Monday, October 02, 2006

College Football and Hezbollah

Last weekend, I had the privilege of traveling to South Bend, Indiana, for the Purdue at Notre Dame football game. It was a very long day -- the principal, and a parishioner, and I left long before dawn, so we could arrive on campus before 9 am, for good parking, and didn't get home till after 11:30 pm -- but what fun!

We sat behind the student section, which just added to the energy of course; and we had plenty of time to walk about campus, to visit the Grotto, to admire and pray in the Basilica, to meet fellow alumni (not to me, but to my traveling companions) and to enjoy bratwursts, snacks and cold beverages.

And, of course, to enjoy the game itself, and what fun that was!

Well, observing the college kids, just below our seats, cheering and responding largely in unison, I found myself making a mental comparison to the frightening images we see on TV or online, of young men of similar age, likewise responding in unison to the promptings of Hezbollah, Hamas, al Qaeda and other evil organizations.

Now I am not saying college sports is like Hezbollah! Gimme a break! What I'm saying is that in one part of the world, young men, full of energy and drive, get caught up in something innocent and fun; in another part of the world, they get caught up in something wicked. The commonalities are: (a) young men of a particular age group and (b) an emotional, group experience.

Why even talk about the two in the same thought?

Well, because it occurs to me that, first, it is natural for young men (and perhaps young women of the same age group) to respond with enthusiasm to a group cause. There's nothing wrong with that; it's a good thing. The key is what kind of cause. There is a reason, it seems to me (and this observation is not original to me) that such young men are, in times of peril, drafted into combat. It is necessary, in such events, to marshall large groups of men in a common cause, and to have them respond with intensity.

This gives rise to a contrast, and this brings me to my point.

It seems to me a very good thing that in America, and many other places, this energy is harnessed . . . innocuously. So all these young men were chanting, "We are ND!" Nothing at all wrong with that. Nothing sinister; nothing scary. Just fun.

Is it possible that this phenomenon of young men is part of the reason Hezbollah and like groups can get young men to march around in Lebanon, chanting things like "death to Zionists" and "death to America" and who knows what else? Is it possible that for some number of them, their initial participation is of a similar quality? (I emphasize "initial" in that last sentence, because this makes all the difference between the phenomena I am comparing; in the latter case, the "cheerleaders" are seeking to induct these young men into something hateful, destructive and wicked.)

What merit can this observation have?

Well, it raises the question of what might be helpful in defusing the extremism that represents a real threat to safety and liberty in our world. How many of the young men drawn into al Qaeda and Hamas and Hezbollah and I don't know what other evil forces, might -- in an alternate universe, or perhaps in a happy future -- be happily cheering from the sidelines of their favorite football team?

I happen not to think this is simply a matter of establishing an American-style University of Fallujah and a Mideast Big-10 Conference or something like that. There's certainly more to it. My points are more subtle:

1. Young men and young people have admirable zeal; if it's currently harnessed, in the U.S., to college football, that's not all bad.

2. If need be, these young people in this country have amply demonstrated they will harness it to more enduring causes -- if we ask them or give them the opportunity. So don't put 'em down as merely "decadent, privileged youth."

3. Given the right context of culture, personal, religious and civic values, these young people's zeal will tend in a more healthy and positive -- or at least, harmless -- direction; given a different context, in a malevolent direction.

4. It may well be in our interest, as Americans, as citizens of "the West," and as folks of who simply want a future not darkened by terror's threat, to attend to point number 3. My example of "University of Fallujah," belonging to the Mideast Big 10 may sound silly to us; but something like that actually be part of a happier future, both for the Mideast, for us, and the world.

5. I.e., how about a broad, "middle-class"-ification of the broad swath of the world, from, say North Africa to somewhere in Asia, that seems to be the breeding ground for all this seething, murderous groupthink in service to an extremist Islamic movement?

What do you say?


Anonymous said...

Father, your analogy about the mobs and the football fans reveals something critically important, which very few people in a position to use the information constructively ever stop to consider: one of the basic human needs and desires is the wish to belong. People who don't belong will take up any cause or enter any cult or gang in order to gain that sense of group acceptance.
Actually, your current posting ties in with your homily, because when anyone comes to feel he or she doesn't belong this individual has indeed fallen overboard, and we - the Church - truly need (and are obligated by Christ)to go overboard and retrieve them and set them back on their feet pointed in the right direction.


Anonymous said...

Instead of apologizing to the Muslims, wouldn't our Holy Father inviting our brothers in error to consider looking to Jesus have been more to what our Lord would have done? Seriously, at what point do the Churchmen reach out to our brothers in error with the truth of Jesus Christ? Before your scenario is played out where these men of Hezbollah can enjoy a good football game like you and your friends did on Saturday, won't our Holy Father, the Cardinals and so many bishops (and yes, lay people, too) have to invite our brothers in error to follow the one who is "the way, the truth and the life?" Incidentally, many devout muslims would look at the innocuous fun filled play at Notre Dame and then point out the fly in the ointment, i.e, see how the Christians play during the day at Our Lady's stadium and then, at this very same campus dedicated to the most Holy Virgin Mary, many of these very same priest and christians go and feast on the Vagina Monologues to satisfy some unholy appetities all in the name of academic freedom?
I cannot help but feel that our Lord will use our brothers in error as models of committment to an ideal to convict us in our lack of committment. And no, our Lord would not condone their violence. Still, our Lord used a Roman Centurian's faith (a gentile) to impress upon his followers what real Faith was all about. Suffice it to say, "to those who have been given much, much more is expected."

Tim said...

Quote: "how about a broad, "middle-class"-ification of the broad swath of the world, from, say North Africa to somewhere in Asia."

How could this come about, Father? The only way I see it is for there to be a democratization of their leadership and public policy which would open the door to the economic application of capitalism.

Anonymous said...

Prosperity is indeed the salve that brings peace, because a full belly is one that is not hungry.

The world is rapidly polarizing into one of "us" and "them" -- with them being anyone who isn't us. Instead of acceptance, the easy (and wrong) response is one of violence. A vicious circle of vengeance and revenge revolves endlessly, drawing otherwise good people into the fray.

If the Bible teaches us that the beginning of the end times is marked by a general rise in wickedness, even reasonable and non-hysterical people need to consider the possibilities.

Bless you in Him, Father.
Charles Boyer
Raleigh, NC