The closest comparison is with the Catholic Church and Islam. Both powerful religions obsessed with being big. Obsessed with the number of followers they have and obsessed with preserving their beliefs even when faced with evidence that disproves or just challenges their long-held assumptions.The last part makes me at least somewhat sympathetic to the kind of logical positivist-ish spirit of the author. The rest of it is a reminder of the humourlessness of religion. Kelly quotes Nietzsche to the effect that the sacred is what you cannot laugh at. It might be very good for there to be such things, but they ought to be things that are worth taking that seriously. Liverpool are not that, and arguably no football team is (including the Packers).
Ritual, as we know, is a key element to religious behaviour. "You'll Never Walk Alone" is an incredible example of this. It is sung with religious fervour and is about surrendering individuality for the group. It is a defining moment for all Liverpool followers. No other football chant comes close. And they ask everyone who hears it to comment on it. They ask us to confirm that it is the loudest, most awe-inspiring, most spine-tingling, most religious moment we have ever experienced. And it is repeated word-for-word, note-for-note before every match as a gospel choir would sing in church. It does not behave like a football chant. There is no humour, no taunting the opposition, no jolly lads getting ready for 90 minutes of support and abuse. It is born-again, wide-eyed fervour.
Repetition is, of course, a central factor to the belief system and that is why every Liverpool follower (I choose this word above supporter), is primed to say exactly the same as every other Liverpool follower. There can be no deviation from the true path. Have you ever met a Liverpool follower who would dare to say that YNWA is a dreadful chant or that talking about "history" is a load of bunkum? This kind of deviation is not allowed and if someone dared to say such a thing then the simple answer would be that he is not a true follower because a true follower would not say such a thing.
History. What is this fascination with history? Football is really only about the present and memory. It is not about history. Most supporters know all about their team. They know the great players, cups won and disappointments along the way. But history? This is something that religions do in order to create a back story on which to build a myth. Liverpool has no more history than Crewe Alexandra or Queens Park Rangers, although it has certainly had more success. Success can be measured and although Liverpool's followers like to quote their successes (and fear being surpassed), it is something that is ultimately too risky to build a belief system upon. In fact, this season Manchester United could become more "successful" than Liverpool in domestic league titles. For this reason Liverpool's belief system is built on an abstract concept (history) rather than something that is scientifically provable (league titles). In fact, the more Liverpool stopped winning things, the more "history" became the currency for their beliefs.
I wonder whether Kelly means that at sporting events you can feel what the sacred is like rather than actually experiencing anything genuinely sacred. That doesn't sound quite right to me (in terms of what he would say), but it's odd to talk about the sacred without being concerned with distinguishing the genuine from the fake. Colbert hints at this.
I also wonder why we laugh at everything these days, why irreverence and political incorrectness are so popular. There is even a whole genre of humour based on shock, on going into forbidden territory. Quentin Tarantino (whose films I like) comes to mind. Why do we like this stuff so much? Are we bored? Or is it somehow that if we didn't laugh we'd cry? And why is that: the death of God, the Holocaust, the failure of the 1960s hippy dream, the failure of socialism? In the words of Philip Larkin, I don't know.
It sometimes seems to have to do with the smallness of the world. I watched The Third Man last night, which contains a famous scene where people look down from a ferris wheel at the dots below and talk about how easy and tempting it might be to accept the death of one of these dots for, say, $20,000. It takes an act of imagination to see the dots as people, as mattering. This is work, and work that can cost us money. (There is a lot of money to be made in industries that a strictly ethical person might refuse to be involved with.) And you could go mad trying to take seriously the humanity of every single person that we know to be in trouble. How can you care enough about Sudan, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., etc.? Ethics, perhaps mere humanity, requires us to care, but sanity seems to require that we not care too much. You almost have to turn the caring on and off, and never turn it up too loud. Perhaps the kind of irony that goes with irreverence is a necessary defense of our capacity to be human. Or perhaps that's just an excuse for a moral failing, a failure to be serious enough. And sport seems more like a distraction from what really matters than an instance of it.
Anyway, I hope the Packers win tomorrow.