Basketball: Cachez ces racines chrétiennes que je ne saurai voir (From the Y to Jeremy Lin: Reviving basketball’s original Christian values)

Ne savez-vous pas que ceux qui courent dans le stade courent tous, mais qu’un seul remporte le prix? Courez de manière à le remporter. Tous ceux qui combattent s’imposent toute espèce d’abstinences, et ils le font pour obtenir une couronne corruptible; mais nous, faisons-le pour une couronne incorruptible. Paul
J’ai combattu le bon combat, j’ai achevé la course, j’ai gardé la foi. Paul
Le triangle est l’exemple d’une harmonie essentielle à l’homme sur les plans spirituel, intellectuel et physique. Luther Gulick (moniteur d’éducation physique du YMCA et créateur du symbole triangulaire des YMCA, 1891)
Je remercie Dieu pour tout. Comme la Bible le dit: Dieu travaille pour le bien de tous ceux qui l’aiment. Jeremy Lin
En Chine, les églises qui refusent de se soumettre au contrôle officiel de l’Etat, sont soumises à des arrestations et des pressions. Les limites sont strictes et toute sortie de ce cadre est dangereuse. Pékin cherche des moyens de contrôler les chrétiens. Des événements comme les Jeux olympiques ou la foire internationale ont été utilisés pour reprocher leur taille à certaines églises. Ils ont peur d’une Eglise indépendante et libre. Michel Varton
Taiwan est un des rares problèmes stratégiques qui puisse provoquer une guerre mondiale aussi sûrement que l’Alsace-Lorraine au début du siècle dernier. Thérèse Delpech
Il serait normal non seulement de cesser de répéter à toute occasion que Taiwan est une province chinoise sans tenir compte de l’histoire, mais aussi de soutenir cette Chine démocratique qui fait la démonstration que les valeurs qui sont les nôtres ont leur place dans cette partie du monde. Thérèse Delpech
Un des grands problèmes de la Russie – et plus encore de la Chine – est que, contrairement aux camps de concentration hitlériens, les leurs n’ont jamais été libérés et qu’il n’y a eu aucun tribunal de Nuremberg pour juger les crimes commis. Thérèse Delpech
Quels sont les mouvements porteurs d’exigence démocratique et/ou de modernisation (économique, sociale, politique) qui ne sont pas passés par la “case” chrétienne? Jean-François Sabouret (Université Paris V)
Une économie de marché a le grand avantage d’apprendre aux gens à ne pas être paresseux. Mais elle ne peut pas leur apprendre à ne pas mentir ou à ne pas se faire de mal les uns aux autres. Zhao Xiao (Economiste de l’Université de Pékin)
Bush (…) se soucie davantage des droits de l’homme en Chine que Bill Clinton, et bien plus encore que les Européens. (…) Le christianisme fait partie de l’histoire chinoise. Ce n’est pas la religion des Blancs; elle appartient à tous. Yu Jie
Au-delà de ses aptitudes soudain découvertes, les particularités de Lin sont diverses et expliquent cet engouement extraordinaire dont il est difficile de prendre la mesure en France. La première est qu’il est Américain d’origine asiatique. Né à Palo Alto, en Californie, ses parents sont Taïwanais et sont arrivés aux Etats-Unis dans les années 70. Ce n’est pas la toute première fois qu’un Américain d’origine asiatique figure en NBA, mais cela reste une vraie rareté. (…) Le second motif de starisation réside dans le fait que Jeremy Lin est chrétien et parle ouvertement et simplement de sa foi et touche le cœur de nombre de ses (nouveaux) supporters avec lesquels il échange sur la force divine qui le porterait aujourd’hui. (…) Cette nouvelle référence à Dieu, qui n’est pas en soi un événement dans un pays comme les Etats-Unis, intervient quelques semaines après un autre raz-de-marée médiatique qui avait submergé une autre star improbable du sport américain, Tim Tebow, quarterback des Broncos de Denver. Jusqu’à récemment, Tebow, malgré une belle carrière chez les universitaires, n’avait pas suscité beaucoup de commentaires sur ses performances ballon en main jusqu’au moment où propulsé lui aussi sur le terrain alors que cela n’était pas prévu, il s’est imposé comme le sujet n°1 de l’actualité sportive et nationale. En quelques matches gagnés par les Broncos et le nouveau héros de l’Amérique, le tebowing s’est propagé comme une traînée de poudre en hommage à ce joueur épris de religion qui n’hésitait pas à prier en plein match en posant un genou à terre visage baissé. Cette pose caractéristique et spectaculaire devint une signature à travers les Etats-Unis, mais aussi au-delà de ses frontières. «Il est en mission de Dieu pour affecter les vies des autres gens», alla même jusqu’à déclarer le père de ce jeune sportif de 24 ans ouvertement «pro life», c’est-à-dire militant contre l’avortement, qui a fini par rencontrer sa propre limite de joueur en s’inclinant avec son équipe lors des play-offs. Slate

Taiwano-américain, diplomé de Harvard, chrétien fervent se destinant au pastorat …

Alors que le meneur des New York Knicks Jeremy Lin vient, en à peine une semaine et contre tous les stéréotypes (déjà deux couvertures de US Sports illustrated et une de Time Asie  pour, après  le nippo-américain Wataru Misaka – dès 1944 soit six ans après le premier noir – ou les Chinois Yao Ming et Yi Jianlian, ce rare Asiatique de la NBA), de  faire pour le basketball ce que son compatriote et frère en la foi chrétienne Michael Chang avait fait 25 ans plus tôt pour le tennis …

Pendant que dans une Chine toujours impunie et prête à tout pour récupérer la première et seule démocratie chinoise de l’hsitoire et qui dans l’indifférence générale continue à persécuter les chrétiens et ne respecte rien, on spécule déjà sur la valeur commerciale de son nom …

Et qu’en France on risque l’excommunication politique pour avoir évoqué l’évidente supériorité de nos valeurs judéo-chrétiennes …

Qui se souvient que le basketball est en fait l’invention d’une association chrétienne?

Le groupe de prière et d’étude de la Bible pour les jeunes hommes issus de l’exode rural créé à Londres il y a près de 170 ans par le commis drapier George Williams

Et qui, avec ses émules nord-américains James Naismith et William Morgan moins de 50 ans plus tard, devait donner au monde avec le volleyball, deux de ses sports les plus populaires?

A savoir, avant sa récupération comme terrain de chasse par les homosexuels,… la YMCA, dite « Union chrétienne de jeunes gens » en français?

Basketball : historique de ses origines à nos jours

10 janvier 2007

L’histoire du basketball s’écrit en plusieurs épisodes. Le plus ancien remonte au temps des Indiens Mayas d’Amérique Centrale.

En effet, on retrouve sur d’anciens manuscrits d’époque trouvés dans le Yucatan au Mexique, des traces de jeux le « pok-ta-pok » ou le « Tlatchtli » ayant les mêmes principes que le Basketball que pratiquaient les Aztèques en l’honneur du dieu Quetzoal coat (représenté par un serpent à plumes). Ces jeux se déroulaient sur un terrain plat et rectangulaire de 10 à 15 mètres de largeur et de 30 à 60 mètres de longueur entourée de murs de 7 à 8 mètres de hauteur. Deux disques troués placés perpendiculairement au sol de 35 à 60 cm de diamètre étaient fixés à 2,70 mètres de hauteur. Le but du jeu était de faire passer une balle de 25 à 30 centimètres de diamètre à travers l’anneau de l’adversaire. Le capitaine de l’équipe perdante était sacrifié aux dieux !

Cependant, la forme moderne du basketball fut inventé par le Canadien James Naismith (né le 06 Novembre 1861 à Almonte au Canada et mort le 28 Novembre 1939).

Dès son plus jeune âge, James Naismith démontre un vif intérêt pour le sport. Malgré son travail à la ferme de ses parents, il joue avec ses copains et il est reconnu comme étant le plus habile et le plus athlétique.

En 1883, il commence des études universitaires à McGill (Montréal), et poursuit également un baccalauréat d’éducation physique. Il pratique alors le Rugby, La Crosse et le conditionnement physique. L’activité physique est au centre de son univers.

En 1890, il quitte Montréal pour Spingfield dans le Massachusetts (USA). Il devient alors professeur.

En 1891, il enseigne la psychologie, l’étude de la Bible et la culture physique à l’école de formation de l’International Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) à Springfield au Massachusetts. Sa classe est particulièrement indisciplinée, et face à cela le directeur des sports lui demande de trouver une occupation pour calmer ses élèves. Etant en pleine période hivernale interdisant les sports d’extérieur et étant adepte de l’adage « un esprit sain dans un corps sain », il propose des cours de gymnastique suédoise auxquels ses étudiants n’adhèrent pas du tout.

Naismith se met donc à travailler sur une projet susceptible de résoudre ses difficultés : trouver une nouvelle activité physique qui deviendrait un sport d’hivers, c’est à dire praticable en salle, et qui prendrait place entre la saison de football américain et celle du base-ball. Après avoir tenté en vain d’adapter le soccer, le football américain et le jeu de crosse aux dimensions du gymnase, James Naismith propose un jeu où :

1. le ballon sera suffisamment gros que l’on puisse le lancer et l’attraper facilement

2. les courses avec le ballon seront interdites pour éviter les plaquages sur le sol du gymnase.

3. une position surélevée des buts afin de favoriser l’adresse à la force.

Le seul problème immédiat consistait à décider ce qu’il fallait utiliser pour marquer des buts. Un certain Stebbins, lui proposa deux anciens cageots de pêches puisqu’il ne possédait rien d’autre. Notre inventeur les prit et arrivant dans le gymnase leva la tête pour trouver l’endroit ou il pourrait les accrocher ; dans cette salle de sports, comme dans toutes les salles de l’époque, courait une galerie en forme de piste sur laquelle les athlètes s’échauffaient : Naismith fixa ses buts sur la rampe de cette galerie (qui était à 3.05 mètres du sol) appela sa classe et lança la partie après de brève explications :

1. le ballon sera spécial, c’est-à-dire différent de ceux utilisés pour le football américain ou l’association. Gros et léger, il sera joué uniquement avec les mains sans pouvoir être dissimulé.

2. interdiction de courir avec la balle en raison de l’exiguïté des gymnases et du contrôle de soi recherché.

3. pas de « contacts chocs ».

4. tout joueur peut obtenir la balle à n’importe quel moment et n’importe quel endroit sur le terrain (pour le différencier du football américain).

5. le but est horizontal et élevé et de petite dimension pour qu’il soit fait appel plus à l’adresse qu’à la puissance.

Le coup d’envoi du premier match donné, William Chase marqua l’unique « but » de la partie ce qui permit à son équipe de l’emporter sur le score d’1 à 0. Le basket était né. Malgré quelques lacunes, le jeu enthousiasma les élèves. Si bien que, immédiatement, les garçons décidèrent de le baptiser « Naismith-ball » : cela amusa beaucoup l’inventeur mais il refusa. Alors le chef de la classe (Franch Mahan) proposa qu’on le nomme simplement « Basket-ball » puisqu’il avait « a basket and a ball ».

Avec l’aide de l’Américain Luther Halsey Gulick, il peaufina le règlement et écrivit les 13 règles originelles du basket-ball et le premier match officiel fut joué le 20 janvier 1892. Chaque équipe avait sept joueurs puis neuf puis huit et puis finalement 5 en 1897-1898. A l’origine, les tirs réussis comptaient 3 points, chaque équipe possédait son tireur de « lancer franc » spécialement chargé de tenter toutes les réparations accordées à ses équipiers. Les matches se jouaient en 3 périodes de 20 minutes.

Le basket se répandit rapidement parce que les diplômés de la Y.M.C.A. voyageaient beaucoup et son inventeur donnait les règles du jeu à qui les voulait. Séduisant par sa grande vitesse et l’adresse requise, le jeu s’étendit rapidement à tout l’Est des USA puis à travers le pays entier dès que les éducateurs prirent conscience de ses possibilités. Les Y.M.C.A. permirent le développement de ce sport dans tous les Etats-Unis jusqu’en 1896, date à laquelle un championnat lycéen vit le jour au Colorado alors qu’une ligue pro se créa dans le New-Jersey. Le mouvement du Y.M.C.A. aidant, les universités américaines adoptèrent rapidement le basket : les universités de l’Ivy League, comme Yale, Harvard, Princeton ou Cornwell furent les premières à former des équipes, bientôt suivies au début du siècle par toutes les autres.

Diffusé par la Y.M.C.A., le basket eut bientôt une audience mondiale dès la première guerre. Le jeu gagna rapidement tout le pays, le Canada et les autres pays du monde, et était pratiqué par des hommes et des femmes ! des matchs eurent lieu en plein air. Il fut introduit en Europe en 1892 par le Professeur Rideout, l’un des débutants de Springfield. Il fallut attendre l’année 1909 pour voir le premier match international de l’histoire entre le Russian Mayak Sports Club contre une sélection Y.M.C.A. à Saint-Pétersbourg.

Pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, les soldats américains firent connaître ce jeu dans de nombreux pays étrangers et depuis les années 1950, le basket-ball est universellement apprécié. Il est aujurd’hui réglementé par la Fédération Internationale de Basket-ball Amateur (F.I.B.A crée en 1932).

Voir aussi:

Jeremy Lin, entre Dieu et Kim Kardashian

Yannick Cochennec

Slate 22.02.12

Nous voilà à l’heure du sport réalité où des inconnus deviennent des stars nationales et internationales en quelques jours. Le très croyant Jeremy Lin, basketteur des Knicks de New York, en est le spectaculaire dernier spécimen.

En l’espace de quelques jours, Jeremy Lin s’est catapulté au rang de star aux Etats-Unis, mais aussi au niveau international. A 23 ans, ce basketteur quasi inconnu à la fin janvier est devenu, en effet, la nouvelle vedette des planchers de la NBA, le championnat professionnel américain.

Joueur des Knicks de New York, équipe qu’il a rejointe voilà quelques mois après avoir été négligé par les Golden State Warriors, son précédent employeur, Lin, ancien étudiant de Harvard, avait davantage l’habitude de cirer le banc des remplaçants jusqu’au jour où une cascade de blessures a précipité son entrée en scène dans le cinq majeur new-yorkais. Et aussitôt, il a capté toute la lumière grâce à des performances étonnantes qui ont rejailli sur les résultats remarquables de son équipe, invaincue pendant sept matches consécutifs entre le 3 et le 17 février, alors qu’elle n’est pas l’une des plus en vue du championnat NBA. A la huitième rencontre, la défaite est finalement arrivée contre les Hornets de la Nouvelle-Orléans. Deux jours plus tard, les Knicks ont surpris les Mavericks de Dallas, champions en titre, relançant le buzz.

Rareté asiatique

Au-delà de ses aptitudes soudain découvertes, les particularités de Lin sont diverses et expliquent cet engouement extraordinaire dont il est difficile de prendre la mesure en France. La première est qu’il est Américain d’origine asiatique. Né à Palo Alto, en Californie, ses parents sont Taïwanais et sont arrivés aux Etats-Unis dans les années 70. Ce n’est pas la toute première fois qu’un Américain d’origine asiatique figure en NBA, mais cela reste une vraie rareté.

Tous les pays accueillant des communautés asiatiques relativement importantes ont relayé la nouvelle comme le Canada et Vancouver. Ainsi, à des milliers de kilomètres de New York, le quotidien principal, le Vancouver Sun, n’a pas hésité à offrir une partie de sa Une à la nouvelle icône. Le néologisme anglais Linsanity -il y en a d’autres- est devenu une sorte de mot générique pour accompagner la folie douce autour de la nouvelle idole des Knicks.

Le second motif de starisation réside dans le fait que Jeremy Lin est chrétien et parle ouvertement et simplement de sa foi et touche le cœur de nombre de ses (nouveaux) supporters avec lesquels il échange sur la force divine qui le porterait aujourd’hui. «Je remercie Dieu pour tout, dit-il. Comme la Bible le dit: Dieu travaille pour le bien de tous ceux qui l’aiment.» Son compte Twitter reprend cette phrase en anglais concernant le tout puissant: «To know Him is to want to know Him more.» Quant à la photo de son profil, elle vaut vraiment le coup d’oeil.

Dieu est avec eux

Cette nouvelle référence à Dieu, qui n’est pas en soi un événement dans un pays comme les Etats-Unis, intervient quelques semaines après un autre raz-de-marée médiatique qui avait submergé une autre star improbable du sport américain, Tim Tebow, quarterback des Broncos de Denver.

Jusqu’à récemment, Tebow, malgré une belle carrière chez les universitaires, n’avait pas suscité beaucoup de commentaires sur ses performances ballon en main jusqu’au moment où propulsé lui aussi sur le terrain alors que cela n’était pas prévu, il s’est imposé comme le sujet n°1 de l’actualité sportive et nationale. En quelques matches gagnés par les Broncos et le nouveau héros de l’Amérique, le tebowing s’est propagé comme une traînée de poudre en hommage à ce joueur épris de religion qui n’hésitait pas à prier en plein match en posant un genou à terre visage baissé.

Cette pose caractéristique et spectaculaire devint une signature à travers les Etats-Unis, mais aussi au-delà de ses frontières. «Il est en mission de Dieu pour affecter les vies des autres gens», alla même jusqu’à déclarer le père de ce jeune sportif de 24 ans ouvertement «pro life», c’est-à-dire militant contre l’avortement, qui a fini par rencontrer sa propre limite de joueur en s’inclinant avec son équipe lors des play-offs.

Il est probable que Jeremy Lin retombera vite sur terre et que le conte de fées s’arrêtera peut-être comme il avait commencé puisqu’à ce stade, il est encore très difficile d’être certain de la qualification des Knicks en play-offs de la NBA –n’imaginons même pas un titre national au début de l’été. Mais l’histoire est captivante car elle offre aux medias et au public une nouvelle version de Cendrillon dont le sport est si friand.

Lorsque Tebow a embrasé l’actualité en décembre et janvier, il s’en est trouvé quelques-uns, parfois de façon virulente, pour se moquer de ses génuflexions sur les terrains de jeu, à l’instar de Bill Maher, bien connu à la télévision américaine. Débordé par le phénomène entre les «pour» et les «contre» Tebow, le site Internet d’ESPN, la chaîne américaine, a fini par abandonner toute modération dans les commentaires afin de laisser s’instaurer le débat ou plutôt le combat. L’écho des performances de Jeremy Lin est pareillement en train de résonner au-delà des cercles habituels du sport en enflammant la Toile entre admirateurs et sceptiques.

Stars en quelques jours

En réalité, même s’ils ont du talent, Jeremy Lin et Tim Tebow ressemblent plus à un miracle de Lourdes qu’à autre chose. Aspergée d’eau bénite, leur histoire est aussi un peu à l’eau de rose, mais elle s’inscrit complètement dans le monde aujourd’hui où il est possible de devenir une star intergalactique à la faveur de deux ou trois apparitions réussies à la télévision. C’est nouveau: nous voilà à l’heure du sport réalité.

Jadis pour pouvoir prétendre être une vedette du sport, un certain temps était nécessaire. Pour se retrouver à la Une de la presse, il fallait commencer par faire ses preuves puis confirmer. Désormais, comme les stars de la télé réalité, des sportifs inconnus sont désormais propulsés au sommet de leur discipline en un claquement de doigt et risquent d’être aussi vite oubliés dès que s’éloignera d’eux le halo de la réussite. Tim Tebow n’est pas un grand quarterback et Jeremy Lin risque d’attendre longtemps avant de glisser une bague de champion à son doigt.

De manière symptomatique, une rumeur s’est d’ailleurs propagée au sujet de Lin. Certains sites people ont relayé l’information selon laquelle Kim Kardashian, icône de la télé réalité aux Etats-Unis, s’était mise en tête de dîner avec le nouveau Dieu américain (après tout, ne se s’est-elle pas mariée avec un autre basketteur, Kris Humphries, pour en divorcer moins de trois mois plus tard?). Vrai ou faux? Qu’importe. Peut-être lassé de ses stars, le sport s’est découvert à l’évidence un fascinant nouveau registre avec le sport réalité. Bientôt en France? Amen!

NBA

Jeremy Lin Had a Counterpart in France Long Before Tebow

February 11, 2012

For an illuminating cross-sport comparison with Jeremy Lin, you need to bypass all that Tebowing on the gridiron and head back to a dusty swirl of French clay, where an Asian-American teenager has just shocked the tennis world.

It is 1989, and 17-year-old Michael Chang is holding a microphone, about to speak in English to thousands of French-speaking fans who are so enamored with this sudden star that he would be able to keep their attention even if he just spoke in tongues.

That throng of supporters probably would have thought he was just a ball boy had they seen him first enter the Parisian tennis facilities of Roland Garros. They knew who he was now.

He had just won the French Open, one of the four biggest tournaments in professional tennis. And he had done so in delightfully improbable fashion.

As an Asian-American on such a grand tennis stage, Michael Chang was a conspicuous presence in a sport that was generally as white as the clothes they wore at Wimbledon.

Now standing before thousands of French-speakers, he stood out for his excellent play, not his race. He began to testify, “First, I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Standing there paying divine homage, it must have felt like the first time he had stopped running all week.

Match after match, he had flown around the court under the jet-propelling speed of two massively-developed leg muscles. They were disproportionately strong for his otherwise diminutive frame.

Maybe that is why he had cramped so badly against Ivan Lendl in the semi-finals, having to resort to underhand serves to keep the wily veteran from mercilessly dragging him through more long rallies. Those clever tactics, combined with gutsy play, worked.

Lendl was flummoxed and then beaten.

Chang went on to the finals to cap off his seemingly miraculous run of victories against Stefan Edberg from Sweden.

When Jeremy Lin first stood alone in the bright lights of Madison Square Garden over twenty-years later, a microphone squeaked from the sheer Linsanity of the moment. Lin seemed as dumbfounded as everyone else.

Like Chang, his ethnicity stood out against a backdrop of another race—in this case, mainly African-American. Like Chang, Lin is an evangelical Christian for whom gratitude to God after a spectacular victory flows as naturally as his layups after herky-jerky drives to the hoop.

Like Chang, it must have felt like the first time he had stopped running in quite awhile. He had run around in the D-League, on the Golden State Warriors, and even for a breathlessly brief period this season with the Houston Rockets.

Now after his first major minutes with the Knicks he had just slashed all over the court, handing out assists with precision timing, knocking down long-distance jumpers, and pulling off some cleverly disguised pick-and-roll drives that had left defenders reaching and straining to catch him.

Like Chang, Lin has the support of a vast array of Christians, whose religion (ideally) transcends racial or cultural differences. Like Chang, Lin has sparked new imaginative possibilities for young Asian-Americans in a sport where they are otherwise underrepresented.

And, perhaps, most dramatically, like Chang, Lin has captured the attention and heart of a whole swath of people who could care less about religion or race, and who just can’t get enough of watching someone come out of nowhere, leave everything he has on the court, and do it all with a ton of class.

After his French Open win, Chang went on to become the second-ranked tennis player in the entire world. That was an astounding achievement in an individual sport.

Jeremy Lin has team goals: he wants to take the Knicks to the playoffs, and then the championships.

Before you bet against him, think about what the odds were for an upstart 17-year old Asian-American in 1989, sliding around recklessly on red clay against well-seasoned veterans.

Like Chang, Lin will give it everything he has.

Voir également:

The Jeremy Lin Problem

David Brooks

The NYT

February 16, 2012

Jeremy Lin is anomalous in all sorts of ways. He’s a Harvard grad in the N.B.A., an Asian-American man in professional sports. But we shouldn’t neglect the biggest anomaly. He’s a religious person in professional sports.

We’ve become accustomed to the faith-driven athlete and coach, from Billy Sunday to Tim Tebow. But we shouldn’t forget how problematic this is. The moral ethos of sport is in tension with the moral ethos of faith, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim.

The moral universe of modern sport is oriented around victory and supremacy. The sports hero tries to perform great deeds in order to win glory and fame. It doesn’t really matter whether he has good intentions. His job is to beat his opponents and avoid the oblivion that goes with defeat.

The modern sports hero is competitive and ambitious. (Let’s say he’s a man, though these traits apply to female athletes as well). He is theatrical. He puts himself on display.

He is assertive, proud and intimidating. He makes himself the center of attention when the game is on the line. His identity is built around his prowess. His achievement is measured by how much he can elicit the admiration of other people — the roar of the crowd and the respect of ESPN.

His primary virtue is courage — the ability to withstand pain, remain calm under pressure and rise from nowhere to topple the greats.

This is what we go to sporting events to see. This sporting ethos pervades modern life and shapes how we think about business, academic and political competition.

But there’s no use denying — though many do deny it — that this ethos violates the religious ethos on many levels. The religious ethos is about redemption, self-abnegation and surrender to God.

Ascent in the sports universe is a straight shot. You set your goal, and you climb toward greatness. But ascent in the religious universe often proceeds by a series of inversions: You have to be willing to lose yourself in order to find yourself; to gain everything you have to be willing to give up everything; the last shall be first; it’s not about you.

For many religious teachers, humility is the primary virtue. You achieve loftiness of spirit by performing the most menial services. (That’s why shepherds are perpetually becoming kings in the Bible.) You achieve your identity through self-effacement. You achieve strength by acknowledging your weaknesses. You lead most boldly when you consider yourself an instrument of a larger cause.

The most perceptive athletes have always tried to wrestle with this conflict. Sports history is littered with odd quotations from people who try to reconcile their love of sport with their religious creed — and fail.

Jeremy Lin has wrestled with this tension quite openly. In a 2010 interview with the Web site Patheos, Lin recalled, “I wanted to do well for myself and my team. How can I possibly give that up and play selflessly for God?”

Lin says in that interview that he has learned not to obsess about stats and championships. He continues, “I’m not working hard and practicing day in and day out so that I can please other people. My audience is God. … The right way to play is not for others and not for myself, but for God. I still don’t fully understand what that means; I struggle with these things every game, every day. I’m still learning to be selfless and submit myself to God and give up my game to Him.”

The odds are that Lin will never figure it out because the two moral universes are not reconcilable. Our best teacher on these matters is Joseph Soloveitchik, the great Jewish theologian. In his essays “The Lonely Man of Faith” and “Majesty and Humility” he argues that people have two natures. First, there is “Adam the First,” the part of us that creates, discovers, competes and is involved in building the world. Then, there is “Adam the Second,” the spiritual individual who is awed and humbled by the universe as a spectator and a worshipper.

Soloveitchik plays off the text that humans are products of God’s breath and the dust of the earth, and these two natures have different moral qualities, which he calls the morality of majesty and the morality of humility. They exist in creative tension with each other and the religious person shuttles between them, feeling lonely and slightly out of place in both experiences.

Jeremy Lin is now living this creative contradiction. Much of the anger that arises when religion mixes with sport or with politics comes from people who want to deny that this contradiction exists and who want to live in a world in which there is only one morality, one set of qualities and where everything is easy, untragic and clean. Life and religion are more complicated than that.

 Voir enfin:

THE APOSTLE PAUL AND THE SPORTS

Alois Koch

(published in: W. Schwank (and others edit.): Begegnung. Schriftenreihe zur Geschichte der Beziehung zwischen Christentum und Sport, Volume 1. Aachen 1999, p. 42 – 73 u. 123 – 126.

I.

If one talks in the area of the Christian churches about the modern sport, about its fascination and problems, then the references to the pictures and comparisons from the antique sport, used by the Apostle PAUL in his letters, are rarely missing. Often from the use of these comparisons is even concluded that the Apostle Paul knew the antique sports from his own experience, and had had a positive attitude towards sport. These views are found not only in countless lectures and speeches of bishops and popes, but also in exegetical, moral and pastoral theological writings.

For many authors St Paul « deliberately refers to the world of sport » by these comparisons (G. SÖLL 1972, p. 114); yes, they prove its ethical value: « St Paul, who grew up in the Hellenic culture area, used the sporting life repeatedly as example and comparison for the religious life, and gave so also an excellent example of the ‘value world’ of sports » (WEILER 1996, P. 23) « With St Paul we meet also that biblical authority that in numerous … places furnishes evidence for an exact knowledge of the happening in the stadium and in the palaestra. … From the synopsis of St Paul’s texts, in particular of the First Letter to the Corinthians, can be won a comprehensive picture of the sport from the view of the New Testament » (SCHWANK 1997, P. 85).

Particularly in lectures and speeches of the last popes the references to St Paul’s comparisons are much liked. To the so-called « Sport Epistle » from the First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 9:24-27) PIUS XII says, « These words throw rays of mystical light upon the sport » (M. SÖLL 1964, P. 22). The sport and the body culture would get « a supernatural value » (M. SÖLL 1964, P. 23). And JOHN PAUL II says in a speech for sportswomen: « The peoples’ Apostle does not hesitate to number the sport among the human values which served him as clue and reference point for the dialogue with people of his time. Hence he acknowledged the fundamental validity of sport.

It offered him not only the possibility of comparison, in order to describe a higher ethical and ascetical ideal, but he saw it also in its internal reality as educational factor for man, and as component of culture and society « (JOHN PAUL II, 1984).

That St Paul was familiar with the antique agonistic, and used for this reason corresponding pictures and comparisons, is surprisingly also the view of many exegetes. Time and again they refer to Corinth as the place of the Isthmic Games: « The picture of the contests in the stadium … must greatly impress the Greeks who liked the sports and the contests, particularly in Corinth, in the neighbourhood of which every two years the Isthmic Games took place » (KUSS 1940, P. 156). « The readers knew such contests from the Pan-Hellenic Isthmic Games held in their city » (KREMER 1997, SS. 196 f).

But these apparently matter-of-course assumptions might hardly apply to St Paul. A large unawareness of the « sporting » disciplines actually exercised at that time becomes particularly apparent in the unscrupulous adoption of conceptions of the antique agonistic. Time and again these terms are used in the commentaries, but they have hardly somewhat in common with the reality and are rather taken from today’s sporting forms. That does not only apply to the general comparisons from the world of the « Agon » with the Christian life, but in particular to the comparisons from the antique races and the antique fist-fight.

Hence the procedure in this essay results from the mentioned things. First it will be asked after the literary (style) form of St Paul’s pictures and comparisons from the antique agonistic. Then two particularly striking comparisons are to be examined exegetically. From there conclusions will result then in regard to the view that St Paul had – in knowledge of the antique forms of sport – evaluated such activities positively.

II.

The pictures and comparisons from the world of the antique sport, time and again used by St Paul in his letters, are not an invention of the Apostle. They call rather our attention to a contemporary literary style that was particularly used first by the Greek Sophists, later by the philosophers of Cynicism and Stoicism. With this literary style is concerned the so-called « diatribe » (see in addition SCHMELLER 1987). It means « a philosophical instruction of popular character with predominantly ethical contents » (MARROU, RAC III, P. 998).

In a dialogue with an imagined listener moral-philosophical topics are treated. In order to bind the attention of the listeners, pictures and comparisons from nature and the human life are used: Poverty, age and death, the nature and the dangers of the sensual pleasure for human beings, the moral effort as means to achieve self-control; not least however, particularly in the Stoical « diatribe », the self-sufficiency of the sage and the « apatheia », i.e. the freedom of affects and passions.

Since the « diatribe » was very popular in the Hellenic-Roman world, the oldest Christian literature – as we find it in the writings of the New Testament and the early Christian literary testimonies – took over quite automatically the styles of the « diatribe ». MARROU calls it a matter of « cultural osmosis » (MARROU, RAC III, P. 999), i.e. the natural and unreflecting imitation of the surrounding culture. That means also that one followed in many details the model of the pagan philosophers. But the contemporary Jewish writers too used the methods of the « diatribe », as the writings of PHILON of Alexandria show.

Hence it is not surprising that in the writings of the New Testament many elements of the « diatribe » appear. These elements are particularly frequent and remarkable in St Paul’s letters. They are mainly found in those parts according to which we have to imagine St Paul’s verbal instructions.

« To some extent St Paul’s lecture used similar styles as the lecture of the Cynical-Stoical popular philosophers » (BULTMANN 1910, P. 107). But despite many similarities in the mode of expression St Paul retained his independence. « Everywhere the Greek expressions are used in St Paul’s peculiar way, and are … often interwoven with expressions which have their origin somewhere else » (BULTMANN 1910, P. 108). Therefore BULTMANN can rightfully state: « The coat of the Greek speaker hangs around St Paul’s shoulders, but the Apostle has no taste for the skilful drapery, and the lines of the foreign shape shine everywhere through » (BULTMANN 1910, Ss. 108). The styles of the « diatribe » are for St Paul only the means to represent and unfold his message of Christ in an up-to-date way.

Hence it is not coincidental that St Paul very often uses comparisons from the antique agonistic and athletics, particularly since the « diatribe » draws gladly a parallel between the exercises of virtue and those of athletics. In the Hellenic time the exercise of virtue and the moral struggle of life are time and again compared with the efforts and privations of the ‘agon’, as the writings e.g. of PHILON of Alexandria, of EPIKTET and SENECA can show us. In the use of these comparisons St Paul depends certainly on the « diatribe ». Hence, when the repetition of many pictures and comparisons in the history of the « diatribe » is attributed to a tradition, then it would surely be strange to attribute « the so frequent occurrence of the same comparisons in the Christian literature … to a casual coincidence » (WENDLAND, P. 1910, P. 357).

III.

Particularly two texts of St Paul are mentioned as « classical » evidences for St Paul’s familiarity with the world of the ‘agon’. It is first the « Sport Epistle » from chapter nine of the First Letter to the Corinthians; then a text from the Letter to the Philippians. These two texts are to be examined now exegetically.

A.

« Do you not know that in the stadium all the runners run but that only one wins the victory wreath? Run in such a way that you win it! Each fighter lives however completely abstinent; they do it to win a passing, we however to win an imperishable prize. Therefore I do not run like someone who is running without aim, and do not fight with my fists like someone who punches into air; rather I chastise and subject my body, in order that I do not preach to other people and am rejected myself. » (1 Cor 9:24-27)

1

The most detailed comparison of St Paul’s Letters is found in the third part of the First Letter to the Corinthians. This section treats questions of the Christian life. First it is about marriage and single state (celibacy) (7:1-40). Afterwards the question is treated whether one may eat sacrificial meat. St Paul says that the one who is enlightened is to dispense with sacrificial meat for the sake of the weaker brother (8:1-13). He motivates this rule with the fact that he too does disclaim his rights and freedom for the best of others (9:1-23). He takes upon himself privations for the sake of the gospel – like the runner and the pugilist for the athletic contests. At the same time he admonishes the addressees to care seriously for their own salvation, and accordingly to exert themselves.

2

The mission activity of St Paul in Corinth is generally dated to the years 51/52 A.D. (CONZELMANN 1969, P. 26 f). During that time also the Isthmic Games, one of the four large Panhellenic festivals, took place periodically. Hence it is not surprising that nearly all exegetes refer to the Isthmic Games when they discourse on the comparisons from the antique sports in our passage of the text. « The picture of the contests in the stadium … is to impress greatly the sport-minded and contest loving Greeks, particularly in Corinth, in the proximity of which every two years the Isthmic Games took place » (KUSS 1940, P. 156; likewise KREMER 1997, P. 196 f).

But there are to be raised some reasonable doubts against the view that St Paul’s comparisons originated in his exact knowledge of the Olympic Games. Since the pictures of the sporting contest are far common in the popular-philosophical literature of his time, and sport belonged in each Greek city to the everyday and natural things, « there is no need to think particularly of the Isthmic Games near Corinth with the spruce wreath as prize » (CONZELMANN 1969, P. 191). With considerable certainty it can even be excluded that St Paul saw the games as a spectator. In his youth he had got a strict Jewish education, which, as everybody knows, thinks little of the Greek athletics, yes, which was ill-disposed toward it because of its proximity to the pagan idolatry (see 1 Mac 1:13 f and 2 Mac 4:7 ff).

But the weightiest reason against the view, St Paul’s comparisons are owed to his exact knowledge of the antique sport, lies in the lacking exactness of many comparisons, and this in contrast to the comparisons in the contemporary « diatribe ». St Paul usually uses only the general terms of the contests. This applies particularly to the use of « agon=fight » (Phil 1:30; Col 2:1; 1 Thess 2:2; 1 Tim 6:12), of « agonizesthai=fight » (1 Cor 9:25; 1 Tim 6:12) and « athlein=fight » (2 Tim 2:5).

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As a rule these terms became equivalent to « trouble » and « exert oneself ». But this applies even to a term like « trechein=run » (Rom 9:16; Gal 2:2; Phil 2:16).

3

In our text first the picture of the « runner » is used. But about which « race » is here talked? Is it only about the « runners in the stadium (in the race-course) », as most of the translations and commentaries assume, or is meant perhaps a completely determined race discipline? Probably it is about a certain « race discipline » here: the « stadium race », by the Greeks called « stadium » simply. « The characteristic performance, which of the different kinds of races was not only at most in favour, but which is, so to speak, also the most important sporting performance (so e.g. the winner gives his name to the Olympiad), is the stadium race – stadion. The same word designates both the race and the race-course which it uses as the distance which it covers: six hundreds foot, which corresponds to a changing distance of about 200 meters « (MARROU 1957, P. 157 f).

About the participants in the stadium race is said that all run, but « only one receives the victory wreath ». First is to refer to a parallel found in LUCIAN’S « Anacharsis ». In a dialogue between the Athenian legislator SOLON and the Skyth ANACHARSIS it is about the value of the physical exercises. ANACHARSIS asks also after the sense of the prize: « Tell me, does everybody who takes part in the contest get this reward? – By no means, only the one who overcame all the other runners gets it » (LUKIAN, Anacharsis 13). But the assumption St Paul had – on grounds of this parallel with LUCIAN – used a proverbial figure of speech, by which he was inspired, is rather unlikely (CONZELMANN 1969, Ss. 192).

4

« Prize » is the translation of the Greek word « brabeion ». This word belongs (together with the verb « brabeuo ») to the « technical terms of the sports field, which St Paul introduced into the theological language of the primitive Christianity » (STAUFFER, « brabeuo », P. 636).

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Thereby it is remarkable that the word « brabeion=prize » is rare in the profane Greek. In the Septuaginta too one will look in vain for it. It uses in a similar sense the picture of the « athlon », the prize. The Greek Baruch Apocalypse speaks about the just who have got the « prizes » (RIESSLER 1928, P. 52).

Alternating with « athlon » appears « brabeion » with PHILON. In his writing « On Rewards and Punishments » he realized the « picture of the agon of life – from which the pious will emerge victorious – most consistently » (STAUFFER, « brabeion », P. 637). In the New Testament « brabeion=prize » is only used by St Paul: here in the First Letter to the Corinthians and in the First Letter to the Philippians. In each case « that prize is meant, which a human being can win only with the engagement of its whole life, and the summoning of its last strength » (STAUFFER, « brabeuo », P. 637).

5

First the point for comparison, which St Paul has in mind, seems to lie in the circumstance that with the contests only one person can become the winner and get the prize: « Run now in such a way that you achieve this price! » But St Paul felt obviously that the point of comparison with the life of his Christians could by no means lie here, but in something else. Therefore he corrects in the sense that only those receive the prize or the victory wreath, who before exerted themselves in an appropriate training. In addition he does not abide by the picture of the « race ». St Paul speaks generally of those who « take part in a contest ». What matters for him in his admonition is the circumstance that, similar as for each athletic contest a special preparation, a quite specific way of life is required, also in the life of the Christian quite special behaviours are necessary.

The verb « agonizesthai = fight » which is used here, and the primary word « agon = fight » belonging to it, are a « word family that has its home in the Greek stadium – in the Septuaginta and the New Testament they are seldom,

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and are almost exclusively used in those writings that were in contact with Hellenism » (STAUFFER, « agon », P. 134). The word meant as much as « fight in a contest » or « take part in a contest ». In some places it is used literally, i.e. in the original sense (1 Cor 9:25; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7), often however in a figurative sense; then it means only « fight » or « strive » (Col 1:29 and 4:12; Rom 15:30; 1 Tim 4:10) and is « obviously hardly felt in a pictorial way yet » (STRAUB 1937, P. 28).

6

St Paul says now that everyone who takes part in a contest will accordingly prepare him/herself by a serious training, and submit thereby to a quite special way of life that is rich in privations. The passage in the text is interpreted by almost all translations and commentaries with « complete abstinence ». SICKENBERGER writes: « Like an athlete the Christian … has to steel his/her strengths by any kind of abstinence » (SICKENBERGER 1932, P. 44 f). WENDLAND makes the remark: « If one wants to win the contest, then complete abstinence belongs to it » (WENDLAND, H. D 1969, P. 76). The difference between the abstinence of the athletes and the fight of the Christian he sees only « in the aim: here an eternal, there a passing one » (WENDLAND, H. D 1969, P. 76). SCHIWY says that everyone who fights will abstain from all things « impairing his/her shape and with this his/her victory chances » (SCHIWY 1968, P. 164). SCHLATTER points out that the preparation of the fighters consists « in a strictly accomplished abstinence » (SCHLATTER 1934, P. 284). He also stresses that the difference between the athlete and the Christian consists not in the way of abnegation, but only in the different objective. « In the abnegation the Christian bears a resemblance to the sportsman, but not in the thing that is won by them » (SCHLATTER 1934, P. 284). Similarly STRAUB says: « By abstinence is won the – passing – prize by the fighters … We too need abstinence in order to … win an imperishable wreath » (STRAUB 1937, P. 90). KUERZINGER notices: « St Paul wants above all to stress the abstinence practiced by the athletes, in order to give motives to his readers to dispense with entitled rights » (KUERZINGER 1951, P. 25).

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It is to be asked now what is meant with « enkrateia =abstinence » and with « enkrateuesthai =abstain ». The word family expresses the « power or rule which someone has over him/herself or also over something » (GRUNDMANN, « enkrateia », P. 338).

In the philosophical ethics of the classical Hellenism this term plays an important role. Thus according to ARISTOTELES man’s perfection consists in the « enkrateia »; it is necessary to « raise man above the animal » (CHADWICK, « enkrateia », P. 344). For the Stoical philosopher « enkrateia » designates « that resistance against the stimulus of the senses which is characteristic for the true high-mindedness of the soul. To be a true human being one has to practice moderation in the satisfaction of the strongest natural instincts, particularly against the sexual instinct and the delight in eating and drinking » (CHADWICK, » enkrateia « , S. 344).

With PHILON of Alexandria « enkrateia » means the « superiority » in view of any longing (GRUNDMANN, « enkrateia », P. 339). It consists in the control of the body and its senses. It refers thereby not only to the sexual, but also to eating and drinking as well as to the dangers of the tongue. « The ascetic attitude of PHILON has its origin in a cosmological dualism, in which the matter is devalued » (GRUNDMANN, « enkrateia », Ss. 339).

In view of this high estimation of « enkrateia » in the Greek philosophy and in the Hellenized Judaism it is surprising, which small role the attitude « enkrateia » plays in the New Testament. In the gospel the word family is missing completely. It is found almost exclusively in St Paul’s letters, particularly in the First Letter to the Corinthians. But of what is St Paul thinking when he says of the participants in the athletic contests that they « practice complete abstinence »?

In the commentaries it is generally accepted that this remark applies to the « ten months of training for the fight » (GUTJAHR 1907, P. 247). In this connection CONZELMANN refers to the Olympic oath, by which those who took part in the Olympic festival had bound themselves to train for ten months (CONZELMANN 1969, P. 192).

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Probably the athletes trained already since the sixth pre-Christian century for thirty days before the beginning of the festival in Elis (ZIEHEN, P. 6-8). During this time, probably toward the end of the training or briefly before the beginning of the festival, the fighters went to Olympia to take the solemn oath. If at all, then only in later time the ten months training could – according to the testimony of PAUSANIAS – have been introduced. Whether this custom applies also to the Isthmic Games is however questionable.

About « training » is to be observed that gymnastic and athletic in the Hellenic epoch spread in such a manner and had attained such a popularity that an own profession developed. The coaches refined the technical skill; they developed a system of preparatory exercises. In a four-day rhythm hard and easy training work alternated (POPPLOW 1962, P. 160). Also everything else was adjusted to the training. The coaches told their favourites exactly, what they should eat and how much, and when they would have to sleep. To refer is here to the remark of EPIKTETS, who describes this comprehensive preparation for the contest so:

« Do you want to triumph in Olympia? Look, what you have to do before! Only then you are to realize your project. You will have to lead a disciplined life, and only special food is allowed to you. You must do without sweet food. You must come at the determined time for training, with heat and with cold weather. You may not drink anything cold, also no wine. With one word: You have to obey your coach like the patient the physician in every matter. » EPIKTET, Enchiridion 35).

After HORAZ also the abstinence of wine and sexual intercourse belong to the « asceticism » of the athletes (HORAZ, De arte poetica 412-414). In the commentaries one refers particularly to these forms of abstinence: « The sportswoman practices abstinence (enkrateia) of wine, onerous food and sexual intercourse » (KREMER 1997, P. 197). « The abstinent life of the athletes means abstinence from wine, meat and consorting with women » (KLAUCK 1984, P. 69).

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The way of life of the athletes was however in no way so exemplary and so generally acknowledged as it might seem from the « diatribe », and also from St Paul’s remark. Even in the old time, which has been illumined by PAUSANIAS and DIOGENES LAERTIOS with their statements on the simple way of life of the athletes, they were by no means reputed to be « abstinent » people. « The conception of a mighty champion was inseparable united with that of a great eater » (JÜTHNER, « Gymnastik », P. 2047). Hence the reports about some athletes who lived simply and abstinent are by no means to be generalized; so when IKKOS of Tarent is characterized, he had led with his coach a moderate way of life, had held the food intake within certain limits, and had touched neither a woman nor a boy (PLATON, Nomoi VIII. 7). The diet which was prescribed into details by the coaches, had, at least with the heavy athletes (i.e. with the wrestlers, pugilists and pancratists), the purpose to produce the most possible corpulence. This was reached by the so-called « anankophagia » or « forcible diet », which consisted in a « systematic overfeeding particularly with meat » (JÜTHNER, « Gymnastik », P. 2050).

Hence it is not surprising that the athletes were considered as « great eaters » (XENOPHON, Memorabilia I 2:4). « To eat like a wrestler » was a proverbial phrase (ARISTOPHANES, Der Friede 33-34). In excessive food intake, connected with adequate long punch- and other special exercises consisted the preparation of the athletes for the contests. Aimed was at the so-called « athletic well-being …, which consisted in the as strong as possible development of muscles and flesh, together with a general health » (JÜTHNER, « Gymnastik », P. 2050).

Of course, these methods of the coaches and athletes were criticized sharply. As example of such criticism and complete refusal of the way of life of the athletes of his time be quoted a section from PHILOSTRAT’S paper on gymnastic. The new methods, in particular however the diet, render the athletes effeminate, « as the diet teaches them inactivity, and to sit there during the time before the exercises, crammed like Libyan and Egyptian flour bags; by introducing furthermore fancy bakers and luxury cooks, whereby only gluttons and people who have a sweet tooth are bred, and by offering poppy-covered wheat bread made from fine flour, fattening them with fish food which is completely against the rules and determines the nature of the fish according to the habitats in the sea …, furthermore giving the porc with peculiar instructions » (PHILOSTRATOS, Gymnastik 44).

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Still more drastically, yes even cynical SENECA writes in a letter to LUCILIUS: « Likewise I eliminate from the range of the ‘free arts and sciences’: wrestler and the whole crowd of the ‘artists’ who have to do it only with oil and dirt … I ask you, what have all these things to do with ‘free arts’, all these poor ‘puke fellows’, whose physical function consists in the fattening of their bodies, but whose spirit continues to suffer from emaciation and somnolence » (SENECA, letters at Lucilius 88.18-19)?

Had St Paul these customs of the professional athletes – as they were only too well known to his contemporaries – in mind when he described the « enkrateia » of the athletes to his Christians as model for their moral efforts? To ask the question so pointedly, means to answer to it in the negative. It is impossible that St Paul meant these well-known customs, which were rejected everywhere as degrading.

Then however the question is to be asked whether he knew them at all. Probably they were, at least from the practice, unknown to him. But then the use of the comparison is not explained by St Paul’s – time and again maintained – knowledge of the athletic training, but the comparison might have been adopted by him from the « diatribe literature ». Which of this picture from the antique sport however seemed particularly suitable to him is undoubtedly the consistent orientation of the entire way of life at the victory in the contest. This way of life which is determined by the desired victory – so St Paul – would have to shape actually also the life of the Christian.

One should therefore be cautious with the interpretation of the passage in the text, and insert nothing which is not actually in it contained. The « enkrateia » of the antique athletes differed substantially from the « enkrateia » e.g. of the Stoic philosopher, and all the more from that of the Christian. The difference comes not only from the aim aspired to, as WENDLAND means (WENDLAND, H. D 1969, P. 76), but there are fundamental differences. The « abstinence » of the athletes was in no way exemplary but, a way of life which is determined by the desired victory. It included also some sacrifice but was not limited to it, as the aforementioned examples of the preparation of the athletes show. What is more, the « enkrateia » was in no case the most remarkable characteristic of the athletes; that it was only in the « diatribe ».

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It is still to refer to the fact that the « enkrateia » was never an end in itself for St Paul and for the Christians. It gets its authorization and its value only from the aim aspired to. « He does the ‘enkrateuesthai’ not for his own sake or for the sake of some salvation necessity, but for the brothers sake: this is the fundamental difference to all Hellenic conceptions » (GRUNDMANN, » enkrateia « , P. 340).

7

The effort of the athlete as of the Christian aims at achieving the « victory wreath »: « Those (submit to a completely determined way of life), in order to receive a passing prize, but we to get an imperishable (victory wreath) ». Here some references are necessary concerning the term « stephanos =victory wreath » (see BAUS 1940).

With the Greeks the use of the wreath belongs into the « sphere of the cult » (GRUNDMANN, « stephanos », P. 617). This relation to the cult applies also to the victory wreaths which were given at the athletic contests, e.g. in Olympia, in Delphi or at the Isthmus of Corinth. The contests take place at the festivities of the gods, and in honour of the gods. With the award of the victory wreath to a victorious athlete also the God is honoured at the same time, and it is not surprising that the victory wreath in the contest is generally regarded as the highest earthly success (GRUNDMANN, « stephanos », P. 620). Therefore the picture of the victory wreath is much liked in the diatribe ». SENECA writes in a letter to his friend Lucilius:

« For us is in store no victory wreath, no palm twig, also not the announcement of our name in the silence ordered by the herald’s call – no, we fight and gain the victory for the sake of manliness, strength and the peace of the soul: if we have won the victory once in the fight with fate, then the peace of the heart will remains ours for ever » (SENECA, Briefe an Lucilius 78, 16).

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In the Jewish literature too the picture of the victory wreath is much liked. Above all the Fourth Book of the Maccabees uses the entire terminology of the stadium and gymnasion, in order to describe the victorious fight of the martyrs: « But the fear of God remained victor; it put the wreath on the heads of its fighters » (4 Macc 17:15: RIESSLER 1928, P. 727). PHILON of Alexandria compares the athlete with the man striving for knowledge, who runs through his life course without falling, and gets at the aim the well-deserved wreaths and prizes. He encourages: « Fight this most beautiful battle and endeavour to attain in the fight against the sensual pleasure, which controls all other desires, the most beautiful and glorious victory wreath, which no festive meeting of people can give to you » (PHILON, Legum Allegoriae II, 108). The victory wreath however which has to be achieved is the « vision of God ».

Similarly the « imperishable wreath » is for St Paul a « likeness of the eternal life » (WENDLAND, H. D 1969, P. 76). If the athletes endeavour so intensively to achieve a passing wreath only, how much more must the members of the Christian community strive to get the imperishable wreath: « the communion with the risen Christ » (SCHIWY 1968, P. 165).

8

In the following verse St Paul turns again to the picture of the race: « Hence I do not run without a fixed aim in my mind. » First the change to the statement in the first person is surprising. Besides it is now no longer about the effort of all energies during the race, in which there can be only one winner; also no longer about the preparation by an appropriate way of life; but it is about not losing sight of the aim of the race: « I am a runner who is sure of the aim, and therefore the model for you » (WENDLAND, H. D 1969, P. 76). Hence it is about a « new nuance » in the picture of the contest (CONZELMANN 1969, P. 192). To the runner does not only belong the knowledge of the aim; also not only the circumstance that he hastens to meet the aim without detour; but that he has in mind actually the aim, and arrives at it. Similarly it is in the life of the Christian. The knowledge alone is not sufficient, but crucial is the doing in the light of the aim.

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9

In the following the picture changes from the race to the fist-fight: « I lead the fist-fight so as someone who strikes not blows into the air. » With this comparison it is – in parallel to the runner who may not lose sight of the aim – again about the necessity to realize the earnest of moral striving on the part of the Christians, and to direct all reflecting and striving toward the crucial victory over the opponent.

« Always the exegetes do not agree with each other which means ‘pykteuein’ (=fist-fighting) as ‘eis aera derein’ (=strike blows into the air) in the view of a present or missing opponent » (SCHMIDT, « pgyme », P. 916). Hence it is not surprising that in the commentaries are mentioned above all two possibilities of understanding the picture. Some point out that the pugilist whose blows go into emptiness, and of whom St Paul wants to differ, is a clumsy or untrained fighter. Others assume that it is not at all about a real fight here and therefore also not about a « missing » of the opponent (BACHMAN 1936, P. 327), but about an « illusory fight », a so-called « skiamachia », i.e. a fight against an only imagined opponent (CONZELMANN 1969, P. 192).

To clarify whether it is in our passage in the text about an actual fight or only about a « skiamachia », i.e. a « illusory fight », it is necessary to deal somewhat nearer with the Greek fist-fight, which differs in many details from the modern boxing (see JÜTHNER / MEHL, « pygme », S.1306-1353).

First a limited box ring was missing. There was also no temporal limitation of the fight. It ended only if one of the two opponents was exhausted, or raised his arm as sign for giving up or defeat. The blows were almost exclusively aimed at the head. This was the most vulnerable, the « weakest » spot of the pugilist. Because of the danger of such head blows the combat tactics consisted in evading the impacts of the opponent, in letting him make « blows into the air », respectively to land effective blows at the opponent. PAUSANIAS reported on the pugilist HIPPOMACHOS, he had defeated three opponents without even getting only one blow (PAUSANIAS, Beschreibung Griechenlands VI. 12, 6).

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And DION CHRYSOSTOMOS mentions from the time of the Emperor TITUS a pugilist who succeeded in defending himself so skilfully two days long that his opponent could finally bring home not any blow at him, and had to give up exhausted (DION CHRYSOSTOMOS, Reden 27, 11). Finally still another section from a homily of St John CHRYSOSTOMOS be mentioned, in which the tactics of the pugilist is vividly described: « Also the pugilist becomes only then winner, if he bends himself not to the ground and gets the blows, but if he straightens himself and lets his opponent strike blows into the air. In this way he does not get the blow, and makes the whole punch of the opponent ineffective » (JOHN CHRYSOSTOMOS, Homilien zum Römerbrief 23, 3).

The tactics of dodging respectively waiting for one’s own chance to land a crucial blow at the opponent becomes still more understandable, if one considers that the fists of the fighters were wrapped up in hard leather bandages. With the rise of the professional athletes the fist-fight belts were fit out with ever more dangerous things; however the deadly metal ‘caests’ (compare: caesura, cut) were probably used in the fights of the gladiators only.

If one has in mind the technology and tactics of the antique fist-fight, then the assumption that St Paul meant a so-called « skiamachia », i.e. a « illusory fight » is improbably. The Apostle means a real « fist-fight » with an actual present opponent, who has to be taken seriously. Hence the « blows into the air » are not a hint at an untrained or awkward fighter; they belong for the picture of the fist-fight.

10

St Paul uses now this picture of the fist-fight for his moral effort. First the verb « hypopiazein » in the verse 27, which is translated with « chastise » in the ecumenical translation, has to be defined more detailed. The word is used in the New Testament only here, and meant as much as to « strike someone so in the face (below the eye) that he gets blue marks (‘a blue eye’) and is thereby defaced » (WEISS, « hypopiazein », S. 588).

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With the antique fist-fight, where the blows were aimed in the main at the head or face of the opponent, blue marks and dents were never missing. The blows however which leave marks and dents, are aimed – so St Paul – « at my body ». But which is meant with this statement that « my body » is the aim of the punches?

If one consults the various commentaries then a conflicting picture results. One group understands the statement in the literal sense. Thus SICKENBERGER writes: « St Paul’s opponent is thereby his own body, which is subjected to all privations and castigations » (SICKENBERGER 1932, P. 45). KUSS means: « The opponent in his fist-fight is his own body, which is made submissive by use of force » (KUSS 1940, P. 156). WENDLAND speaks of « self-castigation », by which the Apostle punishes and subjugates his own body (WENDLAND, H. D 1969, P. 76), and SCHWEIZER says even: « Hence the Apostle strikes and subjugates his body, in order to put it into service for Christ » (SCHWEIZER, « soma », P. 1061). KLAUCK interprets the passage in the text to the effect that St Paul makes « also the repugnant body docile » (KLAUCK 1984, P. 198).

Another group of exegetes turns against this all too « realistic » view of the « body » and tries to interpret the expression in the context of St Paul’s anthropology. CONZELMANN remarks to the place: « He struggles with himself … Not the body as such is the opponent » (CONZELMANN 1969, P. 192). SCHIWY interprets the sentence in the following way: « I am my own opponent in this religious fist-fight, if the resistance against God is still effective within me, the egotism, inconsiderateness, unkindness » (SCHIWY 1968, P. 165). BACHMANN too stresses, that it is out of the question « that the body is presented as opponent which has to be fought » (BACHMANN 1936, P. 328). KREMER holds the same view: « With ‘body’ is meant here not the body only but the whole man. In plastic mode of expression the Apostle says thus that he tries to put his ‘I’ completely into service of his mission. » But in the following KREMER seems then to qualify his opinion, when he says that St Paul would here not describe « self-castigation for its own sake » (KREMER 1997, P. 198).

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In a « realistic » interpretation of our text « body » is understood ‘dualistic’, and so misunderstood as the principle which is striving against the spirit, which is to be subjected to the rule of the spirit and be made the instrument of the spirit. But this ‘dualistic’ thinking is completely far from St Paul. He means here in no way a « asceticism » of Stoical or Cynical coinage, as it was common in his time. Indeed, the representatives of the « realistic » interpretation point also out to us that it is here « not about the rule of the reason over the senses as in the antique and late antique ethics » (WENDLAND, H. D 1969, P. 76); but « the warning of the care for the body » (SCHLATTER 1934, P. 285) is not to be over-heard, and is revoked; it marks such a view as not corresponding with St Paul’s view.

The Greek word for « body » (=soma) is « because of its close relationship to ‘sarx’ the most difficult term of St Paul’s anthropology » (SCHMID, « Leib », P. 900). « Soma =body » depends in its meaning on the ‘monistic’ view on the human nature in the Bible. The Old Testament does not know a strict distinction between « body » and « soul »; it has also no own word for « body », but designates with « flesh » both, the body and the whole man; human beings « do not have » a body, but they « are » body. The terms « body », « flesh », and « spirit » designate therefore not components of man, but only different criteria under which the one and whole human being is seen.

In the New Testament, particularly in St Paul’s letters, the ‘monistic’ view of man is kept up. With St Paul « soma=body » can quite generally designate the body, the « human being in its earthly condition » (KARRER 1958, P. 215), the unity of the whole human being. But for St Paul « soma=body » can also designate the only earthly-minded man; it is then to a large extent synonymous with « sarx=flesh », which can often have a neutral meaning in the sense of ‘human being’ in general, but usually it means as much as the « egocentric, selfish people who close their mind to God’s saving call » (KARRER 1958, P. 215). « Sarx=flesh » becomes then the « place » of sin within man: « the power of sin has its seat in it » (SCHMID, « Leib », P. 900): « Those who live after the flesh are plotting the things which the flesh wants;

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those who live after the spirit, meditate on the things which the spirit wants. The planning of the flesh leads to death, but the meditating of the spirit to life and peace » (Rom 8:5-6).

St Paul uses however often « soma » for « sarx », also in places where he is actually talking about « sarx » in its relation to sin and death. Thereby he attributes to « soma » the specific characteristics and functions of the « sarx ». Thus « soma » can also stand under the power of sin and death (Rom 6:6), and St Paul can speak from the longings and the sinful acts of the « soma » (Rom 6:12 and 8:13).

If we ask now on the background of St Paul’s anthropology how « soma » is to be understood at our passage in the text, then is to say: Here it is about a text in which « soma » is understood in the sense of « sarx ». It is about the whole human being in its bodily making, as far as it is not adjusted to the service of God, but has only earthly, egoistic aims in mind.

But then is from the likeness of the fist-fight understandable that just this wrong « direction » is the « weak point », at which the « blows » are to be aimed. Hence St Paul clarifies in the picture that point on which everything depends actually. For those who came to the faith in Jesus Christ it is crucial to give to their lives a different orientation; to let themselves no longer be led by the aims of the « sarx » i.e. of the ‘Ego’, but to put themselves with their whole existence into the service of God. St Paul means thus in our place the same thing which he formulated elsewhere so: « If you live after the flesh, you will die. But if you kill the acts of the body by the spirit, you will live « (Rom 8:13).

That this « conversion », this « reorientation » is not possible without using force, not without marks and dents, shall just be clarified by the picture of the pugilist. Where the fist meets, there are blue marks, even bloody wounds. Similarly it happens in the religious fight, which St Paul leads against himself and his selfish nature. One must not have wrong considerations thereby; one may also not make « blows into the air », but they must be aimed actually at the « weak point » in one’s own life. St Paul wants to gain the victory in this fight with himself.

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11

The last verse of our text contains still a second statement; the literal translation reads: « I enslave my body. » « Soma » in its meaning as « only earthly-minded man » is in our sentence object both, to « hypopiazein = to hit below the eyes » as well as to « doulagogein = to enslave ». Which concerns the meaning of the verb « doulagogein », the commentaries go not into closer details there. One assumes obviously that the picture of the contest, in particular that of the fist-fight, is abandoned. BACHMANN means that St Paul imposed upon « the body, like upon a slave who is treated hard, all the privations and efforts which are necessary for his effort to become everything for everyone » (BACHMANN 1936, P. 328).

The question is whether it is here about a technical term of the fist-fight or of wrestling and pancration, or even about a term from the world of the gladiators, in the sense that the winner led the defeated opponent under the applause of the spectators in the arena like a subjected slave. But such a « custom » is not proved in the literature. For this reason the assumption is justified that the picture of the agon is abandoned. That applies probably also to the continuation of the text, although CONZELMANN expresses the assumption that « keryssein = proclaim » and also « adokimos = not proven » could in this sentence « actually still be influenced by the conception of the contest in the stadium » (CONZELMANN 1969, P. 192 f).

12

To a set of comparisons from the contemporary diatribe literature may still be referred. They set St Paul’s text clearly into contrast to the Stoical world of ideas. Just which concerns the valuation of the body St Paul’s conception differs fundamentally from the conceptions of the contemporary philosophy.

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Therefore also St Paul’s « asceticism » does not aim at the elimination and a suppression of the body, of its tendencies and abilities. « Asceticism » is always rather subordinated to his office as Apostle. It wants the « reorientation » of the man in its wholeness in the direction of the service of God. We have to consider this fundamental difference, when we read the comparisons from the « diatribe ». Thus e.g. EPIKTET writes:

« One may not lose heart where it is about the largest fight, but must also accept blows; because the fight is not for the victory in wrestling or pankration, where one in the case of victory can become very famous or in the case of defeat fameless … But at stake are happiness and God blessedness. » (Epiktet, Diatriben III, 25)

Above all SENECA loves such comparisons in his letters to LUCILIUS. « Those who become slaves of their bodies, who care overanxiously for it, and show in everything consideration for it, become slaves of many things. We must not behave so as if we had to live for our body, but as if we could not do it without it » (14, 12). Another letter reads:

« The fate wages war with me: I am not ready to execute its orders. I do not take the yoke upon me; On the contrary, I shake it off – and this requires greater bravery. My will power may not become weak: if I give way to the longings, then I must do it also to pain, toil, and poverty; ambition and anger usurp the same right to me: all these passions pull me back and forth, they even tear me up. Liberty is the aim for which I fight; all my striving is about this prize. Wherein does liberty consist? You will ask. To be subjected to nothing slavishly, to no obligation, no coincidence – and to let fate not grow over your head » (SENECA, Briefe an LUCILIUS 51, 8-9).

The following comparison is also very descriptive:

« An athlete will not enter the lists with particular fighting spirit, if he had not been beaten brown and blue already. Reversely a man will go into the fight with quite hopeful chances, who has seen his blood flowing,

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against whose teeth the fist of the opponent cracked, who was overthrown by being tripped up and has felt the full weight of the opponent on himself – he lost the ground under his feet but never his courage; from each fall he rose with wilder defiance. This comparison means for you: Often already fate had you in its clutches; you did never surrender, time and again you came round and defended your place harder than before. For bravery that is provoked up to the blood will only grow » (SENECA, Briefe an LUCILIUS 13, 2-3).

B.

St Paul’s second comparison from the antique agonistic, which is to be examined in the following exegetically, is found in his Letter to the Philippians:

« Not that I had already reached it or that I were already perfect. But I strive to seize it because also I have been seized by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not fancy that I had already seized it. But I do one thing: I forget which lies behind me and stretch myself out for which is in front of me. The aim before my eyes I am hunting for the prize: the heavenly vocation which is given to us by God in Christ Jesus. » (Phil 3:12-14)

1

In the fourth part of the Letter to the Philippians, which is seen by some exegetes as an own, so-called « combat letter » (GNILKA 1968, P. 184), St Paul points to the danger of heresies. He considers it as necessary to speak more clearly about the things which are factually needed in view of this emergency. First he refers to the divine guidance in his own life: « St Paul offers himself to the Philippians as ‘exemplum imitandum' », as « the example which can be copied » (GNILKA 1968, S.184). He warns of each wrong pride, which was the characteristic of those Christians within the community of Philippi who tended to Judaism. Therefore he makes plain to his addressees the difference between one’s own justice and justice by faith, between wrong and true piety.

For St Paul the new people of God is not constituted by « circumcision », hence not by getting the « sign of being chosen », i.e. the circumcision, and thus by the assumption of the « Jewish Law », but by faith;

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The aim of « perfection » cannot be attained by such rituals. Therefore St Paul (although he knows that he as « full Israelite » is of equal birth with the heretics) admits that he is still on the way, and has not nearly reached the last aim, the perfection, but is striving for it. The knowledge of Christ is the centre of his effort; it is highlighted as the alone worthwhile good. The striving for it is expressed by him in the likeness of the race.

2

The aim of life is for St Paul the perfection in Christ. He knows that he is seized by him; his life got a new basis « by Christ » (FRIEDRICH 1965, P. 120). Due to this being seized it is possible for him, to « hunt for the prize ». But he knows that he has not reached the aim yet; only the completion with the Lord will end all « chasing ».

The exegetes agree that is a picture from the antique sport. St Paul « compares here as usual his life as a Christian with the race in the stadium » (FRIEDRICH 1965, P. 120). In verse 12 first the two verbs « diokein » and « katalambanein » are to be considered. The first verb meant as much as « to set in fast motion »; with omitted object, as seemingly intransitive verb, it can have the meaning of « riding, marching, rowing, generally hurrying » (OEPKE, » dioko « , P. 232). In our place it could be translated with « hurrying toward the aim » (OEPKE, « dioko », P. 233). The verb « katalambanein » is an « intensification of the simplex » (DELLING, « lambano », P. 10) and meant « seizing », « tackling », « overtaking », « securing ». « In the New Testament becomes particularly apparent that ‘kata’ gives to the simplex the character either of intensity (to seize by force …) or of suddenness (surprise …) » (DELLING, « lambanein », P. 10). The meaning is then: « to get something finally »; that meaning points to the « picture of overtaking » in the race (DELLING, « lambanein », P. 10).

The aim of striving is the perfect communion of fate with Christ. But this sentence may not be misunderstood in the sense, that St Paul was able to reach this aim by his own strength.

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« The chasing after the seizing (of the prize) is based on the ‘being seized' » (LOHMEYER 1964, P. 145). The Christian knows him/herself in his whole being under the word: « Which have you that you did not receive » (1 Cor 4:7)? Man’s acting and striving is founded in Christ’s salvation, which has already happened. This striving will only come to its end when the aim of the race is reached, « the resurrection » and the « eschatological glory » (FRIEDRICH 1965, P. 120).

In verse 13 it is again stressed that the aim was not achieved yet. St Paul knows that he has obtained already some progress, and can boast some successes, « that he has overcome already a considerable distance of the race-course and come nearer to the aim » (GNILKA 1968, P. 199). But this is not crucial for him. One may namely not be content with the attained but has to direct one’s attention to the distance which has still to be covered.

3

Now the picture of the race becomes undoubtedly clearer. In verse 14 is talked about the « aim » of the race, about the section which has still to be run, and about the « prize ». To this LOHMEYER means: « The one part of the race-course lies behind the runner. He arrived at the point where the curve of the course bends again into the straight and the aim becomes visible. The run seems to go downward, and a last effort is still to be made to achieve the aim (LOHMEYER 1964, P. 146). Similarly also GNILKA says: « The still determining picture presupposes that the runner brought the last curve behind himself and entered into the home stretch » (GNILKA 1968, P. 200).

This view of LOHMEYER and GNILKA is well-meant but does not correspond to the reality of the antique race. « The Greeks know only the run on a level and straight race-course » (MARROU 1957, P. 175). Hence there was no « round course » in today’s sense for the different antique race competitions. If the run went over two or more stages, then the runner as soon as he had reached the end of the course turned on the spot; thereby he turned probably round a column which stood at the starting respectively at the finishing line (MARROU 1957, P. 175 f). This is the reason why one cannot tell about « turning into the home stretch ».

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The picture used by St Paul here means certainly however the crucial phase of the race. And there it is of no use to look back upon the already performed, i.e. to mind the covered distance. There is no longer time for it. On the contrary, in the crucial phase one has to stretch one’s strengths to the limit to get through with the last stage. Thereby the thought of the victory and the prize is, as it were, « to accelerate » the race. The verb « epekeinesthai = to stretch oneself out » is to insinuate the arm movements which are typical for the run. Hence it is no way about a runner « who is running with outstretched empty hands » (STRAUB 1937, P. 91). The rhythm of running would be disturbed by such a style; the runner would forfeit his/her victory chance.

JOHN CRRYSOSTOMOS represented the situation in a homily on this passage of the Letter to the Philippians vividly:

« We must forget our past achievements and let them behind us. For also the runner does not count how often he run already through the course, but how often he has to cover it … According to the Apostle’s expression we have to exert ourselves. Already before we reached the aim, we must always seek to attain it. For those who exert themselves (‘outstretch’) strive, as it were, with their whole body to run in front of their feet, as fast as these are ever running; they bend themselves forward and outstretch their hands, in order to accelerate the run, if possible. The eagerness of their striving, the heat of their eagerness is driving them. So the runner must run, with such perseverance, with such joyfulness, without losing the joy » (JOH. CHRYSOSTOMOS, Homilien zum Philipperbrief 12, 1).

4

Since Christ called the Apostle on the race-course and points out the prize to him, he runs with full engagement; he does not run « into uncertainty » but has the aim and the prize in his mind. The word « skopos », which is translated with « aim », means on the one hand the one who is looking watchfully at something, for instance a guardian.

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But then it means also the aim, e.g. the aim of an archer, which can be hit or missed. Also in the figurative sense the word is frequently used. As PLATON in his dialogue « Gorgias » explains, each human being has its aim that controls its whole life (PLATON, Gorgias 507 D).

In the New Testament the word occurs only here. « As in 1 Cor 9:24 St Paul has in mind the likeness of the race in the stadium, which is common to the diatribe » (FUCHS, » skopos « , P. 416). In view of the close aim all forces are to be strained again. For St Paul the reaching of the aim is equivalent to the acquisition of the « brabeion », the prize. The « ‘brabeion’ is the point in the infinity, in which the two parallels intersect, the aim beyond this world time and its possibilities, where divine and human doing become united » (STAUFFER, « brabeuo », P. 637).

The word « brabeion » is a derivative of the verb « brabeuo », which originally means the activity of the arbitrator with the contests. In the noun « brabeion » thus also still the activity of the arbitrator might be reminiscent, who awards the price to the winner. There is also to be pointed out that in the beginnings of the athletic contests the arbitrator was mostly identical with the organizer, i.e. with the one who « called up » the plays; he too was it who fixed the prizes.

St Paul had probably a similar conception. Jesus Christ is for him obvious the one who has called him to this race, who promises the prize, and is at the same time the arbitrator in this contest. The prize for which the Apostle takes great pines is the completion of man in the resurrection to the eternal life. In this fight the runner has « to put an end to everything that lies behind him » (STAUFFER, « brabeuo », P. 637); he may not look at his performances, but may direct all his doing and thinking to the aim assigned to him by God. « It is God who sets the aim for human beings. It gives from now on the meaning to their work and to their lives the direction » (STAUFFER, « brabeuo », P. 637). « The prize consists in the call to a life which is fulfilled … in the world of God … God is the one who is calling, in Christ Jesus the calling has become possible » (GNILKA 1968, P. 200).

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5

It is still to refer to the fact that the pictures used by St Paul are familiar to the « diatribe ». But also the difference to St Paul’s way of thinking becomes clear. Thus is said by EPIKTET, one should « keep one’s soul directed towards the aim, pursue not the outside things which do not belong to us, but aim so as the one who has the power has ordered it at the aims in the range of our will during our entire life, but use the other things in such a way as they are granted to us » (EPIKTET, Diatriben IVTH 12). Similar is said in another place:

« The substantial thing is nevertheless … that one understands the most important matter in the world, and pursues it in everything which one does with the greatest eagerness, but treats thereby everything else in comparison with it as minor affair » (EPIKTET, Diatriben II, 23).

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IV.

The exegetical analysis of the two probably most striking comparisons from the antique agonistic, but also the knowledge of the pictures and comparisons which are otherwise used by St Paul leads to these conclusions:

1

First the view that the use of the comparisons and pictures from the antique sport presupposed the familiarity with this cultural area can hardly be proved. St Paul uses usually only the general terms of the contest. That applies particularly to the use of the terms « agon = fight », « agonizesthai = to take part in a contest », and « athlein = to fight ». Nearly in all places these terms let see the « sporting » meaning only vaguely yet. They are mostly equivalent to « fight » and « effort », or to « exert oneself » and to « strive hard ».

From such vague and indistinct comparisons cannot be won a comprehensive picture of the antique sport. The comparisons and pictures remind only weakly of the sporting contest. They refer rather with high probability to the literary form of the « diatribe », as it was usual in the Cynical and Stoical popular philosophy, and which its embodiment in the late Jewish martyr literature. Also the early Christian martyr literature will adopt these comparisons and pictures.

2

St Paul uses only a few times special athletic exercises in his comparisons. This applies particularly to the exercise of running. But even here in most cases a semantic change took place. Often « Running » means only « exert oneself », i.e. « effort » in general. Besides, one has to point out here that a different origin of the picture of « running » is possible. This is suggested by the circumstance that the idiom « eis kenon trechein = run into emptiness » (Phil 2:16) is not provable in the Greek outside of the Bible (BAUERNFEIND, « trecho », P. 226).

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With this idiom it is probably about the idea, which is provable also for the Qumran literature, that running is the « life-task of that person who gives the direction to the faith of his/her followers » (BAUERNFEIND, « trecho », P. 230). Only at two places the picture of « running » in the sense of an athletic exercise can be recognized more exactly. But in 1 Cor 9:24.26 the use and the evaluation of the comparison is not homogeneous with St Paul. The initial point of comparison is not accomplished. In Phil 3:12-14 is found that comparison which corresponds most to the antique athletic exercise of running. The often strange interpretations reveal the lacking knowledge of the exegetes of the conditions of the antique race.

3

In 1 Cor 9:25 St Paul refers apparently to the training of the athletes. This did not consist however in a complete abstinence, as the most exegetes state, but in a way of life that was up to the smallest details regulated, and aimed at the sporting performance. St Paul did obviously not know that « enkrateia = abstinence » of the athletes. For had been impossible for him to recommend the concrete forms of that athletic « abstinence » to his Christians for imitation. Recommendable was only the athletes’ way of life, which was appropriate and subordinated to their aim (prize).

4

The picture of the fist-fight in 1 Cor 9:26 is given more in detail by St Paul. But with this fight it is not about a « skiamachia = shadow fight », but about a real and « bloody » one, which is to be taken seriously. The opponent in this fight is however not, as the exegetes state time and again, the human « body » as such, but the wrong aim in the life of people for whom God and divine service not exist. If the human « body » were particularly « dangerous » for Christians, then the « blows » would have to be applied to it. This was indeed the consequence, which has been drawn precisely from this passage in the text – caused above all by the body-devaluating influences of the Platonic philosophy on prominent Christian personalities.

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Expression of this view is the German word « kasteien ». The Greek special expression « hypopiazein = to hit below the eye; to meet the most sensitive place » is translated in the Vulgata with « castigare = chastise », and found as loanword entrance into the German language. But the fatal role of 1 Cor 9:27 – as evidence for an asceticism which aimed almost exclusively at the body, respectively at the practice of « self-castigation » – is not recognized, or is concealed.

5

Hence the pictures and comparisons from the antique agonistic show in no way a detailed knowledge of these exercises; they do not convey a « comprehensive picture from the view of the New Testament » (SCHWANK 1997, P. 85). St Paul knows these athletic exercises hardly from his own experience; otherwise these comparisons would not be so in general, so vague, and so indistinct. Finally the mere use of a comparison from an area of human life, e.g. from the military range, agricultural work, or a handicraft means not so easily a familiarity with these activities.

A crucial reason why St Paul had hardly any direct contact to the antique athletics, lies in the circumstance that he experienced in his youth a strictly pharisaic education, which had hardly cared for the antique athletics, yes, even rejected it because of its proximity to the pagan cult. The First and Second Book Maccabees testify clearly this incompatibility of the Jewish religion with the participation in the athletic exercises; also the participation as spectator is rejected.

But when the use of the agon comparisons cannot be attributed to St Paul’s familiarity with the antique sport, as justifiable and reasonable explanation remains probably only that St Paul knew these pictures and comparisons from the Cynical-Stoical « diatribe », and from the writings of PHILON of Alexandria. Hence it would be the assumption of a contemporary literary style. How much these comparisons were popular is shown by their use also in other writing of the New Testament, particularly in the Letter to the Hebrews and the Pastoral Letters, which probably are not from St Paul.

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Thus it results however with logical consistency that from the comparisons and pictures from the antique agonistic no evaluation or even approval of the contemporary athletics can be gathered. It is not possible to see in these comparisons « a beautiful example of the value world of sports » (WEILER 1996, P. 23); and also the opinion that St Paul numbered « the sport among the human values » and regarded it « in its internal reality as human education factor and as component of culture and society » (JOHN PAUL II, 1984), can by no means be proved from St Paul’s use of these comparisons.

Less than ever a fundamental valuation of the sport from today can be won from the use of these comparisons. Expressions like, « St Paul’s comparisons shed a mystical light on the sport » (SÖLL, M. 1964, P. 22 f), one can take only as well meant, but untenable pious exaggerations. KUCHLER noticed therefore rightfully that « a fundamental valuation of the sport of that time, still less of the sport from today cannot be won » by the agon likenesses of the New Testament (KUCHLER 1969, P. 211). St Paul is by no means the « principal witness » for a positive evaluation of the antique agonistic. All the more he is not suited as an authority for an approval or even a justification of the modern sport. From such an « abuse » St Paul has to be protected.

7

With his pictures and comparisons from the world of sports St Paul wants to clarify the trouble and the effort, which the service to the gospel requires of the Apostle, but also of each Christian. These comparisons illustrate the moral effort to which the Christians committed themselves in baptism. The life as a Christian is not possible without this striving, just as of the athlete a quite determined way of life is demanded, if he/she wants to achieve the sporting victory. Certainly the Christians should keep in mind that it depends in the long run not on their own « willing » and « running », but on God’s mercy (Rom 9:16).

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Bibliography

NB

The writings of the Bible are not specified in the bibliography. The text passages are quoted in the text with the usual abbreviations. The writings of the antique writers are also not specified in the bibliography. They are quoted in the text with the appropriate titles.

Abbreviations

Pauly-Wissowa: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Neue Bearbeitung von G. WISSOWA und W. KROLL. Stuttgart 1893 ff.

RAC: Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum. Herausgegeben von Th. KLAUSER (u. a.). Stuttgart 1941/1950 ff.

ThWNT: Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament. Herausgegeben von G. KITTEL, fortgesetzt von G. FRIEDRICH. Stuttgart 1933 ff.

***

Bachmann, P.: Der erste Brief an die Korinther. Leipzig 1936. Bauernfeind, O.: Artikel « trecho ». In: ThWNT VIII.

Baus, K.: Der Kranz in Antike und Christentum. Freiburg 1940.

Bultmann, R.: Der Stil der paulinischen Predigt und die kynisch-stoische Diatribe. Göttingen 1910.

Chadwick, H.: Artikel « enkrateia ». In: RAC V.

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Conzelmann, H.: Der Erste Brief an die Korinther. Göttingen 1969.

Delling, G.: Artikel « lambano ». In: ThWNT IV.

Friedrich, G.: Der Brief an die Philipper. Göttingen 1965.

Fuchs, E.: Artikel « skopos ». In: ThWNT VII.

Gnilka, H.: Der Philipperbrief. Freiburg 1968.

Grundmann, W.: Artikel « enkrateia ». In: ThWNT II.

Grundmann, W.: Artikel « stephanos ». In: ThWNT VII.

Gutjahr, F. S.: Die zwei Briefe an die Korinther. Graz 1907.

Johannes Paul II: Ansprache an Sportler. In: « Osservatore Romano deutsch » vom 8. 6. 1984.

Jüthner, J.: Artikel « Gymnastik ». In: Pauly-Wissowa, 14. Halbband.

Jüthner, J.: Die athletischen Leibesübungen der Griechen, 2. Bände. Wien 1965 und 1968.

Karrer, O.: Biblische Meditationen. München 1958.

Klauck, H. J.: Erster Korintherbrief. Würzburg 1984.

Kremer, J.: Der Erste Brief an die Korinther. Regensburg 1997.

Kuchler, W.: Sportethos. München 1969.

Kürzinger, J.: Die Briefe an die Korinther und Galater. Würzburg 1951.

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Kuss, O.: Die Briefe an die Römer, Korinther und Galater. Regensburg 1940.

Lohmeyer, E.: Der Brief an die Philipper. Göttingen 1964.

Marrou, H. I.: Geschichte der Erziehung im Klassischen Altertum. Freiburg 1957.

Marrou, H. I.: Artikel « Diatribe ». In: RAC III.

Oepke, A.: Artikel « dioko ». In: ThWNT II.

Popplow, U.: Leibesübungen und Leibeserziehung in der griechischen Antike. Schorndorf 1962.

Riessler, P.: Altjüdisches Schrifttum außerhalb der Bibel. Augsburg 1928.

Schiwy, G.: Weg ins Neue Testament, 3. Band. Würzburg 1968.

Schlatter, A.: Paulus der Bote Jesu. Stuttgart 1934.

Schmeller, T.: Paulus und die « Diatribe ». Münster 1987.

Schmid, J.: Artikel « Leib ». In: Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, 6. Band. Freiburg 1961.

Schmidt, K. L.: Artikel « pygme ». In: ThWNT VI.

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Schwank, W.: Christentum und Sport. In: O. Grupe und D. Mieth (Hrsg.): Lexikon der Ethik im Sport. Schorndorf 1997, S. 84-91.

Schweizer, E.: Artikel « soma ». In ThWNT VII.

Sickenberger, J.: Die Briefe des hl. Paulus an die Korinther und Römer. Bonn 1932.

Söll, G.: Theologie des Sports? In: Münchener Theologische Zeitschrift 23 (1972). S. 97-130.

Söll, M. (Hrsg.): Kirche zum Sport. Düsseldorf 1964.

Stauffer, E.: Artikel « agon ». In: ThWNT I.

Stauffer, E.: Artikel « brabeuo ». In: ThWNT I.

Straub, W.: Die Bildersprache des Apostels Paulus. Tübingen 1937.

Weiler, R.: Sportethik. Graz 1996.

Weiss, K.: Artikel « hypopiazo ». In: ThWNT VIII.

Wendland, H. D.: Die Briefe an die Korinther. Göttingen 1969.

Wendland, P.: Die urchristlichen Literaturformen. Tübingen 1910.

Ziehen, L.: Artikel « Olympia ». In: Pauly-Wissowa, 35. Halbband.

Sport – A Secular Religion?

Alois Koch SJ

From: Stimmen der Zeit, 2002/2, p. 90-102

In the Olympia year 1932 the magazine « The Cross-Section » published in Berlin a booklet with the topic « Sense and Nonsense of Sport » {1}. Across the first page runs the banner headline « World Religion of the Twentieth Century ». The fictitious retrospect from a distance of ten thousand years begins with the statement: Not Christianity has been the controlling religious system of the European-American culture area but a new « world religion » with the name « sport ». In the twentieth century this new religious movement has almost completely ousted the old Christian religion. The symbol of the cross has been replaced by the ball, whose spherical shape – as « symbol of the finite encompassed by the infinite » – is regarded as the highest form of religiousness. The spherical shape of the ball as principal cult article, showed the ‘this world’ character of the « sport religion ». One refers to class-specific kinds of sport (called « sects »), from the lower classes over the middle class up to the upper class, and likewise to the ardour of the sporting rites. Finally is mentioned the stupefying popularity of some « priests and Priest Orders of the sport religion » around which often hundreds of thousands « faithful » crowd.

Wolfgang Rothe calls this fictitious historical retrospect « joke à la mode », but the characterisation of sport as « world religion of the twentieth century » seems to be quite applicable. For obviously in today’s sport phenomena come to light that show characteristics typical for religions. Does perhaps a « secular religion »{2} hide behind modern sport? Does not just the maxim of Olympic Movement « citius, altius, fortius – faster, higher, stronger » let assume that in modern sport « self-transcendence » is at stake?

« Religion » can be characterized as a « system that explains the world and helps to get the better of life ». It is distinguished by its alignment to an in whatever manner disposed « unavailable reality », to which people know themselves related. Of course, as such a « system » religion is autonomous in relation to the environment, but it is in a constant process of interaction with it. It is carried by people and wins its shape by their « faith », their behaviour and their socialization. A characteristic of all « religions » is the « mastering of contingency » – contingency understood as finiteness and insufficiency in the human life, to which belong illness, misery and death, but also guilt and failure. The « religions » open ways for man to deal meaningfully with the conditions of contingency, and to integrate the negative moments into the own life draft. True, with this understanding of « religion » as a « system » with which human beings can handle the central questions of life, also those deliberately secular world views and ideologies can be taken as « religion » which permit no transcendental perspective (e.g. to « God ») and reject traditional religions, but nevertheless have as subject « the whole » of world, humankind and history, and can so exercise the function of a religion for their followers.

In view of an advancing secularization it is for many people no longer about a transcendental « salvation aim ». In the concept of the « civil religion », respectively « secular religion » is enclosed – so Gottfried Küenzlen – the hope aim of the « New Man » – and that in quite different shapes. It is about the arising « New Man », who « has already here on earth the kingdom of heaven » (Heinrich Heine). Human beings are then logically understood as creators and directors of their own « salvation »:

In its empirical realization the ‘New Man’ can now be produced, planned and – according to the imagination of some movements – also be bred biologically. »{3}

As for the concept « sport », a more external consideration leads us to differentiate the recovery and leisure sport from the area of the contest-operated sport. The distinctive characteristic is not the subjective « performance » accomplished in the sporting exercises. At the bottom of the two areas are rather two different « principles »: the « recreational » and the « sporting principle ».

The « recreational principle » means the range of non-utility, of free play. It is realized in the freedom of the performance dictate. It is defined by the always temporally activities. It tries to win joy and pleasure. It pays homage to the unnecessary. It gives way to spontaneous, creative ideas. It is free of rules and ways of exercises forced upon it. It tends to recovery and balance, and gives so back the human freedom of onerous existence conditions. That all that applies not only to wide ranges of the traditional and institutionalized sport movement, but includes various other forms of « physical exercises » in which thinking and feeling of the modern ‘affluent society’ are expressed. Mentioned be the « ski tourism », that has hardly to do something with « ski sport ».

A different principle, namely the « sporting » one, is the basis of the contest sport (mass sport and high-performance sport). It means the performance orientated towards records.

It is realized in the performance comparison of the contest. It is determined by the expenditure of time, and also of money for a performance-oriented, specialized training. It tries to increase, by way of rationalization measures of multiple kinds, the effectiveness of the spent training time. It invents always new methods to economize technical talents or tactical behaviours. It insists on automating the order of motions and differs from the work principle only in regard to the larger possibilities of free decisions.{4}

In the following several phenomena or characteristics are to be pointed out that may suggest the conclusion that we possibly or even obviously have to do with a « secular religion » in today’s sport movement. That is to be clarified by some examples: First by the borrowed « quasi-religious elements » in modern sport; secondly by the positive statement to be a « religion »; thirdly by the effort to be a « sense conveying action system »; fourthly by phenomena with the element of « ecstasy », typical for religions and fifthly by the trend to egocentric, « solipsistic occupation » or « obsession » just in high-performance sport.

The Borrowed « Quasi-religious Elements » in Modern Sport

In order to prove modern sport as « secular religion », it is wrong to refer to the ‘agonistic’ of the Greek antiquity, and its being at home in the cult of the gods, which manifested itself, as you know, above all in the large Pan-Hellenic Games of Olympia, Delphi, Nemea and Corinth. The modern sport, and also the « quasi-religious elements » in modern sport have other roots, even if one appeals time and again to the Greek antiquity.

It is obvious how at the opening celebrations of Olympiads or world championships quasi-religious liturgies are celebrated – not least enacted accurately by the media for their audience. With this « transfer of the sacral » one intends the « sublimation of sport » by ceremonies. In « liturgies », as you know, one gets blessings. One is admitted into a cult community, the community of the « knowing », the « gnostics ». One gets security and safety in a group of like-minded. These « liturgies » are celebrated by a « priest class », by a « nomenclatura » that enjoys privileges and decides who is worthy to participate in these « liturgies », and to be admitted into the circle of the privileged.

But « quasi-religious liturgies » are not only at the « high level ». Also at other levels of sport one celebrates such « rituals ».

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« Everything is ritualized, situations are dealt with, the ‘knowing’ are informed about the state of events: of the run-in of the crews in association colours, the exchange of pennants, the national anthem before the beginning of the play and after the Olympic championship. »{5}

Of course, one should not overestimate expressions of club fans like: « My religion is ‘Club XY' », or the title « Schalke Our » in a fan magazine, but regard them as curiosities. Nevertheless they indicate sense deficits just with young people.

The Positive Claim of Olympic Movement to Be a « Religion »

There are statements from the area of modern Olympic movement that seem far weightier and that read positively: Olympic movement is a religion. This claim is laid particularly by the founder of the Olympic movement, Pierre de Coubertin, but also by the IOC President of many years standing, Avery Brundage; not least by Carl Diem, who – particularly by the organization and arrangement of the Berlin Olympiad 1936 – exerted coining influence in the sense of religion and cult.

For Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the Olympiads of modern times, who felt destined to preach the « sporting gospel »{6}, the sport is « a religion with church, dogma, cult … but especially with a religious feeling ». Olympiads have a « sacral character » for him, and give ritual super-eminence to sport.

« The first and substantial element of the old as well as of the new Olympic movement is: to be a religion … Hence I believe I was right when I tried from the beginning to awaken religious feelings by the renewal of Olympic movement … The sport-religious thought, the ‘religio athletae’, entered only slowly into the awareness of the sportswomen … But little by little it will be taken quite seriously by them. »{7}

And another passage says, « Like the old athletics, so the modern athletics too is a religion, a cult. »{8} For Coubertin the athlete is « a kind of priest and the servant of the religion of muscle power »{9}; the sporting youths of all nations are to become « again disciples of the sporting religion »{10}. Obviously « the coronation of the Olympic idea by the Olympic religion was necessary for Coubertin, because without religion the dynamics, the enthusiasm and the absolute would be missing from the Olympic idea »{11}. He recommended to a secularized world the « continuation of the divine service at the again lighted up Olympic fire »{12}. Characteristic for Coubertin’s view is also his « Ode to the Sport », in which the « religion of muscle power »{13}, hence a biological ideology of Darwinist coinage, is expressed.

From Coubertin’s statements one could draw the conclusion that he had taken over from the antique « Olympic religion » certain « rituals » and the « religious feeling »,

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e

but he did not say yes to the gods, and thus also not to such a thing as « transcendency ». At the place of the gods he set, at least in some statements, the nation as surrogate of divinity; the victorious Olympian fighters of the present raise their native country, their race and flag{14}.

« How much Coubertin was aware of the pseudo religiosity of Olympic movement can be seen from the fact that he talks at another place of ‘true paganism’ and the ‘cult of man’. » {15}

Avery Brundage, who became in 1952 IOC President, is without doubt on Coubertin’s line. He used the term ‘religion’ in connection with sport and the Olympic movement in a similar sense as Coubertin. His most well-known statements from 1964 run under the headline « Olympian Movement – Religion of the Twentieth Century » through the media.

>

« The Olympian movement is a religion of the 20th century, a religion with universal claim, which integrates all basic values of other religions. A modern, dynamic religion, attractive for the youth, and we of the International Olympic Committee are its disciples. Here is no longer any injustice of caste, race, family and money. One may search in the whole history and will find no system of principles that spread so far and so fast as Coubertin’s brilliant philosophy. He ignited the torch that will illuminate the world. » {16}

Beside Coubertin and Avery Brundage is – at least from the German view – to be mentioned Carl Diem. After Coubertin he contributed probably most to the matter which we call « rituals » and « ritual actions » with Olympiads. Diem sees himself as « Knight of the Grail » guarding Coubertin’s ideas, yes, as Coubertin’s « son », who on the occasion of a visit in the run-up of the Berlin Olympiad in 1936 « wanted like a son to get the father’s blessing » {17}. In 1944, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the IOC, he will write:

« Nowhere the perfect gift of our ingenious reviver is reflected more strongly than in the designing of the Olympic ceremonies, in the mental and artistic shaping of this thought, in the creation of genuine Olympic symbols which – I believe I can say this – lifted the entire sport upon a higher level. »{18}

From here it becomes understandable that Diem, just with his « creation » of the Berlin Olympiad 1936 in Coubertin’s sense, wanted to renew the mental substance of the Olympic movement. In his « message » at the end of the Berlin Olympiad Coubertin writes:

« Now Berlin has given it (i.e. Olympic movement) for all times the solemnity by daring, and with fullest success crowned enterprises, as there are: the torch-run with the Olympic fire, and the meeting at the first evening of the Games; both were engineered by my ingenious and enthusiastic friend Carl Diem. »{19}

Already by the preceding Olympiads the Olympic fires had been lighted

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in the different contest places. For Berlin however Diem had the idea to arrange the lighting of the fire as a solemn quasi-religious act:

« The flame of the XIth Olympiad … ‘was born’ in the holy grove of the antique Olympia … The sun of Greece, collected in the focus of a concave mirror of the German company Carl Zeiss, inflamed the torch in the hand of a ‘priestess’. » {20}

The idea of the Olympic torch run from Olympia to Berlin, in connection with that ceremony, is attributed time and again to Carl Diem. But the suggestion came obviously from the Propaganda Ministry in Berlin – a fact that is generally ignored by the Olympic movement. At any rate, Diem was anxious to get « higher solemnity » for the Olympic ceremony by the prestige of the antiquity. In the retrospect Diem writes that he had seen himself even tempted, that the torch was carried into the stadium by a « light god » with « divine buoyancy » {21}.

Even if Diem expressed himself later more reservedly, some of his remarks concerning an « Olympic religion » are nevertheless unmasking.

« Over the modern event of the « Olympiad lies the magic circle of the historical-old and the divine-pious … The things that open the celebration: Bell sound – fanfares – festive procession – choir singing – speech – oath – flags – pigeons – light symbol, all this means solemnity, equal-ranking to a church celebration without copying it, and a deep emotion is everywhere, quite comparable to a religious celebration hour » {22}.

It does no longer matter to honour Zeus, but everything stands under the pious belief to fulfil – in the secret sense of the festive play – a divine will, to stand with this sense of the play within the sense of the world: To be man, to be entirely man. With Olympia it is about a festivity, « with which people celebrate their being man, i.e. that more of life that is not exhausted in mastering the existence, but wants to share in the celestial, spiritual, eternal progress that makes us people to human beings » {23}.

Therefore it can also not surprise when – for Diem – the Olympiad represents the ‘day of faith’ in the holy springtime of the peoples: « This new world demanded a new man that had to be shaped by a new education. » {24} Diem wrote this sentence in summer 1944. A few months later, in March 1945, he will step before sixteen-year-old youths on the Reichssportfeld (stadium) in Berlin, to call on them by a « glowing speech – in which was so much of Sparta and self-sacrificing devotion – to the victorious final fight against Germany’s enemies »(25); Diem had obviously identified himself with the criminal order of the Leader, and had used a disfigured Olympic movement to motivate those doomed men.

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Sport – a Sense Conveying Action System?

In Coubertin’s and his epigones’ Olympic movement we meet the attempt to offer modern people a system of actions conveying sense. But this intention can be seen also in sport generally, the more so since the traditional religions – in particular Christianity – have seemingly lost more and more their moulding influence. Thereby is, on the part of sport, referred to the many positive values which got a high rank in today’s time. Inversely to sport are transferred tasks that actually belong into the field of other institutions: « It is to serve public health, moral and discipline, education and character formation, the social behaviour, national pride and commerce » {26}. By that are attributed to sport effects which overcharge it. Therewith it becomes also susceptible to ideology, and can be used for all possible tasks and by any interested party.

Apart from these rationally comprehensible fields into which today’s sport is pressed, other motivations shove themselves into the foreground. Running for example does not only serve health and well-being. Beyond that it serves « meditation training, mental perfection or religious illumination » {27}. The relevant impulses come usually from religious, but non-Christian sources. Above all eastern meditation techniques have to be named here. Many are looking for the desired « illumination » by running. Yes, one can see in the « expanding run culture » (manifesting itself in the many marathon races and in the jogging scene) a « reaction against a general social trend to ‘Entkörperlichung’ (disregard of the body) »; the body is, at is were, rediscovered. Thus it does not surprise, when « in the run event, but probably already in its physical and mental preparation and emotional long interpretation, the construction of sense, faith, and orientation systems » is seen{28}.

Elements of « Ecstasy » in Modern Sport

Today one hardly talks of religious elements in modern sport, although there is a set of phenomena which prove that the modern sport could « become still more comprehensively a ‘pseudo-religious mass movement’ as it is already the case today » {29}. This assumption resp. impression is substantiated by the phenomenon « ecstasy » in the modern sport – « ecstasy » understood as the ego’s stepping out of its borders with a strong participation of the emotions.

Remarkable, yes astonishing is the proximity to a certain type

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of pagan services in the antique world: the services of the mystery cults. These « services » aimed at impressing and overwhelming. The « faithful », the members of the « cult community » experience the « epiphany of the divine » by the extension of the senses, by the change of their consciousness by intoxication. Often it is introduced by fasting, night watches, and dance for hours up to trance, by poisons and stimulants, by physical injuries and pain, generally by feelings of delight. All these « procedures » are carefully religiously « administered », in order to bring about this « ecstasy », to cause the « epiphany of the divine ». « Ecstasy » is meant here completely literally: as stepping out of the profane and as gliding into the comprehensive numinous, divine being. It is a matter of trained motor-minded and toxic « ecstasies ». The loss of the external reality and the loss of self-control are the general characteristics of such a « being beside oneself », that usually takes place only in the guarding context of a cult group, for instance in the Dionysos cult.

If one looks in modern sport for the mentioned phenomena of « ecstasy », one cannot pass the so-called « adventure sport ». These « adventure sports » are today extremely liked, and are, as it were, the « dernier cri ». What does constitute the attractiveness of these kinds of sport: Canoeing, rafting, paragliding, ski runs with gradients of 60% and more? It is the so-called « kick », the thrill, which one wants to experience by ‘border experiences’ of deadly perils that are not only accepted but even desired. « Terms as ‘search for the ultimate kick’, ‘thrill’ and ‘risk experience’ advance to key words of the event boom in sport. » {30}

« With the ‘kick’ that one wants to experience and that is important, a new currency of satisfying sport- and self-experience wins, so to speak, recognition » {31}

Thereby, so one argues, it is about plumbing everything that is humanly possible – as a means to self-identification. As negative « examples » the canoeing accidents or the tragedies on Mount Everest may be mentioned. The highest mountain of the world and also the other eight thousand meter high mountains have almost become a tourist attraction; they are mounted no longer only by real top climbers and specialists. Today such « border events » are in demand; they are commercially offered; one can « buy » them on the event market.

Not only by the example of extreme mountaineering the euphoric « exceeding-oneself » can be proved. Such « flow experiences » are described as « absence of fear and stress also by extreme danger; one is oblivious of all around one, the Ego disappears, one experiences a union without distance and merges with the surrounding environment – ecstatic experiences of an ‘oceanic’ security in nature, which seem even religious ». This experience had a « large similarity to meditative experiences of crossing the frontiers of one’s own being »; yes, one believes that one can see by those extreme mountain climbers a « kind of obsession

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for transcendence experiences in the mountains ». Thereby the danger is not to be underestimated, « that any form of falling into a trance-transcendence of the everyday consciousness can assume the features of addiction » {32}. The « kick » looked for by the protagonists of this kind of extreme sports, is obviously the enhancement of the individual « fun motive »; it reminds of experiences of drug consume, and « appears as the last stage of self-delight, respectively of anti-social self-realization » {33}.

In the world annually twenty internationally well-known marathon races take place, which attract up to 25.000 participants each. What constitutes the attractiveness of these runs? For most people it is certainly not the prize money; and it is for certain also not the aspect of health; then it would be better and less strenuous to care otherwise for one’s health. It is medically proved that by strain, and a marathon race is strain, after approximately twenty five kilometres a pain threshold is reached, which is met by the body by production of body-own endorphins, i.e. of body-own morphin. The runners become « high ». The medical profession speaks of a real « craving », and of « becoming addicted »: the runners just intend to « become high ». Those who constantly run longer distances, become addicted, and experience by going off the « drug running » actual withdrawal symptoms. One may ask the question, what differentiates this « becoming high » by body-own endorphins from an ecstasy-intoxication.

Here we do not deal with the various inciting drugs (like ephedrine or amphetamine), also not with the use of anabolic steroids (which have an aggression intensifying effect), of marijuana and cocaine, which are obviously popular in ball sports. Only in passing be referred to the public at big sporting meetings. Here it is not only about the « identification » with the sporting heroes. The « getting beside oneself », the merging in the mass of like-minded, and the merging in the moment are obvious: sport is indeed the « arena of the now ». Here too « poisons » intensify the merging in the moment: drugs, alcohol etc. The modern sport proves obviously as the new « opiate for the people ».

The Trend to the Total

The « trend to the total » in modern sport, to the « occupation » of those who do sport becomes apparent first in the fact that above all physical fitness and health moved into the centre of interest.

« Health, physical fitness and soundness are the socially accepted attributes (capable of securing a majority) of the dynamic, juvenile, successful man who remained and will remain young … Health got a central value in our performance-oriented society. » {34}

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A physician formulates it still more drastic: « Health is the highest good of a society which is looking for its welfare chiefly in this life. » {35} Going in for sports becomes a ritual health activity, by which one is convinced that it will automatically lead to health. The post-modern people want seemingly to outfox their limitedness and finiteness by a cult of health and fitness – this too is a symptom for the « secularization of the paradise », and its transfer into the earthly existence.

All the more the « trend to the total » appears in today’s top-performance sport. The top-class sportswoman subordinates her/his whole conduct of life to the aim ‘sporting performance’, in a way hardly imaginable for the sporting laywoman. Training and sporting contest become an action maxim of first order. By this fixation on only one perspective and by this total orientation towards a presentable performance or success, and by the necessary readiness for a total psycho-physical engagement it is not only about the enormous temporal expense, but also about the affective-emotional reference to the sporting performance. « Those who are so engaged have often hardly any strength to be impressively active elsewhere and otherwise »; the top-performance sportswoman is « to a large extent a human being occupied by sport » {36}. Hence s/he is « possessed » by her/his sport. These facts are called « attention focusing on sport »{37} and « ‘Totalisierung’ (make absolute) the sportswoman role »{38}. Needs and interests, school and occupation, spare time and vacation, nutrition and recovery, friendship, sexuality and privacy, world view and social-cultural commitment are subordinated to the necessities of sport – with the inevitable consequence that people are completely absorbed by sport, and are allowed no further activities. « The less time remains for other things the more important become sporting activities as sense causing centre of one’s own identity » {39}.

It might be clear that in view of such a priority setting and such a « value scale » everything is subordinated to the sporting success, e.g. also the negative subsequent effects concerning the physical health. Health damage is almost constituent for high-performance sport. The top-performance sportswoman does not only move in biological, but in pathogen frontier.

« In most sporting disciplines top-performances can be achieved only after heaviest training labour over months and years, in certain cases one feels automatically reminded of the material abrasion tests in the industry. » {40}

The final product is, as you know, scrap material. « Top-performance sport exceeds – negligently or consciously – the limits of a usable or justifiable state of health. » {41} In view of the priorities valid in top-performance sport the much-praised sporting fairness fails all the more.

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« Fair play appears as ‘success prevention mechanism’ against this background » {42}. Then for instance doping (in its various variants) is justified. Hence doping is a problem essentially caused by the system code ‘top-performance sport’. It is clear that the commercialization of the « commodity sport » will still strengthen these negative sides. Under the laws of the market the solution of the doping problem moves into an unattainable distance – unless the doping means are generally allowed.

With this a further moment is connected, which is typical for any ideology. It is the excluding, respectively the fading out of any fundamental criticism or questioning of the « system sport ». System foreign discussion participants are often simply ignored. That means: the « sympathizers » or « fundamentalists » are among themselves. All of them pretend to live naturally « for » the sport. But there are mostly people concerned who live « on » the sport; who have therefore an elementary and material interest in sport. However that may be, from « lobbyists » one can expect only an endorsement, if necessary a « partial » criticism. Above all the functionaries are keen on the keeping of their privileges. The athletes are thereby the « useful idiots », who are kept in good mood by appropriate bonuses.

The Religious Garments of Sport

Does today’s sport represent a « secular religion »? The religious « garments », the religious « symbols » and « rituals », as they are not only used by Olympiads, may not mislead about the fact that the modern sport is not a « religion » in the actual sense. These « symbols » and « rituals » are only « borrowed ». The Olympiads are no longer organized in honour of gods. « Religion » is rather used as instrument. The religious feelings and energies of man are directed to a different object. « In Olympia man celebrates itself. A religion without God leads to the divinisation of human beings and of their performance. » {43} This « idolization » of man respectively the « attempt to mythologize the sport »{44} found its classical expression in Coubertin’s « Ode to the Sport ». It is about the « cult of man ».

Also beyond the range of the Olympiads one cannot discover in today’s sport (both in the « adventure sports » and in the sport done as contest in mass and top-performance sports) « expressions » of transcendence: not even in the sense of a « cultural transcendence », let alone in the sense of an actually « religious transcendence ». « The sport belongs to the secular everyday ways of life. … It represents them in an almost exemplary way. … Experiences of wholeness are not to be won by sport. » {45}

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In today’s sport it is about the « cult of man »; about the « New Man » who is to develop by sporting activity. This becomes more than obvious in the absence or in the fading out of the things that belong to the nature of religions: the fading out of the aspect « accomplishment of contingency » – contingency understood as finiteness and insufficiency of the human life, to which, of course, belong illness, wrong and death, guilt and failure. The absence of just this aspect proves therefore the « sport religion » as deficit. Yes, it is even impossible to « complete » the « sport religion ». Occasionally one gets the impression that in the sporting activity is expressed the effort of people to get the better of finiteness; as it were, to be able to « run away » from illness, wrong and death. But you can neither ignore nor run away from human contingency. Nevertheless today’s sport takes incontestably advantage of a tendency in modern society: those vague desires and longings of human beings for a sense in life, for identification with « heroes », yes, for « light figures » with quasi-salvation functions. « A part of the partly disappointed, partly unsatisfied religious need has diffused into sport » {37}.

The modern sport movement is a « partial ideology ». As « partial » it is in danger or temptation to follow « large ideologies », yes, even to sell itself to them – as the past has sufficiently shown. Yes, the modern sport movement is a kind « totalitarian system », because it reduces the « total reality » to certain aspects: a « part » of reality is announced as « whole » (= totum). The « salvation promises » of sport that are based on it, are deceitful and insufficient. Mere tension maximization and desire satisfaction in sporting activity as well as the tasting to the full of body-referred intense experiences, the « just for fun »: all that only addresses the senses but is still no « sense address ». « We do not find the sense of life in sport only. Those who still believe it will ultimately find emptiness there » (47).

Notes

(0) The contribution represents the revised version of a paper: A. Koch: Der moderne Sport – eine säkularisierte Religion? In: W. Schwank (inter alia Ed.): Begegnung. Schriftenreihe zur Geschichte der Beziehung von Christentum und Sport, vol. 2. Aachen 2000, p. 35-50.

(1) W. Rothe, Sport u. Literatur in den Zwanzigerjahren, in: Stadion 7 (1981) 131-151.

(2) See my detailed explanation: Der moderne Sport – eine säkularisierte Religion?, in: Begegnung. Schriftenreihe zur Geschichte der Beziehung von Christentum u. Sport. Volume 2, edited by W. Schwank and others (Aachen 2000) 35-50.

(3) G. Küenzlen: Der Neue Mensch. Zur säkularen Religionsgeschichte der Moderne (München 1994) 20.

(4) About the concept « Sport » see J. Dieckert: Probleme des Sports und der Leibeserziehung (Frankfurt 1970) 126 et sequ.

(5) K. Weis: Sport und Religion, in: Soziologie des Sports, edited by J. Winkler and others (Opladen 1995) 129.

(6) P. de Coubertin, Der Olympische Gedanke (Schorndorf 1967) 52.

(7) The same, Olympische Erinnerungen (Frankfurt 1959) 217 et sequ.

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(8) The same, Gedanke (note 6) 137.

(9) The same, Erinnerungen (note 7) 222.

(10) ibid. 207.

(11) J. Moltmann, Olympia zwischen Politik und Religion, in: Concilium 25 (1989) 432-437, 433.

(12) Coubertin, Gedanke (note 6) 133.

(13) ibid. 47 et sequ.

(14) See H. Bernett, Symbolik und Zeremoniell der XI. Olympischen Spiele in Berlin 1936, in: Sportwissenschaft 16 (1986) 364.

(15) B. Wirkus, « Werden wie die Griechen » – Implikationen, Intentionen und Widersprüche im Olympismus Pierre de Coubertins, in: Stadion 16 (1990) 119.

(16) Quoted from M. Hörrmann, Religion der Athleten (Stuttgart 1968) 22.

(17) C. Diem, Ein Leben für den Sport (Ratingen 1974) 163.

(18) The same, Gedanken zur Sportgeschichte (Schorndorf 1965) 20.

(19) Coubertin, Gedanke (note 6) 156.

(20) Bernett (note 14) 370.

(21) C. Diem, Ausgewählte Schriften. volume 1 (St. Augustin 1982) 196.

(22) The same, Ewiges Olympia (Minden 1948) 10.

(23) The same, Spätlese am Rhein (Frankfurt 1957) 68.

(24) The same, (note 8) 8.

(25) Bernett (note 14) 394.

(26) Weis (note 5) 132.

(27) ibid. 142.

(28) ibid. 148.

(29) H. Digel, Über den Wandel der Werte in Gesellschaft, Freizeit und Sport, in: DSB (ed.): Die Zukunft des Sports, edited by DSB (Schorndorf 1986) 41.

(30) H. Allmer, « Erlebnissport – Erlebnis Sport » – mehr als Wortspielerei, in: Brennpunkte der Sportwissenschaft 9 (1995) No. 1 and 2, 3.

(31) V. Rittner: Sport in der Erlebnisgesellschaft. In: Brennpunkte der Sportwissenschaft 9 (1995), No. 1 and 2, p. 29.

(32) W. Schleske, Grenzerfahrungen in den Erlebnissportarten, in: Sport an der Wende, edited by S. Riedl and others (Wien 1991) 88 f.

(33) J. Thiele, « Werde ich zum Augenblicke sagen: verweile doch! Du bist so schön. », in: Brennpunkte der Sportwissenschaft 9 (1995) No. 1 and 2, 115.

(34) G. A. Pilz, Sport und Gesundheit, in: Sport und Gesundheit, edited by D. Küpper and others(Schorndorf 1991) 111.

(35) R. Rost, Gesundheit und Gesundheitserziehung, in: Brennpunkte der Sportwissenschaft 1 (1987) 60.

(36) M. Steinbach, Der Hochleistungssport, in: Rekorde aus der Retorte, edited by A. Natan (Stuttgart 1972) 52 et sequ.

(37) K.-H. Bette and U. Schimank, Doping im Hochleistungssport (Frankfurt 1995) 113.

(38) ibid. 285.

(39) ibid. 113 et sequ.

(40) H. Krahl, Orthopädie und Sportmedizin, in: Sportärztliche und sportpädagogische Betreuung, edited by A. Claus (Erlangen 1978) 209.

(41) T. Wessinghage, Kinder und Hochleistungssport aus orthopädischer Sicht, in: Kinder und Jugendliche im Hochleistungssport, edited by R. Daugs and others(Schorndorf 1998) 250.

(42) Bette u. Schimank (note 37) 218.

(43) Moltmann (note 11) 435.

(44) B. Wirkus, Olympismus als Geschichtsphilosophie und Ideologie, in: Stadion 18 (1992) 320.

(45) ibid. 320 f.

(46) D. Mieth, Jenseits aller Moral – Ersatzreligion Sport, in: Sportwissenschaft 27 (1997) 181.

(47) quoted after G. Drexel, Existentielle Krise und sportanthropologisches Denken, in: Für einen besseren Sport, edited by H. Gabler and others (Schorndorf 1990) 235.

Voir enfin:

Linsanity brings to mind first Asian-American NBA player

 John Daley

KSL.com

February 26th, 2012

SALT LAKE CITY — Jeremy Lin, the Harvard-educated New York Knicks player, is unusual. An NBA star of Taiwanese descent, he’s leading the team on a surprising run of wins. But the first Asian-American in the league was a Utahn whose parents were Japanese.

Wat Misaka’s story goes back to the University of Utah, during World War II-era, but he’s recently been interviewed by outlets from NPR to NBC, thanks to the surprise emergence of NBA start Jeremy Lin. Misaka also played for the Knicks, and on a visit back to Madison Square Garden was surprised to see that the first team plaque on the wall was from 1947, and it had Misaka’s name on it.

He started on a University of Utah team that won two national championships, including one in 1944, while the U.S. was still at war with Japan and other Japanese- Americans were living in internment camps. At times, Misaka endured hateful comments from the crowd.

« I just chose to ignore it all, » Misaka said. « I felt like it would do me no good at all to dwell on that and let it bother me. »

Misaka won over crowds and teammates with his energetic defensive intensity.

« We won the NIT championship with a 5’7″ center, » said teammate Arnie Ferrin. « That’s pretty good isn’t it? »

« In the forties the game was a lot slower than it is today, » said Bill Marcroft, a U. broadcaster. « But with Wat, his energy and his boundless enthusiasm stood out because nobody else played that way. »

Misaka is a humble man. Looking back now, he prefers to focus on friends he made — like teammate Arnie Ferrin — rather than his own personal accomplishments. Meanwhile, a new book is out about the U of U. team from 1944, called « Blitz Kids, » which has sold movie rights for the story.

John Daley, Reporter

John Daley is a reporter with KSL-TV and the Deseret News specializing in political, investigative and transportation issues.

4 Responses to Basketball: Cachez ces racines chrétiennes que je ne saurai voir (From the Y to Jeremy Lin: Reviving basketball’s original Christian values)

  1. […] savoir, avant sa récupération comme terrain de chasse par les homosexuels,… la YMCA, dite “Union chrétienne de jeunes gens” en français? jc durbant @ 01:29 […]

    J'aime

  2. […] sur le terrain des Broncos de Denver et un peu à l’instar du prodige taiwanais-américain Jeremy Lin des New York Knicks, a vécu un véritable chemin de croix dans l’enfer du banc des Jets de […]

    J'aime

  3. […] sur le terrain des Broncos de Denver et un peu à l’instar du prodige taiwanais-américain Jeremy Lin des New York Knicks, a vécu un véritable chemin de croix dans l’enfer du banc des Jets de […]

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  4. jcdurbant dit :

    Voir aussi:

    « Depuis que j’ai rencontré le Seigneur en 2000, ma vie a complètement changé et seulement en bien » indique Mary Pierce. « Maintenant, ma vie est entièrement consacrée au Seigneur. Tout ce que je fais, c’est pour lui, qu’il s’agisse d’un entrainement ou d’une oeuvre caritative en Afrique » ajoute la sportive, qui avoue avoir trouvé « une paix » et « une joie intérieure ». Un nouveau chemin qui peut sembler étonnant, mais qui ne l’empêche pas, précise-t-elle, de mener « une vie tout à fait normale ». « Sauf que j’ai une relation personnelle avec Jésus. Je prie, je lis la Bible; je vais à l’église ».

    Mary Pierce : «Maintenant, ma vie est consacrée au Seigneur»
    Le Parisien

    J'aime

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