Bad Sports

     Despite my sorry record of late as a couch potato, I 
managed to stay awake -- just barely -- for this year's 
Super Bowl. Not that I'm proud of it. My waning 
enthusiasm for sports has been accompanied by an uneasy 
conscience about this national, even global, idolatry.

     In his remarkable book ROSARY, Kevin Orlin Johnson 
reflects on the origin of the word "agony," used by St. 
Luke in its Greek sense of an athletic contest.

     Johnson recalls (what I hadn't known) that the 
Church fathers, including St. Augustine, Tertullian, and 
Novatian, preached vehemently against sports, not only 
because of their frequent violence, but more precisely 
because they excited an un-Christian spirit of 
"contention," contrary to charity, and fostering lust, 
sloth, and other vices. The early Church constantly urged 
the Roman emperors to abolish the hugely popular Olympic 

     If this sounds un-American, so be it. Sports have 
become one of the decadent features of American culture. 
Wholesome exercise? Think of the idleness, the rivalry, 
the drugs, the trash-talking, the health hazards, the 
vain hopes, and the sheer waste of time and attention 
these things entail.

     I thought of Johnson's meditation when I heard a 
local news report of a football player stabbed to death 
by kids from a rival high school.

     But don't sports also promote real virtues, even 
heroism of sorts? Of course they do. But part of the 
tragedy is that these virtues are misdirected to bad 
ends. I hope Johnson will write the iconoclastic book 
this subject deserves and the country needs.

The Cartoon War

     Once again, with the Great Danish Cartoon Flap, the 
world is witnessing the propensity of Scandinavian humor 
to fall flat.

     Maybe it just doesn't travel well, especially in the 
Muslim world, where caricatures of the Prophet aren't 
regarded as rib-tickling merriment.

     As Western embassies went up in smoke, the Bush 
administration tried to pour oil slicks on troubled 
waters by deploring the offensive cartoon, adding 
scrupulously that freedom of the press is mighty 
important and that rioting is an inappropriate way to 
express disagreement.

     But the Iranian government took another approach, 
retaliating by soliciting cartoons ridiculing an article 
of faith in the modern West: the Holocaust.

     Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a 
neoconservative's nightmare: a Holocaust denier who (as 
they think) seeks nuclear weapons. Since Iran controls 
much of the world's oil supply, this poses a delicate 
diplomatic problem: To bomb, or not to bomb?

     Even Bush officials have qualms about extending the 
pre-emptive war to Iran, but a leading neocon strategist, 
Edward N. Luttwak, writing in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, 
argues that "a single night" of U.S. bombing could 
suffice to cripple Iran's nuclear production capacity.

     Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad is also sponsoring a 
conference of scholars from many countries who challenge 
the received account of the Holocaust, which is the only 
form of criminal blasphemy now banned in several Western 
countries; the historian David Irving is now in an 
Austrian prison awaiting trial on such a charge.

     But though Irving is routinely described as a 
"Holocaust denier" in the Western press, I have seen no 
citations of his own words to support the accusation. In 
fact, Irving himself once told me, "I'm not a Holocaust 
denier; I'm a Holocaust skeptic."

     As far as I know, he denies only such details as 
that gas chambers were used at Auschwitz, which is a far 
cry from saying that Hitler's Germany didn't persecute, 
or even murder, Jews.

     But Ahmadinejad and other Muslims perceive an 
anomaly in Western law and culture when it comes to this 
topic. No other opinion, especially an opinion about 
history, is subject to such taboos. In all other 
respects, it goes without saying, we take freedom of 
opinion for granted.

     And this particular taboo is strangely involved with 
politics. When I began writing critically about the state 
of Israel more than 20 years ago, I was furiously accused 
of writing the sort of things that "led to the 
Holocaust," in the words of a prominent neoconservative, 
and soon I was hearing words like "genocide" and yes, 
"Holocaust denial," though I hadn't denied anything of 
the kind (and felt unqualified even to venture an opinion 
about it).

     It is as if the legitimacy of Israel somehow depends 
on the sufferings of Jews under Hitler; and as if wrongs 
done to Jews in the past justify wrongs done to 
Palestinians today.

     This seems to be the premise of U.S. foreign policy 
in the Mideast. So once again we find ourselves openly 
debating whether to wage aggressive war -- a "war of 
choice," "pre-emptive" or "preventive" -- on a country 
that hasn't attacked us, hasn't threatened us, and can 
hardly be imagined as posing any danger to us. And we 
think the Muslims are fanatical!

     Notably, the Israelis have long had the nuclear 
weapons that Iran is accused of coveting.

Unprecedented Behavior

     The obsequies for Coretta Scott King quickly turned 
into a rather bitter class reunion for liberals, 
reminding them of their better days.

     Jimmy Carter seized the occasion to take a jab at 
George W. Bush, who was also present -- unprecedented 
behavior at a funeral, as far as I know.

     Usually the idea is that the mourners refrain from 
assailing each other until the body is buried. Maybe 
Carter thought he was achieving another historic first.

Good News for Liberals

     But just as liberals were watching their old icons 
die off, they got a happy surprise, of sorts, from New 
Guinea, where scientists have found an isolated region 
teeming with dozens of previously unknown species -- 
plants, birds, frogs, butterflies, and even mammals.

     One of these is a hedgehog-like critter that lays 
eggs; another is what is called a "tree kangaroo," which 
sounds like a contradiction in terms.

     These discoveries are nothing short of astounding.

     So why is this good news for liberals? Well, think 
of it! A whole fresh batch of endangered species, which 
will need to be protected from Dick Cheney and 
Halliburton, before they can start clubbing baby tree 
kangaroos to death for their fur!

     This cause will invigorate countless liberals who 
have despaired that they have nothing left to live for. 
And no doubt they will find these creatures new 
confirmation of the Darwinian theory.

                 +          +          +                  

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