Thursday, December 22, 2011

Public Displays of Faith

OK. I hear you, Mrs. Braverman. But I don’t entirely agree with you.

Mrs. Emuna Braverman has written an eloquent defense of Tim Tebow’s public displays of faith in God on For those unfamiliar with that name, Tim Tebow is the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos. He is not however most notable for his football skills. He is notable for something he does outside of actual play, his somewhat relentless public displays of faith.

I had not personally been aware of this until I saw an actual ‘miracle win’ over the Chicago Bears take place under his leadership a couple of weeks ago. With minutes left to play and down by 10 points they managed to score a touchdown and with seconds to play - tie the game with an improbably long field goal. And then win in overtime with a Bears fumble followed by a similarly improbably long field goal.

At that moment Tebow went into his routine of kneeling on one leg, bowing his head, and offering a prayer of thanks to Jesus. He apparently does this all the time. This has brought him much ridicule, most notably on a SNL sketch last weekend that parodied his religious excesses.

But as Mrs. Braverman correctly notes, giving thanks to God for one’s good fortune is nothing to ridicule. Judaism is replete with just this type of activity:

We, as Jews, don’t limit our thanks to the Almighty to once a day. We say thank you for every morsel of food we eat. We say thank you every time we use the rest room (yes, it’s true! And it’s very powerful; think about it). We say “Thank God” when asked how we feel, what’s new, what’s happenin’ bro. It’s a good habit. It’s appropriate. It’s the right thing. We can learn from Tim Tebow.

Was SNL right in noting his excess? Or is Mrs. Braverman right to be a fan of Tim Tebow’s behavior in this regard? I’d have to say that the answer to these questions is they are both right. Thanking God is nothing to ridicule. But excessively wearing your religion on your sleeve is nothing to praise.

Indeed - in some ways we can learn from Tebow. As Mrs. Braverman points out, both on and off the field Tebow’s behavior is infinitely more praiseworthy than what you usually hear about NFL quarterbacks. And perhaps we should all be more mindful and thankful of God’s good graces. But wearing religion on your sleeve is not something to praise. It does not promote good will among men when one’s own personal beliefs are flaunted and in your face all the time. It is almost as if such people are saying: My religion negates your false beliefs. I get no inspiration at all when I see someone thanking Jesus.

Carrying this thought further - among our own I find it excessive when people thank God at every personal greeting by saying Baruch HaShem (or some variant of that) .

Some might say that it is downright blasphemous to say such a thing. After all - can there be too much praise of God? Well... yes in the following sense. When it becomes a rote response I don’t really see it as anything more than advertising one’s Frumkeit.

That is why one of my pet peeves is hearing Baruch HaShem every time someone asks you how you are.

I must admit that I hear that response so much that I occasionally respond that way myself. It’s almost reflexive. But it does not answer the question asked. It instead telegraphs a message about one’s religiosity. I think it cheapens the very concept of thanking God when it is over-used in such a rote manner.

Which is why I try to avoid making that response. I usually just answer the question by saying “I’m fine. How are you?” I frankly do not believe that God wants us to be so obsessed with praise that we end up saying it in such a rote manner all the time.

Of course that response is so entrenched in certain circles that if you don’t answer that way you are seen as insufficiently religious. My answer to that is - I don’t care. I have gratitude to God for all He has given me. I say so daily in prayer and additionally when the occasion calls for it. But to constantly display your faith on your sleeve can indeed be a turn-off and a source of unnecessary ridicule.

This is why my admiration of Tebow’s faith falls short of Mrs. Braverman’s. Yes, he is a fine individual and his faith is an admirable quality. But I also agree with former Bronco’s quarterback Jake Plummer who said that he wishes Tebow would just shut up after a game” and not praise the Almighty every time he makes a good play.

He can be as religious as he wants. But I don’t appreciate having it flaunted at me constantly. Do I have to see a New Testament reference to Philippians 4:13 on his face paint every time he plays?! Is that supposed to make me a more religious Jew? I don’t think so.