Football, fake crowds, and our longing to sing praise

Mark Stephens ponders the fake crowd noise in sporting matches, and how, as C.S. Lewis puts it, "we delight to praise what we enjoy".

The football is back and with it comes a surprising new addition. Fake crowd noise. For one brief week as we headed into the coronavirus crisis in March, Australians were treated to live sport with empty grandstands and zero crowd noise. The effect was disconcerting. You could hear the thud of bodies, and the chatter between players. The sporting commentator Kelli Underwood described it as like going to a party without music. Which is why it is unsurprising that many people seem to like the fake crowd noise. Elite sport is meant to be spectacular, and the spectacular demands to be celebrated. The valuable should be praised. Even, if temporarily, with a “canned” crowd. It reminds me of a passage from C. S. Lewis, who once wrote:

“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.”

Interestingly, Lewis wrote that passage as a way of explaining why Christians regularly gather together and sing songs of praise to their God. Right at this moment, churches are carefully trying to work out when worship services can resume. To those who are non-religious, the eagerness of Christians to sing together in a crowd probably looks strange. But for Lewis, and for many, many others, participating in worship was an extension of something which everybody already does, namely that when it comes to things we value, we cannot help making a noise.