A Widening of the Apologetic Enterprise

by Joshua D. Chatraw

When I (Josh) was growing up in the southeastern part of the United States, there were two dominant religions: Baptist and football. It would take a visitor little time to realize which faith had captured my community’s heart and elicited their deepest devotion.

The work of James K. A. Smith has helped us reflect more deeply on the religious nature of these Saturday afternoon spectacles. Go to a SEC (Southeastern Conference) college campus on a Saturday in the fall, and you will witness devoted worshipers of all ages citing liturgy (cheers), singing praises (fight songs), and participating in ordinances (tailgates and other pregame rituals) that have been passed down through the generations. You need only view the reactions of the losing and winning teams’ fans after the game to realize how many of them wrap up their identities in their team’s success. I have witnessed highly educated and respected church leaders almost physically fight over a game. The hostility and resentment between different fan groups still amaze me. Idols are powerful forces; they appeal to us in profound ways and at multiple levels.

Our point is not that college football is evil—anything can become an idol. But if you spend a few weeks around this football culture as an outsider or take a step back as a devoted fan, it may seem bizarre to you. Why are so many people so intensely devoted to a group of twenty-year-olds throwing a leather ball around?

College football followers would rarely think to make an appeal to the “skeptical” by simply listing player stats or reasons you should become a fan. Instead, they would tell hero stories of legendary players from yesteryear or perhaps some human-interest stories about current players. They would explain the long-standing traditions associated with game day, or they would just invite the unconvinced to a game. As the newcomer joins the faithful fans for a ritual-filled and boisterous pep rally the night before the game, the communal tailgate in the morning, and the sing-along with the band as game time nears, they start to feel a twinge of excitement. Then, after they’re ushered into the stadium with an electric atmosphere of 90,000 fans hanging on every play, it isn’t long before they find themselves high-fiving the random woman in front of them and hugging the stranger beside them. For most fans, it was these kinds of experiences that led to their conversion. True conversion is never simply an intellectual experience…

A Widening of the Apologetic Enterprise