In August 2009 I wrote a post about Tim Tebow. In it, I pointed out the rabid anti-Catholicism embedded in his father’s protestant-evangelical mission in the Philippines.
What I never could have imagined then was that Tebow’s celebrity would only surge from that point forward. To my amusement and embarrassment, it is the most read post I have ever written here by a lot—a whole lot.
This week, we find ourselves in total Tebowmania. The evidence is everywhere: Sportscenter is reportedly running full shows dedicated to Tebow today; message boards and comment boxes are piling up with praise and hatred from all sides; Twitter had a record number of tweets-per-second after Tebow led the Denver Broncos to their upset win over Pittsburgh.
Tim Tebow is the most over-hyped, divisive, adored, celebrated, celebrity-athlete we’ve seen since LeBron James took his talents to Miami. (And I would argue that Tebowmania dwarfs “The Decision” by a lot.) This season, I found myself rooting for him casually at first, as a fun side-show, and eventually, by this point, salivating at the idea of him beating the New England Patriots. I admit it: I too, am something of a Tebowmaniac at this point.
Even I—who wrote that post a few years ago—cannot help but giggle and smile at the unlikely coincidence that his big, playoff win came with 316 total passing yards, averaging 31.6 yards per throw.
On the surface, Tim Tebow seems so easy to root for. He works hard against serious odds (his throwing motion is not pretty but his work ethic is) and plenty of doubters; he’s clean cut, doesn’t cuss or get arrested. His image is, at first glance, spotless. Even better: he’s a quintessential underdog.
Because of this prima facie view of Tim Tebow, many wonder what makes him so reviled, hated, and ridiculed. Many incredulous fans want to know what is so divisive about Tebow, beyond the ordinary divisiveness of sports.
The answer is obvious and theological. (It also points to my paradoxical position as a critic of the Tebow family’s ministry, but a Tebow fanatic nonetheless.) Here’s the answer: No one likes to root for someone who probably thinks they are damned to hell.
As a US Catholic, I would be worse than most Catholics in the Philippines “who have never heard the Gospel” (verbatim from The Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association). The soteriological implications are clear, even to me, a (proud) pagan Catholic: as someone who has heard the Gospel in the protestant-evangelical nest of the United States, I am surely damned to hell.
Nonetheless, I root for Tebow for some, strange reason. For no reason at all. A feeling, a hunch, or just for kicks. Akrasia maybe.
At the same time, I am not surprised at those who despise him. I don’t personally hate him for probably thinking I am going to hell, I just think he’s wrong, naive, and silly. In fact, I hope he doesn’t really believe that. But, when I really think about it, it does tend to piss me off.
Don’t be fooled by the silly secular objections to his outward faith, his pious interviews, and alike: the reason nonprotestant-evangelicals don’t like Tebow is rooted in his theology, not his press conferences or genuflecting. Again, with feeling: No one really likes to root for someone who might think they are damned to hell.
The question becomes personal: what the hell am I doing rooting for Tebow?!?!
The other question is more serious: why do faithful Catholics fail to see the obvious contradiction in letting their social and political affiliations blend so closely to those whose theology damns them?