Ignorant Analysis of Religion: Fair Game
Grantland recently published an article from staff writer Charles P. Pierce entitled, “Tebow’s Religion: Fair Game.” While I already knew the sentiment present in the title was true, my evangelicalism bristled at what I feared was about to come. As we’ve noted in other articles here at The Two Cities, Tebow is quite the polarizing figure. Depending on which side of the Tim Tebow debate you take, you either view him as unjustly criticized or unduly lauded. And depending on which side you’re on, Pierce’s article will either add fuel to your fire or have you nodding in agreement. Based on the title of my article, you can probably tell which side I fall on. The short bio at the end of Pierce’s article notes that he’s the author of Idiot America. After we analyze Pierce’s article, America, I hope you’ll realize you need not be offended.
Pierce begins his discussion of Tebow’s religious beliefs and practice about mid-way through the article. He first asserts that Tebow brings that attention to his Christianity upon himself. True. It’s been well known that he was a Christian since he was winning national championships at Florida. But this fact was hardly cause for controversy until he began experiencing success at the NFL level. Pierce more or less acknowledges this by beginning his critique with the mention of Tebow’s pro-life commercial for Focus on the Family that aired during the Super Bowl a couple years ago. As an aside, one of the smartest things the pro-abortion movement ever did was coming up with the term “pro-choice.” While “pro-abortion” and “pro-choice” are essentially synonymous, the terms have completely different connotations. Rather than denying the unborn child’s right to life, you’re defending the mother’s right to choose. Subtle, but important. Here Pierce goes a step further. The alternative to pro-choice is not pro-life; according to Pierce, it’s “anti-choice.” And with that, any pretention of objectivity or neutrality in his analysis died.
Let me stop right now and say, I agree with Pierce’s premise. Tebow’s religion is not off-limits to criticism. Christianity itself is not off-limits to criticism. If it couldn’t stand up to criticism it wouldn’t be worth believing in. The disappointing thing about this article is that it’s not a legitimate, thoughtful criticism. Therefore, let’s hack it up Fire Joe Morgan-style.
[Tebow] put his business in the street that way [by doing the Focus on the Family ad], and he did so by allying himself with the softer side of a movement that contains other organizations that the Southern Poverty Law Center, which knows about this stuff, recently designated as hate groups.
Mr. Pierce, what exactly is the movement you’re referring to? And what is its softer side? Whatever this movement is, apparently it includes other organizations that the Southern Poverty Law Center considers hate groups. If we couldn’t see his cards before, Pierce is now laying them on the table. While the SPLC has fought many important cases in the name of civil rights, they have a clear political agenda. Religious groups that make known that they don’t support gay rights are likely to end up on their blacklist.
Let us be quite clear — Tim Tebow adheres to a particular form of American Protestantism. He belongs to — and proselytizes for — a splinter of a splinter…
True. Not all churches or individuals who fall under the banner of Christianity believe the same things. Tebow is a Protestant.
…no more or less than Mitt Romney once did.
Is Pierce merely saying that Tebow hails from one branch of Christianity just as Romney hails from one branch of Mormonism? If so, ok, though I’m not sure Mormonism has that many different branches. It seems more likely that Pierce is saying that Mormonism is a type of Christianity. This is beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say, Mormonism is a completely different religion.
This particular splinter has a long record in America of fostering anti-Enlightenment thought, retrograde social policies, and, more discreetly, religious bigotry.
That’s a pretty harsh and audacious claim (or ad hominem fallacy, if you prefer). Just what is this odious, offensive brand of Christianity Tebow holds to? Pierce quotes from Tim’s Father’s ministry:
It is the goal of the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association to preach the gospel to every person who has never had an opportunity to hear the good news of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Most of the world’s population has never once had the opportunity to hear the only true message of forgiveness of sins by faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.
Oh-Em-Gee! How dare he!
It so happens that 95 percent of the population of the Philippines is Roman Catholic. Catholic doctrine just happens to be in conflict with what Bob Tebow and his son preach in regard to personal salvation…Bob Tebow’s goal is not to convert unbelievers. It is to supplant an existing form of Christianity. So who’s the actual Christian here? This is not an idle point to be made.
No, Mr. Pierce, it’s not idle point. It’s the crux upon which Evangelicals like the Tebows believe salvation rests: What is the gospel? The Tebows seek to convert Roman Catholics and others not so that their Christian club can be bigger than anyone else’s; they seek to convert because they believe people’s souls depend on it. This is where Pierce—and many others observing Christianity from a distance—misses the whole point. Evangelical ministries like Bob Tebow’s exist because they believe the gospel they preach—salvation through faith alone in Christ alone—is the only thing that saves people from hell. They believe the Roman Catholic gospel does not save. Whether a person accepts what they believe or not, one has to at least see the logic in what they do.
To borrow a metaphor, if a doctor knew his patient to have cancer, should he tell the patient or allow the patient to die for fear that the news might upset him? This is the situation Tebow finds himself in. Pierce may not believe that Tebow has the cure for cancer, or that the cancer even exists, but since he knows Tebow believes he has this cure, shouldn’t Pierce expect him to try to administer it? Isn’t that the decent thing to do? This is where Pierce either has a breakdown in logic or he simply (and aggressively) misreads the situation.
Pierce looks at history and sees the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity, from the Crusades to the Salem Witch Trials. He sees those claiming the name of Christ putting to death others who believe something different from them. He then reads this context into the efforts of Christians to convert others. His reading is a lazy and selective one. He makes efforts to note that Christendom is a tree with many branches, then appears to turn around and lump all branches that seek to convert together.
History says that as soon as you start talking about “the only true message” in this regard, you guarantee that, eventually, people will get slaughtered in the town square.
Yeah, Pierce. The founder of Christianity was nearly beaten to death, then hung on a cross while people mocked him. It’s a hill worth dying on. Just know that if the ones doing the slaughtering are doing so in the name of “the only true message,” they’re not followers of Christ.
One final nugget from this Grantland piece. Pierce recounts a story in which some high schoolers were suspended for “Tebowing” (dropping to one knee in a posture of prayer). Upon hearing the news, Tebow is quoted as saying, “You have to respect the position of authority and people that God has put in authority over you.” Pierce snidely remarks:
First of all, God is involving Himself in how they select principals to run the high schools on Long Island?
Charles, Charles, Charles. It would help if you read the book upon which the religious beliefs you’re criticizing are founded. The sovereignty of God is a foundational principle of Christianity. This is not deism you’re scrutinizing. The Christian God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). He’s a God who “removes kings and sets up kings” (Daniel 2:21). Yes, he is even in control of who the principals of high schools in Long Island are.
If religion comes into the public square, it is as vulnerable as any other human institution to be pelted with produce.
And apparently it’s as vulnerable to superficial analysis and ignorant misrepresentations as any other human institution. Thank you for showing us that, Mr. Pierce.