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My Take: Linsanity vs. Tebowmania, key similarities and differences
Stephen Prothero says there are big similarities between Jeremy Lin, above, and Tim Tebow, but big differences, too.
February 13th, 2012
04:35 PM ET

My Take: Linsanity vs. Tebowmania, key similarities and differences

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Is the New York Knicks’ point guard Jeremy Lin the NBA’s answer to Tim Tebow? Let me count the ways.

First, Lin was underestimated throughout his career. The knock has been that Tebow couldn’t throw. The knock on Lin had been that he wasn’t particularly athletic.

Although he led Palo Alto High School to a state championship in basketball, major college programs did not want Lin. And after he blew away the competition at Harvard, the NBA didn’t seem particularly interested either. Undrafted, he warmed the bench at Golden State, then Houston and then New York before getting his big break this year with the Knicks.

Second, like Tebow, Lin came out of nowhere to bring a dying team back from the dead. While Tebow turned around the Denver Broncos at quarterback, Lin has led the previously struggling Knicks at point guard to five straight victories, each with 20 points or more. And his field goal percentage during this winning streak tops 50%, not bad for a guy who supposedly can’t shoot.

Third, Lin is also a born-again Christian whose fans love him as much for cultural and religious intangibles as for his ability in his sport.

In a 2010 interview with Timothy Dalrymple of Patheos.com, Lin said he was raised in the church and became a Christian in high school. In college, he played “for the glory of God.” After his career-high 38 point performance against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, he said, “I just give all the praise to God.”

But Lin, who told Sports Illustrated in 2010 that he wants to be a pastor post-NBA, also has another intangible going for him—his Chinese-American heritage. Yes, the “Linsanity” is driven by his performance on the court, but it’s also driven by his Taiwanese descent, and the fact that he is one of a handful of Asian Americans to make it to the NBA.

Lin also differs from Tebow in his approach to the faith, which is more subtle. On his Facebook page, Lin does quote Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." But the "Taiwanese Tebow" doesn’t “Tebow” after a game. His evangelism is decidedly low key.

In this way, Lin is a reminder that, like Christians themselves, athletic evangelicals come in all shapes and sizes.

Scholars of religion have been observing for years that the Christian tradition is rapidly moving south and east, finding its new home not so much in Europe or in the United States as in Asia and Africa and Latin America.

Lin exemplifies this trend, even as he reminds us that American Christianity is changing its face, too. The Asian immigration boom that began with the opening up of immigration in 1965 did wonders for Buddhism and Hinduism, to be sure. But it brought far more Christians to American shores, many of them (like Lin) non-denominational evangelicals.

Down the road, Lin will probably get some of the same grief that Tebow has gotten for his outspoken faith. And if he is as human as that faith says he is, his shots are going to clang off the rim some day, and with it some of the sheen on his celebrity. In other words, there is at least as much insanity in Jeremania as there was in the cult of Tim Tebow. To believe in either guy takes a little bit of faith.

But for now, "Linsanity" is crazy wisdom, driving Web pilgrims to view the couch where Lin (who makes a paltry $762,000 a year) been supposedly sleeping in recent days and even resurrecting the stock of Madison Square Garden–Linflation?–which owns the surging Knicks.

Lin headlines his Twitter account with “to know Him is to want to know Him more.”

At least for now, Knicks fans seem to be saying that to watch Lin play is to want to watch him more. A lifelong Celtics fan, I've never liked the Knicks. But I want to see Lin more, too. Until he comes to Boston.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Christianity • Sports • United States

soundoff (691 Responses)
  1. Radar

    1/ I don't remember reading in the Bible where God is a big sports fan & believe God could care less who wins.
    2/ Why is this sports article on the Belief blog to begin with?
    3/ I would suggest Mr Tebow should read Matthew chapters 6 & 7

    February 13, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  2. occcomputers

    I can certainly agree with you on that part. We Christians are hypocrites. Among us, we have thieves, murderers, adulterers, lyres and, well, you name it. We've got it! But we strive to be clean before God and ask for forgiveness. What's wrong with Jesus teachings?! "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." This applies greatly to anyone's life. So why would you hate Jesus? After all, Abolish Religion, you can't tell me you're not a hypocrite, or adulterer can you?

    February 13, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • Mehgann

      Actually, "do unto others...etc." is currently known as the Golden Rule. It has nothing to do with Jesus.

      February 14, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  3. djwazu

    Buddha is looking for his azz!

    February 13, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  4. Charles

    It is so thrilling to see a sterling performance and then have that person express humility and thankfulness for his God given ability. All the chest-pounding, fist-waving, and bravado of many athletes is a turn off. The past generaltion of athletes
    (Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Otto Graham, Joe DiMaggio, etc.) always acted as gentlemen with their accomplishments.

    February 13, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • EatYouAlive

      He benefits from a combination of luck and genes. Bravo to him... there was no god(s) influence here...

      February 13, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • TAK

      Joe D would never in a million years Tebow.

      February 13, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  5. alfranken

    I feel bad for the atheists that have to come to this comment board to express their interior complexion. Too bad they don't focus on their own shallow perspective of life instead of Lin's chosen purpose. Oh well.

    February 13, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • EatYouAlive

      Your belief conceals your fear. Face your fear instead of shrouding it with religion, you will feel better about yourself.

      February 13, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      alfranken...In what way then are atheists shallow? you are an atheist as well as far as a Muslim is concerned...and what about Thor, and Ra and the thousands of other gods that came before yours....

      February 13, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  6. angel611

    God is great, God is good, so anyone who accepts God an obeys His laws, will be great also.

    February 13, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • EatYouAlive

      Life life as you would like others to live theirs. You don't need a god(s) to live right.

      February 13, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • peakarach

      What does God look like? Can you call,text,email,fax GOD,etc? How old is your God? Does God know the lottery winning number? How do you communicated with God? Any idea where I can meet God personally?

      February 14, 2012 at 2:07 am |
  7. achepotle

    God will use him then screw him over just like he did with Tebow.

    February 13, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • angel611

      Good point.
      All Tebow did was bring a nothing team all the way to the championship playoffs in his first season as a rookie.
      What a screw job! What a loser!
      HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HEE HEE HEE HA HA HA HA HA H

      February 13, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  8. EatYouAlive

    Religion and its minions go to embarrassing lengths... humanity has so far to go yet...

    February 13, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • djwazu

      I say about a thousand years?

      February 13, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • EatYouAlive

      Seems about right, I am sure there will be a major conflict driven by religion when it truly starts to fade away and realizes there is no stopping it... as it should.

      February 13, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  9. achepotle

    God will use him then screw himover just like he did with Tebow.

    February 13, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
  10. JT

    I just wished Jesus would stop being so obsessed with sports and pay attention to the r@pe and murder of thousands of innocent children each month.

    February 13, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • dudley0415

      I have some extra tin foil if you were thinking about making yourself a hat.

      (thx lol)

      February 13, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  11. Alfredo

    Gift from God? or just plain lucky to have him. Which ever it is, as a knick fan I'm just happy to finally have a solid point guard again.

    February 13, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  12. ABOLISH RELIGION

    Hey believers, if your convictions are so strong, why don't you donate everything you own and spend your lives doing charitable things instead of working to buy shit you don't need? That's right, believers are hypocrites. Nice computer you've got there, hypocrite believer.

    February 13, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • BinLadenand Friends

      you must be suffering from a severe case of retardation because if you actually knew any of these guys you would know that they do contribute to charity and tim tebow spends time with kids with disabilities, and is building an orphanage in the Philippines . So can you please go back inside your cave and continue touching yourself. PS im not christian

      February 13, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • George

      Tell me where your convictions are and I'll show you that you're a hypocrite as well!

      February 13, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • occcomputers

      I can certainly agree with you on that part. We Christians are hypocrites. Among us, we have thieves, murderers, adulterers, lyres and, well, you name it. We've got it! But we strive to be clean before God and ask for forgiveness. What's wrong with Jesus teachings?! "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." This applies greatly to anyone's life. So why would you hate Jesus? After all, Abolish Religion, you can't tell me you're not a hypocrite, or adulterer can you?

      February 13, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  13. David

    A Christian believes that prayer changes things, and I shake my head in amusement. I believe that most of the Bible is fiction, and the Christian shakes his/her head pitying me. Who cares who's right? Neither is forcing his/her view on the other.

    However, if I try to get a law passed denying the Christian the right to go to church and worship as he/she would like, or if the Christian tries to get a law passed trying to prohibit two gay people from marrying, then each of us has forced our views on the other.

    To the Christian: I promise to never support a law interfering with your right to worship as you like. That would be wrong of me . . .

    February 13, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • dudley0415

      Righteous post.

      February 13, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  14. scatheist

    Send your moron xttians home and give us your gentle Asians thank you/

    February 13, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      The reason why there are tsunamis and earthquakes and hurricanes is because God is too busy helping pious athletes win sporting events.

      Really.

      February 13, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • dudley0415

      Ahmydinnerjacket's people say it's because women wear revealing blouses. We'll leave it up to Todd and Ahmydinnerjacket to figure it out.

      February 13, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
  15. El Diablo

    Well hopefully god doesn't forsake him, so he ends up blowing it in the play offs like Tebow.

    February 13, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  16. donsavant

    The difference is that Lin actually has talent.q

    February 13, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Big Al

      He's a Chinese dude who shoots great hoops, and for lack of a permanent contract, has to crash on his brother's couch on the Lower East Side. You don't get more New York than that, mothers!

      February 13, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  17. liamarijohnson

    hes on youtube with kevjumba!

    February 13, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  18. KentAZ

    Lin is, so far, actually an outstanding player. That's the difference between him and Tebow, who is mediocre at best and benefited from his team's improved defense and running game.

    February 13, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  19. jerry

    Whoa. God is Good. Organized religion is flawed, bad or immoral. Dogma aside, Lin is good.

    February 13, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  20. who dis

    The difference is Lin has actually played really well whereas Teebow played poorly. 38pts by a new player in the NBA is unheard of. It would be like Teebow getting numbers like Aaron Rogers, but Teebow's QB numbers were among the worst in the league.

    February 13, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
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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.