Keeping the Bread Away From the Circus

Dylan DelliSanti ’14

Separation of church and state is one of those rules we often take for granted. There is no doubt some controversies that arise from time-to-time, such as a local politician giving a speech at a church, that happen to irk a handful in the community. On the whole, however, our country and culture have progressed past some of history’s most severe crimes that were committed when the relationship between church and state was just a little too cozy.

Why was the relationship between church and state so dangerous? For one, it’s difficult to argue about which religion is correct. This isn’t to say it’s impossible to evaluate competing religions. But it is a task fraught with many pitfalls. Many people make religion an inseparable part of their identity, such that criticism of someone’s religion could be seen as a personal attack. After all, it can be difficult to question someone’s God when that God commands that he not be questioned. As a result, arguments about religion can become dangerous.

This is perhaps why it’s so great that governments no longer settle religious questions. Minority religious groups might still face adversity, but not on the scale of when governments were making religious decisions—where questioning the government suddenly gets tied into questioning God. Politics and religion tend to make for zero-sum games.

However, religion isn’t the only institution that can become shrouded in dogma. Take soccer in Europe. Many fans tend to make their favorite soccer team an inseparable part of their identity. Arguments between fans tend to turn hostile. In England, May 1985, 39 fans died when a wall collapsed on them during a scuffle with some rival fans. In the 90’s in Portugal, football hooligans threw golf balls at a goalkeeper, which lead to a massive riot after the game. Last year, in Egypt, 79 died during a soccer riot. What is a common thread here is that sports, like religion, are what we might call expressive activities. Individuals, participating in the worship of a God, don’t have much say about the decisions that God would make. Individuals rooting for a soccer team can have little impact on the outcome of the game, no matter how loud they cheer. Thus, the riots and fighting that often happen at soccer matches are forms of this expressive behavior. Fans, who have no means of effecting the outcome, but still wish to participate, lash out violently against other fans who might have taunted them.

Recently, another disturbing development struck European football: a Greek soccer player gave a “Nazi salute” to celebrate a goal. It was s very disturbing act coming in the wake of an election in which nearly 20 members of the Golden Dawn party, a fascist political party, were elected to Greece’s parliament. The act, unfortunately, puts an expressive activity like soccer – whose fans protect themselves with dogma and violence – at a crossroads with political activity. Just as religion and politics don’t mix, football, given how loyal its fan base is, doesn’t mix well with politics.

This isn’t to say that soccer fans are bad, destructive people who deserve to be locked up, or even that we should expect soccer fans to takeover governments and expel rival fans. It is, however, a reminder to be aware of keeping our more expressive activities away from our political ones. Basing political decisions on where a politician went to church, who a celebrity supports, or because a certain policy “makes you feel good” are all very dangerous ways to go about making decisions.


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