Last night I joined at least 111 million other Americans in watching the Superbowl. Despite years of indifference to organized sports in general and professional sports in particular, I managed to follow the game’s drama, especially in the fourth quarter. I marveled at the athleticism on display, and I paid close attention during the ads that popped up every five minutes or so throughout the evening. Cars, phones, games, food, and oh yes, and puppies and beer —these thirty-second messages covered the essentials of every consumer’s life.
The NFL has been embroiled in various scandals surrounding abuse and disregard for players’ welfare, but none of that drama made it onto national television. It was just old-timer (at age 37) Tom Brady, honorable and humble and victorious. Katy Perry, the halftime act, did nothing to inspire controversy either. Other than one unfortunate insurance spot, the ads were more of the same—cute, funny, mostly earnest plays on our heartstrings.
Football brings Americans together. It puts on a good and inspiring show. And yet we all lose as our culture transitions from religion as a national pastime to sports and entertainment.
The past sixty years have seen a steady decline in religiosity among Americans as well as a decline in church attendance. The Superbowl has steadily increased in viewers. But it’s not just one Sunday evening a year that we turn our attention (and adoration) toward this hallmark of athletics and entertainment. Throughout the rest of the year, Sunday mornings are handed over to soccer games and birthday parties. Screens and instant communication replace substance every day.
I’ve heard it was Victor Frankl who contradicted Freud and said that pleasure is not our greatest pursuit. According to Frankl, our greatest need and desire is for meaning. Only when we believe meaning is an impossible pursuit do we turn to pleasure. I have to wonder whether our culture has done exactly that—turned from a search for meaning to the pursuit of pleasure. And I have to wonder whether the Superbowl epitomizes that transition. Underneath the busy schedules and pretty, orderly images, I wonder whether many Americans ignore a pervading sense of emptiness. I wonder if we are afraid to admit our desire for something more, whether we are afraid to scratch beneath the surface in case it exposes a deep dark hole.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Amy Julia Becker