The uselessness of sports

On this website I found a link to some lectures that Biola philosopher J.P. Moreland gave on Christ & culture. I started listening to the first one and though it looks promising I came across something that irked me.

In setting up how important it is to realize how the ‘world’ influences us, Moreland mentioned how he knew a promising apologist in the 80’s who threw everything away by having an affair at the peak of his ministry. In talking about him Moreland mentioned how the man was fanatical about working out, sometimes up to 2.5 hours a day. He was hyper competitive and would routinely challenge men younger than he was when he was cycling. Moreland seems to have mentioned this because he felt that this man was unduly influenced by the ‘world’. Why else would someone spent that long working out each day?

This bothers me.

Peter Leithart wrote an article for First Things in 2000 called ‘Useless Learning’ that relates to this issue. Leithart begins by citing an article written by C.S. Lewis during World War II. Lewis was responding to people who argued against studying during wartime. After all, what’s the point of studying Edmund Spenser when the Lutwaffe is fire bombing London?

Leithart concedes that studying the liberal arts is useless. But hey, that’s ok. Why accept the standard that judges everything by its usefulness? In Leithart’s words:

No, we must not respond to this criticism by seeking some use for the liberal arts. In fact, to defend the ‘usefulness’ of the liberal arts is to accept the standards of our critics, the criterion that judges every human pursuit by its economic, political, or personal usefulness. If we do this, we lose the argument before we begin. We must concede that the liberal arts are, at least by normal standards, useless.

How does God relate to all this?

We are creatures made in the image of a Creator who makes things that He does not need, things that are not of use to Him. As we imitate His excess, we play music and recite poetry and tell stories – and organize liberal arts colleges so others can do these things with us. The liberal arts are useless in the same way that the centerpiece on a dining room table is useless … useless in the way that perfecting a golf swing is useless; useless in the same way that most of what makes life rich and beautiful is useless.

All you need to do to see my point is substitute sports or working out for liberal arts. Of course having a 50 year old man spend 2.5 hours a day working out is useless … but so is reading Plato or Moreland’s Philosophical foundations for a Christian worldview. I mean really, how useful is it for laymen to know the fine points of molinism?

Although I’m sure that Moreland wouldn’t go so far as to disparage Olympic athletes for their devotion, many evangelicals would. After all, they could be leading bible study groups or serving at soup kitchens. Those are things that glorify the Lord, right? Of course, but God is also glorified when you work at improving your 5K race pace.

To end this I’ll quote Leithart, but I’m going to change up his wording to prove my point (see what I’ve put in brackets).

Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes that all is vanity, and this vanity encompasses the making of and devotion to (sports). Devotion to (sports) is no more vain than any other human pursuit, but neither is it any less vain. But through vanity and vapor, it is the labor that God has set in our hands, whether for a time or for a lifetime. And we can enjoy it in Him and enjoy Him in it. “Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting,” Solomon wrote, “to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labors in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward … He will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart,” (Ecclesiastes 5.18,20).

So don’t let yourself get guilt tripped into ‘ministering’ more and ‘doing something’ with your life. Enjoy the trivial and pointless. Hope on a bike and have fun.