Recently, a high school football coach from my area won a state championship game. The first words out of his mouth after he won the game were: “I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Without Him we would not have won today.” Seems his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (LSJC) didn’t care much for the efforts and aspirations of the losing team.
A few days ago, there was a very lengthy article in the Wall Street Journal on the Tim Tebow phenomenon entitled “God’s Quarterback”. It was an in-depth analysis not just of the ever-lucky, talented Tebow but of the entire scope of Christianity versus Secularism in sports, as well as the history of religious motivation in sporting activities. For the record, it makes clear that even though Tebow publicly offers prayer to LSJC on the sidelines, God’s quarterback admits God doesn’t play favorites in football games.
Apparently, what motivates Tebow to pray like that is not to seek cosmic favoritism but, rather, to grant him as an individual the ability and focus necessary for peak performance. Even though I do not believe in the LSJC and I think that high school coach is full of shit, I respect the rights of these individuals (and any person of religious faith, for that matter) to express their faith as they see fit, publicly or otherwise. Just don't try to drag the world along behind you.
It has always been a part of our humanity to seek more control in the haphazard nature of existence or to “please the gods” for various reasons. Grant us a good harvest. Heal the sick. Forgive us for our disfavor so clearly demonstrated by recent calamities of storms and floods or whatever. Most of us are no different today than we were many millennia ago, perhaps in the Neolithic period, when apparently religious practices grew beyond mere green shoots. Religion is a biological part of our humanity and a mainstay of cultural cohesion, which – of course – is why religious people have such a problem with all the implications of secularism. Secularism often seems to threaten the fundamental paradigm of biology and culture.
At any rate, reading about Tim Tebow and considering what a prominent role Christianity plays in sports today got me to thinking about ways this has manifested itself throughout history. Perhaps the best examples of this sort of thing are the conversions of Constantine the Great and Clovis I in connection with great battles, the metaphorical equivalent to today’s combat on the gridiron.
Constantine converted to Christianity after his victory in the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312. Clovis did the same at the beseeching of his wife, Clotilde, following his victory in the Battle of Tolbiac somewhere between 496 and 506. Without these conversions as a result of victory of the battlefield (as opposed to deep spiritual conviction) Christianity as we know it would have been completely different.
This is especially true of Clovis I. At the time of his great victory, he favored the form of Christianity, widely adhered to throughout Europe at the time, known as Arianism. Arian Christianity denied the holy trinity and was fundamentally at odds with Catholicism. What attracted Clovis toward conversion was not the love of LSJC but the power of the Old Testament God of Wrath. Victory proved the power of God and Clovis definitely wanted to align himself with the force that would expand his empire. Ditto Constantine. Ditto a slew of commanders and leaders before and since.
The Wrath of God, not the love of LSJC, made modern Christianity possible. Even today, it is the power and fear of the God of Wrath more than the Love of LSJC that motivates simpleton Judeo-Christian believers. For the wrath-led it is "Mercy" more than "Love" that is the divine manifestation of LSJC. Believers motivated by more modern and contemporary influences transcend these traditions by stressing love over power, perhaps a reflection of the Age of Enlightenment within postmodern culture.
The burden of the Judeo-Christian heritage is that god reveals himself in history. From the perspective of Christianity, that means how history plays out in terms of empires and wealth and progress is all a manifestation of god on earth. If things are going well for a particular culture or society then it is a reward from either God the Father and/or LSJC. If things don’t go so well then it is a sign of punishment or disfavor on society. This sort of thinking is prevalent in the news. Everything from the events of September 11, 2001 to the AIDS virus is interpreted as almighty judgment.
Not all Christians believe this way, of course. It is, as I said, a fundamental discourse between believers stemming from the burden of god’s revelation through history and whether that entails mostly wrath or mostly love.
To come full circle, this same thinking is at work today with Tim Tebow and that high school coach that won the state championship. LSJC is a force in the world and, therefore, a force in football games and such. A force in individual performance in sports, business, relationships, etc.
While I respect the rights of these individuals to express their beliefs (I do not oppose public prayer even in schools for that matter, it bothers me not), I nevertheless submit that the “truth” of all this does not lie in any specific belief but, rather, in the interplay of belief systems. Human Being is a dynamic, quite chaotic, thing really. Like the cosmos as a whole. There is projected order within a vast spectrum of scattered random events.
One of the very few basic tenets I personally hold to be true is that human truth is a competition of metaphysical value judgments. What that means is that the manifested contentiousness between Christianity (religion) vs. Secularism (humanism) on the football field is the truth. So, I guess I believe the truth is revealed in history as well, just not the way in which the Reverends Robertson and Falwell intend.
The dynamic nature of humanity is such that it is unhealthy for any one belief system to dictate the behavior and expression of humanity. To me, looking at the world multiple ways is at its core a good thing and is a natural (even logical) extension of our genetic diversity. There is a high survival value embedded in our differences in everything from disease to politics. It is also natural that each of us holds that our perspective is more exacting and clearer than opposing or diverse perspectives. Thus, each truth claim on this good Earth is part of a meta-competitive nature of truth claims.
Whether it be Tebow the First or Clovis the First, the use of LSJC as a motivator for strength or as a revelation of power is part of who we are as a whole. For my part, let Tebow pray all he wants. My guess is, in the long run, it will be more about the nature of professional football than the nature of god that will show us how great or mediocre he really is. And then we can debate over whether LSJC had anything to do with it at all.