If you saw the Super Bowl yesterday, you caught the game-winning interception by the Patriots’ Malcolm Butler. You also might have seen the NBC reporter interviewing a dazed Butler on the field after the game. A reader e-mails about the incident:
What a fine example of how utterly estranged our “culture” is from religious experience. The outcome of the game, as you probably know by now, rested upon a somewhat miraculous pass interception by New England’s Malcolm Butler. After the interception, instead of jumping around a high-fiving, he looked deeply contemplative and introspective, quiet and pensive as if he was trying to understand something momentous. And after the game, he was caught by an NBC reporter who asked him about his remarkable feat. He said very slowly, deliberatively, meditatively that he had just “had a vision” that he was going to make a very big play, and then (still looking somewhat awed and amazed) he said that the opportunity simply presented itself, just like in the vision. The reporter immediately interrupted him, since it wasn’t anything she could handle, and immediately asked him instead “what was going on in your mind” during the interception. A man talks reverently and thoughtfully about a supernatural, perhaps miraculous set of events on national TV, and the chirpy reporter instinctively shifts things onto the psychological grounds she is more comfortable with. No wonder religion is weakening in our lands. No doubt Butler will probably end up seeing it psychologically too. We can’t even perceive transcendence when it is right in front of our eyes! It’s conceptually invisible, not fitting into our cognitive framework
I noticed this also, and thought the reporter’s reaction strange, but I hadn’t thought about why. This reader nails it. Butler’s talking about his “vision” struck me as odd, but compelling. He just pretty much won the Super Bowl for his team, yet he was not filled with customary exuberance, but with a sense of awe. I wanted to know more about what he meant. Was he talking about an episode of precognition? Of what did this vision consist? Where did it come from?
Note well I’m not complaining of anti-Christian bias or any such thing. I don’t intend this as a culture-war complaint, but rather simply as an observation. I have no idea what the religious beliefs of the reporter and the athlete are, if they have any (though Butler’s describing himself as “blessed” indicates that he is a Christian; here in the South, where Butler is from, one often hears African-American Christians use this word to describe themselves). This was a moment in which a professional athlete believed he had some sort of glimpse of the transcendent, and acted on what he saw, and likely changed the outcome of a world championship in a spectacular way. Something mysterious happened in that moment, something that left the athlete shaken. How is that not really, really interesting?
I know, I know, you can’t expect a TV sports reporter to be Carl Jung or Mircea Eliade, and I, as a believer, might have been caught up short too if I had been assigned to interview him under those circumstances. But both Butler’s words, and the reporter’s reaction, seemed jarring to me, for separate reasons, and I thank the reader for explaining it. Had Butler used the same words to describe what happened to him, but been ebullient, I wouldn’t have given the exchange with the reporter a second thought. But it was the body language of awe that threw me. Watch the episode below; see that his eyes can’t even meet the reporter or the camera: