Thank God that the Broncos lost on Sunday. And we better hope they keep losing if only to save us from the horrors of Tim Tebow Derangement Syndrome. Rabbi Joshua Hammerman wrote a piece so bigoted against Christians that Jewish Week pulled it. Here was a favorite portion:
If Tebow wins the Super Bowl, against all odds, it will buoy his faithful, and emboldened faithful can do insane things, like burning mosques, bashing gays and indiscriminately banishing immigrants. While America has become more inclusive since Jerry Falwell’s first political forays, a Tebow triumph could set those efforts back considerably.
The piece also referred to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick as "moral exemplars in their home communities" and Denver as the "Oberammergau of the Rockies"! Tom Brady. Bill Belichick. If they're moral exemplars, the Northeast is even worse off than I thought! Just kidding. I knew the Northeast was a God-forsaken wasteland. OK, seriously, just Boston is.
Anyway, Jewish Week apologized for the piece, reminding people that forgiveness is a virtue. And Hammerman himself apologized to Tebow and his family, football fans and anyone else he may have offended. Like, I don't know, Christians, perhaps?
OK, so that's the sort of tone with which some corners of the internet are discussing Tim Tebow. And by that standard, this feature about how the media should cover Tebow's religion by Charles P. Pierce in Grantland is better! What other nice things can I say about it? Well, it only has a few errors. I read the whole thing, which is more than I can say for many other things I start at Grantland. What else? Pierce is a funny writer. The descriptions of his favorite no-gain and one-yard gain plays he's seen are just great.
Onto the problems.
But, of course, that was not what the past week was about, either. Tim Tebow became "compelling" because he became a character in the great national dumbshow that is our culture war. And we should be very clear about one thing — he wasn't dragooned into this. Nobody drafted him. He walked into this role with his eyes open. Before he ever took a snap in the NFL, he appeared in an anti-choice television ad with his mother that was sponsored by Focus on the Family, an influential anti-choice, anti-gay-rights organization founded by the Rev. James Dobson. He knew what he was doing.
(Added historical curiosity: Dobson was playing in the pickup basketball game during which Pistol Pete Maravich was stricken and died. Strike two.)
No, Focus on the Family was not founded by the Rev. James Dobson, though I'm sure such a reverend exists. It was founded by James Dobson, a psychologist. Not a reverend. And to speak of walking into a role of culture warrior with your eyes wide open, excellent choice of language on describing pro-lifers as "anti-choice"! Glad you got the memo. Twice, too! And I really like how the emotional phobia of Dobson comes shining through.
Which made a lot of the chin-stroking about Tebow's religion over the past weeks pretty much beside the point. It has been argued paradoxically that his faith is both vital to his success and off-limits to criticism. This is, of course, nonsense. He put his business in the street that way, and he did so by allying himself with the softer side of a movement that contains other organizations that the Southern Poverty Law Center, which knows about this stuff, recently designated as hate groups. There was considerable thumb-sucking about the propriety of criticizing — or, gloriosky, perhaps even mocking — Tebow's conspicuous religiosity. This was an ironical moment in that it came in the week that journalist Christopher Hitchens died, and it was Hitchens whom I first heard say, although he may have been quoting someone else, that the only proper answer a journalist can give to the question "Is nothing sacred?" is "Yes."
Gloriosky it is. But as for the Southern Poverty Law Center ... in their recent zeal to make it easier to bully opponents by labeling them "haters," they sort of nuked the fridge. They decided that quite a few groups that have moral opposition to homosexuality are hate groups (Well, not all groups that are morally or religiously opposed. It was noted at the time that the list featured Christian and conservative groups but not Islamic ones). You might be more familiar with the term "hate group" when it's used to refer to groups that incite violence. That's not what SPLC means, but isn't it easy how we can now just marginalize a group by saying "the Southern Poverty Law Center, which knows about this stuff, designated them as hate groups so you do not need to listen to their arguments at all, OK? And if you do, I will beat you up after gym class." Speaking of violence, you might recall that the SPLC president was on national media the day of the tragic Rep. Gabby Giffords shooting blaming conservative ideology for the massacre. Because, you know, it "knows about this stuff."
Anyway, Pierce goes on to point out that it's a free country and many a people have made a lot of money mocking public religiosity. This is true. It's a time-honored path.
Then Pierce conveys the shocking news -- I gasped, when I read it -- that Tim Tebow and his family are evangelical Protestants. I knew you could go to Grantland for essays, but breaking news, too?
Let us be quite clear — Tim Tebow adheres to a particular form of American Protestantism. He belongs to — and proselytizes for — a splinter of a splinter, no more or less than Mitt Romney once did. This particular splinter has a long record in America of fostering anti-Enlightenment thought, retrograde social policies, and, more discreetly, religious bigotry. To call Tim Tebow a "Christian," and to leave it at that — as though there were one definition of what a "Christian" is — is to say nothing and everything at once. Roman Catholics are Christians. So are Lutherans, Episcopalians, Melkites, Maronites, and members of the Greek and Russian Orthodox faiths. You can see how insidious this is when discussion turns to the missionary work that Tebow's family has done in the Philippines. This is from the Five Priorities of the Bob Tebow ministries, regarding its work overseas:
It is the goal of the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association to preach the gospel to every person who has never had an opportunity to hear the good news of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Most of the world's population has never once had the opportunity to hear the only true message of forgiveness of sins by faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.
And why is this so horrible?
It so happens that 95 percent of the population of the Philippines is Roman Catholic. Catholic doctrine just happens to be in conflict with what Bob Tebow and his son preach in regard to personal salvation. (To devout Catholics, for example, sins are not forgiven "by faith alone," but through the sacrament of reconciliation as administered by a priest.) Bob Tebow's goal is not to convert unbelievers. It is to supplant an existing form of Christianity. So who's the actual Christian here? This is not an idle point to be made. Down through history, millions of people have died in conflicts over what a "Christian" really is, which is what so exercised Madison, and also what brought down a lot of Hitchens' wrath upon religion in general. History says that as soon as you start talking about "the only true message" in this regard, you guarantee that, eventually, people will get slaughtered in the town square.
I'm just glad we finally got to the part where Christians are killing people! It's not an authentic Tebow Derangement Syndrome column if Christians aren't publicly slaughtering people in the town square, you know?
Anyway, by "95 percent," he means "80 percent." But yes, it is true that Catholics and Protestants have different views on the Doctrine of Justification. You can read more about it by visiting the 16th century. OK, I'd love to end there but one more thing:
Earlier this week, some kids were suspended at a high school on Long Island for "Tebowing" — dropping to one knee in prayerful contemplation — in the hallways. Asked for his reaction, Tebow replied, "You have to respect the position of authority and people that God has put in authority over you, so that's part of it. But I think it does show courage from the kids, standing out and doing that, and some boldness."
First of all, God is involving Himself in how they select principals to run the high schools on Long Island? That's a bear of an interview process right there. And you will note the obvious passive-aggressiveness in the second part of the answer. Obey your principal because God got him the job, but, damn, these kids are brave in their faith to defy the principal's authority and, by extension of the first point, God's. This is childish. It is silly. And it also makes my head hurt.
Wow, what an idiot Tim Tebow is. Where in the world did he get that crazy idea that Christians believe God puts people in authority? I am glad that Pierce is able to set him straight. I also love that Tebow, trying to thread the needle of not trashing some of his ardent fans by finding something good to say about their act and he's thereby called "childish, silly," etc. Maybe I watched too many John Hughes films in the 1980s, but it does show some boldness to risk detention through the time-honored practice of high school pranks.
Now, Pierce's whole point is in his final paragraph:
If we're going to have a real discussion about the place of public religion in our public spectacles, then let's have one instead of some mushy, Wonder Bread platitudes about how great it is that Tim Tebow talks about Jesus and doesn't get caught doing strippers two at a time in the hot tub. If religion comes into the public square, it is as vulnerable as any other human institution to be pelted with produce. Ignorance does not become wisdom just because you gussy it up with the Gospels. If we keep faith with those American values, then we might just let him off the hook enough to see if he simply can become a better quarterback than Andy Dalton.
Sure, excellent point. I myself would like to write a piece soon critiquing the Theology of Glory that surrounds some Tebow cultists. But the best possible thing I could say about this piece is that it pelted produce, completely missed its target, engaged in bigotry and was far less substantive than the Wonder Bread platitudes being derided. But other than that, it was a pretty good read.
Picture of typical Tebow loather via Shutterstock.