Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Public Displays of Religion

With all the hullabaloo recently over Tim Tebow and his very public prayers--
complete with his famous one-knee pose and augmented by his faith statements
virtually every time a microphone appears -- the topic of "Public Faith" has
gained renewed steam both in the media and in everyday conversation...

From bus and cab drivers who argue for the "right" to snarl traffic 3 times a day
to get out and kneel in the street to pray, to the name "Jesus" being banned from
City board meetings, to these "new Atheists" who are suing to remove all vestiges
of "faith" from public life... Seems like everyone has an axe to grind these days
on God, Religion, World Views, and nearly anything else that can be described in
terms of "morals" or "values" or "truth". "Heaven", or "Nirvana", or "Utopia",
it seems, all look drastically different from one person to the next...

Over against all this cacophony, and despite the pervasive Pluralism which typifies
modern life, I find that PUBLIC demonstrations of even the faith that I myself subscribe
to -- indeed, that I deeply believe to be the Absolute Truth -- make me... well...

My Skepticism (left over from my atheist years, and still a fundamental part of
how I pursue Truth) already causes me to quietly avoid much of what I see in
modern Christian faith and practice; but beyond that, even as a practicing Christian
myself, public prayers, public (unsolicited) declarations of faith in Jesus, being
confronted by (or watching someone else be confronted by) some "soul-winner"...
These things cause me to experience an odd sense of discomfort, embarrassment,
even uneasiness. It's not because I am "ashamed of the Gospel of Christ", as some
fundamentalist might bark at me; it's just that...

Well, picture this: You walk into a Starbucks and off in the corner are two
teenagers (a guy and a girl!) who are seriously "making out", as if they are
completely alone; they are, unfortunately, completely oblivious to the discomfort
they are causing in everyone else around them, completely absorbed in their selfish
behavior and seemingly unaware of the unspoken, shared sentiment hanging in the air:
"Get a room!"

So it is -- for me -- with regard to public displays of religion: It's one thing
to IDENTIFY oneself with a particular religion (say, a Jewish co-worker wearing a
Yarmulke, or a Muslim neighbor wearing a Hijab, or a Catholic friend displaying
a figurine of the Blessed Virgin on his dashboard); but to create what is essentially
a "worship moment" in a public place -- to publicly PRACTICE a religion -- is, to me,
a different thing, a mis-placed private thing, something that ought to be subordinated to the tastes and comforts of those in the immediate vicinity...
It's hardly "Christian" to completely disregard the feelings and sensibilities and
comforts of those around us so that we can perform some Christian act, eh?
Who are we fooling, here?

Would you pick your nose in public? Scratch yourself, pass gas, tug at your
underwear, or belch loudly, in a public place? Would you break out in song at
a funeral, or play Sousa marches at a wake? Why not? Well, because you want to
be the sort of considerate, humble, kind, thoughtful, and polite person who keeps
the thoughts and feelings and sensibilities of the people around you always at the
forefront of your mind; in a word, you don't want to be RUDE.

It is interesting to note that far more often than not, Jesus Himself prayed in
solitude, away from the crowds (and, today, we could add, cameras and microphones
and cell phones); the kneel-down, public prayer spectacle of Tebow -- sandwiched
between Dorritos commercials and "December to Remember" ads -- only serves to
expand the absolute Media circus we all have to put up with these days, which now,
unfortunately, includes "amazing!", "unbelievable!", YouTube-worthy attractions featuring
"all that religious stuff"...


Dennis said...

Hi Greg,
Another well written article. You should find a magazine or paper where you could do these regularly. I'd enjoy reading it.

Like you, I am also personally disinclined towards public displays of faith. It's not my temperament. It is obvious that Tebow is comfortable. I can't say he's wrong or that I am right though. I don't think Tebow really is in an in-your-face type of evangelical. So I have no problem with what he's doing. He seems to be an upstanding guy.

I don't think what he does is analogous to belching or picking his nose in public. I don't agree that what he does is inherently offensive to the sensibilities of those around him. Being sensitive doesn't mean you completely abandon public displays. Hopefully, we can still expect some degree of maturity among those who may disagree. I can't live in a milk-toast and bland conformity where we can't say or do anything because it might possibly offend someone somehow.

Other than that, I actually appreciate that Tebow does put forth in a straightforward way. There's a place for people like him. He's being true to what he believes. I think he's a great role model.

Greg Kern said...

Hi Dennis!

Thanks for commenting. I always appreciate your thoughts and input, and we enjoy good talks together...

I tried to make clear that my objection to the public praying that Tebow does is a *personal* thing of mine, so there isn't a "right" or "wrong", here... And I agree with you, he's not too terribly in-your-face about it...

But I think Tebow -- and certainly others, not so widely known, but which we see, here and there, often enough -- is at a "tipping point" where it can easily be perceived that he's praying FOR the Camera and TO the camera; and the fact that he has been very pro-active about making his Faith front-and-center, most especially in today's cameras-everywhere, always-recording-and-then-YouTubing society, runs the risk of becoming just another "staged" episode of Sports-become-Reality-TV that we're seeing...

And again, think how you'd feel if a Satanist made a constant show of his faith, thanking Satan for every victory, praying to Satan before every game, etc... I realize that may be a bit on the extreme side, but keep in mind that that is precisely how those who do not share -- no, who despise Tebow's faith -- feel when they hear him publicly worshiping like that...

I'm just wondering, aloud here, whether it might not be better to make only modest, occasional references to God, but to leave the "heavy delivery" for other, more private settings... The world has heard enough from our mega-church filled, TV preacher plagued public showing; can't Tebow just play football, and save the preaching for demonstrably receptive audiences?