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Super Bowl XLVI will likely escape a God connection this year. While references to a “Hail Mary pass” always crop up in football jargon, this year the contest will be played without Tim Tebow. Tebow’s Denver Broncos went further than expected, largely because of last-minute heroics from their leader.
The kick-up is about his overt display of prayer while on the playing field and his penchant to attribute athletic success to God’s Holy Will.
Some think it a wonderful form of evangelical faith; some think it exaggerated posturing. A more provocative issue is whether Tebow’s praying and piety CAUSE football victories.
Did the Broncos win because Tebow is holier than other quarterbacks? Did they lose because he has committed a sin? Or has his faith nothing to do with football?
Strangely enough, these were the same sort of questions asked about St. Joan of Arc, the “Maid of Orléans,” who led French troops against the English during the Hundred Years’ War.
Of course, a century-long war is of greater importance in history than this year’s Super Bowl, but people of faith have always wondered about how closely God follows politics and personal affairs. Remember that if you say God is on only one side – armies or teams – you equate the Divinity with human advantage. If victory proves God’s presence, then defeat proves His absence.
Joan’s English foes refused to treat her as a saint who heard heavenly voices; instead they considered her a witch who conjured up evil spirits. The English Catholics simply could not stomach the conclusion that God favored the French Catholics.
An atheist might invoke a pox on both houses. God could not be on the side of either the French or the English because God does not exist. From a rationalist atheistic perspective, the “voices” that Joan heard and soldiers’ belief that she heard them is nonsense. Joan’s leadership to victory was not a matter of battlefield strategy – she herself admitted as much. But her conviction built up the morale of the common soldiers.
The French won in battles they were supposed to lose (e.g., lifting the Siege of Orléans, May1429) because seeing this teenage girl at the head of the troops carrying the white banner of the nation gave them a confidence and vigor in war that they had sadly lacked in previous engagements against the English. Thus explained, the psychological factors of victory are completely reconcilable with contemporary science, and are to be preferred to a religious explanation. Such rationalizing can be applied to Joan of Arc – and also to Tim Tebow.
However saying that “The religious impact was not religious, but merely psychological” becomes a circular argument.
It is foreign to Catholic theology because we hold “grace perfects nature.” An impact that is religious, we would argue, is simultaneously psychological because our religion is incarnational. Faith manifests itself by producing measurable human effects.
Thus, it is a foolish denial of reality to argue that Joan of Arc or Tim Tebow would have behaved the same way even if they had not been religiously motivated. The fact is they WERE religiously motivated. That is the wisdom of religion: it encompasses the spiritual dimension of human existence and doesn’t reduce our humanity to mechanical predictability.
I have seen no evidence that Mr. Tebow thinks he is holier than other players. He acknowledges mistakes on the l field and recently withdrew participation with an enterprising pastor much too eager to use the star to boost attendance at a religious rally.
Without sharing Tebow’s evangelical theology, I am led to surmise he prays on the field not only in thanksgiving for success but also to witness his faith, hoping that example might incline others to believe.
If he concludes his actions do more to turn people off than to motivate them, I think he will tone down the piety. After all, that’s Jesus instruction (Mt. 6:5-8). Meanwhile, considering the goofy gyrations of other “end zone demonstrations,” pause for prayer provides sane relief.