IN SOME QUARTERS of sports-crazed America, tomorrow night's playoff game between the Believing Broncos and the Philistine Patriots has taken on a larger meaning, maybe even a divine meaning.
That's wrong. It is a football game, not a sacrament.
With that said, the intersection of faith and football has become as bitter as the GOP primary, pitting devout Christians against atheists, secularists, "pure" sports fans and tiresome Christian bashers.
To use a cross metaphor, the crux of the controversy is Denver quarterback Tim Tebow's open (some say grating) on-field expressions of devotion to Jesus Christ.
Both Fox and ESPN have invested in this parable, as have many others.
Even though the game will be played against the backdrop of the decimation of Catholic schools in Philadelphia, it won't get any special attention here, where our quarterback is an ex-con and where a deceased beloved player, Reggie White, was a minister who openly proclaimed his faith and performed good works required of him by that faith.
People of science, who are rational and therefore never wrong, in 1987 told Tim Tebow's mother, Pam, to abort him because her pregnancy threatened her life, and they expected her son to be stillborn. A woman of faith, and therefore "irrational," Pam said "no" and carried him to term.
Some 20 years later, Pam and Tim infuriated some people by appearing in an anti-abortion commercial aired during the Super Bowl. That's where America first heard his story. Pro-choicers went bananas.
Christian conservatives were accused of trying to shove their religion down our throats. Some do, just like hard-left secularists. They also want to shove their "religion" down our throats - and their religion is atheism.
That's a hard sell in America, the most "believing" industrialized democracy. And those beliefs paved the road to 9/11.
America's strong Christian beliefs, writes Lawrence Wright in his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Looming Tower, is what inflamed al Qaeda. Not so much because of America's actions, as some (Ron Paul) believe, but "because they saw America as the locus of Christian power."
Religion has ebbed in countries like Spain, Italy, France and Ireland, once firmly in the grasp of the church, which has been guilty of sinful behavior ranging from the Inquisition to protecting pedophile priests.
Secularists applaud the church's decline as positive, but is it? With devotion to Christianity declining in Western Europe, what is expanding?
The discussion about whether that is good or bad for democracy, free speech and individual liberty is for another time.
Aside from nonstop Christian bashers (such as provocateur Bill Maher), some "pure" sports fans are angered by Tebow's displays of devotion, even though he just quietly kneels on the sidelines.
I am not a Christian, but I am more offended by juvenile hot-dogging in the end zone than I am by what's now called Tebowing. I am also not offended by Maher. I can ignore both of them if I like, but I have to ask: Who is more intolerant - Tebow or Maher?
My problem with religion, any religion, is the fundamentalists - Christian evangelicals, ultra-Orthodox Jews, Wahabi Islamists. I can't reason with them because they get their "orders" from God himself. They cannot compromise; they cannot agree to live and let live.
I don't see that in Tebow. I wish him luck tomorrow night.
Against the Pats, God knows he'll need it.