Football season's over. And though it was just whimsy at first, the more I turn the idea over in my head, the more I'd love to see it for next year: atheist football players with Matt 6:5 on their eyeblack. Or atheist fans with that verse on their bare chests.
“Also, when you pray, you must not be as the hypocrites; because they like to pray standing in the synagogues [substitute “stadiums”] and on the corners of the broad ways to be visible to men. Truly I say to you, They are having their reward in full. You, however, when you pray, go into your private room and, after shutting your door, pray to your Father who is in secret...”
Wouldn't that balance out those characters praising the Lord after every punishing pass, tackle, or touchdown? And ought not today's American atheists be ashamed of themselves for not yet doing it? So much so that I'm beginning to reassess my long-held view that our atheists are cutting edge, as opposed to Britain's atheists, who are wusses.
But wait, Tom Sheepandgoats, just wait. Would you really, truly like to see it? Wouldn't that turn God into a laughingstock? It's a well-meaning question. I realize that. Trouble is, Evangelicals have already turned him into a laughingstock. And that's the best face you can put on it. The worst is that they've turned him into an obscenity. I mean, wrap your head around the picture they present: God, for whatever reason, doesn't do much about suffering or injustice....those things go unchecked....in fact, they intensify....but he never misses a game, tweaking each play to bless the born-again players. That's the God that Evangelicals present us with. Can atheists make matters any worse? I don't think so.
But...but...what if the effusive John 3:16 crowd gets mad, and fistfights break out on the field and in the stands? Wouldn't that be bad, Tom Sheepandgoats? Well.....that could happen, and yes, it would be bad. But not worse than the present spectacle, and it might even prompt these gushing religionists to conduct their prayer life in accord with the Lord's words at Matt 6:5. And that would be a good thing.
I don't know how to play this Tebowing sensation....it irritates me so. It's just like Paul strolling through the Aeropolis growing irritated at the idols. (Acts 17:16) If that got him irritated, he'd go ballistic over this! Should I spin it satirical? Relate how, back in the first century after a hard day doing religious stuff, the disciples would pair off into teams and play athletic games? And if one of them scored a goal, or run, or touchdown, he'd pump his fist and holler “GO LORD!” or “YEA GOD!” And how Peter especially would shout at such times “LORD, YOU ROCK!”....an expression which found it's way into scripture in a curiously garbled way? And how eventually the disciples forgot all about the religious stuff because the games were just so much more fun? But won't this border on blasphemy if I write all these things? Yes, I fear it will, but no more so than that which it satirizes, that which we see every Sunday on the field, throwing a pass, sacking a quarterback, or scoring a touchdown and praising God for it! As though the greatest miracle He might perform is to produce Perfect Stats! As though he revels in all the trophies he has produced for born-again players, knowing that their trophies are really His! Beaming with pride when the quarterback, having won a game, says "First of all, I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!"
It wasn't always this way. Fran Tarkenton, who quarterbacked for the Vikings and Giants during the 1960's and 1970's, was religious. He'd been raised that way. Son of a Pentecostal Holiness minister, he'd attended church services Wednesday night, Friday night, Sunday morning and Sunday night. That's more meetings than Jehovah's Witnesses attend!! Far from his faith being “honored” by him playing football, he had to get a special dispensation to play in the NFL!
In a piece for the Wall Street Journal Opinion page, Mr Tarkenton writes that he “never understood why God would care who won a game between my team and another. It seemed like there were many far more important things going on in the world.” See? Common sense once prevailed, before Evangelicals came upon the scene. Even when he relates how the New York Giants team owner would invite “half the priests in New York City into the locker room before games.” At least they didn't burst onfield with players from the locker-room, crossing themselves as they ran!
Still, even after Tarkenson blasts right through the hypocrisy of making God a Fan, he concludes: “But seriously, isn't it refreshing that the chatter around the NFL is about a great athlete with great character who says and does all the right things and is a relentless leader for his team—and not about more arrests and bad behavior from our presumptive "heroes"?
No no no no no, Mr Tarkenton! NO! It isn't! Sam Harris is right. You must call a spade a spade! Of course Tebow is a great guy and a great player! Of course its good that he's not raping and pillaging, as some of his NFL cohorts are wont to do. That's not the point! The point is that he trivializes God, painting Him an avid fan, even while taking no interest, apparently, in the unspeakable worldwide atrocities we daily see on the news! All that remains is to paint Him with a Beer and a TV Remote, his Heavenly Throne now a Celestial Easy Chair! Imagine yourself a victim of such atrocity, and you cry out to God for justice or relief, or even understanding. Not now, not now.....what....do you expect Me to miss The Game? This is what the Evangelicals bring us! No matter how much I rail about it, it's not enough!
It's not just Tarkenton. Michael Medved, scratching his head, it seems, also writes in the Wall Street Journal. There have been other great religious atheletes, he observes. “Three great Jewish baseball players—Hank Greenberg in 1931, Sandy Koufax in 1965 and Shawn Green in 2001—drew mostly admiring comments when they refused to participate in crucial games that fell on Yom Kippur......So why should Tim Tebow draw more resentment than other religious athletes?”
Are you kidding me, Mr Medved? You don't know why? It's because Greenburg, Koufax, and Green's actions represent sacrifice. They represent service to God. They're giving up something....something important to them....for the sake of their faith. They're not simply putting a God smiley-face on what they'd be doing anyway, an activity which hardly seems endorsable by a God who says he doesn't care for violence, nor is he keen on the competitive spirit. That's what rankles folk! Look, if you want to play football, play football. Nobody has any problem with that. But don't go carrying on as if it's sacred service you're performing. It's not. It's football.
Matt 6:5 resonates. It rings true. Those oh-so-public in-your-face prayers, punctuating high points of a decidedly unChristlike activity just turn the stomach. “Hypocrites” is the inspired word Jesus uses at Matt 6:5, and everyone except Evangelicals knows Jesus hits the nail on the head.
There was some bunch of atheists somewhere who denounced Tim Tebow as a hypocrite, even adding that he was “full of crap.” But there's no reason to think so, not especially. By all accounts, he lives a virtuous life off-field. No, it's not a personal hypocrisy that he can be charged with. It's a systemic hypocrisy, inherent with a me-first religious system he's bought into...that he was born into...so that it hardly seems fair to lambaste him personally. It's institutionalized hypocrisy, which these guys pick up as readily as breathing.