For Christians, it’s sometimes hard to admit believing in the supernatural, the legitimacy of miracles, an afterlife, and following an ancient text written thousands of years ago by numerous authors that have been divinely inspired by an all-knowing, all-powerful, and omnipresent God.
At first glance, Christianity seems at odds with an increasingly “secular” culture that views spirituality as old-fashioned and irrelevant, but our society reveals that everything — and everyone — is spiritual on some level.
Humans are naturally religious and spiritual whether they like it or not. Here are four of the most popular (non)religions of the world:
1. The Religion of Sport
Few people pray more fervently, earnestly, and passionately than when their favorite sports teams — and athletes — are competing.
With arms outstretched, they wildly clap, cheer, chant, cry, and scream at the top of their lungs. Wearing costumes, jerseys, and following time-honored traditions, fanatical followers of sport are driven by faith — converted through either their family, friends, communities, or vast media marketing.
The stadiums are their churches, the crowds their parishioners, the coaches their preachers, the athletes their Saints, the opposition their Sinners, and the referees their Satan. They dress according to custom, follow strict doctrines, attend weekly scheduled events and gatherings, and are unified through a shared belief in their savior — the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees, the Boston Celtics, Real Madrid, or any other sports entity that they piously follow.
They prophesy about their future, and their identity is deeply associated with their team and its community — publicly proselytizing and shamelessly promoting their beliefs.
There’s a season for everything, but when the sports season ends it’s accompanied by either celebration or mourning. Sports are a part of who they are — giving them varying degrees of security, value, and worth through both successes and failures.
Emotions such as hope, fear, anxiety, anger, nervousness, and joy are an addictive fuel that keep people coming back for more, and there’s a distinct belief — or desperate hope — in divine sovereignty, justice, revenge, judgment, and favor related to sports — especially during a championship or waning moments of a game.
The love for sports is so radical that billion-dollar industries are created and its participants are given absurd salaries to fulfill our wildest dreams.
It may sound like hyperbole, but it’s the reality of millions of people around the word. Just follow the money: church-goers generally give about 2 percent of their annual income to the church, while families involved in athletics give around 10 percent to things sport-related.
2. The Religion of Politics
Nobody claims to solve more of the world’s problems, or promises to have the solutions to the serious issues such as war, poverty, social services, safety, employment, justice, and general happiness than political parties.
Political communities and institutions have some of the most devoted followers in the world. They also have the best fundraisers, strategists, marketers, researchers, and promoters.
They act as missionaries: telemarketing, going door-to-door, passing out pamphlets, staging glitzy rallies, inviting people into communities, debating, and performing charismatic speeches — all in the name of promoting their specific platforms, agendas, and political heroes.
Promising to tell the truth, reveal the truth, and promote the truth while vastly improving the standard of living, politics are the hope of billions of people — many of which will willingly dedicate their lives to the cause.
3. The Religion of Consumerism
Few things are more essential within our culture than the must-have brands and products that we can’t live without. The iPhone, Google, Facebook, and all of our favorite apps.
Take away someone’s smartphone for a day — or even a few minutes — and see what happens. They can hardly function without it.
In an age of consumerism consisting of an endless choice of products, we have turned brand loyalty into a religion.
Corporate symbols and logos are everywhere: on vehicles, billboards, television, and online. Theme songs, slogans, catch phrases, celebrity spokespeople, and marketing campaigns daily inundate our existence.
The products and brands — and companies behind them — make promises and guarantees that are both big and small. They request loyalty and crave nothing less than lifelong devotion.
4. The Religion of Pornography
Sex is deeply spiritual. It’s enticing, captivating, satisfying, psychological, emotional, and physical all at once. It can be addictive.
And while millions of people watch porn, only a minority percentage claim it’s morally acceptable. Most despise it despite willingly viewing it.
What’s practiced doesn’t match what’s preached — or believed. Despite acknowledging its evils, a majority of porn viewers can’t quit.
Thus, like most major religions, there’s plenty of hypocrisy and deception.
Although publicly admitting such practices would bring shame, ridicule, and judgment, most will continue to watch porn as long as they’re not “caught” or put into uncomfortable situations. Porn is a crutch, tool, and means to an end that’s used to quench unfulfilled relational, mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs.
All people are desperately looking for some form of satisfaction, and for millions of people porn is perceived as a provider of it.
Overall, these four religions are practiced by countless people around the world. And yet they go unrecognized as the deeply spiritual practices that they really are.
Unbeknownst to us, we participate in one of these major religions on a yearly, monthly, daily, and sometime hourly basis. It begs the question: Where is our time, energy, emotion, thoughts, and money being invested? They will reveal which gods we are really worshipping. God help us.
Stephen Mattson blogs at stephenjmattson.com. He's contributed for Relevant Magazine, Redletterchristians.org , and studied Youth Ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. He is now on staff at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.
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