Nearly 70 years in the past, the liberal Protestant theologian Paul Tillich revealed The Courage to Be. This fairly absurd guide, which I can’t fake to have learn by way of, was as soon as thought-about essential to the kinds of Life journal readers who discovered that they wanted respectable-sounding causes for not believing in God whereas persevering with to get pleasure from no matter social advantages had been then nonetheless hooked up to attending providers at mainline Protestant church buildings.
Still, I can’t fake that Tillich’s existential theology has zero explanatory energy. More than half a century later there are nonetheless “those who ask for a message in the nothingness of their situation and at the end of their courage to be,” as Tillich put it in his decidedly non-systematic Systematic Theology.
I’m speaking, of course, about followers of the Detroit Lions. Whenever I’m requested by a non-Michigander about my NFL rooting curiosity, I all the time reply on Tillichian grounds that the Lions aren’t a skilled soccer crew with a fan base—they’re a radical existential proposition to which one should reply with an unhesitating affirmation to be able to declare one’s vitality within the face of absolute meaninglessness.
All of which is to say asking whether or not somebody is a Lions fan is a sort of class mistake. At the essential degree of whether or not the Lions are the professional crew whose fortunes I comply with most eagerly and whose success issues most to me, the reply is not any. (As it occurs, I lastly outed myself as a Patriots fan in 2020, on the crew’s 20-year low level, to be able to vindicate my place that Bill Belichick could be nice with out Tom Brady; like rootless cosmopolitans in every single place final 12 months, I purchased low and offered excessive on a crew that’s now enjoying the perfect protection within the nation behind the perfect rookie quarterback drafted in 2021). But whether or not I’m a “fan” just isn’t the correct query.
Instead, I preserve, it might be higher to ask whether or not I’ve what Tillich known as “absolute faith” within the Lions. For Tillich, absolute religion meant an openness to the expertise of being “which is present even in the face of the most radical manifestation of non being,” which is a needlessly summary means of referring to the 0-16 2008 season. “Even in the state of despair,” the one with absolute religion is he who “has enough being to make despair possible,” that’s, to proceed watching every absurdly shut fourth-quarter loss. Finally, he says, absolute religion means making one’s peace with the chance of utter meaninglessness:
Meaninglessness, so long as it’s skilled, consists of an expertise of the “power of acceptance.” To settle for this energy of acceptance consciously is the non secular reply of absolute religion, of a religion which has been disadvantaged by doubt of any concrete content material, which nonetheless is religion and the supply of probably the most paradoxical manifestation of the braveness to be.
Just as Tillich insisted that absolute religion can overcome something, even the non-existence of God within the sense through which He is outlined by classical theorists, so too, I wish to assume, can my free, radically un-coerced dedication to Detroit transcend the metaphysical void that’s the historical past of our beloved franchise.
Besides, there are different causes for supporting the Lions that, whereas consonant with Tillich, transcend his tedious mid-century existentialism. An ideal deal is talked in conservative circles concerning the which means of “place,” concerning the radical thrown-ness of loyalties, allegiances, and preferences—all these winsome little attachments that one is compelled to confront just by advantage of having been born beneath specific circumstances, in a given place, time, and so forth. If you need to perceive what it means actually to like a place and an establishment, a complete means of life in actual fact, in a means that transcends—or just elides—each base utilitarian calculation, I can supply no higher instance than the Lions’ extraordinarily devoted fan base.
Indeed, I can’t assume of a higher illustration of the so-called conservative virtues, of what severe regard for pure unquestioned affinities seems to be like in apply, than my mom’s first cousin, a union store steward who repeatedly attends house video games and with whom I grew up watching the annual Thanksgiving hecatomb.
Which is why I’ve no problem no matter saying that right now, earlier than a nationwide Thanksgiving viewers of many hundreds of thousands, the 0-9-1 Lions will beat the Chicago Bears with an undrafted free agent quarterback whose final season as a starter (in 2017) concerned throwing for 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions at Eastern Kentucky University. This just isn’t as a result of I’ve something so hopelessly naive as “faith” in a sense that might be comprehensible to followers of, say, the Cowboys, who rightly count on to beat the ailing Raiders later within the afternoon, however exactly as a result of I do not need it. I’ve as a substitute one thing extra radical: the braveness, fleeting and imperfect however within the second a supply of extraordinary vitality, to be a Lions fan.
Matthew Walther is editor of The Lamp journal and a contributing editor of The American Conservative.