The Stupid Moral Panic Over Mocking Tim Tebow; Or, What Would Jesus Do About Tebowing?

Oh, please. You know why Tebow memes exist? You know why they've, let us say, gone forth and multiplied? Because of columns like this, that's why. Here's the headline:

Tim Tebow mocking enters dangerous territory

That is some heavy-duty concern-trolling right there. Now, the column itself, by Bruce Arthur, is your typical value-neutral half-a-loaf Tebow word jumble that momentarily makes you wonder if someone let David Broder out of his crypt. But Arthur is at least gesturing in the same direction as Jemele Hill, who earlier this week clucked that "mocking Tebow's Christian beliefs" isn't "fair game." She was referring to the Tebowing of Tebow by Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch, which, per Arthur, is where the criticism of Tebow entered "dangerous territory."

"Dangerous territory"? Seriously? Let's start at the beginning. Whenever Tim Tebow takes a knee on the field and thanks God, he is engaging in a very conscious act of moral grandstanding. I write that with no judgment whatsoever. Tebow is saying, "Look at me," just as surely as Deion Sanders doing the pigeon wing in the end zone was saying, "Look at me." He is saying, "Look at me and gaze upon my prayerfulness," and he is saying that because he is an evangelical Christian, and evangelical Christianity is a religion built on conspicuous faith. He is bearing witness, right there on the hashmarks. He is spiking the Gospel.


In so doing, Tebow knows full well that he is opening himself up to satire, because that is also a part of the deal evangelicals make when they dedicate themselves to converting a skeptical public. That's why, when Clay Travis famously asked in a press conference if Tebow was a virgin and caused so many sportswriters to flutter their lace hankies, Tebow simply smiled and answered the question. He wants people to ask that question. He wants every opportunity to talk about his beliefs in public, and he is smart enough to know that he will often rile folks in the process. Bruce Arthur and Jemele Hill and the Very Serious Media People are throwing a sneeze-guard around Tebow's religion that Tebow never would've asked for in the first place.

(Do we even need to talk about this person, who seems to have filed her column from either the far side of Pluto or Sean Hannity's green room? Lord is she working the aggrieved-honky angle hard. "You cannot mock Muslim faith, not in this country, not anywhere really"? What the fuck country do you live in, lady? I don't remember anyone except the ACLU protecting Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf from the "slightest blush of insensitivity." It wasn't so long ago that a prominent evangelical could call the Prophet Muhammad ''a demon-obsessed pedophile" and still be reckoned harmless enough for his most famous parishioner to sign Bibles at his retirement. The parishioner was Tim Tebow, by the way. As to the writer's thought experiment, "What if Tim Tebow were Muslim?": I'll just point out that a country that's ready for a Muslim Tim Tebow is a country in which Islam isn't so exotic that idiot columnists write fatheaded crap like "... and thus bowed toward Mecca to celebrate touchdowns," which is a little like saying a Catholic would celebrate touchdowns with High Mass in the end zone. That country could handle the mocking of a Muslim Tim Tebow just fine. This is not that country.)


All this tiptoeing around his faith does nothing except make us dumber. Tebow is a public figure whose beliefs—often extreme beliefs—spill over into areas of fervent national debate. That they come in under the banner of Tebow's God doesn't make them any more essentially honorable or unimpeachable than if they had arrived under the banner of the John Birch Society or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or the Dykes on Bikes. Religion is not a cultural DMZ. And yet whenever the subject of Tebow and his God comes up—whenever we're confronted with the specter of the Tebow family advocating against even medically advised abortion, or with the less-than-ecumenical doctrines of Bob Tebow's ministry (ask a Catholic how he or she feels about the Tebows' buccaneering missionary work in the Philippines), or with its Christ-on-a-brontosaur biblical literalism, or with its bloody and altogether unpleasant eschatology (check out the "What We Believe" section of the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association's website before it got scrubbed)—we're asked by the Very Serious Media People to lobotomize ourselves and throw whatever's left of our critical faculties to the dogs.

The result is that the balance of Tebow coverage, to the extent that it even addresses his religion, is a patronizing mush of willful ignorance that—it seems to this heathen, at least—far more cheapens his faith than would a frank discussion of his beliefs. Tebow was brought up in a conservative and politically influential Baptist church that occasionally preaches doctrine from a distant fringe of American Protestantism. Would you know any of that from reading the many, many mainstream profiles of Tebow?

Last month, for instance, ESPN The Magazine gave its cover to a story about Tebow that engaged in all kinds of preposterous gymnastics to avoid confronting his religion head-on. It was full of lightly ironic sentences like, "Let's make one thing clear up front: John Fox does not appear to be a tool of Satan." It was awful, and the principal reason it was awful was because it alluded time and again to Tebow's beliefs but shrank completely from saying anything substantive about them.

And isn't that what "X > Tebow" is about? Bruce Arthur thinks the comments thread unspooling over on is "an imperfect but passable metaphor for Tebow and America," which is such Broderiffic, above-the-fray bullshit it's a wonder he didn't spend the next 800 words derping about partisan gridlock. Anyone who thinks "X > Tebow" is actually about mocking Tebow at this point is someone I want in my poker game. "X > Tebow" is, at bottom, a media protest. It's about ESPN. It's about the brainlessly worshipful prose of stories like Tim Keown's that seem determined to sell us the idea that Tebow is a viable NFL quarterback. It's about cringing and hollow analysis like Bruce Arthur's that serves no other purpose than to flaunt the author's exquisite right-mindedness. It's about the writers who keep telling us that Tebow is a "divisive" figure when the only division that exists is between the fans who have no illusions about the quarterback and a media who keeps inventing more.

"Dangerous territory"? "Not fair game"? For Christ's sake, shut up.

No, I mean it. For Christ's sake.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:5-6. Jesus > Tebow.