The fun thing about football is that it provides an escape from the day-to-day horribleness of the real world. Especially as someone who deals with politics every day, it’s nice to spend part of my weekend with a game that represents nothing but pure, meaningless fun. Nobody dies if my team loses, there’s always hope for next season and even the biggest arguments are over trivial things like the merits of a triple-option offensive scheme. The real world doesn’t often pollute football.
Or at least, that was the case before Tim Tebow became the most controversial figure in the game. Now, what started as an argument about whether an “option offense” quarterback could play in the NFL has evolved into a seething feud over the validity of faith — and off-the-field religious hate is seeping into the game. The question now isn’t whether Tebow can play; it’s whether his evangelical Christianity should be allowed to exist in the public discourse, or whether he must fail in order to prevent his voice from polluting secular society.
It’s been a heated debate, and I’ve heard some pretty extreme arguments on both sides, but the dialogue as a whole has been largely intelligent and constructive. However, there have been some tasteless things said and we all knew that eventually someone in this argument was bound to cross “the line” from criticism into straight-up bigotry. I had expected that mistake to come from the militant atheist community, from a Christopher Hitchens type for whom even the admission of the possibility of G-d’s existence is anathema. But yesterday, it showed up in the pages of The Jewish Week in a column by Rabbi Joshua Hammerman. In one of the more bigoted screeds that I have ever read, Hammerman details how Tebow’s success must be stopped — before the football hero incites pitchfork-wielding evangelicals to start torching mosques.
“If Tebow wins the Super Bowl, against all odds,” Hammerman claims, ” it will buoy his faithful, and emboldened faithful can do insane things, like burning mosques, bashing gays and indiscriminately banishing immigrants. While America has become more inclusive since Jerry Falwell’s first political forays, a Tebow triumph could set those efforts back considerably.”
In addition to being detached from reality, this statement (which has since been deleted from Hammerman’s Jewish Weekly op-ed, though the rest is still online and the original, unedited op-ed can still be found on Hammerman’s blog) is ridiculously Christophobic. Hammerman assumes that, despite the presence of contradictory facts, evangelicals are all hateful people itching to burn heretics at the stake. Never mind modern evangelicalism, especially Tebow’s particular brand of it, is mostly about love, compassion, humility and treating others how you want to be treated. I understand that a large chunk of the Jewish community has a historical and justified caution regarding orthodox forms of Christianity, and after centuries of anti-Semitism, pogroms and crusades, it’s hard to blame them. However, to boil that down to a base hatred of all things Christian, and then to assert that even the most non-violent evangelicals secretly desire ethnic cleansing, is bigoted and morally reprehensible.
In fact, Hammerman is using the exact same rhetorical shell game used to justify anti-Semitic blood libel, and I say that as someone who has been personally subjected to anti-Semitic blood libel.
Think about it. The blood libel argument starts with a false premise (“The Jews killed Jesus”), then uses that to form a violent stereotype (“All Jews are violent and must be killed”). Hammerman starts with a similar implied false premise (“Evangelicals are the same people who incited crusades and pogroms”) and blows that up to a similar violent generality (“Evangelicals want to expel/kill all non-believers and must be marginalized”).