You know how team sports is the source of all virtue? Not so much.
Conor Friedersdorf talking to New York Times religion reporter Mark Oppenheimer
I was particularly intrigued by your article about Christians who play football–how they reconcile their faith, with its emphasis on humility and turning the other cheek, with their sport, where hitting opponents as hard as one can, to the point of trying to hurt them, is the norm. How was that article received in our football loving culture? Did any of the feedback help you to better understand the phenomenon?
That’s actually an article where my initial suspicions were only confirmed and amplified by my reporting. Football lovers like to think that team sports, and football in particular, promote virtue for those who play them. It’s clear the opposite is true. The research shows that participation in high-level athletics makes one less moral, more interested just in winning. And my interviews with Christian coaches were horrifying: they all justify to themselves all kinds of violence on the field, as well as dishonesty. Take an issue like lying to a referee: “Yes, I made that catch! I didn’t drop the ball!” Now, you’d think a “Christian” player would put some premium on telling the truth. But they all rationalize lying, in part because everyone does it. As if God’s rules can take a back seat to the custom of the sport.
Well, when it comes to football, of course they can. Football’s important. But when it comes to contraception, let alone abortion? Don’t be silly.
So what about that war on Christians?
Religious believers often feel that they’re treated unfairly by the media. Do they have a point? What aspects of religion do journalists regularly get wrong?
Most reporters have a superficial knowledge of whatever beat they’re on; that’s true of me every time I wander from the religion beat, where I actually have pretty deep knowledge. So reporters get religion wrong, but they get a lot of things wrong: labor relations, war, etc. I don’t think there is a special animus against religion. One could argue there is special gentle treatment for religion. Religious believers say things all the time for which there is no real evidence — that’s what “faith” is, by definition — and reporters don’t call them on it, unless the religion is new and thus seems weird, like Scientology. But if a religion is old and traditional, like Judaism and Christianity, its adherents get to go on about the Rapture, or the Resurrection, or whatever, and reporters never insert paragraphs like, “Asked for evidence that the Rapture would someday come, the minister could only point to the Book of Revelation.”