Everything was going great, ’til Jesus made me fumble

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by Jeff Fecke • I’ve always disliked the athletes who wear their religion on their sleeves.

Jeff Fecke is a freelance writer who lives in Eagan, Minnesota.In addition to his own blog, Blog of the Moderate Left, he also contributes to Alas, a Blog, Minnesota Campaign Report, and AlterNet. Fecke has appeared as a guest on the “Today” show, the Alan Colmes radio show, and the Mark Heaney Show. Fecke is divorced, and the father of one really terrific daughter. His debut novel, The Valkyrie’s Tale, is now available.

Don’t get me wrong — they have every right to be religious, and every right to speak out about their religion. But I’ve always thought it trivialized the role of a God who could make a universe as infinite and complex as ours to suggest that He is deeply concerned about a football game. And frankly, as an agnostic Unitarian, I’ve always been a little put-off by those who suggest that an athlete who is an unwavering and vocal Christian is ipso facto a good person. There are many good people who are Christian, of course, but plenty of bad Christians, too, including all too many of the vocal type. And of course, the same rough percentages apply to Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, Scientologists, and any other religious group you care to name. Being religious does not make one good; being good makes one good.

The guy who has been drawing the most ire from me of late is Floriday Gators quarterback Tim Tebow. Tebow is into putting Bible verses on his eye-black, and spends his offseasons circumcising Fillipinos in the name of Jesus. Now, Tebow seems like a decent guy, I guess, but he’s reached such a level of adulation that it’s gotten, well, a bit idolatrous. Especially since so much of the wonder of Tebow is tied up in his religion.

So it was with some relief that I read the latest column from CBSSports.com columnist Gregg Doyel, who expresses the same unease:

This one is really going to hurt, because I’m going to attack two institutions that have impressed me greatly over the years: Christianity … and Urban Meyer. My thoughts on Meyer were made clear a few paragraphs ago (perhaps the greatest coach, etc.). And as for Christianity? Not to get too deep into things, but church has been a huge part of my life over the years. Done the baptism (twice). Done the tithing. Done the small groups and the volunteering and so forth.

But there’s a quote from Meyer celebrating Tebow’s return to college for his senior season that turns my stomach. Here it comes:

“There’s the functional football player part of it, but we all know it’s much deeper than that,” he said. “He is so good for college football. He is unbelievable. When my daughter texts me in the morning the Bible verse he has under his eyes it’s good for college football, it’s good for young people, it’s good for everything.”

Sorry. Wrong. If Tebow were a Muslim or a Mormon, and Meyer’s daughter texted him with Tebow’s chosen verse from the Koran or from the Book of Mormon, would that be “good for college football, good for young people, good for everything?”

Of course not.

Tebow’s religion is seen as good because it is the religion of the majority. But it’s not the religion of everybody. It’s exclusionary, and just because you share Tebow’s faith, that doesn’t mean you’re right. I don’t expect you, or Meyer, or Tebow, or your pastor, to agree with me.

But you’re still dead wrong.

Yup. The simple fact is that for non-believers, Tebow’s overt Christianity — and the swooning reaction to it — is salt in the wound, further evidence that we are outsiders in this country. The simple fact is that by saying Tebow’s religion is good for everyone, we’re saying that those who don’t believe aren’t good.

Tim Tebow is a good quarterback, and what I’ve heard of him suggests that he’s not a bad guy. But his religion is not evidence for either of those propositions. It is simply his faith, and while he’s entitled to his faith, I’m entitled to mine, too.

Originally published 1/13/09

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