Is There Any Religion Left In America Outside Redneck Mississippi

The Pope's resignation is only one in a miasma of signs that imply organized religion is declining in our times. At least in the northern, urbane half of the world and of the US, leaving it to still flourish in the southern, less sophisticated halves. Which halves have the most to show for their choices can be debated either way. What can't be debated is that we already have a vast alternative religion in place.

It's called organized sports, and if you take a close look, it has many of the same features.

If religion provides the masses with a sense of tribal belonging and mass transcendence, behold the screaming masses at any college, NFL, NBA game on any given weekend. The crowds throng into their cathedrals -- Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field,, the Superdome, Madison Square Garden -- filling the pews with high attention and deep devotion. Watch the fans and you are watching that 'old time religion' in loud living color.

To add to the experience, the congregation often wears the same sacred vestments the players do. They even carry sacred relics of their favorite players as in autographed balls, jerseys, and socks. I mean, there ain't nothing down in Baptist Mississippi that's any holier than this kind of crowd devotion.

What at one time was simply 9 innings or 4 quarters of a sporting event, have now become enormous ceremonials in which the masses -- in the stands or in their living rooms -- can join hands, hearts and hopes as they collectively worship the great god: Victory.

We sometimes talk about how early Christians died for their faith in the Roman Coliseum. Is there much less faith at work when over-loyal fans pour out of the pews and cathedrals to engage the hectics in the crowd who are not of the same faith? If Pope Benedict could still count on such deep rivers of allegiance from his followers as do today's NFL and MLB heroes -- well, he might not be resigning.

Hallelujah, brother Billy and Sister Sally, ain't relgion wonderful...?

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