Michael Vick, sinner

vick flyWhat a country. What a culture.

It should be clear to just about anyone who reads major newspapers that we live in an age in which it is is safer to use religious language when describing secular sins than when describing what used to be called religious sins. It’s safer to talk about the sin of burning too much gasoline than the sin of lust. It is acceptable to judge certain secular forms of behavior, but not other forms of behavior that we have said are purely religious and private.

The media went through an interesting fit about this a decade or so ago when discussing President Bill Clinton’s attempts to repent in religious terms, while avoiding the secular consequences for those sins. Remember that?

Now we have the case of NFL superstar Michael Vick.

One of my favorite writers is Michael Wilbon of The Washington Post, in part because I am a big NBA fan and he is the best pro basketball writer alive. Period. No debates allowed. There are all kinds of issues that I am sure we do not agree on, but talent is talent and skill is skill and Wilbon is a fabulous writer.

So this makes we want to point out the following passage in his column today about the Vick tragedy that is unfolding before us. It is a kind of secular passion play. That’s me talking. Read what Wilbon wrote and note that there is no way to avoid the religious language.

Count the religious references. Go ahead:

If he says what arrogant athletes in trouble usually say, that this is behind him and it’s time to move on, his penitence will be insufficient. He’d better take the approach, and publicly, that his god isn’t finished with him yet and there’s a better man at the end of this regrettable process than at the beginning. Vick, clearly a man used to taking what he wants without fear of consequence, had better start begging quite literally for mercy and forgiveness. In public. Every chance he gets. We may be a forgiving culture, but only if people believe the sinner is genuinely contrite.

Of course, Vick has never been any good at these things. He’s never been lovable, never been charming or PR savvy. He’s rarely extended himself or been engaging publicly. But that’s where the rehabilitation of his reputation begins, with doing all the things he thought previously were beneath him. If he just remains the same old Michael Vick, he’s got no chance.

This is coming real, real close to stating the obvious. In effect, Wilbon is asking if this man can be born again. What is the secular version of being born again? What does that look like? How does he repent of these secular sins?

And one more thing. If Vick tried to sell a religious born-again experience at some point in his future, would Wilbon buy it? Would animal-rights people? Would I?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jerry

    I have to assume you’re using ‘born again’ in a secular context rather than a Christian one. But I suppose that’s understandable given that your point is the use of religious language for secular sins. I don’t follow sports, so maybe Vick’s crime is only secular rather than violating whatever religious beliefs he holds?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    What bothers me most about the passionate outcry against Vick in the media has finally come up in a few interviews on various cable news outlets.
    It seems there have been prominent sports figures involved in abusing, raping, or killing human beings and the sports stars involved were back in their sport (with endorsement loot flowing in again) within a very short time.
    Yet the attitude in the media–and among the public–seems to be that for doggy dispatching nothing less than career banishment will be acceptable.
    But shouldn’t a dog owner at least have the same right over its property as a pregnant woman has over her property in America (her unborn child ) to kill or dismember it if it is deemed as useless as a losing dog in the ring.

  • http://www.southern-orthodoxy.blogspot.com Fr Joseph Huneycutt

    It’s been said: “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

    Were he wise, he would donate a Gadzooks amount of dough to some animal rights group (or some such) … bow low, very low and often, and apologize profusely … tape some PSAs about doing the right thing and/or making amends when you don’t … Then do his time and eat all the humble pie he could stomach (and then some).

    THEN, maybe, just maybe … he could play in the CFL (that’s football with a “C”) once his time was done.

    That might be the path to “salvation.”

    Then again, this is America (where silk and sow are often indistinguishable — especially with athletes).

  • Chris Bolinger

    Wilbon: If he says what arrogant athletes in trouble usually say, that this is behind him and it’s time to move on, his penitence will be insufficient.

    Wilbon appears to want evidence of true repentance from an arrogant athlete. Can an athlete who remains arrogant truly be repentant in any area? Isn’t pride the foundation of all sin?

    Wilbon: He’d better take the approach, and publicly, that his god isn’t finished with him yet and there’s a better man at the end of this regrettable process than at the beginning.

    By referring to a process, Wilbon has transitioned from repentance (an act) to sanctification (a process). By telling Vick to state publicly that he is going through the process, Wilbon assumes that we’ll believe that Vick already has repented and truly turned away from his sin.

    Wilbon: Vick, clearly a man used to taking what he wants without fear of consequence, had better start begging quite literally for mercy and forgiveness. In public. Every chance he gets. We may be a forgiving culture, but only if people believe the sinner is genuinely contrite.

    To Wilbon, how Vick fares in the court of public opinion is much more important than Vick’s relationship with God. In Wilbon’s world, we the public are the judge of whether or not Vick has been “born again”. To rehabilitate his reputation, Vick must become PR-savvy. Whether or not he truly repents is inconsequential, according to Wilbon.

    Wilbon’s use of religious language should not obscure the fact that he sees no relationship between Vick’s religious convictions and Vick’s standing in the public eye. In other words, there’s no religion in Wilbon’s piece.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    CHRIS:

    Did you read my post? It is about the use of religious language IN A SECULAR CONTEXT.

    Language….

  • Chris Bolinger

    Yes, Terry, I read your post. You asked both “What is the secular version of being born again?” and “If Vick tried to sell a religious born-again experience at some point in his future, would Wilbon buy it?” So, to throw in a baseball analogy, you were covering both bases.

    My point, which I apparently didn’t make very well, is that Wilbon’s use of religious language is inconsistent. If you are going to use religious language, even in a secular context, then you need to get religion. Wilbon doesn’t.

    I like Wilbon, but I humbly disagree with you that he is the best pro basketball writer alive, even though I am not allowed to debate that. :-) Terry Pluto is a better writer than Wilbon on any sport, including NBA basketball. And Pluto gets religion.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Wilbon gets his chance to evaluate Vick’s apology. And Wilbon, animal-rights activists, and others get to decide if they “buy” Vick’s statement that he has found Jesus. I didn’t get the impression that Vick was selling anything yesterday. He spoke for four-and-a-half minutes without notes and seemed truly contrite. But what do I know?


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