I enjoy watching football, but I don’t really follow the sport, which makes it a little difficult for me to comment on the behavior of a particular player. However, I have received a few e-mails asking me to comment on “Tebowing” from an atheist perspective, so I’m going to give it a shot.
As I understand it, Tebowing is the practice of taking a particular prayerful stance in public, named for quarterback Tim Tebow who notably makes such shows of reverence during football games. To get past the obvious question, I’ll state right up front that as an atheist I have no objection in principle to a professional athlete making a religious or other philosophical statement during an event so long as it is:
- In good taste (no obscene gestures)
- Not mean spirited (no taunting or mocking)
- Obviously a personal statement (don’t pretend that your message represents the beliefs of your sport’s management)
- Victimless (don’t waste people’s time or get in their way), and
- Not a violation of the sport’s rules (no modifying your uniform with religious symbols).
I do find it a little irritating when people give God credit for the accomplishments of humans, but I admit that this is a purely personal reaction.
With my perspective as an atheist aside, let’s talk about this from the opposite perspective: is Tebowing something a Christian should do?
The biggest problem I see with Tebowing is that — even if this is not how it is intended — many people take it as a statement of belief that God is in favor of a particular team. Giving Tebow the benefit of the doubt, I assume he does not believe that God determines the outcome of sporting events, because that leads to potential philosophical difficulties (such as how God decides the outcome of competitions between two Christians, the fact that non-Christians don’t always lose, etc.) But even if he does not believe that his religious devotion makes him a favorite of God, his demonstrating thanks in the face of success clearly risks giving people that impression.
I think that giving this impression does a disservice to Christianity in general. I recall seeing a political cartoon after a recent loss by Tebow’s team that implied his losing meant that he had fallen out of favor with God. From a Christian perspective, this is slander.
So if Tebow wants to give thanks to God when he has good fortune, how can he avoid giving people the wrong impression? It seems to me that the easiest way would be for him to remember that he is “blessed” just to be skillful, lucky, and qualified enough to be a quarterback on a professional football team. To show his thankfulness for this, perhaps he should Tebow whenever his turn at being a quarterback has ended — not just when he throws a touchdown or runs into the end zone, but also when the half ends or he throws an interception. He might even Tebow whenever he’s sacked, just to show he’s thankful for not being injured.
Since I have never seen a football game in which Tim Tebow played, I don’t know when exactly he Tebows. Maybe he does do it when both positive and negative (in a football-game sense) things happen. If so, then good for him — his critics have that much less to complain about. But if he only uses Tebowing as a celebration when he scores a touchdown, I don’t think we can blame people for taking his actions as pious snobbery.
Before I close, let’s take a quick look at Tebowing from a Biblical perspective. In Matthew 6:1-8, for example, Jesus speaks at great length about not making public displays of religious devotion, implying that they are intended more to glorify the person than the Lord. Tim Tebow’s shows of devotion are most definitely public displays.
Those same verses also say that prayers should be heartfelt messages to God, not “vain repetitions.” It’s true that we don’t know what’s going on in Tebow’s head when he gives thanks on the field, but his outward manner is of a person who just repeats the same thing over and over — to the point that the gesture has had his name attached to it.
I can’t comment on Tim Tebow’s philosophy because I don’t know much about it. However, I think we can conclude, from the scriptural evidence, that Jesus wouldn’t Tebow.