Americans are divided on whether "God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success," according to a recent survey ahead of Super Bowl Sunday.
Almost 5 in 10 agree (48%) with this echo of the prosperity gospel, while slightly fewer disagree (47%), reports Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). However, 62 percent of white evangelicals believe that God rewards faithful athletes in this manner, compared to only half of Catholics, 44 percent of white mainline Protestants, and 22 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans believe.
Meanwhile, the survey suggests the number of Sunday churchgoers and Sunday football-watchers is about equal. One-quarter of Americans say they are more likely to be in church than watching football on any given Sunday, while only slightly less (21 percent) say they are more likely to be watching football than in church. One-in-five (21 percent) say they are likely to do both on Sundays, while one-third (33 percent) say they probably won't be doing either activity.
Breaking this down further, PRRI found:
More than 4-in-10 (41%) black Americans say they are more likely to be in church on Sunday than to be watching football, more than three times the number who say the reverse (12%). About one-third (31%) say they are more likely to be doing both, and only 16% say they are not likely to be doing either.
The numbers of white non-Hispanic Americans who say they are more likely to be in church versus those who say they're more likely to be watching football are roughly comparable (23% vs. 22%), while 1-in-5 (20%) say they are likely to be doing both, and 35% say they would likely not be doing either. The pattern among Hispanics is nearly identical to non-Hispanics whites.
Nearly half (46%) of white evangelical Protestants say they are more likely to be in church than watching football, while only 9% say the reverse—that they would be more likely to be watching football. Roughly one-third (31%) say they are likely to be doing both.
In contrast, white mainline Protestants are about twice as inclined to say they are more likely to be watching football on any given Sunday than spending time in church (27% vs. 15%). Nearly 4-in-10 (38%) say they are not likely to be doing either.
Catholics are about as likely to say they would be in church (25%) as to say they would be watching football (23%), while minority Protestants are more than six times more likely to say they would be in church (49%) than watching football (8%) on any given Sunday.
But mixing the divine with the "o-line" doesn't stop there. Football fans are more likely than other sports fans to say they pray to God (33 percent versus 21 percent). In addition, they are more likely to believe their team has been cursed (31 percent versus 18 percent), and partake in rituals before or during games (25 percent versus 18 percent).
"As Americans tune in to the Super Bowl this year, fully half of fans—as many as 70 million Americans—believe there may be a twelfth man on the field influencing the outcome," said Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI. "Significant numbers of American sports fans believe in invoking assistance from God on behalf of their favorite team, or believe the divine may be playing out its own purpose in the game."
Kevin Dougherty, sociology professor at Baylor University, is not surprised by the number of Americans who pray about the outcome of games. In a 2010 Baylor Religion Survey, he found that half of American adults pray daily.
"While our survey didn't ask about the content of American prayers, we know from other research that people pray about what is important to them," Dougherty said. "To a segment of Americans, sports are very important. Not surprisingly then, sports become a topic for prayer in the lives of these individuals."
"Evangelical Protestants believe in a God who is present and engaged in human life," he said. "Thus, all human efforts in every realm have a sacred dimension to them, including sports. Working hard and doing your best is a sign of honor and obedience to God, in the theology of evangelicals."
Meanwhile, among Protestant fans, more than 1 in 5 white evangelicals (22 percent), minority Protestants (22 percent), and white mainline Protestants (30 percent) believe their team has been cursed before. Among those who have prayed for their team: 38 percent of white evangelicals, 33 percent of white mainline Protestants, and 29 percent of minority Protestants. Only 15 percent of religiously unaffiliated fans say they have also prayed for their team.
Concerning the outcomes of games, 22 percent of all Americans say God plays a role in determining them. Among those who believe this, more than half (52 percent) say they have "prayed to God to help their team."
In addition, Baylor professor Greg Garrett shared his views of praying on the Super Bowl:
I'm going to pray—not that my team will win, although that would be a refreshing change. I'm going to pray that no one would be badly hurt for my entertainment. I'm going to pray that the NFL and its fans might press, in the days and years to come, to see the right thing done for all those who have been or will be hurt. I'm going to pray for those players and their families, and for all those who suffer, because that's what my tradition calls me to do daily.
Richard Ostling discusses why God might be interested in the Super Bowl, and why that bothers atheists. Bob Smietana writes for the Wall Street Journal about praying for victories.
CT regularly reports on football and sports, including how children's sports may be the main reason for declining church attendance. CT explored how grace and idolatry play into why we love football, as well as the physically devastating aspects of the sport.
(Photo courtesy of Ed Yourdon - Flickr)
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