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. RIchard Mulrroy

    Please don't take Lin from us you religious nuts, he is for all basketball fans wether the believe in the invisible man in the sky or not

    February 13, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  2. chris

    tebow sucks and brady and the patriots proved in the playoffs with a molly whopping of a lifetime. the steelers were overconfident and had a hobbled rothlisberger. the broncos had an easy schedule and had a few bounces go their way. tebow will NEVER win a superbowl. Lin is actually good at the sport he's supposed to play. tebow's throws look like dying ducks.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  3. Don

    Many Christians don’t read the Holy Bible with a critical eye.
    Three of the Gospels follow the same story format, but are variable in the details; for one, they become increasingly anti-Jewish with a progressive passage of time. Jesus supposedly provide many miracles that were clearly not coincidences in his time, but refused to reveal any in the time of modern media. Likewise, there are no talking donkeys, staffs that transform into snakes, sorcers, people who live hundreds of years, virgin births, prophecies that can be assessed to be valid, the Pool of Siloam fails to demonstrate objective supernatural powers, Leaders who refuse to listen to the Lord after every first born child of his nation are murdered, there are no slaves to the Lord who are immune to fire, enemies who are conquered by a foe that merely walks around in a circle and shouts, and there are no foods being generated by a lesser amount. The Books of the Holy Bible contain many contradictions because they were written by different authors living in atmospheres that required different issues to be addressed. The Book of Revelations reads of like a testimony of someone on lots of mind altering drugs.

    People write books.
    People have agendas.
    People have personal convictions.
    Somehow these rules don’t apply to the Holy Bible.

    Christians start with the premise that they are right and any attempt to convince them they are wrong is the works of the Devil.
    Christians do everything they possibly can to maintain their position. Like infants.
    Christians constantly reinterpret the Holy Bible because religion is about what’s possible.
    Biblical literalists are guilty of the same exegetical techniques as liberal Christians; much of the fancy interpretations by Normal Geisler, et al. are testament to this. With the biblical contradictions, nobody can claim the Holy Bible is the inerrant word of God.
    For many Christians, it’s social suicide to leave the church. This is not the case for Christians in their twenties and who are younger. That is one reason Christianity is dying in America.
    Seminaries tout arguments that do not increase the probability that Chrisitanity is more true than Scientology being true. Arguments such as the Empty Tomb argument which is merely an argument that declares Christianity is true because it says so on a piece of paper.
    Nothing in Christianity is disprovable.
    Christians proclaim their apologetic arguments as if the burden of proof is on the skeptics.
    If everyone believes in a falsehood, the falshe hood is not more likely to become true.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
    • The Mike Field

      But there is one thing I can say. There is not one particle of doubt in my mind that there was an actual historical J**** who was much the kind of person described in the B****. Hung out with bums and hook–s. Had followers. Preached salvation. Got it on with the Pharisees. Crucified by the Romans. Wasn't in his tomb. The rest of it, you can take it or leave it as your judgement allows. But keep in mind, the entire Bible is actual history, some mythic and some literal. Sorry to put a pin in your balloon. Better today that Saturday night.

      February 14, 2012 at 12:16 am |
  4. Wole

    An inspiring distraction from politics and politicians. LIN ROCKS!

    February 13, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • OtherSFunit


      February 13, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
  5. RIchard Mulrroy

    I have watched ever Knick game and didn't even know Lin was a Christian. The author seems to be really focused on Lin's faith and not the important thing, the fact he is awesome at basketball. Who cares if he is Christian? Will it get you more recruits?

    February 13, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • The Mike Field

      That's because it's a feature, not a news story. It's a background piece representing the opinion of the author.

      February 13, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  6. Truth

    Jesus Ioves you more than you may know, he wants everlasting life for you but the decision is yours. If he's knocking, will you answer?

    February 13, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      At the door like Jehovah witnesses? How annoying..

      February 13, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
    • god is a dog

      h3ll no!
      if jesus is a knockin at my front door...i will get the sawed off shotgun and blow his sorry white a r z e to bits!
      anyone claiming to be jesus is a m e n t a l r e t a r d e d c0ck swallowing j i z m inhaling n a z i freak!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      February 13, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • god is a dog

      so i guess all those altar boys that got k0rnh0led are going to live happily ever after in heaven with god,eh?

      February 13, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  7. DavidJames

    Jeremy Lin would be like Tebow if he would have hit the winning basked a few times but otherwise averaged 3 points a game, 1 assist and 7 turnover.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  8. N&W 1000

    And the Lord spoke and said, "I shall have pity on these hapless Baltimore Ravens, and send mine servant Tebow to slay the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers."

    And the Ravens still blew it.


    February 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  9. joshu

    I believe in God for the sole reason that I have a conscience. The fact that their is something within me that can tell from right from wrong. Mow I find it curious that morality is found within most human being but it is not found in any other known species. Now you can call whatever reason you want for me I believe it's God.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • god loves to get rimmers

      ur a mental r e t a rd!
      all religions r followed by mentally challenged morons
      my b a ll s a ck sweats...therefore it is alive!

      February 13, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • N&W 1000

      That is the number one point that baffles atheists; they cannot answer it.

      Example: when a human kills another human, why are they arrested? What makes murder wrong?
      However, if a tiger kills a zebra, why is the zebra not arrested?

      IF we came from animals, how come we have a conscience, and they don't?

      February 13, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • N&W 1000

      Nono no no dummy you don't arrest the zebra he is dead, ARREST THE TIGER!

      February 13, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • N&W 1000

      Rimmers is a nut.

      February 13, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • jesus sucked mucho c 0 c ks

      Example: when a human kills another human, why are they arrested? What makes murder wrong?
      However, if a tiger kills a zebra, why is the zebra not arrested?

      u r proof that religious people should be banned from procreating!
      there is no god
      but!there is a w h 0r e in front of the local church who sucks off the priest every sunday

      February 13, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • Jose

      Animals stay in balance with their enviornment, dont consume more than they need, dont overpopulate for selfish reasons, dont pollute the air and water to save money and effort, dont wage wars, dont kill each other over passion, dont portray themselves as gods, or say that they are the only one that knows the truth even though they are less educated then the next person, humans on the other hand do all these things and much worse.....so wait, you were saying that humans have the unique ability to see right from wrong?? ....HMMmmmm

      February 13, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      I'm sorry but Christians like George W. Bush had no trouble dropping a few hundred thousand tons of bombs on Iraq while killing tens of thousands of civilians for perceived evils that ended up being invisible. No conscience there. The Bible itself says if you cause a pregnant woman to miscarry you get fined. If you study political thought, you know that the human conscience is an evolving concept subject to the evolving human condition, not some Rosetta Stone sitting in your medulla oblongatta. The Bible said slavery was fine and people of conscience believed that to be true. Would a person of conscience believe that today? Like magic, the evolving conscience supercedes the Bible because of changes in the human condition.

      February 14, 2012 at 12:43 am |
  10. N&W 1000

    This guy is a Christian? Well, he must be a some kind of nut then, just like Tebow.


    February 13, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  11. The Mike Field

    The difference is, Tim Tebow did not come out of nowhere. He was a Heisman Trophy winner and college phenom whose pro long term pro prospects were doubted. And still are.

    Jeremy Lin literally came out of nowhere in a sport where it is almost impossible to hide talent. The failure of major colleges to recruit him may have as much to do with where he came from as it did with his ethnic heritage. Anyone from Palo Alto (CA) likely would be considered "soft" absent evidence to the contrary. Probably, if he had pushed the issue he could have found a Div. I scholarship somewhere. His failure to be drafted by the NBA had to do with where he went to school, and his failure to get playing time sooner had to do with his not being drafted.

    Just so you know, according to reports Carmelo Anthony was very impressed by Lin and wanted the team to play him more.

    Whatever happens, he's put himself into the 10's of millions ranger in career earning. I don't think his brother will have any students loans to pay off when he finishes dental school.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • jesuswore womens panties and loved giving rimmers

      1 more asian in a world with too many of them!

      February 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  12. j e s u s is my b e aaa t cc h!

    how big is gods c 0 ck?
    seriously, it must be what...a couple of miles?

    February 13, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • Doe

      you are simply a BIG fool.

      February 13, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • jones

      LEt me guess your a skin head nazi... take ya devilnworshippin somewhere else... you dont have to believe in god... Burn we dont care more heaven for us

      February 13, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  13. Go away lifelong celtics fan!!!

    One year Contract with $762,000.

    "A lifelong Celtics fan, I've never liked the Knicks. But I want to see Lin more, too. Until he comes to Boston." Sell it to Boston?
    NO WAAAAAAAAYYYY!!. That would be LeBron James Cleveland to Miami Heat.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  14. cpc65

    Look, enough with these stupid sports media sensationalisms already!

    February 13, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  15. Econgod

    5 games do not make a hall of fame career. The NY papers had the nerve to say "Kobe who", in reaction to Lin's play recently. This may just be a freak hot streak for this kid. I hope for his sake it is real and sustainable; but, it is WAY to earlier to use his name and Kobe's in the same breath.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • PK

      Sure, 5 games do not make a hall of fame career. You can't deny though that what he has done is unprecedented and truly special. No one can predict the future but come on – he's proven that he is a legit NBA player, nothing more and nothing less. You can't predict he'll fail anymore than I can predict he'll be a superstar. Let it be what it is. It's a great story, I'm rooting for him and I hope you can too.

      February 14, 2012 at 12:19 am |
  16. ThinkAgain

    Really? With Syria's people being killed by their government; while genocide continues in Darfur; while children everywhere starve to death or die of easily-preventable disease; God takes time to help athletes win a silly game?

    I believe in God and look to God for guidance and strength, but when I do something well, while I may credit my faith for helping me be my best, I certainly don't think that God is directly affecting the outcomes of my efforts.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
  17. Calcommuter

    One is good in sports. The other is on a football team.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
  18. NYCeclogues

    s every underdog in sports going to be compared to Tim Tebow? This is a nonsensical because for all of the criticisms of Tebow, he was a Heisman trophy winner, for a national championship team that was drafted in the first round. Furthermore, Denver made him a winner by playing great defense and hitting key field goals. He did will them into victories but hardly racked up the stats while doing so. Lin does not have any of this on his resume. He didn’t play for a basketball powerhouse or had the luxury of just being on the floor when his team happens to win. I don’t know how long it will be before he comes back to earth but I intend to enjoy it for the fun sports story it has become.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • BraveSaintStuart

      exactly... I like Tebow. I think he's an awesome athlete. He's a great leader. And I think he's a better QB than people give him credit for. But that he's somehow been doubted by "everyone"... I don't see it. He's been pretty heralded. He's a first round draft pick. He's a champion. Everyone knew he was a winner to start with. That's not exactly "underrated". It's still a good story, but...

      Lin was about to be cut by the Knicks, and when he got his shot, he made it count, and has played at that level against some of the best the NBA has to offer. A win against the Lakers is a pretty big deal, and the way he did it was pretty fantastic too. He's a great story. Bottom line.

      February 13, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  19. Popcorn

    Will they make to NBA FINALS?

    10000000% Yes. They will... Stoudmire. How does he feel about losing his own brother? He refuse to give up. He will fight it to get one. Stoudmir will get that NBA ring for his brother. He will get it with his help - Linsanity.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
  20. Chad

    Not a fan of the Knicks, but I may have to start..

    February 13, 2012 at 10:33 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.