The screen is alight, and a unified choir of cheers erupting from the thousands of fans filling the stadium being pumped at high volume from the speakers in the café satiates the air. Before me is an omelette, half a fresh-baked baguette, and a quaint bowl of plain joghurt adorned with müsli and tidbits of fruit, sliced unseen five minutes ago by a Sri Lanken in an unseen kitchen. It is a Sunday afternoon in my life.
The throng of faces from those seated around me - a mob of perhaps a hundred or so - are plastered with the stares of a strange palpable vacancy. A vacuousness which is exchanged every ten minutes or so for spattered cries of disbelief, shock, ecstasy, or anger. Their collective gaze is fixed cement-like to the screen hung in the furthest corner of the café. Actually I, as well as the mob, am seated on the sunny terrace of this loveliest of cafés - a café to which my heart has been romantically stapled since I green-hornedly ran across it nine years ago at the age of twenty two as a young man in search of adventure in Europe.
At my table, a book is open, spread-eagled. I am reading "Stories Remembered", a book elucidating my own family's convoluted and humorous history beginning in the sixteen hundreds! I have been engrossed in this book for weeks, as the irresistible, oddly satisfying tales it possesses provide wonderfully detailed anecdotal snapshots of my direct, long-dead, ascendants. I am opened now to an unspecified page. Beside me, the pleasant fresh-faced waitress I only know as Roxanna, edges by clutching a pocket computer and thin stylus. An old man near the enchanting Bächle is holding his wallet in the air. Far above us, the long regal branches of an enormous old horse chestnut, branches which conclude in leaves brilliantly green and supple, apply shade to the entire throng, me, the old man, Roxanna, and even the passersby. It is difficult not to feel a sort of majesty of good fortune.
Suddenly, a ripple of concern erupts from the throng, carrying with it that timbre of the human voice which connotes that some awful spectacle may be seconds away. It is emitted by an absolute multitude of throats around me - as though their owners had just caught sight of a baby carriage slipping precariously towards a street rife with traffic. Naturally, my own instincts are aroused, and I raise my head from reading to scan the horizon for impending disaster.
But. There isn't any.
Suddenly, this cacophony of events sheds its seemingly random skin, reassembling itself into an unexpected analysis. I am holding my book, solid and heavy in my hands, staring out into the crowd, on this Sunday afternoon in my life, a bright, fantastically sun-soaked Sunday afternoon in my thirty second year on Earth and I experience the odd recognition of being an enormous outsider. A fly lands on my arm. It tickles, in the hairs. But. I shall not swat.
Why has my pulse never raced while watching televised sport? I don't know. Shouts are now being hurled at the screen by the throng. One woman rises from her chair. She screams. Prematurely. The kick has flown beyond the goal and will be fielded from the corner. It is not a scream rife with pleasure. There is the sincere dread of terrible possibility in it. No one is laughing. If this team loses (FC Freiburg), there seems every chance that many of those in this throng will carry the defeat with them, as though they had experienced some tangible loss. I deal with those afflicted by such outcomes weekly. I find them slumped in corners, nursing their shattered selves, thinking about eleven men who will never know their name.
Then I think, "Televised sports, religion - connection? Cousins? Embarrassingly close cousins? Does my lack of interest in the one have similarities with my lack of interest in the other? At all? At all, meaningfully?" It occurs to me to raise this issue in some kind of story-cum-article, and post it on the ex-Christian.net website. Cautiously, I wonder if others there have experienced moments like this. And then, I cannot resist the urge: of course, my eyes start mopping up the tenuous connections which I will later enumerate deftly in the article: sports apparel equating crucifixes on chains, the cries to beings who cannot respond, the allegiance stemming principally from geography, the assemblies with the like-minded for church-time/game-time (the throng at this café couldn't be a more quintessential example), the intellectual angle for those so inclined: delving into the precision world of player stats on par with delving into Jesus stats - who did what, when, why, and how, and how quickly and with what detail and speed can you regurgitate it?
I sigh. I let "Stories Remembered" close on my index finger like a sandwich. The analogy feels somehow too thin to return home to and spend much time trying to expand the similarities in ass-kicking detail. Presently, a self-materialized, mentally-constructed apologist of football takes an uninvited seat beside me.
He is, appropriately enough, an avuncular, translucent apparition of David Beckham. He clears his throat as he lays a warm hand on my shoulder, and, suddenly, I feel as though I have returned to that terrible day - fourteen years ago - in high school, that afternoon on which I was plucked jarringly from journalism class and ushered via Strongarm the hall monitor into the cool, sterile silence of the Vice-Principal's office.
Now, says Beckham, returning to this lovely afternoon at the café "You don't watch football because - let's be honest - you simply don't want football to be true, do you?"
There is silence following this. After patiently waiting for the attention of Roxanna, and then her standing good-naturedly beside the table as I sort through my wallet for the pink of a ten-Euro note, she refuses to accept the tip I suggest of seventy cents. Before I can protest, she has gone. Slightly crest-fallen, I lumber away from the scene of these mental gymnastics, which I have performed all in a very short time, at a table on the cobblestone terrace of my choicest of choice cafés. The sea of heads comprising the throng - the reactions of which have much on par with a school of turning fish - slowly recedes as I amble towards home. I thrust my hands into the pockets of my C&A jeans, prefaded and striped. Probably I won't write anything. Not as I imagined it all, anyway. It is very likely that the comparison between sport and religion has been done a variety of times by an absolute multitude of authors. Googling it would probably be depressing. You'd only discover just how unoriginal a concept it really is, I tell myself.
Most likely I will not wind up writing anything at all.
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Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)