Holy Acceptable Violence? Violence in Hockey and Christian Atonement Theories

By Trothen, Tracy | Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Holy Acceptable Violence? Violence in Hockey and Christian Atonement Theories


Trothen, Tracy, Journal of Religion and Popular Culture


Introduction

[1]Several scholars have argued that organized sport functions as a religion or is, literally, a form of religion. Certainly hockey exhibits many characteristics of a religion: players are like gods and goddesses, or heroes and heroines; devoted followers ritually observe and participate in (with ecstatic responses) their chosen team's games; there are hockey shrines including a recent one honouring Maurice Rocket Richard at Canada's Museum of Civilization in Ottawa; and the Stanley Cup and other lesser awards are similar in terms of how they are regarded by some devotees to religious icons. (2) Considering that more than 4 million Canadians (out of a total population of approximately 31 million), not including fans, were involved in amateur hockey in 2002, (3) and that Hockey Night in Canada is the longest running show in the history of Canadian television, (4) if Canada has a sport that functions as a popular religion, it is hockey.

[2]The question of whether sport functions as, is, or is definitely not a religion is one with which several scholars have wrestled. Some, perhaps most notably Joseph L. Price and Michael Novak, have argued strenuously that sport is a religion. Others have mounted what I think are more persuasive arguments against sport being a religion. These arguments tend to be based more on issues of faith in the transcendent, questions of holiness, and intentionality of addressing the meaning of life. (5) As I have argued elsewhere, (6) sport can serve as a spiritual discipline if it is pursued in a way congruent with such disciplines, but it need not be. Similarly, faith group membership can serve as a spiritual discipline but not necessarily is one, as one can attend church, for example, but not be faithful or faith-filled.

[3]Others claim that sports such as hockey cannot function as a popular religion because they are violent. (7) Yet, violence colours most cultural institutions and dynamics, including religions. Religions and other ways of being religious are marked by violence and other distortions, yet this usually neither stops people from participating in religious organizations, nor from passionately defending the ones to which they subscribe. However, this passion can blind followers to recognizing--let alone critiquing--that which is held sacred. As many scholars, such as Clifford Geertz, have argued, religions, including Christianity, are both informed by and inform wider culture. In this essay, I will begin such a critique of the assumed normativity of violence in hockey by identifying and examining ways in which hockey is violent, and drawing some connections to concrete consequences of this normativity. Because violence has indeed become normative, the mere identification of these forms of violence is a political act; it is unclear what constitutes violence and, perhaps most significantly, what violence is morally wrong, morally ambiguous or morally good. As theologian Hans Boersma well argues, "The underlying assumption in many discussions of divine violence appears to be that violence is inherently evil and immoral ... [W]e need to ask whether violence is, under any and all circumstances, a morally negative thing." (8) This examination will demonstrate and argue the moral ambiguity, harms and even benefits of some violence. Christianity, as the religious tradition to which the majority of Canadians subscribe, (9) is the religion that I will examine in this essay alongside hockey as an example of a widely accepted possible avenue to spirituality.

[4] Because most of the critiques of the violence in Christianity, and many of the studies regarding violence--particularly that of a sexual nature--have been written by feminist or pro-feminist scholars, the methodological approach I take in this essay is a feminist ethics approach. Both hockey and Christianity foster, or participate in, the negation of embodiment and sexuality, especially regarding women. …

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