As Christmas arrives, believers and non-believers alike participate in the time-honored, all-consuming orgy.
Perhaps they believe that once a year their generosity and goodwill goes beyond the personal and spins the nation’s wheels of commerce: About 20 percent of annual retail spending occurs between Black Friday and Christmas.
Perhaps we are fed up with bad news and the lingering effects of the Great Recession So, we succumb, whip out a credit card, and feel good. It’s Christmas, after all.
For those who cannot afford a spending spree as an expression of belief in a better economic future, there are other forms of engagement that can express belief just as effectively. Some, less-worldly Christians refrain from conspicuous consumption and remind us that the celebration is not about Santa Claus. Between the two extremes of immersion in the world and retreat from it, we find an American public fascinated with Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.
Tebow, the avowed Christian, has become a man for all seasons: he’s a spiritual leader without a congregation, an athlete who believes in miracles, a quarterback who infuses faith in his teammates, a Christian who wants to do right by his mother, an unabashed believer who openly puts his faith in divine intervention — and a humble servant of the Lord who happens to be an extremely competitive, and at times, a competent athlete. You name it, and he’ll satisfy your spiritual need. He’s bankable, too!
What makes Tebow and his signature move, “Tebowing” — now an officially accepted linguistic term which designates praying on one knee, fist on the chin — interesting is the fact that he is talked about more than anything else in sports, which in turns means more than anything else in American culture.
For once, it’s not some scandal with dog fighting, gambling, rape, or murder. It’s clean and uplifting entertainment provided by a guy who seems above reproach. You needn’t watch a football game on Sunday to know that on Monday Tebow’s performance — his divine mission undertaken for the love of sports and God (maybe not in this order) — will be discussed.
In a post-secular age, an age that accepts religious belief alongside atheism, one need not choose between being religious or secular, but instead can be openly religious without thereby giving up one’s rational faculties. It’s not insane to believe in miracles, as the Broncos have proven week after week with preposterous last-minute victories.
And Tebow’s comebacks can lodge themselves comfortably in the rational mind, too — his late-game heroics can be explained by mistakes made by the other team and a great Broncos defense. The “Tebow phenomenon” has a wide-ranging appeal.
So, can you believe in God and be rational? Does it make sense to believe in miracles?
Isaac Newton, the seventeenth century mathematician and natural philosopher (as physicists were called then) believed in God and in miracles. He even wrote long tracts on miracles, to the embarrassment of some scientists and historians of science who would like a clear distinction between science and religion.
So, is Tim Tebow like Newton? Not in his ability to develop the calculus, for example, or formulate the fundamental laws of gravity and the color spectrum, but perhaps what distinguishes Tebow is the ease with which he displays shuttling between the world of celebrities and the world of people of faith.
It’s not that God guides his wins; it’s not that his faith moves the ball in the right direction or allows him to outrun his opponents. Tebow has admitted as much. Rather, it’s that he has faith in himself and his natural abilities, in his team and coaches, in the idea that hard work and concentration will yield results beyond scientific calculations of velocity and gravity, force and trajectories.
No, Tim Tebow is neither Newton nor a saintly reincarnation of some ancient Greek athlete or warrior. Instead, he is an all-American well-paid football player who has become an inspiration to a country bereft by an economic downturn, foreclosures, and persistent unemployment.
But just look at Tebow when he “Tebows” after a touchdown: What’s complicated about this image? How can this image not be immediately compelling? Besides, it’s much closer to Auguste Rodin’s sculpture of the Thinker than an actual prayer pose.
Is “Tebowing” a symbol of praying or thinking? Maybe Newton’s ghost does hover over Tebow; maybe he’s blessed across the scientific-religious divide.
Hopefully you will be able to divide commercialism and the true meaning of the holiday this year.
When you go to Christmas service or Mass or to just to the mall this year, try to stay on the path that reminds you of the true meaning of the holiday.
And when the Broncos play, consider all sports fields throughout America history where religion has played a role.
Tim Tebow will show you the way.
Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS who was born in the Holy Land. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Previous articles can be found at sassower.blogspot.com