Is God interested in the Denver Broncos?
Published on: March 7, 2012
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  • Jbird

    As an athlete at a Christian High School we would pray as a group before games for health and safety and that God would be glorified through our actions and sportsmanship. Demanding victory seems in bad form.

    At the same time, the question of does God care about a football game is an interesting one. I am of an age that Orel Hersheiser was on a historic streak in baseball and in every interview he prominently acknowledged Jesus Christ. So, this is not a new question. The Bible teaches that God is omnipotent and omnipresent as well as personal and intimate. The Sermon on the Mount tells us we should not worry about food and clothing if God cared enough to provide those things for the birds and the flowers. The old hymn reminds us, “His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me”.

    My personal take is that God is not concerned with wins and loses for the sake of team standings but rather, like my old high school prayers, that His name be glorified. Sometimes that glory is from the fame of victory and sometimes that glory comes from how a Christian handles defeat.

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    I wonder if anyone has offered that Evangelical Christianity is an example of what social psychologist Leon Festinger called Cognitive Dissonance Theory in response to religious and social pluralism?

    Evangelicals want to proselytize and witness. In other words, as there is a perceived threat to their beliefs from pluralism their beliefs get stronger – not weaker (as predicted by cognitive dissonance theory). This manifests itself in proselytizing and witnessing activities.

    So Evangelical Christianity would not necessarily be a backward form of Christianity but thoroughly a modern response to the cognitive social order.

  • Anthony

    “The astounding message of religion (at least of the three great monotheistic traditions) is that God is indeed interested in the affairs of this earth, that he listens to the prayers of its inhabitants, and that he does at times intervene (directly or indirectly).” Granting aforementioned proposition, Tebow and Lin’s demonstration of faith reflects neither
    Broncos nor Knicks outcome as much as acculturation revealed via protestantism – a sign to refer to something greater.

    Also, following up on Peter Berger’s implication, trivial events may start causal chain – implication being Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin instruments facilitating potentially huge consequences transcending chaos theory…

  • Peter Thomas

    You claim not to be interested in (dis)proving the existence of God (which is obviously a task beyond the confines of a modest blog!)and resist providing a definite conclusion but surely the sheer notion that god would be interested in the trivial events of our planet indicates how egocentric such faiths. Indeed, not only does god take an interest in trivial tasks but he privileges them (and our lives) over those on all other species on the planet. Not only that but he has given us the special powers to be aware of his/her presence. And while I don’t think religion in and of itself is a bad thing, its depiction of and belief in god is incredible.

  • Peter Thomas

    Also, Tebow’s notoriety is also in part due to him and his mother featuring in anti-abortion ad aired during the Superbowl in 2010 – helps explain why he is as much admired as reviled right now.

  • Jbird

    Mr. Thomas: I think most Christians would agree with you. The “. . .depiction of and belief in god is incredible”. It’s a feature, not a glitch.

  • Kris

    [email protected]: “Surely the sheer notion that god would be interested in the trivial events of our planet indicates how egocentric such faiths.”

    Have you fully thought this through? Since the God we’re positing has created this universe, he presumably has some kind of interest in it, and since he is infinitely capable, paying attention to the “trivial events of our planet” requires an infinitesimal effort of him.

  • Kris

    [email protected]: Yes, that “anti-abortion” ad certainly didn’t play well with
    “pro-abortion” people.

  • Dan

    You write that you were unable to find out what Tebow is praying for while he is ‘tebowing. I find this puzzling, because in the stories I’ve read, Tebow makes it plain he thanks God for the opportunity to compete and take part in a game he loves. He doesn’t pray for his team to win. … I wish that if you would write about this subject you would do your homework. … And yes, many Asians are evangelical. Again, please do not act surprised by something that is well known.

  • Heaterman

    God? Interested in us as individuals? It does indeed stretch the concept of a Being so magnificent and so awesome that He was able to create everything from nothing.
    But the Bible tells us many things about God and His nature. The most often repeated attribute found is that “God is Love”. He is the root from which the word itself springs, the only true source of it and all that He does is because of it. His desire is to live with His people because of His love for them. His interest in individual lives is therefore not surprising.

  • Enten Eller

    “If God exists, he is not a partisan of any American football or basketball team.”

    But His Mother is: Notre Dame.

  • Tebow and Lin are a perfect blend of “religion and other curiosities.” And having been on my knees with professional football players in pre-game, half-time and post game prayer circles, what Berger writes adds to his insights into his life long study of relativism and religion and the question of what makes a good society, especially in this day of globalized modernization and how technology is to be used to serve or destroy.

    Professional sports players are different from the rest of us: they are in far better physical shape and are often far more focused, especially those post-injury rehabbing their way back into playing. The works outs they go through are incredible. And those that missed getting drafted continue to work out, on their own, in local gyms, for hours daily, waiting for the phone to ring to invite them to the big dance.

    In 2000 and 2001, I was privileged to be invited to attend the Training camp of the Minnesota Vikings. In 2009-2010, I was privileged again to be invited to be on staff all season with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League, stocked with players all hoping to be recognized and invited to an NFL team. In 2010, on the way to our first away game, Coach called me forward and asked me to speak at the service (that he has always made available to players; no liturgy, just meditation / homily with discussion and prayer), as the chaplain invited to do so from that city could not make it. Coach came to the service. Afterwards he said, take all the rest, home and away.

    So what do professional ball players pray for? Jbird is correct in saying its not about winning or losing (although to a man they really want to win). They pray most for doing their best and for not being injured (as either can lead to being cut and cuts can end the career they have worked so hard to achieve). Dan missed the articles that tried to paint Tebow praying for victory (not to mention the YouTube campaign of “Tebow’s girl friend”, picturing a young woman with ample voluptuousness and innuendos).

    Many fans as well as casual observers or couch potatoes don’t realize that football games, in terms of actual “battle” are less than 12 minutes long (the total of time bursts between snaps and whistles). That’s six minutes on offense, six minutes on defense. The same ratio is true in baseball: half the time they are in the dug out and most of the other half they are standing around watching the pitcher, batter, and catcher. Basketball and hockey are in constant motion but not many collisions (and those that do occur are usually not from opposite directions creating twice the speed and force of impact, as in football). Football is purposefully a collision sport. Prayers about being able to continue to play thus displace prayers for victory.

    This is why the so-called “combine” and practice “walk thru’s” tell only a small part of a player’s potential. You don’t really know what’s on a player’s mind until he is in the game, colliding. Who can deliver a hit? Who can take a hit? Instant Darwinian rating. Players are thankful for the opportunity to play (only 8 out of every 10,000 high school football players make the NFL, which is why there were so many great players in the UFL hoping to use it as a stepping stone to the NFL), but they are also mindful of the courage required to collide. They pray to excel, to do their best, and not to be injured in the process. Their worst nightmare: having a bad game (dropping passes, fumbling, missing tackles) and then getting cut. I can attest to that. One of my jobs was to drive cut players to the airport.

    There was always a core group that attended the weekly services and a much larger group kneeling on the field after a game, and all knelt at the beginning of each half in the locker room and in ending the post game coach’s talk. So it is not the kneeling, the Tebowing, that is key. It is what this kneeler symbolizes in the culture war (being a virgin is a huge scandal for the free love, free sex advocates, as is being “pro-life”) and the warring debate over the size of government and whether government is best exercised in the states and municipalities or centralized in Washington (and not in homes, Luther’s favorite place for learning).

    Tebow and Linn are, pun intended, merely the latest political footballs being tossed around for either gains in yardage or interceptions in the larger game of deciding which direction for society, whether global or local, in the culture wars.

    From Berger’s hypothesis, we can conclude, if God exists, that he is not partisan, i.e., is inclusive not exclusive, then he is indeed interested in how we work out our own “imitations of Christ” in our own lives as the high profile Tebow and Linn are doing. From this logic we could say that the clockwork universe makes it easy for God to deal with human affairs as the affairs of “nature” have been put in place with his immutable laws, even when we misinterpret those laws or believe human agency can control them.

    Prayer is indeed the most astounding messaged of religion, even when misused to tempt misguided adventures or to control believers. Does he intervene? C.S. Lewis said coincidences are miracles. Berger might call them signals of transcendence. It leads to the “audacious idea” (what a marvelous term) “that the universe is ultimately benign” (admittedly harder to believe by those who rebuild in flood plains, tornado alleys, and other places of recurring “natural disasters” and still expect God to protect them).

    Homeschooled Tebow is a “scandal” to those who believe education can only be obtained under government K-12 auspices. Tebow is also a scandal to those who don’t want the idea of “choice” to be anything but a kumbaya woman’s decision issue, as opposed to the choice to define abortion as murder, as Bonheoffer did and as Martin Luther King’s niece says he did.

    Lin is a scandal, as it goes against the notion that Asians are at least Buddhists or something else, but not Christian. Not being Christian is important to one side of the culture wars (not a term I like, but we are stuck with it), as a belief in God prevents throwing out the belief in natural law and the notion that men alone are not the ultimate authority (never good news to actual or would be authoritarians). Contrary to what Dan says, many people have not been aware of Asian Pentecostals, let along Asian Christians, and let alone Pentecostals in Africa and Latin America.

    Tebow and Linn bear witness, to believers and non believers alike, that human beings can soar with their imaginations and thoughts and expose the reality that God, to use Sally Fields’ phrase, “really likes” us and cares, even about football and basketball player and their fans.

    And fans are key to the witness/anti-witness forces. TV and all the communication platforms now make it all the more important for culture warriors to win the hearts and minds of the fans. The players have a huge impact on the fans. Hence, those that don’t like what Tebow and Linn stand for heap on more derision, as Tebow, Linn, and other players are also influencers in the broader culture. When you include fans (who often pray for victory), you have now gathered the full community of athletic faithful, the last place where Americans can gather together and oppose each other, being for or against a team and calling the other guy an idiot for liking whatever team he favors, as this shared passion brings people together under the umbrella of water cooler talk, sports, providing an outlet to emotions which, if applied to George Bernard Shaw’s preferred but now shunned topics of politics, religion and sex, would result in acrimony, not joyous community.

    Hence some of my favorite Berger terms and “clue concepts” into his thinking are in his subtitles, such as: “political ethics and social change,” “prosperity, equality, liberty,” “visions, strategies and realities,” “a humanistic perspective,” “how to have convictions without becoming a fanatic,” “the comic dimension of human experience” (which reminds us again of his statement that “nothing should be taken so seriously that it supercede the capacity for laughter”), and my new favorite, “how to explain the world without becoming a bore.”

    So Berger isn’t really asking if God is interested in the Denver Broncos and thus taking action to help them win or lose, but, if God exists, he is showing his interest in his creation in general and humans in particular. Those who used the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 to proclaim God’s disinterest, if not death, are mimicked by those using the God is Dead theology of the 1960s or the Tsunami that battered Japan in 2011 for the same purpose, to suggest God doesn’t exist, but if he does is not benign but evil, so kill him in your mind.

    It bugs people to think that Tebow and Linn actually engage in “the imitation of Christ”, as Thomas a Kempis would phrase it, or seek to have what a popular Christian contemporary song says, “I hope you see Jesus in me. ” Saint Francis admonished, “preach the gospel and, when necessary use words.” In a word, they are role models. Tebow drops to a knee. Many receivers, after catching a touchdown pass, point one finger to the sky. At the end of games players kneel in giant prayer circles. In and of themselves, trivial. But as pictures on TV, worth a million words in the culture wars.

    The isolated trivial Tebowing becomes, on national/world wide TV, far from trivial, as such pictures set up causal chains with huge perceptual and cognitive consequences, just as the use of the Internet and social media have in the political “springs” popping up around the world, providing chaos for authoritarians and hope to those seeking to depose authoritarians.

  • A P.S.
    According to my notes, I left out a key dynamic in the question raised about whether God is interested in the Denver Broncos/Tim Tebow. To borrow a phrase from two movies, was there, for Tim Tebow, an “angel in the outfield?” In the play/movie Damn Yankees, a baseball fan, in a Faustian bargain, was granted his wish to play so well he could beat “the damn yankees.” Did Tebow have an angel sitting on his shoulder, doing God’s will to make Tebow a winner, as if he couldn’t do it on his own?

    Because there were many doubters (Tebow can’t make it in the NFL), the fact that he did caused concern. His “mechanics” (how he holds his arm for the throwing motion of reaching back and then coming forward to release the ball, including arm rotation and hand position during and after release) was questioned even when he was in college, despite his leading his team to a national championship and being the first sophomore ever to win the Heisman Trophy. He did not start. He acquired his starting job the way many have, due to injury/poor play by the starter.

    The frenzy was caused not only by his winning, but by his “finishes:” coming behind to win in the last part of the last quarter, hence, “miracle” finishes. Were these miracles? The hand of God? Answer to prayers to win? Recall he “Tebows” only after he scores.

    The causal connection of his Tebowing has involved both other players doing it after scoring, and, given all the comic talk show hosts making fun of it, calling attention to it such that some say it has catalyzed Sunday morning church going.

    Tebow is an evangelist’s dream: he causes people to look up Bible verses.

    In the 2009 national Championship Game, Tebow wore John 3:16 on his eye black. Over the next 24 hours, John 3:16 generated the highest-ranked Google search term (over 90 million searches). When Tebow switched to another verse, there were 3.43 million searches of “Tim Tebow” and “Proverbs 3:5-6” together.

    In the first play-off game of 2011, Tebow led the Broncos to a win (they lost the next game). Remember John 3:16? In this win, Tebow set records, including an NFL playoff game record for yards per completion: 31.6. He also threw for 316 yards. The Nielsen ratings for the game peaked at 31.6. The next morning, John 3:16 was the top search item on Google, followed by Tebow and Tim Tebow. A sign of God’s interest?

    Does it matter whether God, if he exists, is interested in the Denver Broncos? What we know that matters is this: Tim Tebow has caused tens of millions to search the Bible, contributing, perhaps, to actions that could lead to helping repair the universe.

  • ID

    I don’t know if God likes Tebow or Lin but I do know he hates Anthony.

  • WigWag

    Looks like G-d doesn’t like Tim Tebow anymore. He’s just been replaced as the quarterback of the Broncos by Peyton Manning. Or maybe G-d is a Bronco fan and he really, really, really wants them to win the Super Bowl so he influenced Manning to sign with the Broncos instead of the Forty Niners. If he wants to, he can do that you know. The deity has his methods.

  • Gene Callahan

    Peter Thomas wins the most ignorant theological commentary of the month award!

  • qet

    Thank you for this exceptional and highly valuable (even, or should I say especially to one like me who has tried to follow the ball in all of this over the past few years) series. A few points. First, and by far the most important: can we all agree on a definitive English transliteration of the Arabic alphabet? I have seen Hezbollah, Hizbollah, Hisbollah and now Hizballah. How can the US be expected to conduct effective diplomacy in the region if we can’t even agree on the spelling of the name of a principal antagonist? Secondly, the US appears to have inverted Spengler’s principle that the sole purpose of a domestic politics is to effect a foreign politics. Garfinkle’s analysis is so convincing without being or seeming partisan that one wonders why it and more like it are not getting more attention. Instead, the chief US media organs (and why they are still chief is beyond me) continue to purvey through their undisguised partisan journalists, op-ed writers and talking heads a sort of midsummer night’s dream of the world where, as another incapable member of the Admin’s current FP team, Samantha Power, holds, effective US foreign policy in the Middle East (and elsewhere) consists merely in “naming and shaming.” No doubt she also believes that Putin, like Professor Snape, is really working for our side, and wants nothing other than to be recognized as the greatest witch of her age. Third, I am somewhat nonplussed over the role of the surrounding Arab states in all this. I fully endorse Garfinkle’s admonition in Part 1 that Middle Eastern nations and peoples are fully free agents with their own politics and histories and responsible for their own destinies. So how is it, then, that a few years ago Turkey was poised to act on the Syrian crisis but didn’t owing to US waffling? What about Saudi Arabia, now mad at us for our dithering? Egypt? Sure, Egypt has its own not-quite civil war, but so did Revolutionary France when its armies were marching all over Europe. What is preventing such nations from intervening on the side of the rebels even as the US hesitates?

    • mc

      Hizbullah is correct; each of the variants though has an interesting reason for survival.

      • Kavanna

        Yes, it’s close. It doesn’t capture the near-silent stops and gutturals of Arabic, though.

        The silent stops have disappeared in Hebrew, but gutturals remain, at least in Hebrew spoken by Jews from Arabic countries.

        • mc

          There aren’t any such sounds in Hizbullah–all sounds save the initial “h” are familiar to speakers of English. The gutturals you are referring to are laryngeal consonants; these disappeared from Indo-European languages around the time Hittite became extinct.

      • Andrew Allison

        No it isn’t. Per the FAM Style Guide (what DoD uses for training materials) it’s Hezbollah.

        • mc

          You sound awfully sure out yourself. DOD is almost willfully foolish with languages–calling Persian “Farsi” just to suck up to the Shah is one notorious example. Why they would prefer “o” (which doesn’t exist in written Arabic) to “u” (which does) is a mystery that might require excavating Arlington Hall to address. Or it could be that at one point Hizbullah wanted to make themselves sound special by persianizing the transliteration and DOD followed suit. No telling with any of them.

          • Andrew Allison
          • mc

            Andrew–these are languages I speak, write, and teach. Persian has forever been known as Persian; if you take a class in the language at a reputable university you will be studying Persian, not Farsi, for the same reason you would study Italian or German, not Italiano or Deutsch. Your DOD might decide one day to call Santa Claus Jumbo Jimbo, but to the world he’ll remain Santa. Now please stop it, you’re sounding like a teenager with a bug in his ear.

          • Andrew Allison

            And you like a arrogant pendant. The are two “Persian” languages, Farsi and Dari. From the link which I provided, and you obviously didn’t bother to look at, “Total numbers of speakers is high: over 40 million Farsi speakers (about 60% of Iran’s population); over 14 million Dari Persian speakers in Afghanistan (50% of the population according to CIA World FactBook & Britannica); and about 2 million Dari Persian speakers in Pakistan.” Which “Persian” do you speak and teach? Had you supervised the development by native speakers of curricula for the teaching of both, you would know the difference.

    • TommyTwo

      “Can we all agree on a definitive English transliteration of the Arabic alphabet? I have seen Hezbollah, Hizbollah, Hisbollah and now Hizballah.”

      That is the true reason for the Western intervention in Libya: we had enough of the aggravation of choosing amongst Qaddhafi, Qaddafi, Gaddafi, Kaddafi, Khadafy, Qadhafi, Qadaffi, and Gadaffi, Qathafi, Qadhdhafi, etc.

      This is also why Assad is sitting pretty.

      حزب الله‎, on the other hand, should be worried.

      • Anthony

        Tommy, for my instruction who or what is subject that should be worried?

        • TommyTwo

          Hizbollah. (As per my humorous comment; in the real world, it is the idea that they should be worried about an American or European attack that is laughable.)

          (By the way, qet, I had a brief look at a few official or quasi-official Hizbollah web sites. Some of them have three different spelling variants within literally 3 inches of each other.)

          • Anthony


      • Andrew Allison

        Que syrah, shiraz! What the world needs now is his-and-her-bollah.

  • Anthony

    Oh, how deceptively wonderful it must be to camouflage our partisanship/ideology under the guise of exhorting Adam Garfinkle’s Levant expertise (well demonstrated in current four essays). Such a display certainly reveals internal standards of correctness every bit as character deforming as the ones we assail daily. Doctrinaire, Doctrinaire, Doctrinaire…. (accurate sense over time)

    • qet

      Can you elaborate on this?

      • Anthony

        What needs elaboration?

        • qet

          Whose partisanship is being camouflaged, and by what? What are the internal standards of correctness you detect, and from whom are they emanating? Who is the doctrinaire and what is the doctrine?

          • Anthony

            To vague my man and and obviously too personal (we are quick to discern the mistakes and defects of others but ourselves not too quickly – I also am guilty in that respect), As for the above, Res ipsa loquitur. And sorry for delay in reply, I was away.

  • Boritz

    Who do you want on the postage stamp? The young “in the manner of Ghengis Kahn ” Kerry or the current elder statesman? Great article but that’s my only question about the SOS.

  • TommyTwo

    “In all fairness, Syria was always a hard problem.”

    Indeed, and I don’t claim to know the best solution. The Administration could have chosen one of several different alternatives, including non-involvement, and I would have considered any legitimate and reasonable.

    Unfortunately, what the Administration chose to do is to unnecessarily marry minimal involvement with tough posturing (“Assad must go,” red lines, etc), thus damaging American credibility. From now on, when the President of the United States of America, leader of the free world, stands up and makes a forceful statement, it is more likely to be seen by friends and foes as nothing but pious wishes (ie claptrap). This will increase the likelihood of unfortunate developments, including military confrontations.

    That is what I consider unforgivable.

  • Brian Stahl

    Honestly, it might have been better to allow the Iranians to attend Geneva II, maybe some good faith could have been garnered as a result. It would have at least given our diplomats a real objective to be working towards in Geneva, instead of simply twiddling their thumbs.

    What makes you think that the Syrian regime’s goal in launching the chemical weapons was designed to embarrass the US? I remember a TAI essay from a while ago which said that, “In November 2012, Israel notified the United States that the Syrians were mixing sarin gas at two sites, filling dozens of bombs suitable for aircraft to carry the deadly substance to its targets. The bombs were then transported to airfields where they could be deployed in less than two hours. The mixing of the materials stopped after President Obama issued public and private warnings to Assad and his military commanders. Nevertheless, the bombs remain at the airfields, ready for use. ”

    Of course, eventually the Syrian regime began using the weapons in small doses, but I took the timidity with which the regime did that to be evidence that it was doing it for military reasons, not to deliberately embarrass us. Official reports from the U.N. weren’t even sure it was Assad at the time. Maybe that was naive and foolish as you say, but it shows some level of caution from Assad that doesn’t really fit with the embarrassment narrative. Also, has there been any evidence that the Ghouta attack was planned? That seemed to me like an accident at the time.

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