Americans have conflicting views about faith in the public square. Politicians seek out “photo ops” at a prayer breakfasts. Students gather for faith meetings before and after school. Professional athletes praise God in post-game interviews. But the recent success of Tim Tebow, an Evangelical football player who wears his faith on his sleeve, has sparked new debates beyond the sporting world. Business coach and diversity consultant Howard Ross explores religious expression and suppression in American society.


  • Howard Ross Author, "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance (Rowman & Littlefield); also Principal, Cook Ross


  • 13:17:02

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIYou could say that football is religion in much of America, but what happens when religion becomes a part of football? Take Tim Tebow, for example, the quarterback of the Denver Broncos. For the past several years, Tebow has attracted just as much attention for wearing his evangelical beliefs on his sleeve and writing bible verses on his eye-black as he has for winning a Heisman trophy in college or for getting the Broncos to the playoffs this year.

  • 13:17:29

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe regularly kneels to pray during games, a pose now so familiar that it's become an internet name called tebowing. He's been hailed as a leader and a winner, but he's also been called a golden boy for the religious right, all of which has sparked a conversation about whether we suffer from theophobia and about our level of comfort when religion penetrates our popular culture, our politics and our workplaces. Howard Ross is here. He's a business coach and diversity consultant. He's a principal at the firm Cook Ross, Howard, Happy New Year.

  • 13:18:02

    MR. HOWARD ROSSA Happy New Year to you, Kojo.

  • 13:18:03

    NNAMDIGood to have you here. And you're free to join the conversation by calling us at 800-433-8850 or by going to our website,, offering your opinions or your questions and comments on this issue there or you can simply send us a tweet at kojoshow. Are you uncomfortable when people make public displays of faith? How do you react when you see professional athletes like Tim Tebow cross themselves or actually pray during games?

  • 13:18:30

    NNAMDIHoward, if you watch a lot of professional sports, you're used to seeing athletes making the sign of the cross before they enter the batter's box, hearing them thank God in post-game interviews. I often like to say, but God doesn't bet. But it's not often that an athlete's faith becomes fodder for the writers on "Saturday Night Live," but such is the case with Tim Tebow whose effusive Christianity has set off a culture war of its own. Some people have called on him to tone it down, others have said to shut up. Some have said his faith should be off limits. How do you find people typically react to a person who is so public about his or her faith?

  • 13:19:07

    ROSSWell, I think that, you know, that your point, Kojo, before about the athletes crossing themselves before they go into the batter's box or take free throws, you know, famously watch, you know, NBA athletes who do that. I think what it really speaks to at the heart of this is, the issue is not really what Tebow is doing, the issue is the context that he's doing it in.

  • 13:19:26

    ROSSYou know how it is, that we've been seeing players, I mean, Tom Skinner, you know, who was Chaplain of the Redskins, for years used to have the Redskins whole team tebow...

  • 13:19:34

    NNAMDIWhen Joe Gibbs was the coach of the Redskins, they were basically a religious organization...

  • 13:19:38


  • 13:19:39

    NNAMDI...who also happened to play football.

  • 13:19:40

    ROSSThat's exactly right. And so it's not at all unusual for people to have opportunities for people to pray together as a team. This is something that's relatively commonplace or for individuals to pray in one way or another. The real question is, I think, is what is it about what's going on in our society right now, in terms of the discourse around religion, that has this show up as controversial as opposed to one quarterback who likes to bend, you know, get down on his knees and...

  • 13:20:03

    NNAMDII'm glad you raise that...

  • 13:20:04

    ROSS...make a prayer.

  • 13:20:04

    NNAMDI...because I was raising the Joe Gibbs issue partially in joke, but the fact is that when he was the coach of the Washington Redskin, religious was a -- religion was a central part of their -- and it didn't seem to be that controversial at the time. So it probably has to do with where we are in this society right now.

  • 13:20:21

    ROSSAbsolutely. And we could go back to very famous cases, you know, Sandy Koufax not pitching on Yom Kippur...

  • 13:20:26


  • 13:20:26

    ROSS...when he was he was an athlete, Hank Greenberg not playing on Yom Kippur, way back years before. You know, tons of examples of these and yet they were considered to be curiosities at best. Rarely were, you know, (word?) and often were actually seen as some mark of character on the part of people. And yet, right now, we've got this kind of push-pull. And to think what a push is -- what it points to is that from an identity standpoint right now, religion has emerged as an identity of conflict. It's not so much, I would say, that we're theophobic to use the word that you introduced in -- used in your introduction.

  • 13:20:58

    ROSSIt's more that we're conflict phobic around these issues and/or we go the opposite direction, which is we dig in on things that we make matter, not because of what they are, but because of the point that we're trying to make. So in a culture in which religion is becoming more and more, as we're seeing today, played out in Iowa and we're going to see increasingly...

  • 13:21:18

    NNAMDII'm going to get to that soon.

  • 13:21:18

    ROSS...throughout the campaign. As we see it -- have a culture in which religion is no more considered to be something that's a person's personal -- just something that's personal choice, but also something that's reflective of the kind of person that they are and whether they're going to be good in a business setting or a political setting or something else. All of a sudden, a symbolic action like Tebow's becomes reflective of that tension, not so much in and of itself, but because of what it points us toward.

  • 13:21:44

    NNAMDI800-433-8850, do you consider someone's faith or religion when you're evaluating the qualities that might make that person a good leader or not? Call us, 800-433-8850? How important do you think religion is in your own evaluation of another individual's qualities? 800-433-8850. If you were Tim Tebow's coach or the manager or boss of someone who made faith a big part of their identity at their workplace, what approach or would you take or what approach would you advise a boss to take in that situation?

  • 13:22:22

    ROSSWell, I think that what we would normally say to somebody is that what somebody does as a personal expression of their own faith or belief is something that we create space for in a workplace. We -- fine, if you want to take a, you know, a few moments of prayer. If you're a Muslim employee, for example, and you want to take five times during the day that you need to pray and we set up a special place for that, you know, you could set up a special place for that.

  • 13:22:43

    ROSSThere are lots of organizations now that are having lounges that are set up as sort of generic places where people can go for lots of different periods of rest or reflection, versus when one brings that into the environment in a proselytizing kind of way and that is, it becomes something that's offensive to their fellow workers or bothersome to their fellow workers. Not simply because their fellow workers don't like that they're doing it, but because they're doing it in a way that imposes on or is in some way asserting toward the other workers.

  • 13:23:16

    NNAMDIWell, you answered the other half of my question, but I'll ask it anyway more specifically. What risks do you take as an employee, as a teammate, when you make your faith such a prominent part of your identity at your workplace? What you just described, you don't want to proselytize, on the other hand, if you make it such a prominent part of your identity, do you run the risk of someone interpreting as a kind of silent form of proselytizing?

  • 13:23:42

    ROSSWell, I think it shows up in lots of different ways. I mean, I think that the risk where you're -- as an employee, is that anytime you make it clear that you have a particular position that you're identified with or a particular identity that you have, that people -- that is controversial, you always run the risk of somebody having an opinion about it. So if you take a strong position politically, you have a, you know, that's a possible problem in certain organizations.

  • 13:24:06

    ROSSI mean, you know, you come to certain organizations which are predominately liberal, for example. If you're a strong conservative, you're taking a risk by expressing that and vice versa. I think that the challenge comes when that -- when we don't make a separation between that behavior and their -- and people's performance and that, of course, can be a serious problem for a lot of people.

  • 13:24:26

    NNAMDITim Tebow may belong to a smaller subset of evangelical Christians, but he's a Christian in a country where our cultural is overwhelmingly Christian. What do you think about the hysteria around his faith? What do you think it has revealed to us about the dynamics of cultural dominance in our society?

  • 13:24:44

    ROSSWell, I think this is at the heart of what the issue is. You know, if you look at what's going on -- you know, for example, I think it was Newt Gingrich who, the other day, was talking about the fact -- I happened to catch a clip on the radio, of course, your station, where that he was quoted and he was in one of his speeches and he was talking about the fact that, you know, it was all of this started with the end of school prayer. You know, all of the degradation in his mind of the '60s and everything, you know, the downplay of society and, you know, everything that's happened, it started with the ending of school prayer, which is, you know, I think is a bit specious at best.

  • 13:25:15

    ROSSBut the sense that this represents something, that's at the heart of it. And I think that where the United States is concerned, we've got an interesting cultural background in our society in that we were specifically created as a society with no religious bend to it. You know, famously, Jefferson's words about the separation of church and state and the like is all stuff that we learned about. And yet, if you ask most Americans today, 58 percent of Americans believe that the United States was created as a Christian country.

  • 13:25:47

    ROSSAnd so we've got a dissonance in the reality of history versus the reality of our belief system. And I say reality of our belief system because, for most of us, what we believe is real in our mind. And the fact that the United States has always been a dominate Christian country has embedded that in unconscious ways and assumptive ways into our culture. And so when, all of a sudden in the last 30, 40 years -- because I grew -- I remember, you know, being Jewish. I remember as a kind -- it was Christmas and Hanukah, you know. And it wasn't like it is now where everything that end -- we threw in with Ron Karenga, help me through and Kwanzaa for -- you know, and...

  • 13:26:20


  • 13:26:21

    ROSS...and so now it's three holidays. And, you know, most public, you know, sectarian public organizations do a juggling act to make sure that they all seem the same. But there is still Christianity imbued in everything that we do in this culture. And so when people do things like say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, it seems like something's wrong to some people because it's a shift from that overall dominance. It's not that people stop and say, well, wait a second, there were always people excluded when we said just Merry Christmas. So by saying Happy Holidays, we're including that along with other holidays.

  • 13:26:55

    ROSSNo, it feels like something's being taken away. And that's the role that dominance plays. We often don't see how much our culture is the culture when we're in the dominate group. And you and I have talked about that before around race. That white people don’t see race as much, men don't see gender dynamics as much. Straight people don't see sexual orientation issues as much. The same is true for religion. When you're part of the dominant religious group, in this case Christian, you don't notice as much how other people are excluded by some of the things that are just normal in your mind.

  • 13:27:23

    NNAMDIAnd when you're not a part of the dominant culture, one of the things you see that includes race, if you happen to be a racial minority, is that the religions that tend to be the most disfavor, the most threatening, the most lacking in understanding is those that are associated with, if you will, the darker races...

  • 13:27:40


  • 13:27:40

    NNAMDI...of humanity. If it's a Judaea question, we tend to understand it. If, on the other hand, it happens to be Yoruba, if it happens to be Hindu, if it happens to be Buddhist, if happens to be religions associated with a darker color, then it -- there's something about that that makes us even more uncomfortable.

  • 13:27:58

    ROSSThere's -- the more otherness there that is associated with it, the farther away it is, the more different the language is, the more different the people are in appearance, the more different they dress, the more otherness that's associated to it, the greater the threat potentially it is to us.

  • 13:28:11

    NNAMDIGot to get to the phones, but we got to talk politics for one minute because how this cultural dominance operates in the sphere of politics is, I guess, being expressed at the presidential caucuses going down in Iowa today. They could very well be determined by the preferences of conservative Christian voters in Iowa, people who want to see faith as part of our public dialogue. Is the nature of our political environment any different than the nature of our popular culture or of our pop culture when it comes to religion?

  • 13:28:42

    ROSSWell, I mean, I think that it's -- because of the nature of our political discourse today, it being more polarized than anytime that I can remember. I think that any issue that gets discussed becomes more polarized. And I think in that sense, this becomes more of an issue. You know, as you see in the campaign currently where one candidate is trying to out-Christian another candidate and, you know, or out-conservative or my family does this and you're, you know, you don't -- you're not a real conservative, you know, all of this kind of stuff.

  • 13:29:08

    NNAMDIAt one during this year, a prominent supporter of Texas Governor Rick Perry essentially called Mormonism a cult, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman both Mormons, have not made their faiths...

  • 13:29:17


  • 13:29:17

    NNAMDI...centerpieces of their campaigns.

  • 13:29:19

    ROSSYes, absolutely. And I think that there's no question that anytime that -- as another example of the otherness I was talking about. And, of course, most of it is very ill informed. Whenever we get into a sense when we're reacting to people in this way, it's mostly built around stereotypes and assumed belief systems, not necessarily behavioral aspects of people's lives. But nonetheless, we react to that sense of strangeness or otherness and feel threatened by it.

  • 13:29:44

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. Do you work with people whose faith is a major part of their identity? How do their public expressions of their faith effect dynamics at your workplace, 800-433-8850? A lot of people would like to address this issue. We'll start with Liz in Tacoma Park, Md. Liz, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:30:05

    LIZWell, I always am a little mystified by having sort of dueling prayers taking place in public. The American writer, Mark Twain, pointed out that this regard to war, when people praying to have the enemy smitten and irradiated, that the enemy may be praying the same thing. And it seems to me, at least a bit untoward to be pitting the deity. So you know, this is -- there's a certain element of what I find somewhat offensive, it's a competition that some Christians would say it's -- Christians since Jesus admonished us to go to our rooms and pray with our doors closed. That's all I've got to say. It's a little odd to see people praying for their win, which, of course is also praying for the other guys to (unintelligible) ...

  • 13:30:54

    NNAMDIWell, I am not sure because this issue has come up before. And you will find rarely, I think, in prayers do the leader of those prayers explicitly ask to win the game. Very often the prayer is directed at keeping players safe, at making sure the game is played in an orderly manner and asking the God or whoever they happened to believe in to protect them is what I'm saying, yeah.

  • 13:31:17

    ROSSYeah, absolutely, Kojo. And I think that that -- but I think Liz' point speaks to the point that when we see something like this, which is so symbolic, we tend to interpret it in whatever way we interpret it. And there may -- look, there are undoubtingly are players who pray, let me hit a homerun now.

  • 13:31:32

    ROSSAnd there are players who pray, you know, just because it's gratitude that I'm here to be able to do what I do and make a living at it. And there are players who pray to keep us healthy and safe. And there are players who pray that I be in -- a person of integrity as I play this game. And there are players who pray to, you know, hope the other quarterback breaks his leg. I mean, you know, there are probably all ranges of that...

  • 13:31:50

    NNAMDIThis is true.

  • 13:31:51

    ROSS...within the prayer.

  • 13:31:53

    NNAMDIOnto Will in Laurel, Md. Will, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:31:58

    WILLHowdy, Kojo. Thanks, Tom. You just touched on it a little bit with that -- about the safety issue. I think that's what is the thing. I mean, he kneels down or raises his hand to the sky when he throws a touchdown pass. It's the arrogance -- I'm a Christian. It's the arrogance in that that -- I mean, in Africa, we got people stealing children and forcing them into war, we've got them using rape as a method of war, people starving around the world and God is making -- benefiting Tebow with touchdowns. That's -- the dichotomy of that is what bothers people, I think, inside. Maybe they can't voice it, but inside you go, yeah, right, you know.

  • 13:32:40

    NNAMDIBut if that is Tebow's personal belief, and I don't know that it is, the expression may give that impression, if that is his personal belief. Howard, is that something we could simply ignore?

  • 13:32:52

    ROSSWell, I think that...

  • 13:32:53

    WILLWell, if...

  • 13:32:54

    NNAMDIWell, you first, Will.

  • 13:32:55's not going to (unintelligible) , I'm sorry.

  • 13:32:57

    NNAMDIYou first, Will.

  • 13:32:57

    WILLIt is not -- oh, okay. It's not praying and thanking God when the other team scores a touchdown. He's doing it when he does.

  • 13:33:07

    ROSSRight. Well, I would say there are a couple things in this. There's one which is, I think, we go into slippery slope when we begin to say, well, we're only going to say the prayer is okay when you pray for those things that we consider to be the right things or the most important things. I think, you know, when we talk about having a society in which there's religious freedom, what we say is that people get to pray over whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want.

  • 13:33:27

    ROSSAnd unless it somehow inhibits the rights of other people, our basic tenant of operation in our society has always been that people have the right to prayer in whatever they want, for whatever reasons that they want. But I think that there's something else in what Will is saying and that is that I think some people may be offended by that for the reasons that you're saying, Will. But there are other people who are offended because -- for other, I mean, Bill Maher, his comment about Tebow is a good example of that. Bill Maher is a confirmed anti-religionist.

  • 13:33:57

    ROSSI mean, he, you know, anti-theist. You know, he does everything he can to promote anti-theism. He did a movie about anti-theism. So for him, it's got nothing to do with who -- Tebow could be praying for the kids in Africa when he puts his knee down, it would still be offensive to him and/or bothersome to him, whatever, or the butt of a joke to him, whatever we say. But -- so I think all of this is subject to interpretation.

  • 13:34:19

    ROSSWe all have our rights -- we all have our reactions and interpretations. We can like it or not like it, but the question is, do we believe that our not liking it, for whatever reason we don't like it, or our liking it for that matter should dictate other people's behavior. In this case, should it mean that Tebow should not be -- should be discouraged from praying or that other people should be encouraged doing it because it's the right thing.

  • 13:34:40

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Will. Onto Paul in Gaithersburg, Md. Paul, your turn.

  • 13:34:46

    PAULThank you very much. I, in fact, I'd like to agree with Will and I'm not a Christian. Well, I'm non-denominational. But what I find about Tim Tebow's bowing down at the end of a play and thanking God for the deliverance of the win of the game is -- it's supposed to be humble, but I find it arrogant that he would think that God would actually choose him over other people to win a football game. And I think he should be allowed to do it if he wants to do it. I'm not saying he should or shouldn't pray or anything like that. But I just think there's an...

  • 13:35:22


  • 13:35:23

    PAUL...arrogance in that kind of false humility.

  • 13:35:24

    NNAMDI...question, Paul. I have not been following this very closely. Have you noticed whether or not he prayers after a loss?

  • 13:35:33

    PAULI noticed he doesn't bring it up in press conferences, but I don't really notice whether he drops down into his Tebow pose. But he doesn't bring it up in press conferences, saying, well, I want to thank God. And I thought he should've after the Patriots whooped him. I thought he should've come back and said I'd like to thank God for this opportunity to lose this football game before I get too big of a head about the whole thing.

  • 13:35:56

    NNAMDIWell, I'm not sure...

  • 13:35:56

    PAULBut he didn't.

  • 13:35:57

    NNAMDI...I'm not sure, even if he does say a prayer after games and those people who follow this more closely, feel free to call us and tell us whether or not he does after a game. But I'm not sure that is what he would say after a loss in a game.

  • 13:36:08

    ROSSYeah, but I would say, relative to Paul's comment and I guess Will's to a certain degree, is that I would agree that we could use with an extra dose of humility in our society, in general, whether it shows up in this way or other places.

  • 13:36:20

    NNAMDIPaul, thank you very much for your call. The last time you appeared -- the last time we talked about social polarity, you made the point that some people feel our religious institutions are the most visible forms of segregation in America. How do you think this kind of self-segregation shapes our opinions of those who belong to communities that we are not a part of?

  • 13:36:43

    ROSSWell, I mean, I think that that's -- there's no question. You know, that's the old statement that the most segregated time in America is on Sunday morning and this has been something that people have said for years. And to a large degree, it's true. I mean, there are exceptions to that. There are some churches and mosques and even some synagogues that encourage a lot more perceived...

  • 13:37:00

    NNAMDIA growing number.

  • 13:37:01

    ROSS...then others. A growing number. But nonetheless, we tend to go at our most intimate times to people who are more similar to us and then, of course, we have different interpretations that occur because of that and we go to different, you know, places of worship and that gives us different views of the world and different value systems. And we see that played out politically. I think that the challenge becomes, of course, how identified we become with that. We are that.

  • 13:37:25

    ROSSAnd if we really look at what we know about, you know, cognitive science now and neuroscience and the way the brain works, we know that most of these are the things that we were told, they were lessons that we even come out of the womb believing these things, we were told these things by our parents, by our grandparents, by our family members and by the houses of worship that we were taken to from the time we were two years old or even younger, in a lot of cases.

  • 13:37:46

    ROSSAnd so that becomes the reality of life as we see it. It becomes the way things are. And I -- by the way, I'm not in any way diminishing how strong those values are to us and philosophies and why they're important to people and I have my own and you have your own and we all have them, even those who are, as I said before, I think, you know, using Maher as an example, his anti-religion or anti-theism is as much of a religion in any real sense as somebody who's theistic. I mean, it is a fixed point of view that is truth to him in that regard. For some people, science becomes the new religion or nationalism.

  • 13:38:20

    ROSSI was talking to my son about this over the weekend and we were talking about the fact that Hitler, for example, was notoriously anti-religious, in a sense. But nationalism, Nazis became the religion. So I think that it is inherently something by its nature that says you versus me. And that's why we've seen so many attempts in the past, things like the National Conference for Community Justice which started as a national conference for Christians and Jews. Multi-faith organizations that are occurring all over the world who are trying to cross boundaries and it says, you know, I -- can I, Kojo?

  • 13:38:51


  • 13:38:52

    ROSSI conducted a two-year process with Black ministers and rabbis, for example, here in this city after the Million Man March to rebuild relationships between the Black and Jewish communities and things like that. So, you know, that's, I think, the tension we feel.

  • 13:39:07

    NNAMDIThe line between theology and ideology is indeed a very, very thin line that is...

  • 13:39:12


  • 13:39:12

    NNAMDI...usually crossed over. We're talking with Howard Ross. He's a business coach and diversity consultant. He's a principal at the firm Cook Ross and taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you consider your faith to be a major part of your identity? How do you express it in professional settings, if at all? Call us 800-433-8850, send email to, a tweet @kojoshow or simply go to our website, Here is Pam in Springfield, Va. Pam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:39:46

    PAMThank you for taking my call. I'm a long time listener, first time caller.

  • 13:39:50

    NNAMDIThank you.

  • 13:39:50

    PAMI'm calling because I wanted to remind people that that we are a nation of many faiths, and even people that don't believe in God the way, you know, each other does. And I just am worried when people put faith as the first way that they describe themselves to others, that they're not respectful of people that believe differently, especially in politics it is a little bit frightening to me when people, you know, make that their number one statement. I'll take any comments off the air, but thank you very much, and I did agree with Paul, with many of his comments.

  • 13:40:25

    NNAMDIWell, thank you very much for raising the issue of politics, Howard, because as we head into the thick of this year's political season, what sense do you have for whether or not Americans see religion and faith as qualities that are necessary for a leader?

  • 13:40:41

    ROSSWell, I think that -- I just wanted to touch on something Pam said before I do and then I'll answer the question, Kojo.

  • 13:40:46


  • 13:40:46

    ROSSIs that I think there -- I think we have to make the distinction between people who describe themselves initially through their religion or their set of beliefs, versus people who use those sets of beliefs as they describe them to separate themselves from others. So there's some people who would describe themselves as a Christian or a Buddhist or whatever because it is fundamental to who they are as a human being. That their spiritual practice in whatever form is actually the most important thing in the lives.

  • 13:41:16

    ROSSAnd so without describing that, they wouldn't be describing who they are. However, they also would say that doesn't mean that I'm not open to other people having other similarly strongly held beliefs, or that I don't honor or value the contribution that they've made. It's just that if you want to know who I am, this is who I am. And I think that to some degree we've gotten -- in the political discourse, we've gotten to the point where it's -- that's not good enough.

  • 13:41:38

    ROSSNow it's got to be how true blue of a Christian are you, and it's almost always, by the way, a Christian as we saw with the president. You know, was he -- is he really a Christian, or was he a Muslim or that sort of stuff. And I think that's where we get into the danger zone of all this stuff, where we're now doing (unintelligible) . Now, by the way, this is not unique. I mean, in Israel, there's tension over how Jewish people are. There's certainly -- we know in the Muslim world, there's tension about how Muslim people are.

  • 13:42:03

    ROSSI think what we're really seeing here is much more than about any one religion. It's really the emerging dialectic in our world culture between those who believe in orthodoxy or strict constructionism of religion, or sort of the extreme practice of religion one might say between those who are more secular in the way they view religion, and that's really where the tension is.

  • 13:42:29

    ROSSI feel much stronger to people -- much more strongly connected to people who are outside of my religion who have the same sense of secularism about their religion than I do necessarily of other people who are Jewish who are very different from me in terms of the way they practice Judaism. And I'm not saying they're wrong, I'm just saying I feel more closely aligned with people who are more secular than I do with people who are of the same religion.

  • 13:42:50

    NNAMDIAnd when you say Christian in America, what are you really saying, because Roman Catholics are Christians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Greek and Russian Orthodox, they're all Christians.

  • 13:43:01


  • 13:43:02

    NNAMDITo simply say you're Christian doesn't really define exactly what your faith is, does it?

  • 13:43:07

    ROSSWell, to some people it does and to some people it doesn't. Once again, it depends in what context you're looking. If you're in a world of all Christians, than the difference between what kind of Christianity becomes more important. If you're in a world of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, et cetera, then being Christian is the group I'm part of. Very similar to the fact that when it's just black and white people together, being black is a unifying band, but within the black community being Caribbean and being African born and American born are very different. So I think that we get into finer distinctions as we look at it.

  • 13:43:39

    NNAMDIWe're gonna take a short break. When we come back, if you have called stay on the line. We will get to your call. If you haven't yet -- oh, the lines are filled, but the number is 800-433-8850, you might get lucky. But you can also send email to, or send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:45:48

    NNAMDIHoward Ross is with us, and we are talking about the role of religion in public and professional life. Howard is a business coach and diversity consultant, a principal at the firm Cook Ross, and we're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Howard, when you look at Tim Tebow from the perspective of a business coach, what are the qualities that you think might make him an effective leader? Clearly he's doing something right on that front, because his team has been winning, and I guess like other team leaders, whether they happen to be quarterbacks or coaches, there has to be some characteristic there that causes other people to buy in to whatever it is he is, if you will, selling.

  • 13:46:24

    ROSSYeah. Well, I mean, clearly there are a lot of people who even are critical of him who would say the fact that, you know, people have faith in something gives them a sense of being able to do something. Steve Jobs notoriously talked about the reality distortion field, you know, that there is something about believe in something outside of one's self that allows us to keep going at times when our individual identities would be stopped, that something is going to help (unintelligible) .

  • 13:46:49

    NNAMDIEspecially in his case when all of the so-called experts at building a quarterback say he's not built like any quarterback...

  • 13:46:55


  • 13:46:56

    NNAMDI...his game is not like any other, he can't succeed in the NFL, and he's been doing that.

  • 13:47:01

    ROSSYeah. And in some sense, that's no different than patriotism is for certain people. We know soldiers who go beyond because they're there for their other compatriots. We know that people who say this is for -- it's not just for me it's for my country, it's for my community, or it's for something larger than myself, and in that sense, faith clearly plays a role and we know that oxytocins get created in the brain and people get certain charges out of that.

  • 13:47:22

    ROSSNow, so from the standpoint of Tim Tebow, he's a leader because he leads, because people seem to relate to him, they seem to support him, they seem to buy into him. It could also be that it's a matter of chance and he happens to be with the right team that meets his skills and next year we'll find out that he's a 3 and 15 -- 3 and 13 quarterback, who knows?

  • 13:47:37

    NNAMDIYeah. Don't start losing, please.

  • 13:47:40

    ROSSThat's right. That's...

  • 13:47:41

    NNAMDIHere's Atia in Silver Spring, Md. Atia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:47:46

    ATIAThank you for taking my call. I don't know much about sports, but this topic is so interesting, I just had to call in. I'm a Muslim, and I'm a mother of three young children, so I have two perspectives. One, as a Muslim I know that in Islam, you know, there's no compulsion in religion. So I believe that, you know, what I practice at home if I -- I cannot impose it on others, first of all. And if it offends others, then I should not do anything that, you know, will be visible to everybody and I'm offending them. And then also, but the other point...

  • 13:48:27

    NNAMDIWell, I have to raise this question with you, Atia. If you are offending people merely by making it evident what your faith is around them, simply by the clothing you wear, should you stop doing that because they are offended by it?

  • 13:48:42

    ATIANo. I mean, I think the thing is that the real issue is that, you know, a lot of callers were saying that being religious is, you know, everybody has a right to be religious and to follow their own faith. It's when you're kind of indirectly or directly imposing it on the others next to you, you know, that you're kind of forcing them a certain way to act. That's when it's wrong. But I think the other big thing is that we can't judge other people. I mean, we can't think that, okay, he must be doing this out of this and this intention or whatever.

  • 13:49:17

    ATIAWe just leave whatever somebody is doing and (unintelligible) between him and his God or whoever he's praying to, you know. And we can't think that, oh, he must be, you know, he must have this intention or that, you know. I mean, this is my belief. And then, as a mother of young children, you know, what I think is sad is that it -- you talked about institutions that at school, you know, in order to keep it secular and keep all religious activity, you know, not even at a minimum. But I feel like there is almost no religious introduction to any other religion, so that the only things that they celebrate at my children's school is Halloween and Valentine's Day, which is nice, but I feel like, you know, it's kind of -- it would be nice if they learned about each other's religions...

  • 13:50:05


  • 13:50:06

    ATIA...just to appreciate it, and instead of -- I feel like these two celebrations that they have encourage materialism and don't really have any key values that they learn. So at school...

  • 13:50:17


  • 13:50:17

    ATIA...I feel like they should be, you know, they should be learning something.

  • 13:50:20

    NNAMDI...especially for kids, since all these religious celebrations include food.

  • 13:50:23

    ROSSMm-hmm. Well, I think that, you know, first of all, I really appreciate your call, Atia, because, you know, if any group in my mind has the right to worry about religious persecution at this point in our society, it's Islam. I mean, you know, clearly we're in this, you know, craziness around, I think around Islamaphobia, and, you know, we've seen it with recently this reality show that, you know, that Lowe's, you know, Lowe's canceled….

  • 13:50:49

    NNAMDIYanked its commercials from.

  • 13:50:50

    ROSS...yanked its commercials because they weren't showing Muslims to be enough terrorist oriented.

  • 13:50:54

    NNAMDIViolent terrorists.

  • 13:50:55

    ROSSYou know, it's just nonsense. It just -- it makes no sense, obviously. But I think that there's a really interesting question in this segment, what if it offends others? I mean, what if just being something offends other people. I think we're in a constant dance in our culture always, and in life always, between, you know, how present can I be to the fact that I feel uncomfortable with what somebody else is doing before I start to say you can't do it because it makes me uncomfortable.

  • 13:51:23

    ROSSAnd I think one of the things that we've -- one of the places we've moved in society, and I think this is true for politics, I think it's true for, you know, lots of different things is this notion that if something makes you uncomfortable it should stop, as opposed to that I have a responsibility to observe myself in action, to say, what is it about the fact that this person dresses in a (word?) or something, you know, they're wearing particular clothing, or a yarmulke to work, or they pray before they have a meal while we're sitting around a table together, or they Tebow or whatever else.

  • 13:51:56

    ROSSWhat is it about that other than that hmmm, it makes me feel uncomfortable, and I think there's a difference. I think it was Paul earlier who said, look, I feel uncomfortable with this, it doesn't mean I think the guy has to stop. I think that that's a very different distinction from somebody saying, I feel uncomfortable with this, therefore, you should be doing it. And that's where I think the whole distinction lives.

  • 13:52:17

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Atia. Here is Paula in Fairmont, Md. Paula, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:52:25

    PAULAYes. I was wondering how big of a role do you think the biology plays into this? Because my understanding is originally this was part of the survival of the species, and I was wondering if you've done any research to that piece of it.

  • 13:52:39

    NNAMDIOh, yeah. Let's get into the science religious argument.

  • 13:52:42

    ROSSYeah. Well, I think it is interesting if we look at the history of it, there's a wonderful researcher, a woman named Karen Armstrong, who...

  • 13:52:50


  • 13:52:50

    ROSS...has done some fabulous work around this, if people really want to understand the history of religion, because she manages to do her work without taking a position one way or another. She really studies the evolution of religion. And what we notice when we look at the history of religion is that this notion of religion being about belief at all is a relatively new phenomenon in the last few hundred years. Religion was something that was about mystery and allegory in the early stages of its development, and the notion of science being distinct from religion of course is also a relatively new notion in the last couple hundred years because the early scientists were very religious and they were -- often, and they were using science as a way to explain in their mind how God behaved.

  • 13:53:35

    ROSSSo, you know, God does this by having the blood flow through our bodies in a particular way, for example. It's only in relatively more recent terms or times that we've so bifurcated this notion of science and religion as two completely separate things. And a lot of that has to do with, as I said before, the advent of the more orthodox religious practices that were -- or fundamentalist religious practices.

  • 13:54:01

    NNAMDIPaula, thank you very much for your call. And by the way, if you're interested in Karen Armstrong, we had her on on April 3, 2006 on this broadcast, so you may be able to go into our archives and listen to that. Kevin in Arlington, Va., you're on the air, Kevin. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:54:18

    KEVINHey, thank you very much for taking my call. It's a very interesting discussion and I always appreciate having it. One of the concerns that I have generally is not the diversity we have in religion and the fact that people are allowed to believe whatever they want in a free democratic society, but the concern that I have, and I think the concern that we briefly touched on before we started this, was what do we expect of our elected officials in a context of a secular government. And what we had seen previously was, you know, George Bush, who decided to have a ban on federal stem cell research, or the funding of it, anything outside of 51 stem cell lines that we had originally, for purely theological reasons.

  • 13:55:13

    KEVINAnd I think the concern that a lot of people have is the religious discourse in this country has a lock in some sense on the political discourse as well. So when those two things cross over, people like myself that identify as atheists or secular humanists, are just very concerned when you can say something like that on the floor of the Senate that, you know, life starts at the moment of conception, and not back it up with the tools of science, and that is very frightening to me.

  • 13:55:47

    NNAMDIWell, you know, Kevin, and I'm sure that Howard can address this even better than I can, politicians have always throughout history had to struggle between their personal religious beliefs and what they felt was the best public policy, and I guess making a judgment about an individual has to do with whether you judge -- whether that individual will allow his or her personal religious belief to take precedent when a political or policy issue comes up.

  • 13:56:15

    ROSSRight. I think that -- well, let's start with a particular premise and that is that this notion that there are these set separate belief systems, Christianity is this and Buddhism is this and Judaism is that, is actually, in practice, nonsensical, because the reality is that we've got a huge continuum of people who believe lots of different things, and what (word?) calls cafeteria Christianity, you know, when people pull out Leviticus 18:22 and say that's the reason not to -- that homosexuality is bad, but they don't pull out, you know, other sections, that sort of thing, and the same thing happens with lots of other religions.

  • 13:56:52

    ROSSSo let's start with that premise that we all believe different combinations of things. I think then the question becomes would you rather have somebody saying I'm against abortion because I just believe, you know, I'm a humanist, but I believe, you know, what I believe that conception starts at birth, and that it's -- I don't want to get into the -- and I'm not saying I believe this by the way, but I'm saying...

  • 13:57:14


  • 13:57:14

    ROSS...let's say somebody believes that. They say, I don't believe necessarily that there's any point at which that person becomes a viable human rather that another -- most people, for example, who are pro-choice would say that you shouldn't be allowed to have an abortion a week before the baby is born, because we all assume that, and there are lots of other people who would say back, you know, well, I'm not sure, but the point is, am I better off knowing that the person is making that determination because of their religious beliefs, or am I better off being left in the shadows because they don't discuss their religious beliefs.

  • 13:57:43

    ROSSYou know, personally, I'd rather know where they're coming from. I'd rather know that religion is a factor for them. I can either choose to vote for them or not, but we're all governed by certain rules that we learned when we were kids anyway. It's just some of them are called religion, some of them are called agnosticism or atheism or humanism or other, they're all still bodies of philosophical belief that give us the world we see.

  • 13:58:02

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Kevin, thank you very much for your call. Howard Ross is a business coach and diversity consultant. He's a principal at the firm Cook Ross. Howard, once again, happy new year.

  • 13:58:12

    ROSSThanks Kojo, same to you.

  • 13:58:14

    NNAMDI"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Brendan Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff and Tayla Burnie, with assistance from Kathy Goldgeier and Elizabeth Weinstein. The managing producer in Diane Vogel. Our engineer Andrew Chadwick. A.C. Valdez is on the phones. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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