Michael Novak


American Catholic Philosopher, Journalist, Novelist, Author and Diplomat, U.S. Chief Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights

Author Quotes

If I had to give one single reason for my love of sports it would be this: I love the test of the human spirit.

Play belongs to the Kingdom of Ends, work to the Kingdom of Means. Barbarians play in order to work; the civilized work in order to play.

The Lord God, the creator of Judaism and the God of Judaism and Christianity, empowered our minds and gave us the ability to question.

If you've ever been in a position in your life where you just can't take any more, you just have to get through the next second, and the next second after that.

Practically every movie that shows the pope or even a bishop as a character, and in much of western literature of the last 300 or 400 years, these are portrayed as awful figures.

The most satisfying element in sports is spirit. Other elements being equal, the more spirited team will win.

In sports, dynasties rise and fall. No one dares to be too arrogant too long. Hubris and nemesis?

Religions are built upon ascesis, a word that derives from the disciplines Greek athletes imposed upon themselves to give their wills an instincts command of their bodies; the word was borrowed by Christian monks and hermits.

The politicization of almost everything is a form of totalitarianism. The preservation of parts of life not drawn up into politics and work is essential for the human spirit.

In the United States? the essence of the symbolic form of football is liberation: breaking away, running for daylight, escaping containment.

Sometimes it's so vulgar that it's not particularly good for religion. But if religion is in everything, it has to be in the vulgar stuff, too.

Then again, Christianity seems to have done quite well by mixing worship and commerce. Religion is like yeast in dough... It's in every part of life, so for it to show up everywhere is only natural - in commerce, politics, sports, labor unions and so on and so forth.

Intercourse is the organic expression of two psyches, not a mechanical plugging in.

Sports are not merely entertainment, but are rooted in the necessities and the aspirations of the human spirit? Sports do provide entertainment, but of a special and profound sort.

There are not many activities that can unite janitors, cafeteria workers, sophomores, and Nobel Prizes winners in common pleasure.

It sounds like we are trying to make new law here and we are really not.

Sports are religious in the sense that they are organized institutions, disciplines, and liturgies; and also in the sense that they teach religious qualities of heart and soul?they recreate symbols of cosmic struggle, in which human survival and moral courage are not assured.

There is a new female recognition (something men have always known) that there are important lessons to be learned from sports competition, among them that winning is the result of hard, sustained, serious training, cool, clever strategy that includes the use of tricks and bluffs, and a positive mind-set that puts all reflex systems on go. This knowledge, and the chance to put it in practice, is precisely what women have been conditioned to abjure.

Jews do not have to be Christians. Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism, but too utopian, too hopeful, too unrealistic a turn.

Sports are the high point of civilization?along with the arts, but more powerfully than the arts?

There is no rage like that of the pacifist insisting on nonviolence.

Like the other fruits of civilizations, sports are not productive; they are expressions of liberty.

Suppose you are an anthropologist from Mars. You come suddenly upon some wild, adolescent tribes living in territories called the United States of America. You try to understand their way of life, but their society does not make sense to you. Flying over the land in a rocket, you notice great ovals near every city. You descend and observe. You learn that an oval is called a stadium. it is used, roughly, once a week in certain seasons. Weekly, regularly, millions of citizens stream into these concrete doughnuts, pay handsomely, are alternately hushed and awed and outraged and screaming mad. (They demand from time to time that certain sacrificial personages be killed.) You see that the figures in the rituals have trained themselves superbly for their performances, the combatants are dedicated. So are the dancers and musicians in tribal dress who occupy the arena before, during, and after the combat.

Those who have not known the rigors of competitive team athletics do not easily find other social and institutional frameworks in which such skills in self-knowledge may be experienced and perfected. That is why there is a special comradeship among former athletes, a bond of thrust within which athletes understand one another swiftly and with few words. And why there is a silent tension between athletes, who have known these fires, and non-athletes, or anti-athletes, who have not. The latter seem not to live as gracefully with defeat, humiliation, or self-betrayal, they seem less conscious of their own complicity in weakness?in other words, with their own sense of being sinners. They pretend more. They have been defeated less.

Millions of men look back nostalgically on their days in active athletics precisely because they experience there, as at few other points in their lives, a quality of tenderness, a stream of caring and concern from and toward others, suh as would make the most ardent imaginers of the androgynous ideal envious. Male bonding one of the most paradoxical forms of human tenderness: harsh, hazing, sweet, gentle, abrupt, soft. Blows are exchanged. Pretenses are painfully lanced. The form of compliment is, often as not, an insult. There is daily, hourly probing as to whether one can take it as well as dish it out. It is a sweet preparation for a world less rational, less liberal, than childhood dreams imagine. Among men, sports help to form a brotherhood for which, alas, sisterhood has no similar equivalent, and which is a highly human imperative to invent.

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American Catholic Philosopher, Journalist, Novelist, Author and Diplomat, U.S. Chief Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights