ZenMan1

    I thought you were going to take notice of how similar the experience of attending a modern “feel good” church is to attending a football game. You merge your individuality into the mass and unite with others in praise of a hero, team, or Other. All the hollerin’ and shoutin’ together is energizing and produces a pleasant high from bonding with like minded folks to channel feelings of anger against an enemy and feelings of love toward those you support and praise. It’s very cathartic and human beings have been doing it for thousands of years. The cults of sport and religion generate many of the same feelings and benefits, and many of the same moral ideals. Both sport and religion generate a certain amount of anger and destruction as well. They are more alike than they are different.

  • spamsux1

    A silly article.Barbecuing is not a religion either (to most;) and I’m sure many more people barbecued than went to NFL games.

  • citizen625

    Football and religion only care about winning. Cheating, and other casualties along the way are just the cost of doing business. This mirrors the ethics demonstrated in business and politics.

  • FumbledReturns

    Restoring Football !We can start the heart of America again. And it has nothing to do with politics. Turn back to the values and the principles that make Football and America great.Starting today we have a choice. Watch dancing with the stars or watching football.And starting today we choose Football !

  • ecomcon

    As Groucho Marx said “sports is the opiate of the masses”.

  • areyousaying

    Hard to decide who I would less rather be with, a Glenn Beck Christian or a Redskins Fan – oh, well, they are usually one in the same anyway.

  • DrLou1

    What an absurd excuse for an article. Did the columnists run out of ideas just before their Sunday deadline?

  • dscooper63

    Some Americans love “American Football”, and some of us could care less, and actually prefer “Soccer” Similarly , some of us could care less about religion, and actually prefer sundays at home.

  • paulco

    Hinduism recognized long ago that we worship lots of gods, although I’m sure worship is the correct word for football. But it is hard to say that we are not loyal to many different dieties including sporting events, money, sex, our group.

  • dragondancer1814

    The only real “threat” to organized religion that I’m aware of is more people who are capable of thinking for themselves and discovering that freedom of religion means ANY religion, as well as freedom FROM religion!That having been said, I don’t watch football and I’m not Christian, which means that I find Sundays to be a royal pain in the “permanent vertical smile” because where I live, there is very little to do on Sundays if you’re not a churchgoer or a football fan! However, my husband watches enough football for both of us, and the kids have already learned not to so much as sneeze when the ball is in play! Unless of course it’s baseball season….

  • spidermean2

    The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

  • joe_allen_doty

    I have met people who were members of Assemblies of God congregations who thought you were not a whole man spiritually unless you were a fan of college and professional football. In the 1970s, I had an AG pastor who was a fan of professional boxing. One Wednesday night after a Bible study several men in the church went to his house to see a boxing match on TV. It doesn’t make sense that they like to see men hit each other in the head and knock them out.

  • dnjake

    Christianity is not a single religion. Substantial numbers of Americans are not religously observant. Another significant number is Jewish. Others are Muslims or one of a number of minority religions. The rejection of the idea of a state religion was a major choice of our founders. So the description of America as a Christian nation does not make much sense to begin with.

  • SSTK34

    America is corrupt like the Roman Empire. Football and other professional sports are semi-religious events created to keep the masses happy and blissfully unaware of their misery. America has football just like Rome had the Circuses and the Gladiators and is following the path traveled by Rome. It was a road to the garbage heap.

  • BlueTwo1

    Those of us who can take or leave football are Infidels, with all the rights and privileges appertaining thereto.

  • treetopflyer

    Our passion for what?In this respect I’m a devout atheist.

  • treetopflyer

    Now, if you want to talk about a passion for live concert recording, that’s something different. I burn incense on the high places for that.

  • lufrank1

    “Does America’s passion for football pose a serious risk to organized religion?”I certainly hope so!

  • eezmamata

    oh c’mon SSTK34, people in the old west used to turn out for hangings, beer was served, potato salad … a good time was had by all.How limited must be your understanding of history, to think things are any worse today than they’ve ever been.

  • ravensfan20008

    I think organized religion is just a game. All these people claiming to know exactly what God wants – if we did, we’d only have one religion. Why can’t we just live a good life and be nice to everybody else?

  • DaveinNorthridge

    I’ve always been a member of a religious minority, so to see this question asked reminds me of the confusion that is manifest in all protestant denominations. I really hope that most Southern Baptists pay more attention to football than to whether or not people who aren’t Southern Baptists can enter into same-sex marriages, but that’s not likely to happen. There’s your answer.

  • eezmamata

    our father, who art in heaven, without the express written consent of major league baseball …

  • alance

    Football and NBA sports are about all that is left to hold us together as Americans. We certainly are much more devoted to football in the fall. This is healthy. Our society is way too polarized by politics.Previously, it was said, we should not discuss religion or politics at the dinner table. What is left? You got it: FOOTBALL. Just steer clear of climate change.

  • perryneheum

    ANYTHING that poses a threat to organized [or disorganized] religion, “Sign me up!”

  • Delongl

    Why again is it that the Post has this “On Faith” feature? Is it just for stupid topics to gain clicks from those who cling to their guns and religion and football?The whole “On Faith” feature is disgusting.

  • garcia2

    “drop kick me Jesus through the goal post of life”

  • CellBioProf

    As one who lives in the land where people “cling to their guns and religion and football”, I am proud to be a non-believer on all counts. (Stillers? Roethliswho?)

  • GiveMeThat

    It certainly poses a problem for the already emasculated liberal denominations. Typical male Sunday decision: Watch the early game or listen to yet another sermon on the importance of gender neutral language by a lesbian “clergy person.” The football game is going to win.

  • sthalsey

    When I came into this all male department seven years ago I made the mistake of saying I didn’t like football (baseball, yeah). My lead told me that football makes his “life worth living”.From August through February I am treated ad nauseum to every play from every game. I absolutely agree that Football is the Established Religion in the Investing Dept. and probably the whole country. I’m still a heretic and am looked on with disdain because of it. Add sports to the list of things you shouldn’t mention in company you are unfamiliar with.