Olympism and Christianity

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Modern Olympism is not an attempt to create “new Christianity”, which was advocated by Saint-Simon, (2) but new paganism: Hellenic civilization is the (idealized and distorted) spiritual source and foundation of Olympism. Coubertin wishes to turn Olympism into a religion analogous to ancient paganism, which completely integrates man into its spiritual orbit and eliminates the possibility of his (critical-changing) relation to the existing world. The Olympic Games become the highest religious ceremony dedicated to the creation and glorification of the cult of the present world, which means its basic principles.

Coubertin is not satisfied with Christianity because (with its ideas of man as “a God’s being”, and of a “better world”, “equality”, “brotherhood”…) represents a contrast to the Social Darwinist doctrine and progressistic spirit, the pillars of the capitalist order. More importantly, Christianity was not efficient enough in preventing revolutions, upheavals and uprisings, which shook Europe in the end of 18th and during 19th century, especially in suppressing and controlling the ever more numerous, more organized and politically conscious proletariat, which won the right to claim power by legal means. Hence the need for a more efficient religion which will correspond to the “new spirit” and will become a unifying spiritual force of society capable of integrating the workers into the established order and dealing with the emancipatory heritage of civil society, with a critical-changing conscious and with the idea of future. Coubertin abolishes the divine firmament and opts for a natural order which corresponds to the progressistic and expansionist spirit of capitalism. The existing order is not the realization of the divine will nor has a divine character, but is the result of the (mindless, non-spiritual, immoral, non-aesthetical) natural laws that rule the animal world. The “theological” and “metaphysical” worlds are “overcome” by a positive world.

Coubertin, a pagan, does not try to hide that for him Olympism is a religion that “surpasses” not only Christianity, but also all other (“ethnical”) religions (which, as the religions of the “lower races”, are, according to Coubertin, under the level of Christianity) and seeks to achieve what the Catholic Church has not been able to achieve: to deal with traditional religions and national cultures and spiritually colonize the world. According to Coubertin’s doctrine, the Olympic Games are to become the highest religious ritual of the modern world which will supersede traditional religious holidays. In that sense, the “sacred rhythm” of the Olympic Games becomes an indisputable spiritual guide of mankind according to which all other global manifestations are scheduled: the Olympic calendar takes over the role of the Christian calendar while the Olympic Games become the chief form of expressing the continuation and limits of the capitalist time. The Olympic Games are akin to Christian Easter, but they do not represent a renewal of the spiritual power of Christianity and strengthening of the faith in God, but a revival of the life force of capitalism and strengthening of the faith in the present world: the Olympic Games are capitalist Easter.

Coubertin rejects ecumenism, but accepts the Christian (Catholic) universalism (from which follows the Christian “missionary work” of the Jesuit type) and, departing from it, establishes Olympism as the ideology of the capitalist (imperialist) globalism. (3) The bourgeois “cosmopolitism” and “humanism” make the essence of Olympism as a “universal religion”. Unlike Christianity, Olympism does not develop a critical but an idolatrous relation to the present world. Coubertin abolishes the divine firmament only to deify capitalism by way of Olympism. His “Ode to Sport” indicates the true nature of modern Olympism. At the beginning of each line Coubertin refers to sport with pious admiration: “Ode to Sport” becomes a peculiar “Te Deum”. (4) Sport, as the embodiment of the existential principles of capitalism in a ”pure” form, becomes the Supreme Being and as such a fateful power. It is no accident that Coubertin repeatedly claims that Olympism is the “cult of the existing world” and that the creation of a “religious feeling” for the dominant relations, which at the Olympic Games appear in a mythological form, represents the most important aim of his “utilitarian pedagogy”. Going to the stadium replaces going to church; physical exercises and sports contests replace the ascetic life and Christian prayers and become a ritual dedicated to the creation of the cult of the present world.

Guided by Compte’s “positivist popery” (Windelband) and by the idea of a “Western Committee”, which will turn positivist philosophy into a new “world religion”, Coubertin seeks to establish a new Church with the Olympic clergy, new dogmatic, myths and cult. Here is what Coubertin says about that: “For me, sport represents a religion with its Church, dogmas, cult… but especially with a religious feeling”. (5) Speaking of IOC, Coubertin concludes: “We are self-recruiting and our mandates are not limited. (…) We do not trespass upon the privileges of the sports associations; we are not a council for technical policy. We are simply the ‘trustees’ of the Olympic idea.”(6) Coubertin proclaimed Olympism the highest and only true religion of the Modern Age, and himself the arch priest of modern Olympic paganism – “the divine baron”, as his most loyal followers called him. Coubertin wanted the Olympic Games to become the spiritual center of the world – new Vatican. He speaks of the Olympic Games as of a “Church” (to the spirit of his Olympic paganism the term “sanctuary” would be more appropriate) trying to preserve its authority as a traditional and institutionalized form of political integration of the ruling class and a means of spiritual domination over the working “masses”.

Modern Olympic Games are not linked to a particular “holy ground” (like ancient Olympia) where the Games are always held; the location which the “Olympic fathers” from IOC choose for the Olympic Games becomes a “holy place” – by the very fact that the Games are held there. Its “holiness” springs from the “sanctity” of the Olympic Games, which means that there, during the Olympic Games, rules a superhuman and suprahistorical Olympic spirit. The so-called “Olympic peace” means that nothing worldly must disturb the highest religious ceremony at which the “best” representatives of nations and races bow to the ruling spirit, seeking to win its favour through a “fair fight”. A constant change of the place at which the Games are held is not only a form in which modern Olympic paganism expresses its dynamism, but is the expression of the endeavour to “spread” the Olympic religion in all parts of the world. However, the Olympic Games are not designed as a “traveling circus” with Olympic spectacles. For Coubertin, the preparation of the Games in the host country, which lasts four years, is of great importance. He saw in it the way in which the Olympic religion, through an active participation of people in preparing the Games, penetrates not only their conscious, but also their very being. Coubertin was particularly enthusiastic about the Berlin Olympic Games, because the Nazis succeeded in mobilizing in their preparation the widest social layers and thus “won” them over to become the supporters of the Olympic cult. The mobilization of the “masses” to achieve the ends put before them by the ruling “elite” through the elimination of the (critical) reason and through their fanatization, represents one of the corner stones of the Olympism. At the same time, going to the Olympic Games becomes a pilgrimage to the spirit that rules the world, while the Olympians are the “elite” of mankind which on behalf of their nations (races), fighting on the “holy” Olympic battlefield, expresses an unconditional submission to the power that rules the world – seeking to win its mercy.

According to the Christian doctrine, God created man from inorganic nature and inspired life in him in the form of the soul. The purpose of this earthly life is to liberate the soul from its bodily “prison” in order for it to soar to eternity. Hence in Christianity the movement of the body to the grave is dominant as well as the movement of the spirit to God: “Because he who puts in the seed of the flesh will of the flesh get the reward of death; but he who puts in the seed of the Spirit will of the Spirit get the reward of eternal life.”(7) Coubertin abolished the soul and thus broke man’s connection to God, in order to create from the muscular body an unbreakable connection of man to the present world. For Coubertin, similarly to Nietzsche, despising the body means despising this worldly life. Unlike Nietzsche, who, in opposition to the Christian “despisers of the body”, sees in the body the source and the basic condition of man’s “peculiarity”, (8) Coubertin sees in the body what the Christians see in the soul: a means of abolishing its peculiarity and of his complete integration into the existing (deified) world. For Coubertin, man is not a temporary resident on this planet who acquires eternity in God, but is the continuation of the organic nature and the highest form in its development and thus is its integral part, while the laws that rule the animal world are the supreme creative and moving force of the world.

Coubertin’s conception not only radically deals with Plato’s conception of the relation between the body and the spirit, but also with the Catholic maxim cura del corpo si, culto del corpo no, which represents a “soft” version of the original Christian relation to the body as the “prison of the soul”. Trying to build the cult of a muscular body and physical strength, Coubertin rejects the maxim mens sana in corpore sano and creates a new principle: mens fervida in corpore lacertoso – which becomes one of his most important starting points in the creation of a positive man. This different relation to the body indicates a different relation to life: the creation of the cult of a muscular body serves to create the cult of worldly life. Coubertin: “By chiseling his body with exercise as a sculptor chisels a statue the athlete of antiquity was ‘honoring the Gods’. In doing likewise the modern athlete exalts his country, his race, his flag.”(9) In Coubertin, the muscular body in a combatant effort acquires the same importance an eager look of a hermit directed to the skies has for a Christian.

Coubertin determined his relation to Christianity through his relation to Arnold, who paganized Christianity. Arnold tried to use sport in order to create from school a “civilized” menagerie in which “order” is established through a merciless submission of the weaker on the part of the stronger. According to Coubertin, it is the highest form of “moral perfectioning” of the young, which corresponds to the life for which the children (of a bourgeois) are being prepared. Arnold created from sport a means for creating the cult of the “muscular” body and of a character that corresponds to the nature of capitalist society, but he tried to perch upon it Christian moralism; Coubertin rejects Christian “meekness”, as well as everything that represents a restraint for the “master race” in its attempt to conquer the world: from the “muscular Christians” all that is left are muscles and their insatiable greediness which Coubertin declares to be the moving force of “progress”.

The establishment of a rigid dualism between the body and the spirit, the body being submitted to the spirit, represents one of the most important common features of modern Olympism and Christianity. In that context, both ideologies instrumentalize the body and see in it the means for realizing “higher” ends. While in Christianity the body is the tool for realizing “God’s will”, in Coubertin’s doctrine it represents the means for realizing the strategic interests of capitalism. In spite of insisting on man’s “animal nature” and relying on the laws of evolution, Coubertin, with his “utilitarian pedagogy”, deals with man’s natural being and thus breaks his connection with nature. Coubertin deprived man from naturalness and instrumentalized him to such an extent that his relation to the human body becomes similar to the relation which Descartes formulated in his mechanistic philosophy of the physical, although in Coubertin it is mediated by the masochistic spirit of Jesuitism and the destructive spirit of capitalist progressism. Unlike Christian meditative activism that leads to the inhibition and dying out of bodily (natural) functions, sports activism (based on the absolutized principle of “greater effort” which corresponds to the maxim citius, altius, fortius) leads to a maniacal intensification of muscular effort and thus to the repression, degeneration and destruction of man’s natural being, as well as spirituality and intellectuality.

Modern Olympism is similar to Christianity in other respects. Above all, in its anti-libertarian character. The Olympic “reconciliation” to the existing world and the destruction of man’s libertarian dignity basically correspond to the Christian demand, addressed to the oppressed, to unconditionally submit to their masters and obediently suffer injustice. The attitude of Apostle Paul from his letter to Timothy is illustrative of this: “Let all who are servants under the yoke give all honor to their masters…” (10) A similarity between these two doctrines is suggested also by the abolishment of man as an emancipated citizen (and thus of civil society) and his being reduced to a subject of the absolutized ruling power. Furthermore, there is the combat with the critical reason, and the submission of man to the indisputable spiritual authority (the establishment of “control in heads”) which is independent of man. A suppression and destruction of man’s playing nature (Eros, creative spontaneity) represents another common feature of modern Olympic paganism and Christianity. Also, man is not the creator of the world, but is the tool of ”destiny” (of God and natural laws), which means that subjective freedom and the category of possibility are abolished. Another common point of Christianity and Olympism is their insistence on the indisputable character of patriarchal order and degradation of women to incubators. Contempt of work is also characteristic of both doctrines. For Christianity, work is a curse to which people are doomed (“in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life”), and the workers are accordingly cursed. The production of commodities is separated from their appropriation. Parasitism and plundering of the working “masses” become the “divine” and “natural right” of the strong. In their prayers people thank God for their “daily bread”, although they made it by their hands. Coubertin has the same view: “The human race has always asked its rulers for amusement as well as a livelihood.”(11) And that is what claims Coubertin, an aristocrat who inherited his family fortune of 500,000 gold French francs, accumulated over the centuries of plundering the French peasants. The Christian agon is also close to the “sports spirit”. Between “true” Christians there is a competition in suffering, since the one who suffers most has a better chance of passing through the gates of paradise. Hence the greatest “martyrs”, as the “recorders” in suffering, are the highest challenge for worshippers. However, while a Christian, guided by the logic of commerce, is ready to obediently suffer injustice hoping to receive his reward in the form of “eternal blissfulness” – this earthly life becomes a stake that should provide him an incomparably higher profit – Coubertin offers to people a “reward” in the form of life itself in which some (“the master race”) find “happiness” in a sadistic oppression of the “weaker”, while some (the workers, the “lower races” and the woman) find ”happiness” in their masochistic flattering to the ruling power. Olympism is the means for developing a belligerent character in the bourgeois youth and at the same time the means for pacifying the workers and colonized peoples. This “holy duality” has also been present in Christianity ever since it became a tool in the hands of the parasitic classes. Coubertin proclaims the principle of “control in heads” his supreme political principle, which, through the (ab)use of Christianity, has been applied over the centuries by the aristocracy and clergy. Coubertin is “original” in his wish to make the principle efficient again by using new means that correspond to the New Age. Striving to control man’s spirit and thus his whole life, Christianity prescribes prayers and holidays: there exist days when one is supposed to “rejoice” and those when one is supposed to “mourn”; days for eating and days for starving; days for working and days for celebrating… Coubertin also strives to establish a complete spiritual control over people, but he tries to incorporate man’s spirit into his everyday life in order to make his behavior completely conditioned by the dominant relations: not the Christian dogma, but life itself becomes an indisputable regulative principle that determines people’s behaviour and thought.

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