Tebow isn’t the first athlete to be lifted above his apparent capacities by his beliefs. The phenomenon is hardly restricted to Evangelicals. Back in 2005 a Pakistani cricket batsman named Yousuf Youhana converted from Catholicism to Islam. The next season his batting average soared to 83.06 from 47.30. Whenever he scored 100 runs, he kneeled in the direction of Mecca and prostrated himself to Allah. He broke the world record for most test runs in a calendar year.
When asked the difference in his play, he replied that he had simply become a better man. But not everyone was comfortable with his transformation into Mohammad Yousuf, and his Mecca gazing. The Pakistani government, in an effort to curb what it saw as Islamic overzealousness, ordered the chairman of the cricket board to forbid extreme religious displays. It was interpreted as an attempt to de-Islamify the squad. In their next match, the Pakistanis lost by 51 runs.
I’ve been trying to think of other public figures who disconcerted their audience with displays of faith. Then one came to me: George Harrison. On the recent anniversary of Harrison’s death, writer Andrew Ferguson described seeing Harrison during his solo tour of the States, making 40,000 roaring people suddenly uncomfortable simply by singing about his Hinduism.
“I still marvel at the nerve it must have taken, singing about God, of all things, in front of kids thumping for rock ’n’ roll, not to mention the wised-up musicians and the cynics and pedants of the concert-reviewing press,” Ferguson wrote. Plenty of people complained about Harrison’s dragging Hinduism into concert halls, but, “Because George insisted, some of us felt obliged, for the first time in our lives, to take the idea [at least] of God seriously.”
Belittle Tebow if you must. But the trouble with shouting down Tebow’s religion, never mind the sheer offensiveness, is the same trouble with shouting down any other form of inspired expression. Do that, and you also shout down mystery, possibility, surprise. And some perfectly good questions. You drown out an awful lot that’s of interest, whether you agree with it or not.
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