February 1, 2009

Prayer on Super Bowl Sunday

The final play of Super Bowl XLIII
The final play of Super Bowl XLIII (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Today is Super Bowl Sunday in the good ole' U.S. of A. My favorite team is not playing in the game. I do like the Steelers and generally root for them, but I think it is cool that the Cardinals defied expectations by making it this far. I'd probably cheer them on in today's game if I didn't know what I knew about Kurt Warner. Now I'm not sure I really care who wins. Maybe I'll watch some of the game, and maybe not. I haven't decided yet. I bring up the Super Bowl again because I have not stopped thinking about yesterday's post on the subject of faith in football. I'd like to continue with that subject in this post.

In a nation as nauseatingly religious at the U.S., it is only natural that sports and faith would blend. My neighbors pray for everything which they regard as being of any consequence, so why not include victories by their favorite football team?

Players and fans who pray for victory are sometimes mocked for wasting their god's time. Does their god not have more important things on which to focus? Some go so far as to argue that there is something truly sick about focusing one's prayers on the outcome of a football game when people all over the world are starving and being killed in armed conflicts.

Then again, praying for desirable outcomes of sporting events makes more sense in some respects than other sorts of prayers. Take today's game as an example. As time runs out, we will have one of two outcomes: a win for the Cardinals or a win for the Steelers. No other outcome is possible. This means that prayers expended on the outcome of the game have a much better chance of being granted than normal.

Of course, the prayers will not actually be granted, as there is nothing to grant them. But that isn't what matters here. What matters is that a sizable number of people who pray for their desired outcome will receive their desired outcome, strengthening their tendency to pray in the future.

In many ways, I think that the typical Christian is much smarter than most atheists give him or her credit for being. The Christian can pray for peace in the Middle East, winning the lottery, the end of global poverty, or some other unlikely event all he or she wants. It is not going to happen. At some level, I think that many Christians are aware of this. They may indulge in such prayers because doing so eases their guilt, but they do not really expect divine intervention on matters of consequence. This is why we rarely see truly faith-based investing, medicine, national defense, and the like.

If Christians are going to be somewhat choosy about what they ask of their god, why not ask the things that are likely to happen anyway? This maintains faith and wards off the creeping realization that the whole enterprise is a sham.