James Naismith Meet Jeremy Lin

by John Schmalzbauer, Missouri State University

(Earlier this week, Jerry Park explored the fascinating role of basketball in the lives of second-generation Asian Americans.)

More than any other player, Knicks superstar Jeremy Lin connects the game of basketball with its religious origins. Christened the “Taiwanese Tebow” for his outspoken evangelical Christianity, Lin would make basketball inventor James Naismith proud.

The story of Naismith’s peach baskets is a well-told tale. So is Lin’s religious testimony.

Less obvious is the connection between Naismith’s “muscular Christianity” and the campus ministry that nurtured Lin during his years at Harvard University.

An ordained Presbyterian minister, Naismith studied theology at Montreal’s McGill University. There he encountered North America’s first YMCA chapter. Convinced that “there might be other effective ways of doing good besides preaching,” he took a position at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. Influenced by the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg, he joined the school’s football team. Before each game, Stagg prayed for “God’s blessing on our game,” though not for victory. He also put Naismith at center because he could “do the meanest things in the most gentlemanly manner.”

During the winter of 1891, Naismith developed the game of basketball as a way of engaging a group of restless young boys.  From there it spread across the United States, borne by the networks of the YMCA. While largely focused on working-class youth, the Y also became the largest campus religious organization in the USA. According to historian George Marsden, one-fifth of college men belonged to the YMCA in 1905.

What does all this have to do with Jeremy Lin?  As an undergraduate, Lin participated in an Asian American chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. In 2010-2011, InterVarsity attracted over 36,000 students. Forty-four percent were ethnic minorities, reflecting a commitment to “ethnic reconciliation and justice” and the growing participation of Asian Americans.

Like the YMCA, InterVarsity was founded in England before migrating to Canada and the United States in a campus ministry British Invasion. During the thirties and forties, it helped fill a hole left by the decline of the collegiate Y.

Though InterVarsity’s leaders thought they were “pioneering a new thing,” its origins can be traced back to the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Union, an outgrowth of the same international Christian student movement that produced the YMCA. In other words, Naismith and Lin have common roots.

InterVarsity is rightly proud of its famous alumnus, posting a Jeremy Lin Valentine on its Facebook page. Other evangelical athletes have reached out to the young star, who now sports an “In Jesus Name I Play” bracelet.

Somewhere James Naismith is smiling.

  • John Schmalzbauer

    I’ve since learned that there is a more direct route from James Naismith to Jeremy Lin. Lin learned to play basketball at his local YMCA. Here are some photos: http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/Xm57Nw-issq/YMCA+in+Palo+Alto/oKW57Gsucma

  • danny bloom

    Is ‘faithism’ as dangerous as ‘racism’? Columnist seeks input

    If racism is the belief that inherent different traits in human racial groups justify discrimination, then faithism is the belief that belief in different gods or Gods justifies spiritualism discrimination in terms of who goes to heaven and who goes to hell, among other religious beliefs. In the modern English language, the term “racism” is used predominantly as a pejorative epithet. I am using “faithism” here as a pejorative epithet.

    Just as racism is applied to the practice or advocacy of racial discrimination of a pernicious nature (i.e. which harms particular groups of people), so too can faithism by used to justify claims of religious superiority by recourse to fathists’ holy books and scriptures. And while racism is popularly associated with various activities that are illegal or commonly considered harmful, such as extremism, hatred, xenophobia, separatism, racial supremacy, mass murder (for the purpose of genocide), genocide denial, vigilantism (hate crimes, terrorism), so too can faithism be associated with similar activities that are illegal or commonly harmful.

    Racism is not always a pernicious practice. Sometimes it was practiced with benign and benevolent intentions and even with religious blessings. In the same way, faithism is not always a pernicious practice. While harmful (but not illegal), faithism is often practiced with the best of noble intentions and as part of a religious command from elders in one’s faith community.

    According to the United Nations conventions, there is no distinction between the term ”racial discrimination” and ”ethnicity discrimination’.” At this point in human history, the U.N. has not tackled the issues of faithism that impact peoples around the world, but the global body is slowly moving in that direction.

    In politics, racism is commonly located on the far right due to the far right’s common association with nativism, racism, and xenophobia. However, racism has occurred in progressive politics such as the historical concept of the so-called ”White Man’s Burden” espoused by the British writer Rudyard Kipling that claimed that whites had a moral obligation to bring civilization to allegedly barbaric “savage” non-white societies that were deemed as backward in comparison to white societies. In addition, benevolent and liberal men such as John
    Stuart Mill once denounced Hindu civilization in India as a backwards feudal society and said that Europeans were superior in terms of development of civilization to Hindus, thus legitimizing the right of the British to imperial rule in India.

    In much the same way, faithism has been used by those on the far right to belittle and discriminate against faith communities that didn’t share the same belief in selected gods or Gods. In some tragic instances of history, such beliefs led to murder, pogroms and mass genocide in such places as Germany in the 1940s and Africa in the late 20the Century and early 21st Century.

    But faithism is not always malevolent. Sometimes it is the result of poor education or little misunderstandings based on mis-interpreted or mis-translated scriptural passages.

    Does faithism exist today? Sure. Does it exist in America? Sure. Does it exist in the rest of the world? For sure. Does it impact you at all? Tell me.

    Does faithism cause harm today to minority faith communities around the world that do not benefit from media backing and sponsorship? Sure it does. Tell me what you know.

    *
    Bloom is Taiwan bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World. He may be contacted at dan.bloom@sdjewishworld.com

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