Sunday, January 8, 2012

Why I don't Tebow: A Problem with Prayer

Why do we pray?

Those of us who do pray do so for several reasons. We pray to contemplate, to give thanks, to release stress, to focus our minds, to come closer to God, and to ask for things. We pray publicly and we pray privately. There is nothing wrong with any of this.

Now enter Tim Tebow.

For those who may not know. Tim Tebow is the quarterback of the Denver Broncos. As far as NFL quarterbacks goal his skills as a passer are, so far as I can tell, average at best (although he is a good "running" QB). Yet, somehow, this average-at-best quarterback is the talk of the nation. For better or worse as much of the talk about Tebow is about his religious beliefs and behavior as it is his prowess (or lack of it) on the football field.

Tebow's faith is a standard fundamentalist/evangelical one. He is pro-life, anti same-sex marriage, registered and votes Republican, believes in an infallible Bible and that only Christians go to heaven. Full disclosure: I reject, emphatically, each of these beliefs (though I have much sympathy with pro-life positions), so I'm not exactly prone to view Tebow's beliefs in a positive light. That said, my problem with Tebow is not his fundamentalist religious beliefs or his public admittance of them.

My problem with Tebow, rather, is his ostentatious public prayer, which have come to be known as "Tebowing." For those who don't know, Tebowing looks like this:

I have several problems with this behavior.

To begin with I find petitionary prayer problematic. If God really answered our requests then there would not be so much pain, sorrow, and loss in this world. Also, would God refuse to say, heal Grandma Joe, unless the right person asks? Do our requests determine the actions of an all-knowing and all-powerful being? I find that impossible. But I won't quibble over this factor. I'm not bothered by people in need asking God for things. When your loved ones are hurting or our pain is deep you tend to call out for a higher power to aid you. This is understandable. And if Tim Tebow were offering up these kinds of prayers, there could be no objection to his doing so. I might dispute the efficacy of such prayers, but I'm not bothered by people offering them.

My real problem with Tebow is what he prayers for: Tebow prays to win football games. He asks God to let him win. In one notorious example, in overtime against the San Diego Chargers, Tebow actually knelt down and asked God to make sure that the Chargers' kicker missed his field goal attempt!

This is sheer tribalism!

To ask God to favor your team or to in anyway intervene in football games is not merely silly, but evokes the notion of a petty deity who plays favorites and rewards those who grovel before Him sufficiently.

Does Tebow actually believe that God will ignore prayers to heal people from cancer, but make sure that Tim Tebow wins a football game? Does God care most of all about how often we praise Him and grovel before Him?

The god of such prayers is no different from a narcissistic despot!

In short, my problem with Tebowing is that it insults those who pray for more serious matters and presents an insulting picture of divinity.

Finally, however, my biggest problem with Tebow is that he is deliberately "showy" about his prayers. He presents himself in such a way that everyone sees him on one knee and every sees how "holy" he is. The whole thing comes off as rather self-righteous.

I know, of course, that many will tell me that Tebow has a right to show his faith. Others will argue that he is a "good guy" and therefore it is wrong to "hate" him. But this is all irrelevant. Tebow may be a loyal friend, devoted son, and great neighbor. He may be a nice as Mr. Rogers. And surely he does have a right to express himself in the way he does.

But Tim Tebow is being held up as a model of what a good clean American should be. There are those who call him a "great American" and a "force for good" simply because he asks Jesus to help him win football games and score touchdowns. His ostentatious and tribal prayer and piety is held up as a heroic model to imitate.

But this is no model for people of real faith.

What would be such a model?

Imagine a quarterback who prays as often as Tebow. But there is nothing showy about his faith. He quietly and unassumingly makes his requests of God. Imagine further that he does not pray for his team's victory or the other team's kicker to miss a field goal. Suppose, rather, that he prays that each and every player do his best, that all on the field be safe from injury and humiliation, and that the best team wins.

Would not this be a model of faith that we should imitate? Rather than a showy kneeler who asks God to win one for him on account of his righteousness?

That is why I don't Tebow.

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