Hockey is Canada’s Religion! So blared the headlines yesterday after the second of our nation’s triumphs with skates and sticks on the Sochi stage. For much of yesterday, Canadian media outlets were aglow with videos and tweets and updates about brave, patriotic Canadians getting up at ungodly hours of the morning and braving frigid temperatures to heroically make their way to the pub (sometimes, without even the lure of alcohol, if you can believe it!) to watch the big game. There were even heartwarming video clips of mosques and churches that decided to show the game before morning worship. The overall mood was exultant. This is what it means to be Canadian, we rehearsed to ourselves over and over again in myriad ways.
I’ve been thinking about this phrase, hockey is Canada’s religion off and on all day. Of course, on one level this is mere hyperbole. It’s a way of communicating nothing more (or less) than that hockey really, really matters to Canadians. Like, a lot. But behind every hyperbole there is a hint of truth. If hockey is like a religion, it’s worth probing what religions do actually do or what they are for. It seems to me that, among other things, religions offer a framework or narrative or web of beliefs and practices that provide meaning and purpose for a human life. And hockey is supposed to do this for us? I like hockey and have played it for my whole life, but the meaning of life? Hmm.
Perhaps the truth told by the headlines says less about Canadians’ love for hockey than it does with our radically diminished horizons and the increasing poverty of so many of our worldviews. Perhaps it’s not so much, “We love hockey so much that it’s almost like a religion! but “There is so little else that matters to us and our identities are such frail and haphazard things that we will settle for a bunch of millionaires who happen to have been born on the same chunk of dirt as us winning a hockey tournament to give our lives meaning and narrative purpose.” Perhaps the statement “hockey is Canada’s religion” isn’t so much about how much hockey matters to us as how little religion (and the needs religion gives expression to) does.
At least once a year, a local hotel hosts a prophecy seminar on the book of Revelation (I’ve posted on these events before here). My flyer for the most recent extravaganza of terror, tribulation, and hope for the future arrived in the mail today.
I was a little disappointed. In the past, the cover of these flyers has been graced by fearsome looking dragons and lusty harlots, but this year I had to settle for a lion, a four-headed leopard with wings, a bear, and a weird-looking reptilian creature. I was initially disappointed by a cover with such terrestrial fare, but upon opening the flyer up, I was duly rewarded with vistas of city skylines blanketed with angelic warriors astride winged horses, and exhilarating headlines such as “The Dragon’s Greatest Deception,” “The Beginning of the End” and, of course, “The Battle of Armageddon.” Now that’s more like it!
It all looks very exciting, if somewhat incongruous. Images of swords dripping with blood and promises of death and destruction coexist alongside descriptions like, “seminars presented in a relaxed atmosphere,” “you will enjoy studying your free bible.” I mean seriously, how am I supposed to “enjoy” myself in a “relaxed atmosphere” while learning about the apocalyptic nightmarish rage God is on the verge of unleashing on planet earth?! If we’re going to scare the hell out of people, let’s do it right. How about, “seminars presented in an anxiety-ridden, fear-drenched cauldron of divine hostility” or “your free bible will leave you in a state anxiety ridden agitated terror” or “Good God (or, as it happens, bad God), you’ll be lucky to make it out alive!!” Or something like that. The fit just seems, I don’t know, off somehow. You know, the medium and the message and all that.
Finally, I continue to make my way (slowly) through David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God. I’m on the chapter called “Bliss” now, where Hart probes the human propensity to pursue the good, the true, and the beautiful. One of the questions that runs throughout the whole book is something like, “Can a purely materialist worldview account for some of the most basic and deeply cherished components of human experience?” The answer is almost invariably, “no.” Here’s what Hart has to say about attempts to ground normative ethics on a materialist worldview:
The most common strategy for “naturalizing” ethics is a sort of evolutionary utilitarianism, with two distinct moments: first, the attempt to reduce the human ethical sense to a variety of traits that, by virtue of the evolutionary advantages they confer, have been implanted in us by natural selection; then, second, a vague but earnest assertion that, for this very reason, ethical imperatives ought to be accorded real authority. This is entirely contradictory, of course, but every utilitarian ethics inevitably is. The knowledge that certain fortuitously acquired behaviors may have proved evolutionarily advantageous in the past entails no binding demand upon any person to adopt those behaviors in the present. Quite the opposite, in fact. If morality is nothing more than a useful biological adaptation with a wholly contingent genealogy, it can, like any other useful instrument, be taken up or laid down as one chooses….
Most persons of a naturalist persuasion, commendably enough, refuse to believe—or refuse to act as if they believe—that ethical values are illusory, and are no more willing to abandon belief in moral imperatives than they are to abandon belief in empirical facts. The charming hopelessness of the situation should be obvious to anyone, however. A naturalist morality is a manifest absurdity, something rather on the order of a square circle, and it requires almost heroic contortions of logic to make the notion seem credible. Fortunately the human will to believe is indefatigable.