So I’m in the land where sport and religion become one. Notre Dame is an intimidating university for a small Protestant like myself. Like on a first date, I’m never sure what to do with my hands. Standing below the famous “touchdown Jesus,” more properly, the “Word of Life,” I feel small indeed. For a long while in US history, Catholicism was treated like some kind of cult. Those of us reared Protestant were taught to fear “them” and their ritualistic ways. I’m more afraid that someone might ask me about football stats. Sports is a religion I’ve never studied.
Culture is like a colossal Cuisinart. Lots of stuff goes in, all of it more or less equal, and the blades begin to whirl. Sports, religion, fast food, alcohol, a dash of education, and we’ve got an American classic. The only time that sports come to my mind is when they start to take on the flavor of religion. The level of the devotion of fans is the envy of many a church. In fact, the word “fan” was borrowed from the lexicon of religious behaviors. It is not difficult to sense the pride in football here, but then, sports are often a civilized way to assert one’s self-worth in a culture where self-worth feels under threat. It is hard to recall a time when the Fighting Irish were not mainstream.
“High culture” has put itself on the endangered species list by becoming inaccessible in a culture that doesn’t value education (not to reflect on the academics I’ve seen at Notre Dame, which are pretty impressive). I cringe, however, when I see polished politicians basking in their lack of introspection on issues that impact the entire human race. They seem proud to declare themselves untainted by education. They will support sports, however, and particularly football where violence is padded, but still encouraged. It is culture for those who enjoy the lowest common denominator. In the airport I noticed another “touchdown” character who, in some quarters in more recognized than the deity soaring over Notre Dame’s venerable stadium. I was in the true presence of culture even before I boarded the plane.