Let me start with a disclaimer. I don’t pretend to be any kind of football fan. I find the rules baffling and the sport itself too reliant on brute strength to be particularly interesting. I have no basis for evaluating whether Tim Tebow is any good at his job or not, though I suspect he has to be pretty good to have gotten as far as he has. Whenever I watch football games, I spend most of my time trying to spot which players are the best looking.
Thus, even though I live in New England, I didn’t really care who won this past weekend’s match-up between the Patriots and the Broncos. Using the Saunders Protocol, I was hoping for a win by the former because if I’d rather look at Tom Brady over the next few weeks. (Not that Tim Tebow is hard on the eyes.) But I cared much less about who won the football game than who won Golden Globes last night, and I didn’t even care that much about that because they’re just the Golden Globes. (Memo to Angelina Jolie: please eat a sandwich, followed by another three. You’ll feel better.)
Anyhow, as a dedicated football non-fan, I would probably not have known any more about Tebow than about almost any of the other NFL quarterbacks (about whom I know nothing) were it not for his ostentatious displays of religiosity. Assuming you live in this country and have any access to mass media (if not, how are you reading this blog?), you probably know about Tim Tebow. Dude is (or was) everywhere, and “tebowing” is this year’s flash mob.
Thanking God for victory in such frivolous endeavors as sporting events (or in award acceptance speeches, for that matter) is flagrantly risible. God’s eye may be on the sparrow, but I can’t imagine it’s spending much time focused on ESPN. Tebow’s neologism-inspiring antics aren’t just theologically unsound, they’re also bad for his co-religionists.
First of all, they’re pretty obviously in violation of the unambiguous words of Jesus himself. The Gospels are full of exhortations against showy displays of righteousness for their own sake. I am in no position to question Tebow’s personal spiritual devotion, and I will give him the benefit of the doubt that his behaviors are sincerely motivated. But they run afoul of the words attributed to the very God they are presumably meant for.
More than that, they make the beliefs that motivate them look ridiculous. And this is where the example of another spirituality-based lifestyle modification program may be illustrative. I’m talking, of course, about Alcoholics Anonymous.
I suspect most people are familiar with the 12 Steps of AA. They may not know what each of them are, but they know there are twelve of them as part of the program. What non-AA types may not be familiar with are the 12 Traditions. The Traditions deal less with personal recovery from addiction and more with how groups should be run and how members should behave qua participants in the program. As one might expect, a premium is placed on anonymity. The Tradition relevant to the discussion at hand is Tradition 11:
Eleven—Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.
Popular culture is rife with recovering addicts to various different substances, and many of them make no secret of their participation in 12-step programs like AA. However, in keeping with the 11th Tradition, most are somewhat circumspect about it, and refer to being “in recovery” or belonging to support groups. You’re not supposed to come right out and say “I’m a member of Alcoholics Anonymous,” which was why it caused a bit of a stir when Roger Ebert did just that.
The reasoning behind this proscription is straightforward. If someone who is publicly a member of AA falls spectacularly off the wagon, it reflects poorly on AA as a whole. It may dissuade someone who might genuinely benefit from it from giving it a try. Further, since AA members are often loath to criticize the recovery efforts of other members and are protective of their own anonymity to boot, there’s no way for the program to stick up for itself if there is some infamous failure.
Which brings us back to Tebow and his team’s rather resounding loss at the hands of the Pats. For the 43% of people who apparently think God was helping Tebow win (and I sincerely hope that was just a lousy poll), what does it mean when he gets his ass handed to him? Divine wrath? The mysterious ways of the Holy Spirit? Does it shake the faith a bit?
If Tebow wants to help his faith, the best thing he can do is be a decent person and a good sportsman (which, from what I gather, he is). He can do good works and lead an exemplary, moral, generous life. People who admire him can, if they’re interested, learn about his faith by inquiring about what motivates him to live the way he does, rather than attributing his wins or losses to divine intervention. Or, in the words of the 11th Tradition, he can win people through attraction rather than promotion.
[Update: Self-appointed gadfly Truth Detector notes in the comments that Tebow prays ostentatiously after both wins and losses. It is admirable that he is consistent in this manner, I suppose. That does not make his displays any less ostentatious.]