Olympic Torch

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
11th April 2008

Tagged: idolatry

Related:

Return to the articles index.



Idolatry takes many forms. People hold certain items as sacred—as the symbols of their gods. These gods give meaning to their lives.

There is a blasphemy in attacking somebody's idol. The reaction to such attacks shows the depth of religious feelings.

The vision of heaven that John gives to us in Revelation 4 is of the throne of God surrounded by elders and beasts. The action of heaven in Revelation 5 is of the Lion of Judah—the Lamb of God—worthily coming to open the seals of the scroll that is in the hand of God.

It may be even blasphemous to mention it, but I noticed the similarity with this picture of heaven and the reverent worship of the Olympic torch.

In the centre was the runner holding the torch. Behind him was a second runner, holding a number of back-up torches. Around them were a large number of uniformed Chinese guards. Around them were an even larger number of police. All of them were running along the road. On either side of the road was an even larger number of police holding back an even larger number of citizens.

It was not like heaven because the picture in Revelation is of all power coming from the centre and being worshipped by everybody else. But the torch looked as pathetically weak as all idols look. It needed so many guards to secure its safety. It even needed back up torches to pass the flame (and in case of failure).

In Britain and France, the blasphemers broke through the cordons of protection to steal the iconic torch. They sought to put out the magic flame. The flame had come from the mountain of the gods in Greece and was travelling throughout the world calling all to worship in Beijing.

Like most Australians I love sports. Like most Sydney-siders the Olympics are a fond memory of great fun. Since listening to the radio broadcast of the Olympics as a young boy, I have followed the four yearly routine of getting involved in the games.

Furthermore, I do not like politics or commercial interests interfering with sport. Politics perverts the joy of the physical competition and athleticism of international sport. The Scriptures teach us that strength is the glory of youth. It is wonderful to see such glory exhibited each Olympiad.

But there is an idolatrous religion about the Olympics that beckons blasphemers. And there are commercial and political interests within the Games that invites the satirist.

For Olympic supporters sell the games in terms of “a universal quest for peace, moral integrity, and an exalted mix of mind, body, and spirit that transcends culture.” Maintaining the amateur status of the games meant hypocrisy and disadvantage to the poor. But making the games professional and adding commercial advertising media has removed most of the sincerity of the ideals.

The games have been undermined by modern society. Drug cheats have corrupted the results. Professional athletes from rich countries make it possible for nations to invest money into the acquisition of medals. Gone is the ideal of the modern founders: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

And politics has been there for years. Over fifty years ago at the Melbourne games, seven nations boycotted the games for political reasons. Three nations stayed away because of the Soviet Union's response to Hungary and four nations stayed away because of the Suez crisis.

And the Olympic torch was created for political purposes. The Nazis, as part of their racist propaganda, invented it for the 1936 Olympics. It is a little naive to think that the torch has no political significance.

Table tennis was used to welcome China back into the international community. Opening up relations with this great nation further by holding the Olympics there is another important step. But it can hardly be ignored that the government of China is a great persecutor of its people. And nobody should be surprised that the Tibetan diaspora uses the opportunity to bring their oppression to public notice.

But even if we put Tibet to one side, the torch needs a little satirical debunking. We need to see sport for what it is—fun, games, contest and athleticism. There was something harmlessly delicious when the veterinary student from Sydney University presented our Lord Mayor with a phoney torch on the steps of our Town Hall back in 1956. It just took the mickey out of the myth and gave us the chance to enjoy the “games”.