Atheist David Silverman to Tim Tebow: Read Matthew 6:5

Why does it take an atheist to point out that Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, a “Christian,” in making flamboyant displays of public prayer, is actually not following Jesus’s explicit admonition in the Sermon on the Mount not to do this?

Here’s atheist David Silverman being quoted in a CBS Denver news story:

It is not surprising Tebow ignores Matthew 6:5 in which Jesus says, ‘When you pray, do not pray like the hypocrites in the street.’

It’s “not surprising” that Tim Tebow ignores Matthew 6:5 because he’s either: (1) stupidly ignorant of his own religion; or (2) not actually a serious follower of the Jesus depicted in the Gospel of Matthew.

Either way, that doesn’t reflect well on Tim Tebow.

But why aren’t Christians themselves more vocal about this?

Might it be because most of those who declare for Jesus aren’t actually serious followers of Christ themselves?

American-style “Christianity” would probably be seen by the first followers of Jesus as a grotesque mockery of what they actually believed. Those contemporary unbelievers who deride this heretical form of Christianity are justified in doing so. The true spirit of Jesus, which was non-conformist and outraged by what is false, belongs more to them than to most Americans who call themselves “Christians.”

Contemporary atheists are “angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2) in our midst. Listen to them.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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16 Responses to Atheist David Silverman to Tim Tebow: Read Matthew 6:5

  1. David Yates says:

    I think I may have already mentioned this somewhere on this site before, but with this criticism David Silverman, even if inadvertently, points to why it’s indicative of a certain level of arrogance possessed by far too many atheists by presuming to tell Christians what they’re supposed to believe and how they’re supposed to behave in order to be “good Christians” as far as they’re concerned.
    There may be certain aspects of “American” Christianity that bear legitimate criticism, but Tim Tebow’s faith is hardly among them. Indeed, it appears far more likely that what it is about the Bronco’s QB that has so many of his critics’ collective panties in a bunch is Mr. Tebow’s distinct — almost Ned Flanders-like — sincerity. And, for that matter, the anti-Tebowers out there come across as closely akin to Homer Simpson and his inexplicably visceral dislike for his neighbour, who has really done nothing to wrong him and, hence, has really done nothing to deserve the animosity directed toward him.
    As far as it goes, the fact is, Tim Tebow embodies the exact opposite of those aspects of American Christianity that deserve criticism: his public displays of faith are not only sincere but are also positively lived-out! He doesn’t thank God for a victory or game-winning TD pass completion and then go out, get hammered or stoned, and bed a bunch of lingerie models. From what I’ve heard, he eschews such invitations and enticements in favour of hitting the team’s play-books to prepare for the following week’s game. As well, his charitable works are well-known — but not touted by him on his own behalf, but rather by others — and he has spent his summers working overseas on short-term missions helping medical staff in such places as Thailand and the Philippines.
    This brings me to Mr. Silverman’s specific charge against Tim Tebow. He’s right in that believers are not to ostentatiously display their works of righteousness publicly. But they’re not to do so with the goal of self-aggrandizement. Just prior to Matt 6.5, Jesus puts this in perspective: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men TO BE NOTICED BY THEM…. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, SO THAT THEY MAY BE HONOURED BY MEN” (6.1-2), etc. But they’re not to hide their faith or good deeds either. In fact, in the preceding chapter Jesus taught: “You (his disciples) are the salt of the earth…. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, so it gives light to all who are in the house. Therefore, let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (5.13-16).

  2. The Alchemist says:

    “if inadvertently, points to why it’s indicative of a certain level of arrogance possessed by far too many atheists by presuming to tell Christians what they’re supposed to believe and how they’re supposed to behave in order to be “good Christians” as far as they’re concerned”

    The irony in this statement is palpable.

    • David Yates says:

      So, you’re claiming that Christians make a habit of telling atheists what they’re supposed to believe and how they’re supposed to behave in order for them to be “good atheists” as far as Christians are concerned? Because if not, I fail to see the irony.

      • Jack Marsh says:

        You are correct David, that the above comment certainly isn’t irony but that’s not what I wish to comment on. Now I in no way wish to engage in a debate, just giving my opinion as you did earlier, I just do not agree that that is what atheists are doing. IMHO, they are simply pointing out the inherent hypocrisy of a bunch of people saying that this or that book spells out EXACTLY what it is they are supposed to believe and EXACTLY how they are supposed to act and then failing to actually follow through with these actions while proclaiming such religious belief and faith. On the other hand I do agree that what Tim Tebow is doing falls more under the scripture you mentioned then the one that David Silverman used, and as such he does not fall under this label of being a hypocrite of his faith in my eyes. I may not agree with everything he believes or even you, but I do have respect for others and their beliefs. Thank you.

      • The Alchemist says:

        Christians don’t make a habit of it. It is not something that some choose to do of their own volition. It’s an absolute fundamental aspect of their religion. According to Christian doctrine, if you don’t believe, God does not accept you. Your soul is damned and burns in hell for eternity. That message has been spread far and wide for centuries; it still is today and certainly will be tomorrow. So, yes, it’s perfectly ironic for a Christian to be complaining about someone else telling him what’s right and wrong. To put it mildly.

  3. Carol Ann Floyd says:

    Dave Silverman…do you realize that you got on one knee for the whole world to see? Are
    you an athesists…gee…is that spelled wrong…to bad…or did you geneflect to “God”? Maybe
    you changed your mind for the whole world to see that you made a mistake!

    Tim Tebow is ‘fantastic’…his parents made a great decision not to abort him and this is
    what the world needs…

    This is from a “Charistian woman, Child of “God”, Woman of “God”…and this is what is
    feels like to crush the serpent’s head.

  4. David Yates says:

    Thank you, Jack. The truth is, if Christians were as monolithic in our beliefs as is being implied, there wouldn’t be so many various and diverse Protestant denominations. That said, there are not that many Christians who would argue that the Bible “spells out EXACTLY what it is they are supposed to believe and EXACTLY how they are supposed to act.” Nevertheless, most Christians became disciples of Jesus as a direct result of realizing and admitting that, when it comes right down to it, we’re not very good people — that is, we are (to use a now archaic term) sinners. Christians, at their best, don’t pretend that we’re in any way better than non-Christians. Put another way (and being so bold as to use myself as an example), I for one refuse to stick one of those “Jesus fish” bumper stickers on my car. Why? Because I know that when I’m cut off in traffic, I’m as prone to getting angry and flipping off the offender as the next guy. I’m not at all confident that I’m morally better than anybody else, but I am fully confident that God loves me, that he sent his Son to die for me, and that as a result he saved me. I can be this confident because, if you’ll notice, none of it is dependant on how good I am (thank God!).

  5. concerned christian says:

    Santi, I wonder why so many people feel threatened by Tim Tebow display of his christian faith, while they applaud any other group displaying whatever faith they have in whatever set of beliefs they have.
    How did we react to the movie “The Chariots of fire” ?
    What was our reaction to Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul jabbar and many other players declaring their Islamic faith?
    How about all those actors and celebrities who continuously preach to us their Buddhist, or new age religion, or their dedication to the Church of Scientology?
    How about all those scientists who are continuously telling us that they are atheists? and insult all the followers of any religion?
    As for publicly proclaiming Christian faith, you can not take one verse and ignore the rest of the Bible. There are many verses that challenge us to publicly confess our faith in Jesus, and here are some
    “Therefore, everyone who acknowledges me before people I, too, will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.” Matt. 10:32
    “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” 2 Tim 4:2
    “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter 3:15

    • Santi Tafarella says:


      I would say that there’s a difference between saying who you are and putting on a show of praying in public. One is in keeping with the gospel, the other appears to contradict a well-known admonition of Jesus, and therefore makes the person praying look to be either stupid or a hypocrite.

      In my town, the mayor and city officials put on a big show of public prayer. They have an annual prayer breakfast, and they pray to Jesus before every city council meetings. They make a show of their piety. It suggests (at least to me) that they are Christianists and not Christians.

      But I’m probably being hard on Teebow. He can do what he wants (obviously). He’s charming and happy and rich. I wish I were all these things. Maybe it’s envy and snarkiness on my part.

      One more thing. All displays of self righteousness—left or right—in the contemporary world are, in my view, grossly misplaced. Global capitalism and media have completely and utterly compromised every human being’s ethical compass, making us all callous. The poor, for example, make for the rich and middle classes their shirts (when Jesus said it ought to be the other way around). And global media makes us aware of every human sorrow—from earthquakes in China and Haiti to nuclear accidents in Japan. We could, at any moment, give all we have to a worthy cause, and very few of us actually do.

      So when we get worked up about one thing, it invites the question: why didn’t you get worked up about this or that other thing of equal moral claim upon the conscience?

      A lot of humans say they follow God, but few actually enter into the abyss of human suffering with Him (or Her), helping strangers—“angels unaware”—until, of course, it happens to themselves or someone in their immediate family or nation. Nobody gets out alive, but we build walls around ourselves, cutting ourselves off from others. Then we pray in front of others, putting on a display of righteousness, or engage in some other form of public sanctimony (such as writing a sassy blog post)!

      We are all very, very far from the kingdom of God.

      —Santi : )

  6. concerned christian says:

    From your previous postings I know that you do not like that some city officials in Lancaster are using religion as a way of getting votes and covering up for their misdeeds. Since I don’t know these people, I would not argue this issue, but the life of Tim Tebow is well known and he has conducted himself with honor so far. I truly find it puzzling that while ex-felon are given a pass on their previous infraction, a praying quarter back is hammered for his display of faith.
    Here I will volunteer my own explanation of what’s going on. In life the most polarizing people are those who hold strong belief in something. This belief could be in a certain ideology, which is OK as long as this ideology has a positive impact on the world. But sometimes these people could be self centered, and the God they worship is themselves. The biggest challenge for all of us is to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff. Having said that I will always side with an honest atheist over a fake Christian.

  7. David Yates says:

    @The Alchemist
    Again with telling us Christians what we believe and how we’re to behave. What is it with you guys?!
    Aside from that, Alchemist, you’re missing the point (and given your intelligence, I can’t help but think you’re missing it deliberately). I certainly don’t mind being told what’s right and wrong. Frankly, I hear it a lot. But I far prefer hearing it from fellow Christians with whom I share the same moral code and who does it to encourage me toward a deeper relationship with my God. Why would I want to hear it from a non-believer who presumes to tell me what I should or shouldn’t be doing or believing in order to be a better Christian as far they’re concerned? I don’t hear Christians telling atheists what they should or shouldn’t be doing or believing in order for them to be better atheists as far as Christians are concerned. (Thus, there is no irony here whatsoever.)
    Here we have atheists accusing Christians of being hypocrites and of us not being serious followers of Jesus and his teachings (or, of being ignorant of the tenets of our faith). And the specific accusation directed toward Tim Tebow is not only false, it’s ridiculous — if anything, the man is sincere in his faith. Additionally, in his oh-so courageous attempt to disparage Mr. Tebow, David Silverman quotes from Matt 6.5, but both incorrectly interprets it and inappropriately applies it.

    • Santi Tafarella says:


      The reason atheists can (and should) enter religious discussions, judging religions, is because Jesus (and Mohammmad and Moses and Krishna and Buddha) do not belong to the faiths to which they are associated. In the 21st century, these figures belong to global culture. The texts associated with them can be read by anybody in translation and verdicts drawn (and hypocrisies among “followers” noted). No man is an island. How these texts are interpreted impacts everyone.

      Thus, you do not own Jesus anymore than Hindus own yoga. Below is an example of a Hindu spiritual practice being appropriated by Westerners for, shall we say, other than spiritual purposes.

      Are such syncretisms fair game? Yes. Why? Because Hindus don’t own Patanjali (or any other early yoga innovator). No religion gets to escape full public view and dissection on the Internet, nor does it get to own how people apply it or what they notice about its (self-proclaimed) followers. An atheist commenting on Jesus’s followers or a Christian commenting on the Nietzschean consequences of atheism are not out-of-bounds or acting absurdly. Jesus is not the property of 21st century Christians and Nietzsche is not the property of atheists. Because of our inescapable interconnection with one another in the 21st century, the dialogues invariably cross the boundaries set by earlier, more isolated, eras.

      • Punisher says:

        If you really believe that then how can you say then you got that passage right since it is all open to interpretation anyway? I got it- freedom for you to do that but stupid of others to do. Do as you say not what you do.

  8. Punisher says:

    Actually, you are stupid to cite one passage out of context then claim Tebow stupid of his own religion for not following your stupid claim on what his religion is. Try reading the whole Bible especially the New Testament not just select one passage to make asinine comment that his religion forbid him to be public about his faith. The Bible also say to make your light shine before men so others can see your good deeds and praise God. Or make disciples of all nations. Or in all things glorify God. Or if we deny Jesus before the Father, He will deny us before the Father.

    Not to mention many public acts of prayer in the Bible including by Christ.

    Christ was saying don’t pray for the wrong reasons for glory of self.

    He did not preach against public prayer.

    Only an idiot can cite that passage to call Tebow stupid for not knowing his religion.

    It is you who is both ignorance and stupid.

    • Santi Tafarella says:


      Nice way to straw man my position. I did not say being out of the closet about your religious beliefs is forbidden by the Jesus of Matthew’s gospel, but that prayer in the gaze of strangers—putting on a show of righteousness before them—is. You have given me no alternative reading of the passage that tells me I’m misreading it. Obviously, Christians gather and pray among themselves. But to make a public show of it before outsiders is the gesture that the Jesus of Matthew doesn’t like.

      As for reading the whole NT, you are making a (false) assumption that the various writers of the NT agree with one another (and would have agreed with one another if they knew each other). You are, in other words, artificially contextualizing Matthew’s gospel if you try to read it in the light of some other passage in the NT (say, something from Paul’s letters or the Gospel of John). The proper context for any reading of the NT is to ask what that specific author believed—in this case, Matthew. There isn’t, after all, one Jesus, but at least half a dozen. There’s Matthew’s Jesus and Mark’s Jesus and Luke’s Jesus and John’s Jesus and John the Revelator’s Jesus and Paul’s Jesus and the Pseudo-Pauline Epistles’ Jesus, etc.

      To conflate the different Jesus’s presented by different authors who may (or may not) have personally known one another or agreed with one another is to (deliberately?) misread these texts.

      If words have meaning, the Jesus of Matthew’s gospel discourages prayer before the gaze of passing strangers. You’ve offered me no evidence this is not the case.


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