It is common that religion dictates attitudes, beliefs, and practices about the body and how it relates to the soul. Religion affects how people participate in various activities including sports and recreation. Some religions connect to certain types of sports, for instance, Buddhism relates to Yoga. Presently, a lot of debates have ensued about how much the worlds of sport and religion should intertwine with each other and the appropriate time to participate in religious activities, for example, whether it is ok to pray before a sporting event.
Generally speaking, most people subscribe to a religious faith mainly because it provides psychological support when faced with uncertainty. Having a faith gives meaning to life and also serves as a basis for interaction with people in a community and gives moral support to the whole group. Religion can also be a very influential way of making people conform to certain kinds of behavior all in the name of being staunch believers (Obare, n.d.).
Sport, on the other hand, is an activity that acts as a stress reliever for its participants be it the spectator or the player. It allows people to channel out their aggressive emotions in a focused manner and, at the same time, fosters the culture of self-discipline and sacrifice as well as asceticism. Many people are fanatical followers of certain kind of sport, and a lot of studies have been done suggesting that sports have created somewhat of a religious following among people (The Atlantic, 2013).
There are social theories that can help explain the purpose of sports. These theories include the functional, conflict, and critical hypothesis. In my view, the connection between sports and religion can be explained using the functional theory. In the functional theory, various things are brought about to bring social order and community. Sport, therefore, maintains social order among people meaning that they have a consensus about an issue, share values regarding that matter. The functionalist theory assumes that the social order will be brought about by having solidarity between the various social institutions including sport. Anything out of the norm or shared values of the social institution is regarded as deviant and even wrong as the members of the community think highly of the shared values and cannot understand people who do not conform to those values (Coakley & Coakley, 2007).
Religion and its influence over many countries in the world is dwindling, because people now view religion as restrictive, backward, and irrelevant to their lives. However, the community and consensus that religion brings is still a craving for most people, because it brings a sense of belonging that human beings need according to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Hence, to replace the lost feeling of togetherness, people now turn to other social institutions like sport so as to encourage the community feeling without following draconian rules and regulations as in religion. Sport is also a joy giver, because through interaction with other fans and players, some temporary satisfaction is gained; thus, it is accurate to state that sport does bring happiness when engaged in a healthy and balanced manner.
Many communities in the olden days took sport and religion as two interacting institutions. In the Ibo community of Nigeria, wrestling contests would not take place before the priests and priestesses of the clan had consented to it. Wrestlers who were preparing to participate in the game needed to offer sacrifices before embarking on the contest, this was a common procedure (Achebe 1980). This goes to show that, indeed, religion and sport can interact and be accepted as a norm.
Some religions consider sport as a form of fanaticism and idolatry rather than a social institution that human beings need to be part of compared to other social institutions. Certain Christian factions even go as far as to ban their congregation from engaging in any sports as it would be taken as an act of betrayal of God. In their opinion, all the commitment and sacrifice that one offers up in order to win a sports competition is in direct treason of the laws of God. Yet Ecclesiastes 9:7-12 states that we should be cheerful and take on life as God takes pleasure in our pleasure, and that we should live heartily before we die, because when we die, it will be all over. This verse goes to show that, indeed, it is good for us to be happy even if sports are the joy-givers.
Sport and religion go hand in hand and should not be viewed as conflicting interests because both are social institutions that cultivate community and friendship among people and are good for the normal development of people and interests. Belief in Jesus Christ means living life to the fullest and being happy. Though temporary, sport brings happiness to the participants and hence should be enjoyed freely but with balance.
Obare, R. (n.d.). Can Sports Exist Without Religion?. [e-book] Sheffield University, UK. Retrieved 10 Dec 2013, from http://instructional1.calstatela.edu/dfrankl/CURR/kin507/PDF/Sport-Religion-Obare.pdf
The Atlantic. (2013). Just How Much Is Sports Fandom Like Religion?. [online] Retrieved 10 Dec 2013, from http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/01/just-how-much-is-sports-fandom-like-religion/272631/
Coakley, J. & Coakley, J. (2007). Sports in Society. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
Achebe, C (1980) Things Fall Apart Heinemann Ltd
Bible. (n.d.). Ecclesiastes, MSG.