Tim Tebow and the not-so-secular city

0d37The trade of Tim Tebow to the New York Jets brought a burst of publicity for the city's iniquities. It seems that pretty much all the media - including the city's tabloid dailies and publications ranging from the National Enquirer to the New York Times - picked up that theme, so it's too late to undo it now. The Times put it this way: "Tebow is also a somewhat incongruous fit: an outspoken Christian playing in a city known for its extensive night life and a member of a franchise made famous by the bachelor stylings of Joe Namath and currently known for the profane speeches of its coach, Rex Ryan."And this, from the National Enquirer: "It is unclear how the pie-eyed pundit of the pigskin will respond to the multitude of temptations New York has to offer."Not to step on the pride of my home town, but the fact is that New York is hardly a godless den of iniquity - it's a city where most people pray every day, and large majorities believe in heaven, hell and life after death.That was the result of a poll Gallup did for my newspaper, New York Newsday, when I was its religion reporter 21 years ago. I don't think the situation has changed, especially with the addition of so many immigrants since then. As Gallup found, New York City residents were as likely as other Americans to say religion was very important in their lives.

newscoverIf New York has a reputation for non-belief, it's because the city is so often identified with the smallest of its five boroughs, Manhattan. In Manhattan, 17 percent of those surveyed said they didn't believe in God, life after death, or miracles. In the Bronx, the figure was 1 percent. The poll found that 53 percent of New Yorkers surveyed said they prayed at least once a day, three points above the national average at the time.New York has many evangelical Christians, with a particularly strong presence in the poorer neighborhoods of Brooklyn and the Bronx. They don't get quoted in the newspapers very often, but, as I learned on the religion beat, they're happy to speak out if you ask them to.To say that it's "incongruous" for a Christian athlete to play in the Big Apple because it has a night life is, well, incongruous.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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