It's official: Everybody on the planet has an opinion on Tim Tebow. By now we've heard from everyone from Rick Perry to Bill Maher to the folks at Saturday Night Live. And of course those opinions result in even more opinions, so much so that Tim Tebow the human being is almost irrelevant next to Tim Tebow the idea. What Tebow represents can be almost anything to anyone, but the person we're all talking about has faded away.
And that brings us to the atheist community.
They are certainly in the minority on Tim Tebow. In a recent nationwide poll, 43 percent of those who knew of Tebow said they believed divine intervention was at least partly responsible for his success. Atheists, obviously, disagree. They also dislike how Tebow is using his fame to promote Christianity. No surprise there.
But what is surprising is that one leading atheist makes an argument against Tebow that also serves as a roundabout defense of Tebow. And to illustrate that point, we begin with the president of American Atheists, Dave Silverman, Tebowing:
Silverman, 45, has added a clever twist to the fad. He is genuflecting like Tebow does when he prays, but he's also mimicking Rodin's The Thinker. This is a nod to the atheist or humanistic belief that it is man -- not a higher power -- who is purely in control of his fate. Silverman is Tebowing to his fellow man.
"The universe has a trillion stars," he says. "Ninety five percent of it is dark matter. It's hubris to think the Creator of all that wants the Broncos to win a football game."
(Another atheist, Blair Scott, says if God wants Tebow to win, the quarterback would have a higher completion percentage. Scott, ironically, is a Saints fan.)
So Silverman calls Tebow a "victim" because of the quarterback’s belief that "he's not doing it -- God is doing it through him." Therefore, according to Silverman, Tebow is "brainwashing himself."
According to this line of reasoning, however, Tebow deserves more credit, not less. Silverman argues that the religious talk from and around Tebow is not only taking away from the performance of his Denver Broncos teammates, but also the quarterback's own ability. From this perspective, the way Tebow has won games this season -- through miraculous and seemingly predestined comebacks; what Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo called "some divine intervention associated with what's taking place" -- undermines the true worth of Tebow the person.
He has a point. Tebow's uniqueness is not in how frequently and openly he prays. Many athletes do that. And many quarterbacks lead amazing comebacks that strain reason and understanding. (Seen Matt Stafford this season?)
What Tebow does, better than just about any other quarterback, is approach danger. Embrace danger. Plenty of quarterbacks accept imminent danger, like Tom Brady waiting until the last possible moment to throw before getting decked. Plenty of quarterbacks deftly avoid danger, like Michael Vick.
Tebow seeks it. He plows right into the line, like a fullback, and he seems to cherish the role. In fact, he seems to miss doing it more. His rushes were unstoppable at Florida -- so much so that his jump pass was a revelation because everyone in the stadium expected him to barrel into the end zone instead of leaping and tossing the ball to Aaron Hernandez or some other wide-open Gator.
The word "throwback" is used too often, but Tebow stands out in an era where quarterbacks are not to be touched and skill players are treated like china dolls. Some people shout that Tebow is beloved for his race, or for his religion, or even for his looks. Maybe so. But all those God-given -- or DNA-given, depending on your perspective -- factors can overshadow something he's done on his own: train himself physically and mentally to seek and withstand some of the most terrifying physical contact known to man, the NFL gang-tackle.
This is not to say other quarterbacks aren't tough. Every NFL quarterback is tough. But the way Tebow plays is a special brand of tough, because he could easily shy away from brutality based on his name, his reputation, his income, or his position. Tebow does none of that.
Instead, Tebow displays that most human of attributes, the one at the core of pro football's enduring appeal. Courage.
Is his courage bolstered by his faith? Probably so. Tebow would likely say the credit for his style of play goes to God, just like everything else. Fair enough.
But there is something distinctly human about a man's willingness to risk pain. It's been admirable as long as we've walked the Earth, really. Americans love football the most for the bravery and physicality of the players, and Tebow represents this well -- even without a single mention of Jesus.
So although the atheists' disdain for Tebow’s religiosity can be off-putting and offensive to people of faith, there's something to their larger argument. When Marion Barber fumbles or when Matt Prater hits a long field goal, we all wonder (or joke or scoff) about divine intervention. Even Ravens defender Terrell Suggs ripped Tebow for needing God to bail him out. Is Jesus involved in the Broncos' playoff run? That's not for this site to discuss. But is Tebow involved in this improbable season-long journey? Absolutely. And that's one thing everyone -- Rick Perry and Bill Maher, believers and non-believers alike -- can agree on. You don’t have to believe in God to believe in Tim Tebow.
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