Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Mad Tebow Party

I've only made one glancing comment about Tim Tebow on this blog so far, but he apparently continues to fascinate many. One of the main reasons I've paid him so little attention is that, as my readers know, I don't care about sports at all. If the media, including the liberal and left blogosphere, weren't so obsessed with his tendency to drop on one knee and thank Jesus whenever a play goes well, I wouldn't even know who Tebow is. I do care about religion, since it is more likely to impinge on my life, but one point on which I agree with my mother is that People Like That Just Want Attention, and (unlike her) that you shouldn't give it to them. I see two possibilities with Tebow: either he's just doing it to get attention, in which case he shouldn't get it; or he's perfectly sincere and unselfconscious (which is probably giving him too much credit), in which case his personal religious observance is no one else's business and they should stop rubbernecking. 

Of course, pro football, like so much that concerns ordinary Americans, is a hotbed of religious nuttery, and specifically Christian religious nuttery. A blogger at the Washington Post wrote that "some of us are still uncomfortable with the QB's constant flaunting of his Christian faith, beginning virtually every interview thanking Jesus and ending with 'God bless.'" Hell, couldn't that describe most R&B and hiphop albums too? No matter how grossly misogynist the content, the CD acknowledgments always put thanks to God and the rapper's mother at the top of the list. In a different realm, a memory of Red Skelton's ending every TV show with "Thanks, and may God bless" just surfaced in my old brain. That doesn't bother me any more than "Merry Christmas" does. 

As numerous writers have pointed out, Tebow wouldn't get all that love from the fans if he were, say, a Muslim. The right-wing writers have a point when they complain that liberals and leftists would be much less likely to jeer at an equally pious Muslim athlete -- but then, those same right-wing writers would not be defending a pious Muslim athlete; they'd be attacking him. So we're stuck with another partisan divide, as when the Right attacks Obama for doing what they loved when Bush did it, and Liberals love Obama for doing what they hated when Bush did it. 

So I'm in a bind myself, for the same reason. I don't approve of liberals attacking or mocking Tebow, because it gives him undeserved attention and allows conservative Christians to play the martyr by playing into the paranoid delight in persecution so many of them indulge. (Especially when the "persecution" consists of nothing more than verbal disagreement or mockery.) Besides, I believe that much of the liberal mockery comes from the same source that leads college students to freak out about open-air evangelists on campus: being still flush with the high-school herd mentality, they can't imagine that anyone would do something that would cause them to stand out and be laughed at -- let alone persist in the face of such laughter. (Many liberal attacks on Ron Paul seem to have the same motivation: just making fun of him should send him scurrying to the shadows, but it doesn't work! What's wrong with the guy? By the way, I had a strong sense when I watched the video clip of Alabama fans molesting a passed-out Louisiana fan that the same mindset was at work there: Hey, he's all alone! He's acting weird! There are a lot of us! We can do anything we want to him!

On the other hand, as I've often noticed before, while it's okay in the liberal mind to make fun of bible-thumping Christians, it's not okay to make fun of Christianity, let alone Jesus. "Real" Christianity as it exists in liberal fantasy is self-evidently a good thing, and Jesus himself was way cool, right? Then a day or so ago the writer Robert Wright explained "Why Liberals Shouldn't Dis Tim Tebow (or Jesus)", closing with the following paragraph:

I should admit to a factor in my thinking that won't carry weight with other people: My parents, who brought me up southern Baptist, also brought me up to respect other people's religious beliefs. The southern Baptist part didn't stick, but the other part continues to make sense to me independent of the tactical considerations above. Explaining why would call for a whole 'nother post.

Wright's parents weren't very good Southern Baptists, then, though I suppose it depends what you mean by "respect[ing] other people's religious beliefs." Maybe he means that publicly attacking other people's beliefs is tacky. Just sticking with Christianity, exhibiting and demonstrating disrespect for other people's religious beliefs is built into the faith, with Jesus' own (public, according to the gospels) attacks on his fellow Jews as the model. Other New Testament writers followed his example, especially with rival Christian teachers. When I point this out, Christians generally argue that it was different because Jesus' targets deserved it: they were hypocrites and legalists and whatnot. But most Christians who attack other Christians justify themselves on the same grounds. 

I suspect that Wright is confusing respect with someone's right to hold or express religious beliefs with respect for the beliefs themselves. The former is good manners, and more or less an obligation in a pluralist society that protects religious freedom; the latter is not an obligation, though good manners should discourage us from mocking others' beliefs gratuitously, lest they attack ours. Conservative Christians might bear that in mind themselves, but much of their culture consists of denunciations of other Christians' beliefs. (I read a fair amount of fundamentalist polemics against liberal Christians -- or "apostate" Christians, as they often called them -- in the 1980s and 90s, so I know whereof I speak.) They aren't really interested in getting along with others; triumphalism is more their style: a total victory over the ungodly, that is, just about everybody but them. But the rest of us shouldn't sink to their level, if only because pluralists should be concerned in how to get along with others, and should know that there's no such thing as total victory over your opponents in the real world. In so far as liberals are indulging in triumphalist fantasies themselves, they're not as different from fundamentalists as they like to believe.