The Possibility of Tebowmania and Linsanity

In The Jeremy Lin Problem, David Brooks argued that an underlying problem exists for religious professional athletes. He wrote, “the moral ethos of sport is in tension with the moral ethos of faith,” making the false assumption that only non-religious people can play sports because they don’t have moral decision-making dilemmas. He also states that the primary virtue of an athlete is courage and that a person of faith can’t “seek to win,” “beat his opponents,” “avoid the oblivion that goes with defeat” or “set a goal and climb towards greatness” because they must “surrender to God.” There are many false premises Brooks makes but perhaps the most glaring is his misunderstanding of the Christian faith.

Like the famous NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, Lin is an evangelical Christian who often mentions his faith when interviewed.

Brooks and many others fail to understand that the primary purpose of being a Christian is to glorify God in all that one does and to enjoy God forever. Glorifying God means esteeming, adoring, loving, and dedicating one’s self to Him, despite the outcome.

For a Christian, one’s primary virtue is faith in Christ, which fosters humility in knowing that God is in control of all of life. Christians do of course worry (after all, they are human), but ultimately, they pray for guidance and for God to do for them that which they cannot do for themselves.

For Lin, Tebow and other Christian athletes, winning is not about pride or ego; it’s about glorifying God.

In the movie “Chariots of Fire,” based on a true story, Eric Little, the famous Scottish early 20th century Olympian runner said: “I believe that God made me for a purpose. But he also made me fast. When I run, I feel his pleasure.” Feeling God’s pleasure, for Little was better than winning.

Athleticism is not mutually exclusive from one’s faith. God’s glory is revealed in all of a Christian’s life — in their effort, attitude and ability to let go of the results. This is why Lin recently said in a Sports Illustrated interview about his success, “I’ve surrendered that [success] to God. I’m not in a battle with what everybody else thinks anymore.”

Part of the problem with Brooks’ analysis is that he creates a false dichotomy between winning and losing and having faith in God. The great truth about man’s ultimate purpose — that of glorifying God — is that there is much more to a sport than just winning or losing. Brooks assumes that winning and losing is all that there is. One of the freedoms a Christian has is the ability to compete without holding on to the outcome of winning or losing — because when one loves God, the joy of knowing God overcomes any fear or false fear that often accompanies an athlete.

This is why Tebow says in Through My Eyes:

You and I were created by God to be so much more than normal. … Following the crowd is not a winning approach to life. In the end it’s a loser’s game, because we never become who God created us to be by trying to be like everybody else.”

It is difficult to support the blatant generalization Brooks makes that “morality and sports are irreconcilable” because it is possible for an athlete to do the morally right thing and compete at the same time. Yet, his argument is fatally flawed when it comes to faith because he equates faith and morality, which are two different things. Faith in God goes beyond seeking to do that which is right or good. This is why it is possible for faith to reconcile with all areas of life because God is the author of both faith and life.

Lin, Tebow and other Christians’ achievements are possible because they know that God is the author of their talent, faith and inspiration, and they desire to feel God’s pleasure in what they do.

April 3, 2012

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