The Super Bowl As a Religious Spectacle

Watching the Super Bowl on Sunday night I had this somewhat random thought:

The Super Bowl isn’t too much different than a well produced church service.

My disclaimer to that is I fully recognize the MAJOR differences between them. But for the sake of this post, let’s consider the similarities.

Before the service (game) starts there is lots of people in a room talking with one another, usually having a friendship that is rooted in their common fanship (yep, just made that word up) of a team.

Often the beginning of the service is marked by the singing of a well known song, but most people tend to watch the singer instead of singing a long (this doesn’t apply to Canadian hockey fans, they sing a long).

The bulk of the time is a good amount of action, to keep people on the edge of their seats, wanting to come back for more the next week (or next year in the case of the Super Bowl). Most churches don’t have a halftime show, and judging by the one I saw on Sunday night, that’s probably a good thing.

Towards the end of the game, fans and players alike swoon over a symbol that defines the purpose for their attendance (video). At the Super Bowl this means players touching and kissing the Vince Lombardi Trophy, at church it can often mean worshiping a crucifix.

To end the whole experience, prominent members of the performing cast have a few words to say to summarize the time, and at church a pastor concludes with the all important Benediction.

The truth is the similarities are a bit scary. For much of our culture, whether they know it or not, the Super Bowl is the pinnacle of religious experiences. Worship is about the only way to describe much of what goes on, whether it be of a national anthem, players on a team, halftime show, or a trophy. All of it, though masked as entertainment, is an opportunity for us to worship something.

For me there are 2 major take-aways from this:

  1. The church must be extremely careful that attending church doesn’t begin to reflect the way our cultural worships. It is quite easy for churches to make their time of worship more entertainment based, because that doesn’t involve any sacrifice on the part of the person in the seats. But that isn’t the purpose of church. Church is a gathering of all people, not a show put on by a few for the masses.
  2. Our engagement with culture must be carefully examined. Part of me got the sick feeling in the stomach similar to when I’m at a shopping mall while watching the game. Every year, more and more, The Super Bowl reminds me of so much of what I dislike about American culture (consumption and over-indulging) and I know I’m not the only one. I could see many churches start to plan events during the Super Bowl as a way to be counter cultural.

I’d love your feedback on any of this.