If God is liable to smite anybody around here, it’s me. When it’s smiting time, I duck, because I don’t believe in any religion that requires a building and loan payments. Nevertheless, I’m having a hard time seeing anything wrong with Tim Tebow taking a prayer knee in public. The knee seems a pretty plain and graceful statement, and it’s tiresome to see it so willfully misinterpreted. It’s the preachers from the top of Mount Idiot like Bill Maher who are hard to understand.
If you want to know Maher’s overriding philosophy on anything, you have to go back to high school and the stoner in the last row, surrounded by sycophants as he makes ugly cracks about his betters. That was the vein of the tweet that Maher chucked at Tebow on Christmas Eve, after the Broncos quarterback was intercepted three times in a loss to the Buffalo Bills. Maher wrote, “Wow, Jesus just [expletive] Tim Tebow bad! And on Xmas Eve! Somewhere in hell Satan is Tebowing, saying to Hitler, ‘Hey, Buffalo’s killing them.’ ”
Bill Maher is in hot water after Tweeting a joke on Christmas Eve about Denver Broncos quarterback and notorious Evangelical Christian Tim Tebow, Jesus and Hitler. (Dec. 28)
"Do Tim Tebow's expressions of faith bother you?"
Set aside the intriguing question of whether Maher would have the nerve if Tebow were Muslim. Or whether he’s funny. (He’s not, really. Monty Python is.) What’s more interesting is why Maher, and other political commentators from Bill Press to David Shuster, feel compelled to rip on Tebow simply for kneeling.
“I’m tired of hearing Tim Tebow and all this Jesus talk,” Press said, adding a profane suggestion that Tebow should shut up. They act like he’s trying to personally strip them of their religious liberty, manipulate the markets, and take over our strategic oil transport routes.
What is so threatening about Tebow? It can’t be his views. Tebow has never once suggested God cares about football. Quite the opposite. It’s Maher and company who stupidly suggest a Tebow touchdown scores one for Evangelicals whereas an interception somehow chalks one up for atheism. Anyone who listens to Tebow knows he doesn’t do Jesus talk, he’s mostly show and no tell. His idea of proselytizing is to tweet an abbreviated Bible citation. Mark 8:36. He leaves it up to you whether to look it up. When he takes a knee, it’s perfectly obvious that it’s an expression of humility. He’s crediting his perceived source, telling himself, don’t forget where you came from. On the whole, it’s more restrained than most end-zone shimmies.
So why does Tebow’s expression of faith make people so silly-crazy? Why do they care what he does?
Because he emphasizes the aspect of his talent that is given, not earned.
And that makes people nervous. The reactions to Tebow seem to fall under the category of what theologian Michael J. Murray calls “Theo-phobia.” In his essay “Who’s Afraid of Religion?” Murray argues we’re ill at ease with intrusions of personal faith. We fear they could lead to oppression, or mania, or even prove us wrong. We prefer to keep religion at the abstract distance of historical or socio-cultural discussion, the safe range described by historian George Marsden, “like grandparents in an upwardly mobile family, tolerated and sometimes respected because of their service in the past. . . but otherwise expected either to be supportive or to stay out of the way and not say anything embarrassing.”