I was recently pointed to this story on ESPN The Magazine about a high school football team whose fans agreed to give the opposing team their own cheer section during the game. The rival team was a Gainesville, Texas team made of high-security correctional facility teenagers who went from city to city to play football.
Gainesville has a lot of kids with convictions for drugs, assault and robbery—many of whose families had disowned them
The person who linked to this story was discussing the effects of prayer along with action, and how this beautiful story highlighted its positive results.
The story goes on to describe Gainesville’s loss as the expected result after a long season without any wins however highlighted by a feeling of victory by its players from the experience they just received, of acceptance and camaraderie.
But there are several messages within this story which, to me, brings out many issues; issues revolved around the players’ beliefs, motivation, and integrity.
Let’s start off with the most obvious one, from this quote:
After the game, both teams gathered in the middle of the field to pray and that’s when Isaiah surprised everybody by asking to lead. “We had no idea what the kid was going to say,” remembers Coach Hogan. But Isaiah said this: “Lord, I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to say thank You, but I never would’ve known there was so many people in the world that cared about us.”
I would hope Isaiah’s first instinct would be to thank the people who organized this, then the ones who participated in it, then the coach, the rival team, so on and so forth. Religion, in this case (and in many cases like this), steals the show, so to speak. It’s fair to speculate that many people donated a significant amount of time and effort to pull that whole thing off and they should be first and foremost in line to receive gratitude.
I see this over and over again from people who undergo amazing recoveries, thanking a deity before they thank the doctor who spent years studying and researching in order to perform a successful surgery or line of treatment.
If God was the motivation for such a good deed, then of course, thanks are due to him; but was he?
Would you rather your children help around the house because you make them do it or because they truly understand their role in the family and are sincerely pleased to contribute for the sole sake of their kindness? Were the fans from Faith (the home team) motivated by God, if one would argue, truly altruistic, more so than the ones who decided to do good that day for the sake of seeing a smile on another man’s face? Is gratitude due to a person whose actions are based on promises of salvation and fear from condemnation or to a person who built their character on a foundation of integrity and naturalistic empathy?
I will not speculate on each person’s motivation in this anecdote and I am inclined to think that most of those people were acting out of goodness sake, which is innate, when they gave those players this beautiful present. But this gift so nicely wrapped in the religious bag-o-goodies doesn’t come without extras:
As the Tornadoes walked back to their bus under guard, they each were handed a bag for the ride home—a burger, some fries, a soda, some candy, a Bible and an encouraging letter from a Faith player.
Ah, the ever-so-completing gift that keeps on giving: The Bible.
The last time I visited a friend at a hospital, I brought him doughnuts, some magazines, and new razors. I also gave him my business card… you know, just in case he needed some web sites done while he was nearing his death.
What an underhanded slap in the face that must feel like for someone with an ounce of reasoning in their brains.
Religion is used over and over again as a cloak for kindness and altruism, but it represents exactly the opposite. Its proponents are quick to explore emotionally charged experiences in order to sell their despicable pamphlets. It is a conduit for false pretense and condescension.
I would be a million times more grateful to one of those parents and students if they had come up to me after the game and said: “My only motivation to coming here tonight was to hopefully show you that there are genuinely good people out here who will give you another chance, without expecting anything in return.”
Most of these boys will fail to recognize the underlying hubris in the faithful’s actions, but I’ve seen it way too many times to not consider it present here. I believe all those involved could potentially act out of genuine care for those young men, but religion will do its best to obscure their natural motivations and present it within its shiny coat of arrogance.