Wednesday, January 11, 2012


At Patheos, a site I much enjoy, in an article that I also rather enjoyed, I did find something that made me stop and take pause and ask: do I enjoy this? Now, intellectually, I most often receive joy when people agree with me and I tend to think, “They must be clever, I agree with what they say!” In Marc’s piece at Patheos today, “Tim Tebow –Full Of Crap?” – he responds to claims made by atheist critics of Tim Tebow, particularly a claim made by David Silverman that Tebow’s open religiosity is “bad for football. Silverman also claims that Tebow is “faking” his religiosity at any rate and only playing to the cameras. Marc dismisses these claims, rightly I think, as Tebow has brought unprecedented ratings to “wildcard Weekend” with all his divisiveness and how are we to judge whether someone is “totally faking” their religiosity.



But Silverman has Tebow’s crappiness on the highest authority. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for your daily dose of Hey Look An Atheist Quotes Scripture!

Silverman: “It is not surprising Tebow ignores Matthew 6:5 in which Jesus says, ‘When you pray, do not pray like the hypocrites in the street…They pray to be seen praying. Pray in the closet.” Right, that’s what Christ said. Pray in the closet.

Not to be all Catholic, but stop with your fundamentalist interpretations of Scripture. Why was Christ angry at the hypocrites for praying in the streets? Was it because public prayer is inherently wrong? No, because there’s that whole “Let your light shine before all men” bit that needs taking into account. The key word here is hypocrites. The problem isn’t that they’re praying in the street, it’s that they’re only praying in the street. The problem is that everyone liked them for praying in the streets, that everyone thought they were holy for doing so.

As American Atheists make astonishingly clear, Tebow is not universally liked for his public prayer. He’s not being a hypocrite, he’s representing. And America is listening.

I do not see what is out of bounds about drawing the attention of Christians to this passage and I do not see how raising this passage is “fundamentalism.”  There are many other passages in the New Testament which allow for Christian prayer in the context of the Temple in Jerusalem and in Synagogues and Church services amongst other Jews and Christians, but these are amongst fellow believers and the goal is not to attract undue attention to oneself. This reality does nothing to dismiss the value of Jesus' teaching on prayer in Matthew 6. And it is here that I take issue with what Marc writes, not about Tebow, but about Silverman.

Whether Silverman is an atheist who does not believe in the revealed nature of the Bible, when he quotes Scripture we should listen if we take it seriously as the word of God. Marc, writes “stop with your fundamentalist interpretations of Scripture,” but Silverman cites Scripture, he does not interpret it. In what way is citing Scripture fundamentalism? What does Marc mean by "fundamentalism"? What is his defintion of fundamnetalism, quoting the Bible?

Silverman raises an interesting point by citing Matthew 6:5, which comes in the context of Jesus outlining in the Sermon on the Mount the proper way for his disciples to give alms, pray and fast. Jesus suggests in each case that there are dangers inherent in public piety, because the temptation is that they can be done for prestige, honor and personal glory. Jesus advises his disciples that it is best to pray, fast and give alms in a manner that does not attract attention to oneself.  Part of the passage in context, stopping just prior to the Lord’s Prayer, is as follows:


5 "And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 "When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (NRSV)

Jesus’ teaching is real and genuine for all Christians: “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Does this mean that every public prayer is an example of hypocrisy, a word which in the original Greek designates an “actor”? No, but it does indicate that private prayer is done to create relationship with God, while public displays of religiosity are subject to doubt and could create a “showiness” to religion that Jesus warns against. It may even be that the one who engages in such public prayer may not be seeking to earn prestige or earthly rewards, but the dangers are present and anyone could succumb to them.

Let me be clear: I do not think Tim Tebow is a hypocrite or "full of crap", but there are spiritual dangers inherent in his position, for him especially. Yet, it is not up to me to judge his heart either, that is up to God (see e.g., Matthew 7:1-5, 13:24-30, if it is not too fundamentalist to point you there).  For all you know, I am the worst of hypocrites, writing this blog only to attract attention to my spiritual insights and hoping for human praise beyond measure. God knows, even if you do not. The same is true of Tebow. In any case, the atheist David Silverman has a point: what is the purpose of public religiosity and what are its dangers? Now, he might not see its personal, spiritual dangers, he might just read them at a social and cultural level, but in his quoting of Scripture and drawing attention to the possible temptations of  public piety, I’m with the fundamentalist, atheist.

John W. Martens

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