What 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?