Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Answering Charles P. Pierce's Tebow Rant and Merril Hoge's Tebow Cant

by CWK

In Response to Charles P. Pierce's muddled criticism of Tebow...

First, a quote from Tim Keller:

...the minute one says, ‘All religions only see part of the truth,’ you are claiming the very knowledge you say no one else has. And they are demonstrating the same spiritual arrogance they so often accuse Christians of. In other words, to say all is relative, is itself a truth statement but dangerous because it uses smoke and mirrors to make itself sound more tolerant than the rest. Most folks who hold this view think they are more enlightened than those who hold to absolutes when in fact they are really just as strong in their belief system as everyone else. I do not think most of these folks are purposefully using trickery or bad motives. This is because they seem to have even convinced themselves of the “truth” of their position, even though they claim “truth” does not exist or at least can’t be known. Ironic isn’t it? The position is intellectually inconsistent...Ultimately, if you judge your doubts the same way you judge other peoples' religion, then you find yourself hoisted on your own petard. Right? Yes. It's just as arrogant to claim relativism, as it is to claim religious truth.

Second, a quote from Samuel Johnson:

The original and predominant error of (Mr. Charles P. Pierce’s) commentary is acquiescence in his first thoughts; that precipitation which is produced by consciousness of quick discernment; and that confidence which presumes to do, by surveying the surface, what labor only can perform, by penetrating the bottom.
I. Charles P. Pierce: the Missionary

Charles PP's article was so full of ignorant ideology that I can only say, to quote him, "This is childish. It is silly. And it also makes my head hurt." PP makes all the predictable errors of a man enslaved to postmodern thinking:  he condemns exclusive claims, but rather exclusively; he is critical, but not self-critical.

First, he condemns Tebow's allegiance to "(an) only true message," and fails to realize that he is also postulating an "only true message" of his own. He's just as much a bigot as he thinks Tebow is. After all, if we shouldn't condemn other's religious expression -- then why should he take the time to condemn Tebow's? If he really believed that we should just let other's espouse their religion openly, and without criticism -- well then, he'd take no notice of Tebow, and defer criticism. PP is arguing that Tebow is WRONG for arguing that others are WRONG, i.e. his own argument defeats his position: it is self-contradictory. It seems humble; it is the height of arrogance. It seems inclusive; it is the height of exclusivity. 

PP pretends to be against religious exclusivism, and he argues as much with the old song, "religious exclusivism starts wars." He fails to note that his own position is rather, umm, exclusive. In truth, it's not so much that PP is against espousing an exclusive religious perspective in public (he blatantly does this in his article). Rather, he is against Tebow espousing his exclusive religious perspective in public. 

PP pictures Tebow in the religious fray, and himself standing above it all: like a cool god, condemning 'poor' Tebow who just doesn't get it — but, actually, it is Pierce who doesn't get it. He's blind to his own presuppositions. He's right down in the fray with ‘poor’ Tebow clinging to his own little god, and preaching just as vehemently as Tebow preaches. He's miffed that Tebow publicly trumpets his views on religion. Yet PP does exactly the same thing; he isn't minding his own religious business; he publicly trumpets his views on religion at grantland.com. The difference? Tebow trumpets his views with grace, humor, and true humility; PP trumpets his with bitterness, sarcasm, and false humility. Both men have a trumpet. PP is trying to blow his more loudly while, at the same time, complaining that Tebow has a trumpet at all.

PP has a gospel; it is a sad one, and it's not really good news, but he has a perspective, and he is trying to evangelize the masses with his light. He’s every bit as much a missionary as Tebow. He is a secular missionary who condemns missionaries outside his ilk, and preachers outside his faith. At least Tebow embraces his calling as a preacher; in that, he is surely more sincere than PP. 

Now, if PP should happen to read this, let me be clear: Christianity, as set forth in the scripture, is TRUE: the true path to the true God. All other religions are, to one degree or another, FALSE: false and misleading paths away from the true God. If I could think of a more exclusivist way to put this, I would. Jesus did: I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life. So, I’m trying, as hard as I can, to say that Christianity is truly the truth: the one and only all-inclusive, exclusive, genuine, honest-to-goodness TRUTH. Yep, I said it. I wonder if PP would dare to contradict my statement. He can't win if he does. If he actually believes that no one should dare make exclusive statements about what is true/false in religion then he'll have to sit silently, and bite his tongue. If, on the other hand, he believes that HIS PERSPECTIVE is true... you guessed it: he's just like me, and he’s just like Tim Tebow. 

II. Search the Scriptures

If you read PP’s article carefully, you'll also see that he makes a curious misapplication of scripture. He refers to Mk. 1.35-38 as proof that "everyone gets tired of their own hype." For reals? That's what he thinks that passage means? I wonder how he'd feel if I freely interpreted his article -- as he does scripture -- to score a trite point. 

If he read Mk. 1.35-38 carefully, or even half-awake, he'd see that it actually commends the importance of PREACHING. Preaching. That is, the public proclamation of the word of Christ. 

35  there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out. 

Hmmm. Pierce's reference to scripture would be ironic if it weren't sooooo ironic as to belie the bounds of simple irony. Nah. Something more than irony is at work. Justice has come down on PP from his own hand. He thoughtlessly quotes a passage of scripture, as a proof-text, to buffer his argument, and maybe show that he also knows a thing or two about the Bible. Yet, that very passage contradicts the major premise of his article, and shows he knows nothing about the Bible. 

PP tries to use scripture (as an authority?) to deride Tebow's public preaching; meanwhile, that very passage of scripture extols the importance of public preaching. Yikes. PP does this interpretive slight of hand assuming, apparently, that the Holy Bible agrees with his bitterly skeptical perspective. His assumption is the fruit of prejudice. His prejudice is such that the world must agree with him. The whole world must bow to his perspective. In Pierce's cosmology, the cosmos sees things as he sees the cosmos; even God, in holy scripture, sees the cosmos as he sees the cosmos. Thus, it is fitting that he quotes a passage of scripture that so profoundly disagrees with him. How fitting. He calls God as his witness; God arrives as his Judge.

 III. Football and Theology

"We're all too smart for God these days, and to believe in Tim Tebow is to believe in God in a world that tells us that both are an impossibility. Well, screw the world. We need some new heroes. "

It shouldn't surprise us that Nate Jackson comes to theology. It shouldn't surprise us: everything is theological. Everything is theological: reading, writing, politics, wars, culture, music, AND SPORTS. Pierce is miffed because he believes religion causes some wars; he doesn't understand that religion causes all wars. Pierce is miffed that Tebow introduces Christian theology into the sports arena; he doesn't know that theology resides in every arena.

What you believe about God will shape everything that you do; what a culture believes about God influences every aspect of that culture, including sports: including football. PP has hit on the "main thing" about Tebow's place in the arena of Football, and the arena American culture: his beliefs about God. However, we shouldn't take this to mean that PP's approach is novel, or even surprising. By addressing Tebow's faith he is taking on what has been, all along, the main thing.

In addressing Tebow's theology, PP fancies himself bold, and innovative. He finds theology shocking because he generally sees God nowhere, and then — suddenly — sees God somewhere. Meanwhile, the Christian yawns; they see God everywhere. It’s not bold to proclaim, "God is somewhere"—  not bold at all when, in fact, God is everywhere.

Pierce's blindness to divine realities is well summarized in his opening creed. Note, he does have a creed: a standard he adheres to. His creed? "(Nothing) is sacred." He cites this creed to prove that Tebow's religious views are not sacred; they are, like everything else in his purview, open to questioning, and even mockery. Thus, nothing is sacred. Gotcha. Well, it stands to reason then, if nothing is sacred, that everything is profane. If so, then such a pronouncement says too much. If nothing is sacred, what's the point of saying, "Nothing is sacred?" Why even have a concept of "the sacred?" PP tears up his own creed even as he writes it. Some creed.

IV. The Great Divide

It's worth contemplating: why do critics like Charles P. Pierce and Merril Hodge have such an emotional response to Tebow? Read the Tebow critics and you'll note among many — not just objective critiques — but an undercurrent of bitterness. Among such critics, Merril Hoge leads the way with a passive-aggressive style of irritable irrationality and veiled vitriol.

Mr. Hoge has pulled narry a punch (including low-blows) in attacking Tebow. Hoge is a man who makes small things big. He sports gigantic tie loops on ESPN's Sports Center. He also sports gigantic verbage to condemn Tim Tebow, the sportsman. Every small mistake of Tebow is a fatal flaw: every interception, the worst in history; every stumble, an irrevocable fall. For Hoge, every pass — even a touchdown pass — is proof that Tebow can't throw a touchdown pass. For Hoge, every win is proof that Tebow can't win. Hoge is an examplar of how prejudice can cloud analysis. He is similar to Pierce in this regard. Both men have blinding prejudice which disables them from correctly seeing Tim Tebow.

Before the start of the 2011 season, Hoge proclaimed to the world via Twitter: "Sitting watching tape off bronco offense from last year! Orton or Tebow? It's embarrassing to think the broncos could win with tebow!!" 

Recently, Hoge was faced with the daunting reality of Tebow's impressive first full season as a starter. No longer able to plausibly attack Tebow's arm, he turned to Tebow's mind. 

Hoge asserted: “The more I studied him in an NFL setting, the more disturbed I was that he has no clue what he’s looking at... His IQ as a football player is not very good. That is why they have to come down and make it some of a college-form system that he’s comfortable with in Florida. He can’t execute, from a cerebral aspect, a pro-style system.” 

Wow. Is it possible to say anything more personal, more bitter, or more vicious than this? And what’s with the dramatics? “I was disturbed.” Make no mistake. Meril Hoge is labeling Tim Tebow, in the immortal words of pop-psychologist Charlie Murphy, "a functioning retard." How can Hoge speak like this of another human being? Even if Tebow were the worst possible football player in history, it would still be detestable to say this. If Hoge said this about any other athlete, he'd be in hot water with ESPN. What if he'd said this about a respected coach? Or, a commissioner? Good grief. ESPN suspended Scott Van Pelt for questioning Bud Selig's pay check. 

Admit it, Mr. Hoge. You. Just. Don't. Like. Tim. Tebow. Ya kinda despise him, dontcha? If attacking his mind doesn't work -- what next? I guess you will have to address his soul. Fear not, for I am about to address yours. The reason you don't care for Tebow has nothing to do with mechanics, or mental abilities, or skill. It is a spiritual issue. 

To Mr. Hoge, and Mr. Pierce, and to all the irrational and bitter critiques of Tebow, this I say.

Methinks the critics protest too much. Methinks they despise — not just Tebow — but the God he serves. It’s no good to say, as some critics do, “I am separating the man from the athlete.” You can’t do that. You can't separate Tebow the Christian from Tebow the athlete. He doesn't morph into a separate person when he puts on, or takes off, a football uniform. You can't splice a man apart like that. Tebow is many different things in one man; he is not one thing in many men. 

For my part, I admit it: I pull for Tim Tebow especially because he is a Christian. So what? Does this mean I can't evaluate his play on the field with impartiality? Maybe. Maybe not. At least I'm aware of my prior commitment, and such an admission enables me to more fairly evaluate his play: much more fairly than a supposed objective commentator who conceives of himself as a an impartial judge floating coldly through the world.

I'm tempted to go even a step further and say that "belief" in Tebow is connected to belief in God. I'm not just tempted; I will go a step further and say that, in the end, your disposition toward Tebow is inextricably related to your disposition toward the God he serves. Or, we might say, "If you believe in the true God, then you will likely to be favorable to Tebow." I know this won't be a popular position, but by now I have listened to hours and hours of commentary on Tebow, and I always walk away feeling like those who approach him positively are more friendly to Christianity. And — as for those who approach him the most negatively — to a man, they also slight his Christian profession. This trend surprised me. 

I was once naive enough to believe that sports commentators only cared about sports; they distance their religious personality from their profession, and then their profession from persons. Merill Hoge, for example, has vehemently professed it's nothing personal with Tebow. One blogger examined Hoge's Tweets on Tebow, and observed

Also, it needs to be said that the air of condescension is heavy within what Hoge said above. By capitalizing "FOOTBALL"  has he did, Hoge was trying to stress (perhaps hide behind) the assumption that his criticisms are football related. It's one thing to say it, but to unwaveringly cling to his position - relish it - as he did, that's when it becomes personal and not just about football. Even in text form, his tweets were sopping with that "passion" (remember all those exclamation points?).

I once believed sports commentators had nothing personal against Tebow because, in a myriad different ways, these men vowed thus. Then, I came to believe they did have something personal against Tebow. Now, I'm convinced that their perspective is even more personal — not so much with Tebow, as with his (and my) God. You can't separate a man from his God. In short, if you love Jesus, you will love his followers, and Tim Tebow is one of his followers (John 13.34-35; John 15:18). I don't mean "love" in the sense of, a) You will become a football fan, b) You will become a Denver Broncos fan, c) You will be convinced that Tim Tebow is the best quarterback in the NFL. Rather, by "love," I mean you will be favorably disposed toward — and long for the well-being of — Tim Tebow (and all other Christians). 

Yep, I said it. I said that The Sport’s World’s (and this culture's) disposition toward Tim Tebow is, in reality, a divide between Christians and Pagans. That's why Tebow has inspired, on the one hand, such affection, and on the other hand, such irrational bitterness. I know this will be among the most unpopular things I've ever written. I know, and I don't care. 

Nate Jackson put it well:

"We're all too smart for God these days, and to believe in Tim Tebow is to believe in God in a world that tells us that both are an impossibility. Well, (forget) the world. We need some new heroes."

Note to reader in the interest of blog integrity: I appropriated sections of this post in a longer post dealing specifically with Merril Hoge's disposition toward Tebow.

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