As far as we can tell, New York Press columnist Matt Taibbi doesn’t give a damn about religion. But that doesn’t stop him from writing some of the most incisive — or, at least, the sharpest — religion media crit out there right now. Even when he’s not writing about religion.

Last week it was Negroponte & the Nuns. This week it’s football. But really it’s the same old story. “The game,” writes Taibbi, “is about passion and violence and obedience and sacrifice.” At least, that’s what Negroponte told the nuns, right before he — well, forgive and forget, we always say.

Except when it involves a mythical figure like former Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman, who, though recently killed in action in Afghanistan, will “live forever in our hearts,” as more than one tabloid put it. A football hero turned war hero, Tillman “fought for… something.” writes Taibbi.

I know what you’re thinking: Pat Tillman was brave, and he was selfless, and he doesn’t deserve this kind of irreverence.

Agreed. But he doesn’t deserve reverence either. He deserves a press that cares enough about the deaths of brave, selfless soldiers in general to find out who killed this one in particular, and why, and what he was doing when he died. Instead, he got hero worship and a place in the pantheon of American civic religion.

Taibbi points out that of the many praise songs in Tillman’s name sung by the press, only one media outlet – The New York Times – speculated on who killed Our Hero. According to the paper of record, it was the Taliban. Or it was Al Qaeda. Or it was “other fighters.”

Or maybe it was bandits. Or maybe it was friendly fire. Or maybe it was corrupt Pakistani forces. Maybe it was Osama himself, with a sucker punch and a scimitar.

One thing’s for sure: It was Them. The evildoers. The opposite of Us. The good-doers. The press, though, isn’t nearly as interested in what good Tillman was doing as it is in the $3.6 million he passed up to do it. $3.6 million – that’s a whole lotta good!

The idea that religion is the opiate of the masses is one of the dumbest cliches going, except when it’s not. The press just served up a big bowlfull of opium, taking things that are good — sports, a guy who gave up the easy way out in order to fight religious fascism — and rolling them into a potent blend of tautological mythology, laced with cheap piety. They canonized the former Cardinal because saints sell well in times like these, when hard questions come at the painfully high cost of hard answers.

“Passion and violence and obedience and sacrifice.” The burnt offering sends up such sweet smoke, it’s easy to ignore the mirror it provides, and its uneasy reflection.