25 January 2012: Religion permeates football, politics

Religion permeates football, religion

Less than a month into 2012 and fatigue has set in. Edgar Allan Poe’s plaint in “The Raven” comes to mind: “Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore; Quaff, oh, quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”

Nepenthe is an ancient potion that helped one to forget his/her pain or sorrow. 12-year-old single-malt Scotch works for me.

The fatigue is the result of a double-whammy of Tebowmania and the Republican primaries.

Outside of Colorado, it is likely only football fans were tuned into the Bronco quarterback Tim Tebow phenomenon/drama. To consign it—not him—to that universe, though, is to miss Tebowmania’s place in the larger culture. It serves, like Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, as a barometer to gauge where America is vis-à-vis religion.

Religion, along with race and economic class, too often highlights our social division. The fault line is not primarily between people of faith and of reason, but between those striving to impose their beliefs and practices upon everyone else and the rest of us.

Our language contributes to this American quandary.

Atheism finds its roots in Greek: against (a) God (theo) as if one can be against something for which there is no proof. How about, then, acentaurism?

Replace “believer” (positive) and “skeptic” (negative) with “the superstitious” and “people of reason” and inferences change dramatically.

As I wrote back in December, Tim Tebow thanking his “Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” for touchdowns and victories—but not, notably, for interceptions, fumbles, and defeats—is hardly the first or only athlete who puts his religion on display while on the job at secular events, nor is he the first American to engender mass hysteria. He has, however, taken it to new heights.

Tebowmania did not happen in a vacuum: Legions of devoted followers—a cult—swoon at the mention of Tebow’s name.

Tebow has a compelling story. My understanding is that his mother experienced an exceptionally difficult, even life-threatening, pregnancy. Her doctors advised her to abort the fetus. Instead, she, a fundamentalist Christian missionary, chose to carry Tim to birth with a happy ending for both mother and child.

Pro-life/anti-choice advocates point to that as proof of God’s will, but I ask in turn how many would’ve preferred Frau Hitler had had an abortion. I can think of 12 million lost souls whose lives were lost and millions of others who suffered due to Adolf. The good news was that Mrs. Tebow had a choice; she wasn’t compelled to act contrary to her wishes or conscious.

Romney’s story is not compelling—it’s as boring as his delivery—but it’s likely he’ll be the Republican nominee and as such would present a conundrum to many who agree with him on the issues, but find his spiritual practice reprehensible, cultish.

In the end, Romney’s faith could be a non-factor, as some argue Barack Obama’s race was; but racial bigots who opposed Obama were for the most part not likely to vote Democratic regardless of candidate.

A number of friends of various faiths, including a pastor and wife, roll their eyes much as I do when listening to political leaders and candidates list and emphasize their Christianity among their credentials in violation of Article VI, Section 3, which reads, “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

On September 12, 1960, John F. Kennedy speaking to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association said, “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic.”

Before November, will Romney need to have a similar “JFK moment”?

Kennedy emphatically added, “Whatever issue may come before me as president — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance…with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates (emphasis mine). And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.”

One wonders how many candidates kowtowing to the religious right today would be so blunt and courageous.

Kennedy said he believed in an America where religious intolerance will someday end, where everyone would “refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division” and “promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.”

I look at the hysteria and hatred heaped on fellow Americans who happen to be Muslim and wonder about JFK’s idealism.

And then I marvel at the Raven’s response to the poet. He utters the only word of which he’s capable: “Nevermore.”

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