David Brooks wrote a column in today’s New York Times about the moral differences between professional sport and religious teachings. The excerpt below about why we watch sports and why professionals play sports and what they are thinking may not be totally accurate, but it is worth sharing to readers of this site. I have written often, and said just this week on the tennis court, that “it’s only a game.” Yes I want to win, but striving to win the point, experiencing the challenge, the uncertainty, the satisfaction of a skillful shot, the respect of my fellows and the admiration for an opponent’s winner are all part of why I play sports. What about you? What are your goals beyond victory, domination and maybe local fame?

The moral universe of modern sport is oriented around victory and supremacy. The sports hero tries to perform great deeds in order to win glory and fame. It doesn’t really matter whether he has good intentions. His job is to beat his opponents and avoid the oblivion that goes with defeat.

The modern sports hero is competitive and ambitious. (Let’s say he’s a man, though these traits apply to female athletes as well). He is theatrical. He puts himself on display.

He is assertive, proud and intimidating. He makes himself the center of attention when the game is on the line. His identity is built around his prowess. His achievement is measured by how much he can elicit the admiration of other people — the roar of the crowd and the respect of ESPN.

His primary virtue is courage — the ability to withstand pain, remain calm under pressure and rise from nowhere to topple the greats.

This is what we go to sporting events to see. This sporting ethos pervades modern life and shapes how we think about business, academic and political competition.

But there’s no use denying — though many do deny it — that this ethos violates the religious ethos on many levels. The religious ethos is about redemption, self-abnegation and surrender to God.