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Tim Tebow Redux: Rooting for somone who thinks you’re damned to hell?

January 12, 2012

In August 2009 I wrote a post about Tim Tebow. In it, I pointed out the rabid anti-Catholicism embedded in his father’s protestant-evangelical mission in the Philippines.

What I never could have imagined then was that Tebow’s celebrity would only surge from that point forward. To my amusement and embarrassment, it is the most read post I have ever written here by a lot—a whole lot.

This week, we find ourselves in total Tebowmania. The evidence is everywhere: Sportscenter is reportedly running full shows dedicated to Tebow today; message boards and comment boxes are piling up with praise and hatred from all sides; Twitter had a record number of tweets-per-second after Tebow led the Denver Broncos to their upset win over Pittsburgh.

Tim Tebow is the most over-hyped, divisive, adored, celebrated, celebrity-athlete we’ve seen since LeBron James took his talents to Miami. (And I would argue that Tebowmania dwarfs “The Decision” by a lot.) This season, I found myself rooting for him casually at first, as a fun side-show, and eventually, by this point, salivating at the idea of him beating the New England Patriots. I admit it: I too, am something of a Tebowmaniac at this point.

Even I—who wrote that post a few years ago—cannot help but giggle and smile at the unlikely coincidence that his big, playoff win came with 316 total passing yards, averaging 31.6 yards per throw.

On the surface, Tim Tebow seems so easy to root for. He works hard against serious odds (his throwing motion is not pretty but his work ethic is) and plenty of doubters; he’s clean cut, doesn’t cuss or get arrested. His image is, at first glance, spotless. Even better: he’s a quintessential underdog.

Because of this prima facie view of Tim Tebow, many wonder what makes him so reviled, hated, and ridiculed. Many incredulous fans want to know what is so divisive about Tebow, beyond the ordinary divisiveness of sports.

The answer is obvious and theological. (It also points to my paradoxical position as a critic of the Tebow family’s ministry, but a Tebow fanatic nonetheless.) Here’s the answer: No one likes to root for someone who probably thinks they are damned to hell.

As a US Catholic, I would be worse than most Catholics in the Philippines “who have never heard the Gospel” (verbatim from The Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association). The soteriological implications are clear, even to me, a (proud) pagan Catholic: as someone who has heard the Gospel in the protestant-evangelical nest of the United States, I am surely damned to hell.

Nonetheless, I root for Tebow for some, strange reason. For no reason at all. A feeling, a hunch, or just for kicks. Akrasia maybe.

At the same time, I am not surprised at those who despise him. I don’t personally hate him for probably thinking I am going to hell, I just think he’s wrong, naive, and silly. In fact, I hope he doesn’t really believe that. But, when I really think about it, it does tend to piss me off.

Don’t be fooled by the silly secular objections to his outward faith, his pious interviews, and alike: the reason nonprotestant-evangelicals don’t like Tebow is rooted in his theology, not his press conferences or genuflecting. Again, with feeling: No one really likes to root for someone who might think they are damned to hell.

The question becomes personal: what the hell am I doing rooting for Tebow?!?!

The other question is more serious: why do faithful Catholics fail to see the obvious contradiction in letting their social and political affiliations blend so closely to those whose theology damns them?

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41 Comments
  1. January 12, 2012 4:42 pm

    It’s because you follow football games in hell…

  2. The Pachyderminator permalink
    January 12, 2012 4:55 pm

    I’d rather root for someone whose shallow, incorrect, bigoted, but still Christian theology leads him to believe I’m going to hell for following a false gospel than someone who thinks I’m a product of blind evolution with no soul and that my belief in God is a savage superstition.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
      January 12, 2012 5:11 pm

      Pachy,

      If I understand you correctly, you would rather possibly suffer for all eternity in hellish fire and brimstone than just be a blip. That is not the best sales job for eternity if you don’t mind me saying so, I said reaching for my Spinoza tome.

      • The Pachyderminator permalink
        January 12, 2012 5:28 pm

        That’s not what I said at all. I have nothing to say about the hypothetical alternative between hell and nonexistence – in fact, I’m not sure that’s a meaningful choice. We’re not talking about where my soul is actually going, something Tim Tebow has little to say about, but what Tebow believes. As a Christian, he believes that all human beings have an immortal soul, and that they were made in the image of God and created for glory. As a Protestant, his theology is of course lacking, but his worldview is infinitely truer than an atheistic or secular one. If he does believe I’m going to hell unless I repent of Romanism, that’s silly, but I’m not so petty as to be offended by it.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        January 12, 2012 8:57 pm

        Pachy,

        I understand the gist of your thinking. But I don’t think you quite grasp really that the insouciance you bring to the whole matter — “not so petty as to be offended by it” — is 100% a phenomenon of the Enlightenment, and has zero to do with Christianity. To say otherwise is to deny the actual history of Christianity. And as a Christian, I am sure you don’t want to do that.

  3. Dan permalink
    January 12, 2012 6:02 pm

    The other question is more serious: why do faithful Catholics fail to see the obvious contradiction in letting their social and political affiliations blend so closely to those whose theology damns them?

    Well, for one, people see truth and fraternity in the social and political affiliations. If they don’t see truth in their theology, should they deny the truth that they do see in the other areas?

    To me, the real question is – if you don’t believe his opinion is a reflection of truth, why should you care?

  4. January 12, 2012 7:35 pm

    What some of us care about, Dan, is that so much time and money is spent on a subliminally violent and agressive pastime, while school budgets are starved and the military adventures that American football is a preparation for are heavily funded. See my comments on American football in the previous entry on football.

    • The Pachyderminator permalink
      January 12, 2012 8:08 pm

      The violence of football and similar sports is not subliminal, but avowed and obvious. As such, it could be considered a preparation for soldiering, but also for any activity that requires such qualities as strength, courage, commitment, concentration, and discipline. In that respect, it seems to me less dangerous than other games where the violence truly is latent and unseen – such as commenting on blogs.

  5. Julian Barkin permalink
    January 12, 2012 8:44 pm

    The only real thing to root for is he’s not afraid to pray in front of the Camera and be “christian” when he could seriously get his ass detained under Obama’s newly passed “anti-terrorist on home soil law” or get sued in some kind of human rights discrimination complaint. He’d sure get his ass fried here in Canada with our Canadian (and Ontario) Human Rights Councils because he prayed in public on national television.

    However, I give a big kudos to you Sam for exposing the horrible theolgy of his Dad’s mission. I now ask that you do some apologetics and roast the abberant theology of his dad’s Evangelical association. I’d be interested to see how wrong it is. I personally won’t be rooting for Tebow anymore. Though, sigh, too bad there aren’t any ferverent Catholic athletes out there to root for. Guess I’ll have to settle for the actor, Mark Wahlberg, who supposedly goes to Mass every day or Sunday (at, to my knowledge, normal Catholic Churches, not crazy uber-trad ones like Mel Gibson or SSPX type chapels).

    • Tarbox permalink
      January 13, 2012 3:08 am

      Whoa, I know, those crazy uber-trad SSPX, going off on that totally insane tangent saving the Mass of the Ages! I mean, who needed to preserve the Mass as it was said for so many centuries. While we’re on the topic of people who tried too hard for modern standards, wow, what were all the Saints and Popes thinking? The Council of Trent was just totally unnecessary. Crazy Trad junk, right? Blessed Pope Pius IX and his Syllabus of Errors, Pope Saint Pius X and his encyclical condemning Modernism (never abrogated.) How far could they go? St. Nicholas was just violent, and St. Thomas Aquinas was just some kind of extremist, right? St. Athanasius was the most misguided trad of them all! What an extremist! He should have went along with the Arian heresy so people wouldn’t call him names, too. And, hey, don’t even get me started on those crazy trad martyrs of the faith.

  6. Zach Foreman permalink
    January 12, 2012 8:55 pm

    I’ve replied to similar commentaries before. The wars of religion of the 16th and 17th centuries are over. Catholics and protestants have much more that unites them than divides them in the postmodern world. Put it this way, does a faithful, orthodox Catholic have more in common with someone who believes in the reality of God, heaven and hell and thinks Catholics are going there or with someone who denies the reality of God, heaven and hell? Tebow believes in absolute truth and so do I. Tebow believes in God, so do I. Tebow believes that God revealed himself through Christ, the Sacred Scriptures and the Church, so do I. Tebow believes in the reality of sin and the afterlife, so do I. Our differences are many but far, far less than the differences between Christianity and atheism, secularism or postmodernism.

    • January 12, 2012 9:07 pm

      Zach,

      My only point is that someone’s whose soteriology excludes Catholics is kind of a big deal. That is, if you take soteriology and/or being Catholic seriously. If you don’t then you can just say we have more in common—even though this exact Tebow theology anihilates that so-called “commonality.”

      It is defensive and silly to think that by rejecting Tebow’s theology I am somehow endorsing secularism or willy-nilly postmodernism. In fact, this post is as much a rejection of the Tebow theology as it is a rejection of the petty secular critique being made of him.

      And if the wars of religion are over between protestant and Catholics, then, oddly enough you are relativizing things—like a postmodern. For empirical proof go to the Philippines and see how Tebow’s father is trying to “convert” Catholics. Or, for a domestic sample, stop by my neck of the woods and visit Rockpoint Church: http://www.rockpointministries.org/#/home

      Let me know and I’ll buy you a beer. Cheers, and I’ll still be rooting for Tebow on Sunday—but not out of your willy-nilly sense of ecumenism.

      Sam

    • January 12, 2012 9:43 pm

      Put it this way, does a faithful, orthodox Catholic have more in common with someone who believes in the reality of God, heaven and hell and thinks Catholics are going there or with someone who denies the reality of God, heaven and hell?

      If the one who “believes in the reality of God, heaven and hell and thinks Catholics are going there” is a bigot who tries to “evangelize” Catholics (and I can tell you stories of anti-Catholic sermons in local Protestant churches and stories of churches that use Bible schools as a way to try to get Catholic kids visiting with their Protestant friends away from their own church) and the non-believer is not the Ditchkins, “New Atheist” type but one who, while disagreeing with his Christian friends is never disrespectful, and who lives a good and decent life himself–then I unhesitatingly declare more in common with the latter. Consider Matthew 7:21 and Mark 9:40.

      • January 13, 2012 2:11 pm

        Exactly.

    • The Pachyderminator permalink
      January 13, 2012 2:33 am

      If you don’t then you can just say we have more in common—even though this exact Tebow theology anihilates that so-called “commonality.”

      Nuh-uh. Why should I allow any silly fundamentalist exclusionism to mess with my thinking on Christian communion? Whether folks of the Tebow Ministries persuasion realize it or not, they are members of the Body of Christ just as we are. They are allies, not enemies. I’m happy to work with them against secularism, and if they believe I’m going to hell, that won’t take away my ability to do so.

      I quote Peter Kreeft: “No matter how stupid, bigoted, angry, and judgmental the fundamentalist may be, and no matter how sweet, open, honest, personable, and loving the atheist may be, if we are comparing beliefs rather than personalities, we are comparing a three-fourths full glass with an empty one.”

      • January 13, 2012 2:40 am

        Pachy,

        I think you misunderstand my point. I am not abandoning ecumenism or the true, united Body of Christ. If I wan then mea culpa. You’d be right in that case. I am saying that it does make a difference when a common union is comprised of those who believe the other is, well, not in common union, soteriologically speaking.

        I do not agree with Kreeft insofar as I think we there are more distinctions and qualifications to be made about what we mean by ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘atheist.’

        For those wondering where I get these extravagant conjectures from: read the website and follow Tebow closely as, admittedly, I have. Nonetheless, I still qualified my statements with the words ‘probably’ and ‘might.’

        Sam

      • The Pachyderminator permalink
        January 13, 2012 3:05 am

        If “fundamentalist” can be assumed to mean “Christian fundamentalist,” and “atheist” means just that, what more qualifications are needed? We as Catholics always have more in common with anyone who believes in God, Jesus, sin, grace, and redemption than anyone who doesn’t.

      • January 13, 2012 3:34 am

        In my own, perhaps misguided, sense of the words, I suspect there is more to be qualified than that, Pachy, This is based, in my view, on more than common terms, it is also based on what ‘belief’ refers to. But I do not entirely disagree with you, within those ways of thinking about the terms.

        Sam

      • January 13, 2012 11:45 am

        More important than “whom do I root for?” is “where do I turn my attention, and who has the most to teach me about living my life as a faithful Catholic?” This is the difference between judgmentally weighing another’s expression of faith, and choosing relationships and examples which nourish my soul. From my daily (and I truly mean daily) experience, I’m convinced that thoughtful, respectful atheists win this one hands down over fundamentalist in-my-face Christians (even Catholic ones!).

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        January 13, 2012 2:52 pm

        Frank,

        Thanks!! That was very fascinating and informative. I like the part about not needing to “reinvent the wheel” . Also, about the final observation about how the “mystical experience ” would have been looked askance at a relatively short while ago. It makes me think of my relative Anselm Stolz. Stolz was a rather famous Catholic Benedictine theologian, who is best known for his book The Doctrine of Spiritual Perfection (he also wrote a well-thought of book on Anselm of Canterbury). In The Doctrine he argued for a great subordination of mystical/spiritual insight to sacramental doctrines and established notions. Of course he did it quite consistently with a lot of other established theological notions — not by just saying that so-and-so should go to the “nut-house” as the Brother in the video hilariously quips. Still, I cannot help but think of the description here as the context for the book by my grandfather’s cousin in Germany.

  7. January 12, 2012 10:08 pm

    No interest in football here, and no interest in the theology of evangelical Protestants either. But I suspect any “Catholics” who get converted to it were previously untouched by our theology–and by the Church generally–so perhaps they will end up better off for it, especially if they come to know what so many of his fans have seen exemplified in Tim Tebow:

    http://www.reporterherald.com/news/loveland-local-news/ci_19708509

    • January 13, 2012 2:25 am

      Thank you, Turmarion–and you are absolutely correct; there are people in this world who call themselves “atheists” or “agnostics,” but whose entire ethical system is influenced by the values of Catholic Christianity or Protestant Christianity, and I maintain that you can see a world of differences between these cultures, the values of the people who inhabit them, as well as their spiritual temperaments and affinities.

  8. karl permalink
    January 13, 2012 12:08 am

    Seems judgmental to assume he thinks your going to hell…how do you know what he thinks?

  9. January 13, 2012 12:30 am

    With regard to the post’s suggestion for why people don’t like Tebow, I very much doubt that most of those who are up in arms over Tebow really spend that much time thinking about his views on hell.

    As to the question, “why do faithful Catholics fail to see the obvious contradiction in letting their social and political affiliations blend so closely to those whose theology damns them?” I’m not really sure why there should be an issue here. Social affiliations are largely temperamental and political affiliations are for political ends; whether someone is consigned to damnation by a theology, on the other hand, is simply a matter of rational consistency establishing a practical problem from starting principles, and the real question is whether they are doing anything about it — it’s people who believe that others are damned (or even in danger of being damned) and don’t try to do anything to save them that are really disturbing, and this is, frankly, a much more common problem among a certain strain of Catholics than among the kinds of people who hold Bob Tebow’s theology.

    Setting aside the fact that I don’t actually know Tim Tebow’s own views on this particular point (they cannot be presumed on the basis of his father’s), and setting aside the fact that I don’t really root for Tebow anyway, my attitude is why shouldn’t one root for someone one likes, or who does something one respects, or stands up for something one thinks right, regardless of whether they think you’re going to hell or not? But admittedly, my view might be colored by the fact that I am essentially the only Catholic in my (very large and sprawling) family of cousins, uncles, and aunts. There are members of my own family who think I am going to hell, and not just one or two. But they’re still family, and when they do something great I’ll root for them if I want to.

    • Rodak permalink
      January 13, 2012 6:04 am

      @ Brandon —

      I regard your ideas above to be spiritually healthy ones.

  10. January 13, 2012 7:16 am

    I’m not a follower of Tebow, football, or sports in general, but if I were, I wouldn’t care about Tebow’s views concerning my ultimate destination.

    • Rodak permalink
      January 13, 2012 8:19 am

      Yeah, just when I thought nothing could possibly be more important to me than Justin Bieber’s personal philosophy, along comes Tim Tebow! Sha-za-yum!

  11. Rodak permalink
    January 13, 2012 9:13 am

    This is a link to Bob Tebow’s site:

    http://www.btea.org/whatwebelieve.asp

    I don’t see anything radical or hateful in the posted statements of what his organization believes. Am I missing something?

    • January 13, 2012 10:42 am

      Rodak take a look at the original, 2009 post, that lays out what’s wrong with the Tebow ministries…

      Sam

  12. January 13, 2012 10:41 am

    This is one of those things I see people I know talking about incessantly, and I know absolutely nothing about it! I steer clear following most professional sports, and have a particular distaste for that perculiar American game that is mis-named “football”.

  13. Rodak permalink
    January 13, 2012 11:56 am

    @ Sam —

    I just read the 2009 post and all of the readers’ comments following it. I’m afraid that I don’t see anything there (other than an excerpt of some columnist’s presumption that it’s not hard to see that the Tebow ministry is directed against the Church) to suggest that Bob Tebow’s motive is anti-Catholic, rather than simply pro-whatever he calls himself.
    There is a sense, of course, in which all Protestants are “anti-Catholic” by definition. It is Catholicism, after all, against which we “protest.” But to speak of Bob Tebow “seducing” Catholics away from the Church is certainly anti-Protestant. Sauce for the goose, my friend. And to suggest that the mechanism of this “seduction” might be Tim Tebow’s celebrity as a college football star is laughable. Do you really think they follow American college football in the Philippines?
    One of the readers of the 2009 post made the very sensible point that Bob Tebow is not thereprimarily to convert Catholic Filippinos in Manila, but rather to bring the Gospel to tribal people out in the jungles. I say, to the extent that is the case, more power to him.
    Still in all, other than that unsupported supposition made by a columnist that you quoted, I saw nothing overtlyor pointedly anti-Catholic shown by the 2009 post. Neither do I see anything of that nature on Tebow’s website, to which I provided a link.
    Again I ask–what am I missing here?

  14. Mark Gordon permalink
    January 13, 2012 12:51 pm

    The Bob Tebow Ministries website says that in the Phillipines, “a country of 92,000,000, it is estimated that over 65,000,000 Filipinos have never once heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Never once. In a nation that is 80% Catholic.

    Tim Tebow seems like a good kid, and I respect him for his willingness to live his faith publicly (although someone really should introduce him to Matthew 6:5). But anyone who doesn’t get that Tim’s father Bob is a fundamentalist bigot who reads Catholicism out of Christianity entirely is either ignorant, a liar, or both.

    • Phillip permalink
      January 13, 2012 1:48 pm

      I suspect that assumes they are actually being catechized. At a minimum as few as 50% of Philippinos attend Mass regularly. Take away 20% who are not Catholic at all and the number is not that outlandish.

  15. Rodak permalink
    January 13, 2012 1:02 pm

    @ Mark Gordon:

    Here is what the website, in fact, says:

    “In 1998, BTEA began to implement a plan to preach the gospel in every barangay (village) in the Philippines. There are approximately 42,000 barangays in the Philippines and it is estimated that over 64% of them do not have a single evangelical church. In a country of over 92 million, the number of people who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ is staggering. These statistics do not even take into account the dozens of ethnic tribal groups that have been living on obscure islands and in remote mountain villages for centuries. It is our goal to go to each and every barangay and give the people the opportunity to hear the gospel at least one time. In addition to preaching the gospel, we are endeavoring to plant indigenous churches with the new converts and train national pastors. It is a tremendous task that must be completed.”

    This is from the homepage. It is repeated on the “history” page.

    • Rodak permalink
      January 13, 2012 1:15 pm

      The point is that Tebow’s website does not anywhere that I can find state that the mission is “to defeat the scourge of Catholicism” or anything of that kind. It simply states that the goal is to evangelize what is considered to be the “gospel [small "g"] of Jesus Christ where it has never previously been heard. I.e., in areas that have not been reached by evangelical Protestant, “Bible-believing” Christianity. It is pro-Evangelical, but not explicitly “anti-Catholic,” so far as I can see from the website. To the extent that Tebow’s mission is successful, he may convert some Catholics, of course. But his stated goal is simply to preach what he believes to be the Truth to people who have never heard it. I think he has every right to do so.

    • Mark Gordon permalink
      January 13, 2012 1:38 pm

      The history page says: “In 1998, BTEA began to implement a plan to preach the gospel in every barangay (village) in the Philippines. In a country of 92,000,000, it is estimated that over 65,000,000 Filipinos have never once heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. BTEA evangelists are assigned a geographical area and systematically draw crowds with nightly film showings combined with preaching the gospel.”

      • Rodak permalink
        January 13, 2012 1:55 pm

        @ Mark Gordon —

        Right — they plan to evangelize the population with their notion of the gospel Truth. Obviously, they know that if they are talking to Catholics, they are talking to people with prior knowledge of the Gospels [upper-case "G"]; but what they consider to be the “gospel” [small "g"] is something those people haven’t heard. Is it your contention that no Protestant should be allowed to preach to a voluntarily assembled group of people who may, or may not, be Catholic? It is the vocation of any missionary to convert those people to whom his mission is sent. All evangelical faiths send missionaries. Mormons send missionaries all over the world–even to darkest Ohio, where I’ve had conversations with pairs of nice young guys on my porch, or in my livingroom more than once. So what? Does that mean they’re anti-whatever it is that my neighbors and I currently profess? No. It just means that they’re pro-Mormon. And that is as it should be. Is it not?

  16. Nate permalink
    January 13, 2012 2:08 pm

    “I don’t personally hate him for probably thinking I am going to hell, I just think he’s wrong, naive, and silly.”

    And yet Catholics believe anyone who’s not Catholic is going to hell. Could Cathoilcs be wrong, naive, and silly for believing that another human being i.e priests, pope can forgive sins?

    • The Pachyderminator permalink
      January 13, 2012 3:19 pm

      Catholics believe anyone who’s not Catholic is going to hell.

      You can’t have been reading this blog for very long.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        January 13, 2012 5:39 pm

        “A man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

  17. January 17, 2012 2:49 am

    http://chronicle.com/article/Do-Sports-Build-Character-or/130286/

    I think that the above article makes it pretty clear that sports culture is profoundly pagan and inimical to the spiritual content of Christianity. Read it and see if you don’t agree.

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