Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Holy Church of Hockey

I just finished reading an excellent post by Greta Christina, Is Religion Really Religious? The Baseball Analogy.

The basic argument is that, like religion, baseball is seen by many as being much more than just the game.  Baseball has it's own food, rituals, traditions, movies, music, culture - like religion.

But in the final analysis, baseball is just a game; all of these other things can be detached from the game of baseball and what remains is just baseball, nude of all its accoutrements.

Well, at least I hope I got the basic gist of her argument.

The same could be said of religion - at core it's a supernatural belief.  Religions can have many outward expressions - rituals, music, moral codes, food.  But in the end, it's the supernatural belief that is the keystone.

One thing that struck me while reading Greta's post, which I believe was deliberate, is the close association made by many  between religion and sports.  We've all seen the strong devotion to the game some avid sports fans have and there are some quite spooky rituals and lucky charms used by both athletes and fans alike.

In Quebec I've heard the saying that there are two religions - Catholicism and Hockey.  But I've also heard it said like this - Catholicism and the Relief from Catholicism.  But is hockey really a religion here?

When people say they are religious about hockey or that hockey is their religion they are making a statement about how passionate and devoted they are to the sport - not any supernatural belief.  So, properly speaking, I would say hockey is not a religion in Quebec - it is an obsession.

So, what happens when a society loses its religion?
Religion is not uniquely defined as an institution with community, history, philosophy, and music. Many institutions exist with community, history, philosophy, and music, without being religious.
Well the Church in Quebec has been on a sharp decline over the last 40 years and secularism has been on the rise.  Some 78% of the population do not consider themselves religious now and empty churches everywhere are being converted or torn down. Only hockey remains - itself not a religion but still invoking near mystical responses from its devotees.

So reading her post, my thoughts drifted to a recent news report about the Montreal food bank being at a 58 year low for Christmas donations: Desperate for donations: Food banks at 58-year low.

Now I would imagine it would have been churches who did the bulk of food collecting back in the day.    Montreal is still a city of (mostly empty) churches.  But congregations have been on a steady decline for decades - so why the sudden drop in donations this year?
There are several reasons people aren’t donating as much this year as they have in the past, said Stevens. 
A major one, is the NHL lockout. 
“We have a lot of people who collect for us, such as the bars, night clubs, the sports clubs. The wives of the Canadiens, prior to the big game Dec. 8 against Buffalo -- they are not going to be doing it this year,” said Stevens.
The churches had long gone but hockey remained - not a religion in itself, but a kind of passion that filled a gap.  Like poetry, music, philosophy and most importantly - community.  As much as I find the game to be dull personally, it would appear that it was serving the purpose churches likely do in more religious parts of the world - charity.  Mea culpa.

So until Humanist groups can somehow mobilize in Montreal as an effective driver to help the less fortunate during these coldest (and potentially lethal) months, I do hope the Game comes back soon.  I never thought I would say that.


  1. Sadly, I can make the same statement about Europe--especially Britain--and football. I use the word 'sadly', because the cultist allegiances that fans develop over here with their teams, which results in outright rioting and bloody clashes, makes for a very a disturbing sub-textual commentary on the social state of affairs. Sure, they've stopped taking their religious doctrine seriously, but some of them still need something else to be fevered and worked up about. Team spirit is nice and all, but when it degrades into violent levels of factionalism, I am left thinking that we've just given a new veneer to the same neurosis while rationality remains elusive.

  2. The best story/book about the connection between hockey and religion/Catholicism is "The Hockey Sweater," by Roch Carrier.

  3. Roch Carrier's book, The Hockey Sweater, is a good example of the connection between Catholicism and hockey. See //

  4. You know, that could be where I heard "hockey is the relief for religion"... I'm guessing I had this cartoon in the back of my mind all the time. Thanks for reminding me about this, Veronica!

  5. Yeah - people substituting one brand of crazy for another. With this, it could be the *people* that are problematic. It's obvious there is something a little off with their frontal lobes. Don't you think? Thanks for your comment!

  6. Always a pleasure.

    Heh, guess we can't entirely escape Shermer's 'biology of belief'. This is what Hitchens was banging on about for years every time critics would hoist the 'herp, derp, Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot' straw man argument against atheism. These aforementioned individuals were essentially demagogues who had become self-appointed Gods--both through cultural and theological exploitation--as they seized the moment and capitalised on the ignorance of a very oppressed and gullible populace. If anything, a lot of their initial footing into power had to do with the general human bondage with the irrational and the superstitious; the public had forsaken their fairy tales and fully embraced in its place, a live action role-play edition of the same hideous nonsense.

  7. Thanks for your comment! Yes. What better way to lay the groundwork for unquestionable power than religion - just take a look at North Korea.


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