Who is to blame?

July 5, 2011 | Viewpoints | Number 14
Phil Wagler |

The Vancouver Canucks’ inability to score and some people’s penchant for blowing things up has caused me to agree with a zealous atheist. “Religion poisons everything,” contends Christopher Hitchens. He may be on to something—at least to the degree “Hockeyanity” has become Canada’s de facto religion.

In British Columbia we observed two months of Stanley Cup worship. Streets were empty like Christmas Eve on game night. People gathered together. Prayers were offered. One church sign declared the prophesied end of the world was postponed because of the playoffs. Candles were lit. Actually, those were police cars.

That was the moment a game ceased being fun and the spectacle became an orgy of human depravity, mob mentality and disappointment with a god of the age. How could fine Canadians from fine Canadian homes move from fans to fanaticism? At least riotous protests in other parts of the world are about a cause. What exactly was this craziness about?

The Canucks, whose marketing slogan is, “We are all Canucks,” suddenly claim the hooligans were not their fans. We must not stain the brand.

Others want to throw the book at anyone who joined in. Some businesses fired employees instantly if they were seen in photographs published like Old West “wanted” posters on the Internet. This strategy works marvelously if you enjoy the power of public shame.

Then there are the revellers themselves. Swept in the tidal wave, many claim it was just one big alcohol-infused, sore-loser-induced, anarchist-fuelled brain cramp: “I went to a hockey game and suddenly I was posing in front of a burning car chugging an energy drink I pilfered through the shattered store window. It’s all a blur. Oh, and I had the wherewithal to gloriously boast online, before my ‘bff’ texted that I’m probably implicating myself.” Apart from the contrition of a few—and mostly because they were caught red-handed—we fervently excuse ourselves.

There are experts. One posited that the riot was a “holdover from the pathway of evolution.” Taken to its logical conclusion, hooligans are thus absolved by reason of the temporary suspension of evolutionary progress. Clearly it’s not a case of survival of the fittest. Other experts have slyly joined the anarchist cause, blaming city officials and the authorities for having the party in the first place. With some mental gymnastics we can blame it on nature or lay it at the feet of big brother.

But why are we determined to name a culprit? Because the relativistic ethos of the day has yet to erase a hunger pang for right and wrong. In contrast, though, we readily forgive if someone will just admit they were a dork. Isn’t that peculiar?

And, to the consternation of aggressive atheists, we are very, very religious. We’ll even make a sport our altar. Why is it that, having turned en masse from the fear of God, we can’t shake being religious?

Even at the end of days that point to these deep mysteries, it is striking how reluctant we are to confess that the problem is not genetics, evolution, policies, ideologies, authorities or alcohol. The real problem is, we have misplaced our worship and, to quote a guy who knew something about riots, are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20). We are not all Canucks, but we are all to blame. Let us begin there and find the power of grace, re-creation, and love, which covers a multitude of sins . . . and stupidities.

Phil Wagler (phil_wagler@yahoo.ca) lives in Surrey, B.C., and is convinced that, all things considered, the Leafs aren’t so bad after all.

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