The futuristic Allegiant Stadium — dubbed the “Death Star” because it resembles the Star Wars space station — is the perfect setting for an event that has now achieved almost supernatural status. The stadium, with its black façade, dark windows, and eerie white lights encircling the top of the exterior of the building, and its 92-foot torch that is ceremoniously lit before the kickoff, we are reminded once again that the Super Bowl is much more than entertainment. For many, the Super Bowl is now the nation’s religion.
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Although most of us participate in the ritual in our homes with hot wings and chili, we are still part of the tradition with our big-screen TVs and stadium surround sound. This is the first time the game has been played in the sleek new Las Vegas stadium, but the event has become a revered part of our popular culture since its earliest days more than 50 years ago. The first Super Bowl was in 1967, and the halftime shows in these early days glorified God, country, and the American spirit. In fact, by 1976, the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, the father of positive thinking and author of some of the most widely read inspirational tracts, told his congregation on Super Bowl Sunday that “if Jesus were alive today, He’d be going to the Super Bowl.”
Probably not. But on Feb. 11 when the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers meet at the Death Star, there will likely be religion — but a very different kind of religion. Since 2013, the Church of Scientology has purchased ad time each year at the Super Bowl to remind us that we are the source of our own truth and the standard of goodness. Their message is clear: We are supreme — we are the creators.
In Scientology, the Answers Are You
As creators of our own destiny, each of the annual Scientology commercials has promised that we can learn how to use that creative power to change the world. Although the Scientologists have not announced whether they will be participating again this year, it is expected that with an anticipated 110 million people likely to watch the game, they will probably make an appearance — even though prices for a 30-second ad cost between $6.5 million to $7 million.
The Church of Scientology understands better than the mainstream Churches that they need to go where the people are. Beginning in 2013, the Super Bowl welcomed Scientology for the first time with a commercial simply titled “Knowledge,” assuring viewers that “In the eternal debate for answers, what is true is what is true for you.” Each individual’s truth is Truth. The following year, Scientology’s commercial asked viewers to “Imagine Science and Religion Connecting … and then imagine that everything you ever imagined is possible.… [in] Scientology, there are higher states of existence.” In 2015, when Super Bowl ads cost only $4.5 million, the Church of Scientology’s annual ad focused yet again on finding the truth within us in an ad called: “Welcome to The Age of Answers.” The Answers are you. (RELATED: The Most Influential Dissidents in Sports During the Biden Regime)
Each year, the promises of self-fulfillment and empowerment have gotten more elaborate. Over the last few years, Scientology’s Super Bowl ads have reflected the far darker state of the country, while always giving hope that we have the power to overcome the darkness if only we can find it through Scientology. Last year’s 2023 Super Bowl ad depicted the destruction of our cities, reminding audiences that we can rise again: “If you think that all is lost, think again.… The power is within you … because nothing is more powerful than you…. Live Again.”
Many of the ads depict the religion’s elaborate and expensive system of auditing or processing, which is the central practice of Scientology — and the most expensive. During the auditing process, Scientology’s adherents are encouraged to confess their lapses and anxieties to a Scientology practitioner while holding a “high-tech” looking E-Meter which is similar to a lie detector designed to measure the stress levels of the individual. The E-Meter is shown fleetingly in many of the Scientology Super Bowl commercials — including last year’s game. In the ads, it is usually held by an attractive woman sitting at a desk across from the Scientology practitioner with the promise that we too can find true meaning in our lives if we literally put our lives into the hands of Scientology.
Scientology Claims to Offer What Traditional Religions Aren’t
There was a time when all religions understood that the true mission of religion was to help believers find meaning in their lives — not to dominate others or re-create the world in our image. According to Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman, Scientology claims to be the “fastest growing religion in the world.” It also claims “millions of members in 165 different countries and eighty-five hundred Scientology churches, missions, and outreach groups across the globe.” Banned in Germany, where it has been described as a “totalitarian” organization, and in Australia — which later reversed the ban and recognized it as a religion in 1983, Scientology has been viewed by some as a “cult” and by others as a “criminal” enterprise.
It is difficult to know what is true, but what cannot be denied is that the Church of Scientology appeals to young people, many of whom have fled more traditional forms of religion. Most of Scientology’s Super Bowl ads promote themes like “purpose” and “freedom,” and, as Reitman writes, the ads “feature a multiracial assortment of college-age men and women, standing atop skyscrapers, along beaches, and on oceanside cliffs, reaching toward the sunrise.… You are a spirit.… You are your own soul.… You are not mortal. You can be free.” (READ MORE: More Americans Than Ever Have No Religious Affiliation)
The idea of immortality and freedom from anxiety is appealing to all of us — especially the young who are not finding this kind of meaning in mainstream religions. American Spectator contributor Tom Raabe recently pointed out that recent national General Social Survey data demonstrate that in the denominations traditionally labeled mainline Protestant, the percentage of members in the 18- to 35-year-old range is 1.7 percent:
That is, members in the prime baby-making years constitute less than 2 percent of the membership of seven historic Protestant denominations including American Baptist Church, United Presbyterian, United Methodist, United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Disciples of Christ.… The number of people with no religious affiliation in America has jumped from 16 percent in 2007 to 29 percent in 2021.
But all is not lost. Sociologists have known from the days of Émile Durkheim that people crave meaning in their lives — meaning they tend to get from some kind of religion. Durkheim also knew that societies and communities need religion to hold them together. Religion is the “tie that binds us.” Ross Douthat explains it best in his Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, where he identifies that America’s problem is not too little religion or too much religion; rather, it is “bad religion.” For Douthat, the real problem is “the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities in its place.” Self-worship is just one of several destructive pseudo-Christianities. As Biola University theology professor Thaddeus William explains, “Self-worship has become the world’s fastest-growing religion.” Scientology is just one part of that.
In last year’s Super Bowl ad lineup, there was one bright spot for Christians with the introduction of the engaging Jesus “Gets Us” ads. The message is the antithesis of self-worship and was a welcome arrival to the Super Bowl for some. Not surprisingly, the mainstream media was apoplectic about ad buys from a Christian organization. CNN was especially vicious in its criticism about the expense of the Christian ads, arguing that the ad campaign donors should have spent that money on the poor. CNN also criticized the belief that the donors are hostile to the LGBTQ community, but the truth is that the ads are clear that Jesus loves all people no matter what they do or who they love. The message is clear: “Whatever you are facing, Jesus faced it too.”
The Super Bowl message in “He Gets Us” is that Jesus understands that we are fallen and can rely on Him to help us get up again, even though we might fall again and again. Despite the promise of the Scientologist’s Super Bowl ads that we are all gods, most of us realize that we cannot manage this life on our own. It is helpful to be reminded that Jesus is there to help. That should give all Christians some hope on Super Bowl Sunday.