The philosophy of the Olympics

It will be amazing to watch the performance of some of the best athletes in the world. Records will be broken. Years of sacrifice, training, and practice will pay off. There will be joy and satisfaction in victory and personal accomplishment. And all of that is good.

The opening ceremony surrounding the 2010 Winter Olympics is more about a philosophy of life than it is about athletics. Music, choreography, light show magic, and advanced technology combined to create a “wow” factor for those watching. It’s impossible to watch such an impressive demonstration and not be struck by modern man’s ability to create an experience that is rich in beauty and majesty. The creative genius resident in our race is noteworthy.

The pomp and ceremony of the opening and closing of the Olympics showcases a specific message. It’s not a humble declaration, but a modern and proud one—that man is great and glorious and the center of reality. The opening evening was designed to make a clear statement about mankind. Man is indeed the measure of all things and the center and hope of life on earth. The utopian words of the speakers lauded the genius of our race and offered praise to who we are and what we have accomplished. The speakers celebrated the glory of man and held to the promise of a bright and unfading future as we work together to make a glorious new world of peace, love, and respect.

This humanistic optimism is perhaps to be expected in these days. It is the foundational premise for the movers and shakers in the international community who desperately cling to the myth of the perfectibility of the human race and pretend that we can purge the brokenness from our race through altruistic endeavors and superfluous language.

It would rather not see athletes whose lives are falling apart because of the pressure of competing for a gold medal. It doesn’t want to notice the manipulation of totalitarian nations to intimidate some of their athletes not to defect while abroad in completion. It overlooks the prejudice and nationalism that will color the judging in those events where the scoring is not measured by an impersonal stopwatch.

The humanistic idealism revealed its limits when it noted the sad death of Nodar Kumaritashvili. The speaker called for a moment of silence. Silence for what? When faced with the reality of death, the response was one of an unexplainable, undirected silence. To say more or do more or ask the question, “What next?” for this young man is taboo. Humanism can paint an attractive picture of the world as it might be. It can celebrate the power and potential of man, both individually and collectively. But it has no answer for the painful realities of life—from corruption to pride to sectarian nationalism to death—that intrude into our daily lives. In the end it is only silent before such things.

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