Soccer's World Cup Gives Us Insights Into The Current State Of Politics & Religion

Every four years the sporting world, especially Europe, Africa and Latin America is held in rapt attention by soccer’s World Cup. It can tell us many things about the state of the world, from politics to culture and even religion, and that’s even before we get to the sporting angle. Now for purposes of full disclosure, my favorite sports are college football and college basketball, though having a mother who grew up in Germany has helped me gain some soccer knowledge. Many a book or intellectual statesman from Henry Kissinger on down the line have mused about soccer’s effect on the world, which seems to change each and every World Cup to reflect the sign of the times.

Unlike a relativistic world where social engineering has taken hold, it appears that sports are the world’s last venue where sheer work ethic and determination hold sway. Perhaps this is why sports are so popular in the world, especially Europe’ s social democracies. One should keep in mind that as high as the Super Bowl ratings are for US television, World Cup TV ratings for nations in the championship game are even higher. Let’s look at this World Cup to see what it can tell us about the state of the world.

Some of the political developments from the last World Cup were the rise of the African nations in the soccer world, perhaps reflecting the rise of the continent itself on political and religious grounds. Keep in mind tiny Ghana won the 20 and under World Championship last year defeating Brazil, quite an accomplishment. Also of note in the last World Cup was Germany’s rising national spirit as seen in public displays of flag waving, which had been a post World War II no-no for Deutschland.

Fast forward to 2010 and two weeks into the World Cup we have already seen some interesting developments. Italy exited in the first round, the very team that was won the title game in the last World Cup. England’s team loaded with talent, and whiners as well, got off to a rough start and an embarrassing end. One English tabloid ran a bolded front page story entitled; With Apologies to Winston Churchill, Never Have So Few, Done So Little, For So Many. Then there’s the French soccer club, a team resembling a bad reality TV show. They were a train wreck of emotions and disarray. They collapsed and exited the World Cup in stunning fashion; does this foreshadow the nation of France as well?

One can see the vast differences in the world views of players starting with the national anthems. Third World nations often sing their national song with gusto, while all too often European nations look as if their own anthem is a bother. The one exception is England where the fans at least sing God Save the Queen (My Country Tis of Thee for us Americans) with a fervor rarely seen in the post modern world. Maybe in light of the implosion of their religious culture, the anthem and enthusiastic display of the Cross of St George (the English flag) is a desperate cry for help.

On the soccer pitch itself one sees Latin American and African players making religious gestures, often the Sign of the Cross. This is rarely if ever seen from the European side, lest by chance Poland or Malta makes it in the Field of 32.  We should also keep in mind that it is Africa and Asia, where not only soccer’s best hopes lie, but he Church’s as well, which can especially be seen in the rise of vocations.  I can still see the stunned faces of some liberals, in the large crowd, who gathered to hear John Allen speak at Ohio Dominican University a few years ago. When responding to a question on what the future of the African Church would be like, Allen bluntly told the questioner that the African Church is very orthodox or conservative in their beliefs about not only Church Teachings, but their world view as well. Allen went on to say that Africans in general don’t take too kindly to relativistic western religious leaders.

One of the many problems with the secular world (and often militantly secular world) is that many put God on the back burner or have no time for God at all. They have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge and no one is going to tell them what to do, least of which some “archaic, hierarchical” entity. Sadly, they can’t see the trees for the forest.

The Old Testament often told of man obeying or disobeying God, where as the New Testament went one step further, speaking of the transformation that took place when one listened to and obeyed Jesus. For example in the Book Of Genesis, Noah and his family obeyed God’s call to build the Ark, all the while being laughed at by a rationalistic, disbelieving populace.

The New Testament shows the transformation of the sinful woman (at the House of a Pharisee,) who through her penitential actions directed at Jesus, showed with her thankfulness that her life had radically changed (Luke 7:36-50.) She was going to do far more than just stop her sexual sins; she was going to transform her life due to the teachings of Jesus, which she had heard first hand.

Our modern secular world would look at these stories totally differently. Noah would be the fool for bucking the Dictatorship of Relativism; while the penitent woman who would be the fool for allowing conventional thinking to change her expressive view of sex and love.

The secular western soccer world can cheer for Third World nations all the while chastise them for “archaic” beliefs. In the Anglican world, the only churches not imploding are the African ones. However, the Africans are often ridiculed by Anglican/Episcopal elites in London, Canterbury, Washington and San Francisco for holding on to traditional beliefs about family size and traditional marriage.

Lest one forget the head of the US Episcopal Church Katharine Jefferts Schori (in 2006) told The New York Times that Episcopalians were better educated than Catholics. She reasoned that this led to Episcopalians worrying more about the environment all the while Catholics were worried about pro-life issues and having larger families. She concluded that the Episcopal Church was taking the more enlightened path. You just can’t make this stuff up. I am not sure which is worse, her statement or the fact that mainstream media never questioned the premise of her assertions. For more on why heterodox (liberal) Christianity is in a free fall and orthodox minded (conservative) Christianity is not, check out my article If You Want the Political Left to Run Governments, Look At What They Have Done to Religion.

For Catholics, especially Old School and old time Catholics, the French cultural and religious implosion cited earlier is more than a little mystifying. The land of Bernadette and Lourdes and of countless religious movements is seemingly forgotten on the nation and their national soccer team. Increasingly secular, many young French citizens are more likely to be more adept at explaining their cool new tattoos, rather than their rich religious and cultural history.

Mark Shea is fond of saying show me a culture that despises virginity and I will show you a culture that despises children. European birth rates are far exceeded by their rates of death, which doesn’t do much for advancing historic European culture and religion. The exception being the newly settled in Muslim Immigrants, they seem to have little trouble hanging on to their culture and religion. It should come as no surprise that in many English and French cities there are often more gathered at the local mosque for Friday prayers than at the local Anglican or Catholic Church on Sunday morning.

Some might say with regard to France, “Well at one time it was very Catholic but it all went out the window with the French Revolution.” Yes, the purported proponents of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality did kill thousands of Catholic priests, nuns and laypeople for simply being who they were; Catholic. However, dismal as those times were for Catholics, Bernadette followed and so did Lourdes and Therese of the Little Flower (St Therese Lisieux.)

There were intellectuals too, Louis Pasteur prayed the Rosary daily and wasn’t ashamed to let it be known. One of the great intellectual minds of the 20th century Jacque Maritain could often be found praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament at Notre Dame and Sacra Coeur, the same Notre Dame where the revolutions’ henchmen paraded prostitutes on the altar to mock Christ. The sacrilege of the French Revolution didn’t work. There will always be men like Pasteur and Maritain, and women like St Therese Lisieux and St. Bernadette to right the ship.

Often I am told by the faithful in various dioceses that a small group of priests are despondent and condescending toward their dioceses’ seminarians and their newer more orthodox minded brother priests. These liberal priests often state, “What’s with these pre Vatican II rituals and beliefs,” (Eucharistic Adoration, the rosary etc.) These bitter priests seem to share something in common with French soccer team; a belief that they know better than the authority that is in place.  Like the French soccer team, these rebellious priests will one day be the butt of jokes and derisive metaphors.

How one handles that authority is always an interesting phenomenon. All too often, it is the liberal priest who becomes authoritarian and upsets the parish apple cart. Often it is his replacement, the reviled newer, younger pastor who becomes well liked by the parish staff, even those who don’t quite understand his love of Catholic Sacred Tradition. Perhaps this is why Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI. It was said that the famous Cardinal from Munich’s door was always open to a young prelate from the Third World. The same could not always be said of the Italian prelates who often let it be known that in spite of their more liberal worldview, new prelates might have to go through some sort of mild initiation rite.

The Holy Father spoke of the parallels between soccer and religion’s success. They both rely on teamwork. Yet, the fountains of misinformation from our modern world, often emphasize individualism at all cost. Imagine later this summer if your favorite American college or NFL football team’s coach said we are going to forego discipline and grueling two a day practices and concentrate on the player’s inner desires and feelings. The coach would be fired that day and if he wasn’t, an angry fan base would rise up in unison. Yet isn’t the analogy about the me oriented team really the heart and soul of modern religion; do what’s best for you and not what the core teachings of that religion demands?  Our modern secular world actually says those who follow the Church’s social teachings (came from Christ and His Apostles) are in reality bigots. These souls held in bondage by the Dictatorship of Relativism would rather trust their urges and feelings over the truth, which as history has shown us is a recipe for disaster.

Perhaps every four years as we watch the World Cup we should be cognizant of the societal barometer but never get too down or too up depending upon the winds of change, for we are ever moving to truth and Judgment, whether the world likes it or not.

Finally, World Cup television commercials can also tell us a great deal about the state of our world. For many Catholics, the Hyundai commercial that seemed to openly mock the Eucharist was over the top. However, Hyundia quickly stopped running the commercial when they were told it was offensive. To their defense, could it be possible that in our increasingly secular world, few at Hyundai even realized what they were doing, a sad state on the lack of the sacred in our world?

Some have e-mailed me to say surely all of this proves that my book The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism’s premise has come and gone. Actually, I think these events prove that the tide is turning simply because people are aware and angry about not only the nonsense of the Hyundai commercial, but the antics of the French team as well. There was a time when all of these events would have dubbed “cutting edge” by some in the mainstream media and even by some in the Church.

Think the French team is crazy? They weren’t the first to behave like this. Some of the Dutch “Clockwork Orange” teams of the 1970s were interesting to say the least. It goes beyond soccer as well. Keep in mind that legendary basketball player Bill Walton was known to associate with friends who had ties to the Symbionese Liberation Army (the radical left wing group that kidnapped Patty Hearst in 1974.)

Walton, a very interesting basketball commentator and quite the humanitarian (he helps many charitable causes) can be quite brutally honest in his assessment of players and teams (something very refreshing to today’s world.) On the surface, he seems miles away from the political and social views he once held (and still does in some instances.) While teased about 800+ Grateful Dead concerts (he still hangs out with band’s remaining members. Actually, that’s where he was when he found out that his legendary coach John Wooden had passed away,)  is often given a pass for his past associations. We are only now reaping what we sowed many years ago in the 1960s and 1970s. So, keep this in mind when someone says that athletes today are totally different from the recent past, for it was the 1960s and 1970s that began some of the craziness exhibited by some of the players we have seen today. A fitting example of the bad fruit in our political and religious world.

On the surface while the World Cup shows us all of the good, bad and ugly with the world, we should keep in mind that much of the bad and the ugly seeds were planted long ago. We should also rejoice in the good, especially what we see coming out of the Third World. Yet, even in Europe there are hopeful signs. For example the young French people in Lyon who defended the cathedral from an onslaught of militant secularists who wanted their radical agenda heard and implemented. This stand and the many good news stories, especially those concerning vocations coming from the Africa and Asia, give us all hope for the future, while we are presently experiencing so many troubling events.

Dave Hartline

2 Responses to Soccer's World Cup Gives Us Insights Into The Current State Of Politics & Religion

  • I still see many european soccer players cross themselves entering the pitch, at least the Spanish players (and see how far they have gotten!).

  • Not everything that’s French is necessarily a loser; the fleur-de-lis, lowered in defeat in 1763 on this continent, is a symbol of the 2010 Superbowl Champion New Orleans Saints.

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