Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lin & Tebow & their inconceivable harmony

This blogger awakes from a Rip Van Winkle-like slumber to discover his blog untended and his beard down to his navel and a sky full of flying cars and a half-year's worth of awesome religion stuff already gone. Sheesh. A once-in-a-while poster is like someone using an i-Pad exclusively for reading PDFs.

But I hereby repent! And post for yr joy--yrs and mine.  Or maybe I'll give up posting for Lent, which starts tomorrow.

I know one thing I will not give up for Lent: Watching Jeremy Lin play basketball. Best story in sports right now, or maybe ever. Race and religion have been subtexts from the beginning. Lin's ex-spiritual adviser at Harvard just told the Boston Herald that Lin and Tebow have connected--in what way is not clear--about their shared faith in Christ and the challenges that come from being a born-again sports god.

Yep, there's some cognitive dissonance in those last four words.

David Brooks calls it "The Jeremy Lin Problem": "The moral ethos of sport," he writes, "is in tension with the moral ethos of faith." Lin, with Tebow before him, has become a symbol that somehow fuses Christian piety with the classical gladiator model. For the religious person, humility and selflessness are cardinal virtues; for the athlete, pride and competition. Brooks concludes that "the two moral universes are not reconcilable." In rhetorical terms, they seem incommensurable: there is no shared language between the two, and therefore each world is incomprehensible to the other.

Somehow, though, Lin keeps playing basketball and worshipping Jesus. Which makes me wonder whether Brooks' interpretation on this "creative contradiction" is an overly-abstract exercise that does not take into account the way we harmonize aspects of our lives that fall under various belief systems. I've thought about this in connection with last year's debate about evangelical Tea Party activists and their love of Ayn Rand. On the one hand, they embrace a religious belief system that preaches humility, self-abnegation, charity, and love of neighbor. On the other, they celebrate the virtue of selfishness and monomaniacal profit-seeking.

A contradiction? An inconceivable harmony? Okay, yeah: It seems to me that way. And yet these individuals have found significant enough overlap (or as Burke might have it, consubstantiation) between the two worlds to let them both work in a single identity. It's sloppy, but the human articulation machine makes it work, perhaps by not thinking much about the contradiction. I suppose you could say this isn't a very wise way to live, considering the classical edict to "Know Thyself." But I'm confident that Lin & Tebow, if forced, could articulate the connection between their religion and their athleticism in a way that makes sense, that has to make sense, in order to avoid the in + able words: irreconcilable, inconceivable, incommensurable, incompatible.       

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