If Karl Marx were alive today, I think he would argue that, not religion, but professional sports are the opiate of the masses. It is certainly true in this country, where so much time and attention (i.e. money) is channeled into sports. And there is no better day than today - Super Bowl Sunday - on which to reflect upon these matters.
I watch with a numbed fascination the parade of commentators on television acting as if the Super Bowl has any real meaning. It does not - it is a game. As a game, it is meant to provide passing entertainment, but, in fact, its purpose has come to be more than that. What such events do in our society, more and more, is to provide a distraction from our truly pressing concerns. At this point, of course, the chief of those concerns is the threatened collapse of the American economy.
In face of such a terrifying possibility, we are all too happy to embrace the Super Bowl, or the World Series, or the NBA championships or the NCAA Final Four, using them to dull our consciousness and to distract ourselves from the fact that there is little we, or our so-called leaders, can do about it. The economic stimulus package currently being contemplated by Congress has shown itself to be nothing more than a hide-bound liberal boondoggle, stuffed with more pork than a po' boy sandwich. And this is possible only because no one - no one - actually knows what will drag us from this recession, which has now encircled the globe.
And so we can retreat for a day or so at least, into the insignificance of the Super Bowl, and treat its every detail, no matter how minute, as if it were of great moment. Such welcome diversions explain why so much weight and fortune are accorded to professional sports in this country - they distract the citizens from the realities, among which are the malfeasance of our economic planners, the corruption and self-interest of our politicians, the steady erosion of our liberties, the waning of initiative, and our dying spiral into a materialism so pervasive, pointless and crass as to verge on insanity.
Today at the Super Bowl we will, no doubt, be subjected to a spectacle of materialism, patriotism, militarism and popular culture which should shame any society that considers itself to be Christian. But the truth is that our materialism and our militarism are two faces of the same coin. We fight to preserve our material wealth and we use that wealth, in largest proportion, to create weapons of warfare. And all of this is sanctioned, indeed, sanctified, by mainstream religion (and by a shallow and tendentious media), which also participates in the profits from this vicious cycle.
In this way, religion has devolved into the same malaise as the rest of society, selling itself for profit every bit as much as our politicians and sportsmen, which puts the purveyors of mainstream religion into the same ignoble company as they. It is all about the money - sports, politics, religion - and now that that money is in short supply, our society feels cut adrift, and our leaders scramble for some solution, not to save our way of life but theirs.
But they cannot. They do not possess new answers, because they persist in asking the old questions. In the face of catastrophic failure, they insist on looking backwards, or looking to an increasingly irrelevant concept of God, or or looking for ways to spend more of our money, or looking at the Super Bowl and insisting that it has meaning. Anything but look the truth in the eyes. And that truth is that religion and recovery and meaning all reside where they have always done - in the individual human spirit, which, if freed from the shackles of government and conventional religion, would not only pull us from this morass, but propel us into a future that does possess meaning.
Enjoy the game.