Thursday, December 8, 2011

Rick Perry, Tim Tebow, and Christianity

Andrew Sullivan has two different conversations going on on his blog right now that make for an interesting juxtaposition. On the one hand, he's talking about Rick Perry's latest campaign ad, where Perry claims he's not ashamed to say he's a Christian, and about the persecuted minority/victim mentality that seems to be represented in that statement, and how that gels with the fact that the majority of Americans are Christian by a pretty long shot. On the other, and with no particular connection between the two thoughts, he's talking about quarterback Tim Tebow's tendency to kneel down and pray in the middle of football games, and whether or not that's appropriate. From Andrew Sullivan's point of view, Christians are obviously not a minority or persecuted, and Tebow's behavior is clearly inappropriate (although I don't think he's suggesting it should be banned) because "Prayer is not supposed to be a public event, designed to display your holiness in front of the maximum number of people." I don't really know the content of Rick Perry, or Tim Tebow's religion, but I think this is a pretty good example of the danger of treating "Christian" like it means just one thing in this country. Tim Tebow is obviously a very religious person, and one who feels like his faith should be public. Like I said, I don't know the details, but I wouldn't be shocked to learn that he also doesn't think Judaism or Buddhism are equally valid paths to enlightenment, or that he believes he has a responsibility to help other people find the right path. And as far as he's concerned, the name of the religion that he follows is "Christian." But of course, "Christian" is also the name of the religion of a lot of people, I'm guessing including Andrew Sullivan, who would find something deeply wrong with suggesting that Jews and Buddhists won't go to heaven without becoming Christian first, and who are perfectly happy with social conventions that put religion & politics outside of the bounds of polite conversation. (Ok, Andrew Sullivan in particular isn't happy with conventions that put anything outside the bounds of polite conversation, but I'm making this a more general point.)

By conflating the two, I think we miss why an individual Rick Perry...might actually feel like a minority. But then I'd say the corollary to that is that he would need to reconsider what it really means to claim that this is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles. Instead we live in this weird in between space where a lot of people sense that the religion of Barack Obama and John McCain and a lot of our leaders isn't their religion, but they see that as a failure of democracy and not a product of it.