Take it as gospel: Sports is fast-growing religion in U.S.

What is the fastest-growing religion in America? It isn?t Christianity. Accord?ing to the latest U.S. Reli?gion Census released May 1, 2012, the fastest-growing religion in America is Islam.

I don?t have any data to dispute that, but I disagree with the study. I don?t think it?s Islam, Christianity, Bud?dhism, Judaism, Hinduism or any other ism. I contend that the fastest-growing religion in America is sports.

Sports cross all religious boundaries. It?s what the majority of Americans worship.

Most people associate worship with religion. In the book ?Gods at War: Defeat?ing the Idols that Battle for Your Heart,? Kyle Idleman writes, ?When you subtract the religious language, worship is the built-in human reflex to put your hope in something or someone and then chase after it.

?You hold something up and then give your life to pursuing it. And when you begin to align your life with that pursuit, then, whether you realize it or not, you are worshiping,? Idleman said.

If his definition is true, the fastest-growing religion is sports.

Before pastor Idleman took his daughter to see a Colts game a few years ago, she wanted to wear her Peyton Manning jersey to the Sunday church service. Idleman assured her that people wouldn?t be wearing Colts gear to church.

He was wrong. Sitting in the back of the church, Idleman and his daughter gazed upon a sea of blue. She counted 37 people wearing Peyton Manning jerseys. Two people had their faces painted.

After attending the football game among 80,000 fans that afternoon, Idleman couldn?t help but think that he had really attended two worship services that day. The question was, which was he most passionate about?

The United States has more than 100 football stadiums seating at least 50,000 fans; seven of those seat more than 100,000 people.

America has more than 75 basketball arenas seating anywhere from 15,000 to 35,000 fans.

Another dozen or so motor-racing venues in the United States can handle crowds from 100,000 to 400,000 people. The Kansas Speedway in Kansas City handles a relatively modest 81,687 people.

There is an estimate that Americans spend about $300 billion every year just in fees to register children in sports. The number expands to $900 billion every year on the actual sporting goods.

The average American family spends $3,500 dollars on sports each year.

Maybe that isn?t conclusive evidence about what America worships, but it is compelling, nevertheless.

Charles S. Prebish, a professor of religious studies at Pennsylvania State Univer?sity, doesn?t believe our passion for sports is like a religion. He flat-out says it is one: ?America?s newest and fastest-growing religion, far outdistancing whatever is in second place.?

Idleman writes: ?Its temples are the great stadiums that are sacred ground to many, sites of weekend pilgrimages. Its priests are in the zebra stripes. Its gods wear their names on the back of their jerseys. Its liturgy is fan chants, and its sacrifices are the vast amounts of money that fans pay for tickets and team gear.

?Don?t get me wrong,? Idleman says. ?I?m not anti-entertainment. I?m just wondering if we?ve gone from watching it to worshiping it.?

Solomon, one of the greatest figures of the Old Testament, would caution us that we will never be satisfied worshiping sports.

Solomon pursued entertainment recklessly and money was no object.

But after pursuing pleasure and entertainment, Solomon?s conclusion is recorded in the Bible in Ecclesiastes 1:14: ?I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.?

These words were written long before the Internet, iPods and satellite TV, sports bars and the like.

Idleman says it well: ?Never in the history of humanity has there been so much entertainment and so little satisfaction.?

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