Has Hodgson’s team got a prayer in Brazil?

Today, Ghanaian coaches made an appeal to Churches, prayer warriors and other religious bodies to pray for their team to “sail through the group stage and go very far” in the World Cup in Brazil.

Maybe they are on to something.

I have a friend who suggests that the fact that Brazil‘s football team openly pray before each match is the reason that they are so good. Surely he doesn’t believe that prayer can affect the results of sports matches? Is he suggesting that during those intense penalty-shoot-outs, that the prayers of supporters, so often picked up by the TV cameras, actually effect an angel-assisted swerve of the ball? On Saturday afternoons in Nottingham, for example, does God’s omnipresence rest itself slightly more intensely at the County fixture over Forest?

No, nothing like that, he assured me. For the Brazilians, these men who mainly understand that they are supremely gifted players; but having given suitable appreciation to the Giver of the gifts through their open, pre-match prayers, they are freed to do what they have done all their lives – enjoy playing footy. And to quote Eric Liddell, when they run, maybe they too feel some of God’s pleasure?

In contrast, when Messrs. Gerrard, Rooney and the rest of the team, sideways-skip their way on to those Brazilian pitches in a few weeks time, a visible weight of expectation will climb on to their shoulders, and “the hopes of the Nation” will once again rest on them ever so heavily. For the England supporters, Roy has selected his 23 players (for better or worse) and, for this World Cup, they are our pinnacle, and will be the object of our worship. As the National Anthem plays and the camera scrutinises each of the faces of England’s footballing gods, we beseech them to remove the ‘years of hurt’ and return to us our rightful 1966 status as the world’s best footballers.

Having prayed, the Brazilians players are released to do their job – be gifted human beings. The England team meanwhile are left to no doubt buckle under the pressure of being disappointing gods.

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2 thoughts on “Has Hodgson’s team got a prayer in Brazil?

  1. Thanks for this Stuart. A very insightful posting. Brazilian players seem more relaxed than our lads and it is connected to their faith/worldview. In one of my talks I point out that Gilberto Silva who used to play for Brazil and Arsenal has done some wonderful things for homeless people in both England and Brazil. Why is it so hard to find Christian English players and so easy to find Brazilian believers? Is it to do with consumerism and secularism?

    • Mark – great questions. In Brazil it seems that the society is saturated with Catholic values (traditional and re-instated through liberation theology) and more recently with pentecostal christian values. Making the sign of the cross or displaying your faith on your vest is totally acceptable and it is interesting that both seem to co-exist together?

      Why is it so hard to find Christian English players and so easy to find Brazilian believers?
      Could it be that role models in Brazil are recent and respected whereas in England we need to look back to the days of C.T Studd and Eric Liddell to find a muscular christianity to be emulated. I agree it is certainly to do with consumerism – in England our players are ‘commodified’ as gods and crowds of (mostly) men emasculate themselves by worshipping these disappointing gods weekly. I think its deeper than that though – these same men are presented with a western church that is already emasculated by the market and in this I’m with the theologian John Milbank (2008) who argues that the conservative evangelical Christianity in its most recent modes is “precisely a new mutation of the slave trade – the ‘born-again’ become themselves the produced, exchanged and capitalised commodities”. Millbank notes that “of course, the notion that these souls are really owned by Jesus, and so only held by men through a sort of proxy, is the alibi which ensures that this enslavement does not appear to be such”.

      Secularism? – is this not merely a blip in the history of religion now we are post-secular?

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