December 29th, 2011
05:48 PM ET
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN)– On Christmas Eve the Denver Broncos were getting destroyed by the Buffalo Bills* on the football field and comedian, liberal commentator, and religious provocateur Bill Maher couldn't help but tweet about it.
People quickly responded to Maher on Twitter and called him (in summary) a hell bound atheist piece of trash. Maher's social media jab was picked up by the media too and landed in newspapers, websites and TVs everywhere. Pundits and twitter users called for a boycott of Maher's HBO show Real Time, and threatened to cancel their HBO subscriptions.
The timing could not have been better for Maher. The new season of his show begins next month and the week between Christmas and New Years is a veritable wasteland for actual news. In a world where no publicity is bad publicity, Maher scored big.
Maher has long skewered people of all faiths as part of his act. In 2008, Maher starred in "Religulous" a documentary that poked fun at any and all religions.
For all the fury aimed at Maher for the Tebow crack, the long time atheist received comparatively little heat for his Twitter dig at Jesus the next day on Christmas.
It was insulting Tim Tebow, not Jesus Christ, that drew the ire of a nation.
"[Tebow's] public image is built on goodness and virtue," Patton Dodd said. Dodd is the author of "The Tebow Mystique: The Faith and Fans of Football's Most Polarizing Player" and the managing editor of Patheos.com. "His particular expression of Christianity, or Christian witness, is built on acts of kindness to the poor and needy and to strangers. It's not just taking a knee on the field and thanking Jesus after the games. I think a lot of his fans know that."
Dodd said fans likely felt defensive towards Tebow, but acknowledged an athlete so public about their faith could not viewed as untouchable.
"I think the difference here is what Maher said was particularly crass and crude and I think it's seen as aimed more ... at Tebow's fan base than Tebow," he said.
For those who said Maher crossed an unspoken line with the tweet, comedian Pete Dominick said no way. "Our job is to push the envelope. There is no line for us. We don't have a line. You can make a joke about my kids getting cancer as long as it's funny. It has to be funny. That's the only rule, that it's funny. We're supposed to be controversial we're supposed to be provocative, that's what our job entails."
"He's begging to be made fun of," Dominick said.
Dominick, who is also the host of Stand Up! with Pete Dominick on the POTUS Chanel on SirusXM, said Tebow's outspokeness about his faith makes him a prime target for comedians. "He goes out on TV and talks about his faith, he puts it on his eye black. We're going to choose to make fun of it. Always."
"I think it's the wrong thing to get upset about. It's a tweet. It's a predictable tweet from a guy who says these kinds of things and who has an audience who love him for those kinds of things," Dodd said.
For his part Tebow has not commented on Maher's tweet, keeping true to his formula of not engaging critics. Dodd said part of what makes Tebow such a great athlete is his ability to block out the noise and focus on the game of football. Requests for comment from Maher were not responded to by his publicist but Maher tweeted on Wednesday night:
There Maher goes after Tebow in far more than in the 140 characters Twitter allows per post.
If Tebow and his Bronco teammates can win on Sunday they will make the playoffs.
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly had the Detroit Lions as the Broncos opponent. We regret the error and apologize to Bills fans everywhere. They have suffered enough this season.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.