On CNN a few weeks ago I was asked whether I agree with the sentiment that Tim Tebow’s religious displays in football games are overdone and out-of-place. “Oh yes,” I replied, “it certainly is. Faith should have no place in sport. Indeed, I believe that the only thing that should be allowed at football games are truly dignified displays like women jumping up and down in lycra with pompoms and cleavage, and bare-chested, pot-bellied men with their teams written across their stomachs, and people wearing cheese hats on their heads. But faith? G-d forbid.”
Yes, I’m a Tim Tebow fan. And not only because he’s the underdog who pulls off miraculous victories, the scrappy boyish quarterback who always snatches victory from the jaws of defeat. Nor because he is openly religious and celebrates the fact that amid his love for football there are things in life infinitely more important than sport. No, I’m a Tim Tebow fan because frankly my dear he just doesn’t give a damn. Here is a guy who has decided who he is, what his convictions and principles are, and will stick with it whatever the criticism, whatever the price. And in age where people have such wobbly identities, that kind of enthusiasm for one’s core beliefs is positively infectious.
The attacks on Tebow are bizarre, the hatred shown to him by critics strange. People seem to loathe his missionary work more than Beth Roethlisberger’s treatment of women (Ben’s repented, so let’s move on). They seem more offended by his morality than by Kobe Bryant’s infidelity. Tebow is touching some real nerve.
I believe it is this. America is a religious country, and sincerely so. Ninety-two percent of the population believes in G-d, who is even on our money. It is a Church-going, Synagogue-supporting nation. But it loves compartmentalizing religion. Keep it in the Church, but not in the schools. Put G-d in Presidential campaigns, but never in the popular culture. Aside from those who pay for their air time, like Joel Osteen, notice that you never see religion on TV. There are a thousand different reality TV shows on the cable networks about everything under the sun. That is, except faith. You never see religion it in a concert hall or in Rock and Roll. And aside from the occasional mention of G-d by a coach or a player in an interview, you never see it in sport.
Until Tim Tebow.
Tebow brought prayer to the secular cathedral of the stadium, and infiltrated the foremost religion of all, worldwide sport. What Tebow is most guilty of, and what gets him under people’s skin, is breaching the line that all are supposed to respect, namely, that which separates the secular from the religious, the holy from the profane, the sacred from the everyday. G-d is a serious subject. People want Him in their lives, and will turn to Him at the appropriate time. But not in their recreation. We just want to have a good time. We want to see bone-crunching tackles, running backs diving into the end zone, not people on their knees in prayer.
So Tim, take it to the Church, man. We’ll catch up with you later. We came to watch touchdowns.
But people like me admire Tim Tebow precisely because we don’t believe in these artificial lines. We believe in live and let live. We’re not here to ever impose our faith on anyone else. But we won’t accept having it knocked out of us either. We’re not fanatics. We don’t argue that it’s our way or the high way. We’re not going to make you pray but less so are we going to allow you to forbid us to practice our faith. It’s a free country. Some want to spike the ball in the end zone, some want to get on a knee and give thanks. Who does it bother?
Public schools should never have mandatory prayer. But as the Lubavitcher Rebbe argued, they should have a moment of silence where students can choose to reflect on something higher if they so choose. G-d should not be mandated at school but He need not be chased out either.
Religion should obviously not be enforced in public schools, but parents should get vouchers to send their children to religious schools if they so choose. It’s their tax money, after all.
So hack away at that artificial line, Tim. Pray away on the Gridiron. Keep on visiting orphans in your down time while your colleagues do their thing. Keep on being you. We’re rooting for you. And you’re plenty large, whether you win the big game or not.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 27 books and has just published “Kosher Jesus.” He was The London Times Preacher of the Year at the Millennium, and received the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.