Tim Tebow drove everybody crazy. His conspicuous religiosity, and the adulation it won him from so many quarters, was a kind of slow torture of Christian privilege for anyone who thinks faith should be a private thing.
Now there’s a new kid in town: Jeremy Lin, point guard for the New York Knicks. Lin, a Taiwanese-American born in California, graduated from Harvard with a degree in economics and a fierce desire to play professional basketball. Cementing his status as scrappy underdog, he went unrecognized for years in the NBA’s Development League, fighting for playing time. An injury and a blowout led to Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni giving Lin his chance and what resulted has been several weeks of “Linsanity.”
Because Lin is unabashedly Christian, he’s drawing comparisons to Tebow everywhere, from the New York Times to the Boston Globe. But from what I’ve seen so far, the similarities end there. With Tebow, we were used to a certain amount of derailing to talk about his Lord and Savior, as in this on-field interview:
That’s to say nothing of the Tebowing, the inscribing of Bible verses on his person, and the commercials for annoying Christian organizations. But so far, Jeremy Lin seems far more subdued in his expressions of faith.
While a recent report indicates that Lin wears a wristband reading “In Jesus Name I Play,” you wouldn’t know it since he doesn’t talk about it.
After watching a number of Lin’s postgame interviews on YouTube, one thing in particular strikes me. He never leads off with a declaration of faith like Tebow. In fact, the only context in which Lin seems to bring up his faith is when he’s asked about his feelings on his meteoric rise to fame, and he mentions God and Jesus in the context of extreme gratitude.
Do I think Jesus gave Lin the chance to play? No, I think Lin and, ultimately, D’Antoni gave Lin the chance to play. But Lin sincerely believes that the Man Upstairs handed him this opportunity, so I can understand his gratefulness.
Lin also isn’t known for kneeling to pray on the court. I’m not the only one who’s noticed his less showy brand of faith; Michael Luo of the New York Times has this to say:
[M]y gut tells me that Lin will not wind up like Tebow, mainly because Lin’s persona is so strikingly different. From talking to people who knew him through the Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Christian Fellowship, and watching his interviews, I have the sense that his is a quieter, potentially less polarizing but no less devout style of faith.
Like Lin, many Asian-American Christians have deep personal faith, but they are also, notably, almost never culture warriors. That is simply not what is emphasized in their churches and college Christian fellowships, including the one that played such a formative role in Lin’s life at Harvard.
Luo seems to believe, as an Asian-American Christian himself, that Lin’s reserved style of faith is rooted in his culture. All I can say, as an atheist sports fan, is that it’s refreshing not to feel like I’m being proselytized at. It’s clear that Lin has a deep personal faith, but he appears to keep it just that: personal. I don’t begrudge him the occasional mention of it in his interviews — these are his sincerely held beliefs, and as silly as I find them, I don’t think he needs to be silent about them. But at the same time, Lin seems to consider his beliefs relevant to one person, and one person only: himself. And that’s exactly as it should be.