Wanderer Logo

Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Bad Sports

(Reprinted from the issue of February 16, 2006)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for Bad SportsDespite 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 Games!

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 Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes them!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.

SOBRANS tackles (so to speak) assumptions that usually pass (so to speak) unchallenged. If you have not seen my monthly newsletter yet, give my office a call at 800-513-5053 and request a free sample, or better yet, subscribe for two years for just $85. New subscribers get two gifts with their subscription. More details can be found at the Subscription page of my website.

Already a subscriber? Consider a gift subscription for a priest, friend, or relative.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2006 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission

Washington Watch
Archive Table of Contents

Return to the SOBRANS home page
Send this article to a friend.

Recipient’s e-mail address:
(You may have multiple e-mail addresses; separate them by spaces.)

Your e-mail address

Enter a subject for your e-mail:

Mailarticle © 2001 by Gavin Spomer


The Wanderer is available by subscription. Write for details.

SOBRANS and Joe Sobran’s columns are available by subscription. Details are available on-line; or call 800-513-5053; or write Fran Griffin.

FGF E-Package columns by Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, Paul Gottfried, and others are available in a special e-mail subscription provided by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. Click here for more information.

Search This Site

Search the Web     Search SOBRANS

What’s New?

Articles and Columns by Joe Sobran
 FGF E-Package “Reactionary Utopian” Columns 
  Wanderer column (“Washington Watch”) 
 Essays and Articles | Biography of Joe Sobran | Sobran’s Cynosure 
 The Shakespeare Library | The Hive
 WebLinks | Books by Joe 
 Subscribe to Joe Sobran’s Columns 

Other FGF E-Package Columns and Articles
 Sam Francis Classics | Paul Gottfried, “The Ornery Observer” 
 Mark Wegierski, “View from the North” 
 Chilton Williamson Jr., “At a Distance” 
 Kevin Lamb, “Lamb amongst Wolves” 
 Subscribe to the FGF E-Package 

Products and Gift Ideas
Back to the home page 

This page is copyright © 2006 by The Vere Company
and may not be reprinted in print or
Internet publications without express permission
of The Vere Company.