Sports

The Religious Roots of the Olympics

Ancient Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens.

Ancient Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens.

When the Summer Olympics opened in London, there was a version of a religious ritual in the Olympic oath, procession of athletes and lighting of the flame. This was no accident because the modern Olympics have religious roots, though they appear to have largely secular fruits.

I'm reminded of this fact because it was in London in 1908 that Anglican Bishop Ethelbert Talbot first said, "The most important thing in these Olympics is not so much winning as taking part" — a phrase that became part of the Olympic creed. He was following in the footsteps of the Rev. Henri Didon, a Catholic priest who gets credit for the official Olympic motto "citius, altius, fortius" (faster, higher, stronger).

The founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was educated by Jesuits. "The first essential characteristic of the Olympics, both ancient as well as modern, is to be a religion … above and outside the churches," he said. He was influenced by proponents of "muscular Christianity," who turned away from traditional Christian contempt for the body and used sports as a method of strengthening faith and morality.

Muscular Christianity became popular in Victorian England and spread to the U.S., where it shaped the programs of the YMCA and Boy Scouts of America, as well as church sports leagues. Although it declined in mainline Protestantism in the 20th century, it remained strong in evangelical organizations, such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Promise Keepers. Today, muscular Christianity is alive and well in professional athletes such as Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin.

The Faith of Four U.S. Women Olympians

The 2012 Olympic games are approaching quickly. This Friday, more than 10,000 athletes will gather in London to celebrate athleticism and competition in 26 sports. While the hype of an event like this may drive athletes to revel in the spotlight, others find it’s the best avenue for an intimate connection with God.

At this year’s games, the United States boasts a plethora of athletes, but alongside incredible athleticism, some are gaining attention for their personal faith.

GODSPEED: Religion at the Olympics, from Greece to London

A 600-foot footrace was the only athletic event at the first Olympics, a festival held in 776 B.C. and dedicated to Zeus, the chief Greek god.

For the next millennium, Greeks gathered every four years in Olympia to honor Zeus through sports, sacrifices and hymns. The five-day festival brought the Greek world together in devotion to one deity.

What began in ancient Greece as a festival to honor a single god, Zeus, has now become an almost Olympian task, as organizers of the games navigate dozens of sacred fasts, religious rituals and holy days. 

The London Olympics will try to accommodate religious athletes with 193 chaplains, a prayer room in every venue and a multifaith center in the Olympic Village.

Athletes at the ancient Olympics believed their training honored the gods, and victory was a sign of favor from a deity. As contests like wrestling, boxing, and horse racing were added to the Olympic roster, they supplemented devotional sacrifices, hymns, and ceremonies.

“The idea was that you were training to please Zeus. But part of the festival would be to visit the temple, visit the cult statues, making offerings, celebrating and seeing your family,” said David Gilman Romano, a professor of Greek archaeology at the University of Arizona.

The combination of Greek sport and worship led the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, a Christian, to ban the Olympics in 393 A.D.

Olympics Won’t Include Memorial Moment for Murdered Israelis

JERUSALEM — Despite international pressure — including support from both U.S. presidential candidates — the International Olympic Committee has refused to include a moment of silence at Friday's (July 27) opening ceremony for Israeli athletes killed by terrorists at the games 40 years ago.

President Obama and his likely GOP challenger, Mitt Romney, have both called for the IOC to honor the 11 Israelis murdered in Munich in 1972.

"We absolutely support the campaign for a moment of silence at the Olympics to honor the Israeli athletes killed in Munich," Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement.

IOC President Jacques Rogge said a smaller, more somber ceremony would better memorialize the tragedy.

IOC officials made a brief statement and held a moment of silence on Monday during a pre-Olympics event in London, where the 2012 games begin on Friday.

"I would like to start today's ceremony by honoring the memory of 11 Israeli Olympians who shared the ideals that have brought us together in this beautiful Olympic Village," Rogge said.

Ramadan Fast Poses Challenge for Muslim Olympians

Suleiman Nyambui (center), who ran at UTEP between 1978-1982 and won the silver

Suleiman Nyambui (center), who ran at UTEP between 1978-1982 and won the silver medal at the 1980 Olympics. Photo courtesy RNS.

This year, more than 3,000 Muslim athletes will compete in the Olympics, but many will not fast, a decision that has been sanctioned by religious authorities. While Muslims are increasingly common on Western teams -- for example British rower Mohamed Sbihi and French boxer Rachid Azzedine -- no Muslims made the U.S. team this year.

Nyambui said the hard part about track is training. Competing is easy. Had Ramadan occurred before the Olympics, when athletes prepare their bodies for competition, then his performance would have suffered, he said. He acknowledged that fasting can present difficulties for athletes, but usually only during the first or second weeks of Ramadan when the body is still adjusting to the rigors of fasting.

“After that people are used to it,” said Nyambui, speaking from his office in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's largest city. “People play soccer, they can go jogging, they can go swimming.”

Church Softball League Calls a Foul on Bisexual Pastor

softball photo via Mark Herreid / Shutterstock

softball photo via Mark Herreid / Shutterstock

"Three congregations said they were uncomfortable playing our team because I am their pastor and I am an out bisexual person," said the Rev. James Semmelroth Darnell, 27, "which is surprising because I don't even play."

Darnell called the pastors' reaction ridiculous.

"It seems like my sexuality doesn't have anything to do with how my congregation plays softball," Darnell said. "It's frustrating because this is who is representing Christianity in our community, and this is the message youths in our community are getting."

Conservatives Go After ‘NASCAR Christian’ Vote

Patriotic racecar.Walter G Arce / Shutterstock.com

Patriotic racecar.Walter G Arce / Shutterstock.com

Back in John Kerry’s ill-fated 2004 presidential campaign, Democrats tried to attract so-called “NASCAR Dads” – white, working-class, mainly Southern fellows – to try to blunt George W. Bush’s re-election and show folks that Kerry was not a wealthy patrician who only appealed to “soccer moms.”

Now Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition is trying to corral what might be called “NASCAR Christians” in hopes that social conservatives will give Mitt Romney a crucial boost in November.

NFL Salary Increase Ten Times the Poverty Line

Two things to consider:

1) On Sunday, the NFL announced that it had increased the salary cap for athletes by $225,000. Last year, players could make $120.375 million dollars per year; this year they can make $120.6 million.

2) The income requirements for an American family of four to be above the poverty limit is $23,050 – a figure nearly one tenth the amount of the .2 percent increase awarded to athletes.

Jeremy Lin and Jesus: A Round Up

Jeremy Lin drives to the basket against the Toronto Raptors, Feb. 14, 2012. Phot

Jeremy Lin drives to the basket against the Toronto Raptors, Feb. 14, 2012. Photo via GETTY IMAGES .

Jeremy Lin has been all the hype this week, but in case you’re still not familiar with him, or are still navigating the waters, we’ve rounded up some of the best coverage of Lin and his faith from the past week. But before diving in, you can read a bit of Lin’s background story and see how he compares to the popular Christian athlete Tim Tebow, in Sojourners’ assistant’s Joshua Witchger and James Colten’s article “The Lin-carnation of Tim Tebow?” And for a little exploration on crafting our own heroes, see God’s Politics contributor Christian Piatt’s “Jeremy Lin and Messiah Formula.” 

 

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