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On the small planet where elite chess players dwell, very few people worship Jesus Christ. If anyone discovers that you’re one of those “superstitious,” “narrow-minded idiots,” you’re likely to see nasty comments accumulate on your Facebook fan page. On a regular basis, I receive emails from strangers lecturing me about the dangers of following Jesus. Out of pity or disgust, they wonder how I, the world’s second-ranked chess player, can be so “weak-minded.”
I have been assured that identifying openly as a Christian will interfere with sponsorship, support, and invitations to events. I have been told that spending time reading my Bible, praying, and going to church will inevitably weaken my performance. People plead with me to at least keep quiet. They say thanking God publicly makes me look ridiculous.
So why did I make such a risky move?
The Philippines, where I grew up, is a country of God-seekers. People mention God all the time, in just about every context. Everyone believes he exists, even if they’re unwilling to claim much more than that.
Child - Person - God - Blessings - Food
As a child, I was informed that you needed to be a good person so that God would give you certain blessings, like food and jobs—which are very important in such a poor country. But this confused me, because it seemed like the bad people received more than the good people. I knew of many famous crooks who went to church, wore religious symbols, and got tattoos of Jesus or a crucifix—and they were pretty rich.
Clearly, many popular beliefs and practices were less a matter of worshiping God than of appeasing the god of luck. One legend had it that if you rubbed a particular part of a particular statue, you would be blessed. If you committed a heinous crime, you could make a large donation to some saint...
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