R-Rated: The Lin-Tebow Problem
Let me put all doubts to rest: Jeremy Lin is the new Asian-American superstar of the NBA. He plays for the New York Knicks and has, out of the blue, led the Knicks to a 7-game winning streak and become an overnight sensation in the US. He’s also; wait for it, a practicing Roman Catholic.
In a recent article in the New York Times, the eminent journalist David Brooks spoke about how the new basketball sensation Jeremy Lin embodied the dichotomy that exits between the spiritual and the physical world. A large percentage of you are wondering who Jeremy Lin is. There’s a significant demographic probably wondering about what basketball is. Let me put all doubts to rest: Jeremy Lin is the new Asian-American superstar of the NBA. He plays for the New York Knicks and has, out of the blue, led the Knicks to a 7-game winning streak and become an overnight sensation in the US. He’s also; wait for it, a practicing Roman Catholic.
Amid the burgeoning rumours of a link-up with the highly exuberant (I wanted to say talented) Kim Kardashian, Lin’s Catholicism has become a national phenomenon. In the recent past, Tim Tebow, the starting quarter back for the NFL team the Denver Broncos, has become something of a sensation with his openness about his religious beliefs. The word ‘tebowing’ has become a symbol of kneeling down in prayer, in reference to Tebow’s tendency to kneel and pray before any major game. His devotion to this faith has resulted in him being named as the most desirable celebrity neighbour in America. This sudden conjunction of sport and faith in the United States raises a larger question I’d like to put forth to you, dear reader.
This religious showboating is an outcome of a world in which, I believe, we’ve adopted an aggressive public idea of faith. Now, whether or not you count yourself amongst the religious, there is a considerable majority that does. And there’s a considerable amount of violence and hatred that is executed in the name of religion. Think 9/11, think Norway. This perversion of faith that leads to a more divided society is partly, in my opinion, a product of religion becoming a central element of the public sphere.
There was a time when professional athletes were in the spotlight purely owing to their ability. Now we’re a society that’s interested in whether Jeremy Lin can reconcile his devotion to God and his devotion to sport. This is a personal, internal conflict that the American public are now obsessed with. Tebow has his share of critics but has become a celebrity owing to the fact that he is ‘courageous’ enough to step onto the pitch and pray rather than hide his faith in the locker room. Surely, he should be lauded (or criticised) for his ability.
This definitely has an American dimension to it. The atheists are a struggling minority but they’re starting to grow. Even conservatives are moving towards a more socially liberal stance. Same-sex marriages are being treated with greater respect. The evangelical right sees people like Tebow as rallying points, as symbols they can market and use to access a wider audience. This is anathema to any notion of faith itself.
In a secular society we cannot outlaw religious expression. However in a progressive society we shouldn’t exalt religious exhibitionism.