Ryan Mishap's Reviews > Onward Christian Athletes: Turning Ballparks Into Pulpits and Players Into Preachers

Onward Christian Athletes by Tom Krattenmaker
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Feb 07, 2011

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bookshelves: sports

A far too even-handed look at how one brand of Christianity--evangelical, conservative, capitalistic, right-wing--has infiltrated sports, from high schools to the big three professional leagues, which are the focus here (NFL, NBA, MLB). Like the history of the rise and prominence of conservative, pro-business media, evangelical Christian groups formed groups who wormed their way into sports culture, intent on utilizing athlete's fame to spread their message and to proselytize amongst the younger athletes.

Krattenmaker asks whether this promotion of a minority belief--and, arguably, a harmful, divisive one at that--has a place in sports and sports culture and how this celebration of a narrow, theologically contested (if not shaky) Christianity negatively affects not only individual athletes, but fans and society as well.

I would argue vociferously that evangelical Christianity has no place anywhere in our society, unlike the author who thinks that splitting religion from sports would be wrong. One of his arguments is that people of other faiths and people who believe in no religion (points to him for actually including people who profess no faith in the supernatural, for we are often left out of the discussion on religion) should follow the evangelical lead and organize! Get your voice out there! This is simplistic balderdash, for the owners and management of sports teams aren't going to hold an Atheist's Night at the Park. Many religions frown on evangelizing and conversion and wouldn't seek to impose their faith on a captive audience. And so on.

The fact is--and Krattenmaker points this out--the feel-good capitalism of pray-and-prosper evangelical Christianity aligns well with the elites in our society who can afford to own sports teams--the focus on individual morality and personal belief instead of community organizing in response to structural ills also serves those in power.

Most people I know could give a damn about sports or religion, they can have each other, but they are powerful actors in our society and need to be taken seriously.

Last point of annoyance: Krattenmaker too readily concedes that the faith-based groups ministering to Christian athletes are a force for good, repeatedly emphasizing that this faith can help athletes--exposed to the many temptations offered by wealth and celebrity--live "moral lives." He never defines what he means by living a "moral" life, but merely accepts that following evangelical Christian precepts somehow equates to morality. Philosophically, it isn't so, and, in practice, it certainly ain't so.

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