Why Isn't Football a Religion?

Harari has two crucial chararacteristics in his definition of a religion: belief in a superhuman order, and belief that human norms and values can be derived from it. Football (by which he means soccer) has a lot of rules, norms and values, but hardly anybody believes that FIFA is a supernatural order.

Primitive peoples, he thinks, are mostly animistic, believing that the world is full of supernatural beings with thought and intention. These are usually local to a single culture. More complex societies need a more complicated and hierarchical supernatural to legitimize the societal hierarchy, so typically a whole hierarchy of powerful supernatural beings appears. These gods have powers and interests, but they aren't the last word in the universe (says Harari). Ultimate power belongs to a supremely disinterested entity, called Fate by the Greeks, and the Atman by the Hindus. Nobody makes temples to these ultimate powers because they don't care.

One vast advantage of polytheistic empires is that they are pretty tolerant, relatively speaking. What's one more god, more or less. By his estimate, in three centuries of occasional persecution of Christians, at most a few thousand perished, and they perished not for worshipping their god, but because they failed to pay minimal respect to the gods of the empire, including the emperor. Once the monotheistic Christians took charge, they slaughtered each other by the millions over differences in interpretation of the common faith. Muslims, of course, do the same, even today.


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