Brit Hume: part one

I’ve wavered back and forth quite a bit about whether or not I wanted to weigh in on the whole Brit Hume thinks Tiger Woods should be a Christian thing. But I think there are a couple of points in all of this that are worth bringing into the spotlight, so, albeit a little late, here goes.

First, some disclaimers.

For starters, I think Marcus is right. Our outrage is no doubt better served by protesting actual atrocities committed against Buddhists the world over rather than the vacuous comments of one talking head on a network not generally known for being particularly fair or balanced. Moreover, I think that we’re right in spending our energies on real human suffering, such as that in Haiti right now, and that, in the grand schemes of things, Pat Robertson deserves far more ire than Mr. Hume.

But I also think that some of the commenters on Marcus’ post are, at least partly, also right. This was something of interest to us here in the States, and it is worth talking about to the extent that, to borrow a phrase, media matters (it is the message, after all). So, while I respect the fact that we should all be doing Other Things right now, I’m going to talk about some of the buried messages in this little event, take it as a teaching moment, a way to shed some light on how the media operates, and what it has to tell us about the state of religion and religious discourse in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

My second disclaimer is this: I love you. And right now I’m speaking specifically to all those who spent a fair amount of their precious time writing and talking about the Brit Hume spectacle. Despite anything I may say to the contrary in what follows, I appreciated reading everything that was said (of what I read, of course), and I highly encourage any and all of you to speak your minds whenever you witness an injustice no matter how small or how large. And I realize that this paragraph may seem trite, glib even, but know that I mean every word of it.

So, now that that’s out of the way, we can move on to Mr. Hume’s comments directly. And I’m just going to say it: Brit Hume was right.

When Mr. Hume claimed that Tiger Woods cannot find the kind of redemption in Buddhism that he can in Christianity, he was absolutely correct. Let’s be clear about one thing. Buddhism and Christianity are fundamentally different religious systems based upon fundamentally and often diametrically opposed world views and cosmologies. The “kind of” redemption that Mr. Hume claims Mr. Woods can get in Christianity is predicated on the notion of a savior figure who will, at the end of days at the very least, forgive him of his transgressions. So let’s be honest: Mr. Woods ain’t gonna get that in Buddhism.

But that’s not a bad thing.

One Buddhist blogger (sorry, I can’t recall who now) mentioned that one of the reasons we may want to continue discussing this issue is because it gives us an opportunity to have genuine inter-religious dialogue, a chance for us Buddhists to be heard in the public square, a place in which we are often not permitted to voice our beliefs. If that’s the case, then let’s truly have that conversation. Let’s truly discuss our differences. Let’s put it out there that in Buddhism we don’t get (a Christian-style of) redemption. Instead, we get to hold ourselves accountable for our actions because we know that, one way or another, we will have to suffer the consequences. Let’s put it out there that while holding ourselves accountable, we acknowledge the potentiality implicit within each sentient being for spiritual transformation; that is, no matter how many affairs he may have had, Mr. Woods can still change his direction, his behavior, and realize true awakening, right here, right now. And that as a result, he is as deserving of our compassion as any other sentient being here on planet earth, Mr. Hume included.

That’s some powerful Dharma right there. And nothing to be shied away from or dressed up in Christian lingo.

But instead of that conversation, we were treated to an endless array of Buddhist teachers and thinkers and bloggers doing their best to claim that there is redemption in Buddhism, that we’re just as forgiving and wonderful and important as Christianity. It was a discourse in which we were trying to define our religion not on its own terms but on Christianity’s.

Moreover, even if there was the same kind of redemption in Buddhism as there is in Christianity (or even some kind of redemption), Brit Hume is still right. Mr. Woods isn’t going to “make a full recovery” if he continues to be a Buddhist — at least not in the eyes of his corporate sponsors.

Let’s be honest about this. As long as more than three-quarters of my fellow Americans continue to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and as long as Tiger Woods is not one of them, the fact of the matter is that he will always be “an outsider.” Whereas a handful of left-leaning, Buddhist or atheistic ne’er-do-wells like you and me would no doubt be all bent out of shape and disappointed if Mr. Woods suddenly converted to Christianity, the other seventy per-cent of America would nod their heads and think to themselves, “Well, let’s hope that sets him straight,” and continue TiVo-ing his golf games and buying whatever high-end watch he happens to be wearing.

I hate what I just wrote. It depresses the hell out of me. And that’s how I know it’s true. After all, we live in a country where the governor of South Carolina — a publicly elected official with actual power — can flit off to another continent for an extramarital affair and, when he is exposed for the adulterer he is, can repent to his All Powerful God (or at least the boys on K Street), and no one seems to mind that the state’s legislature is unable to impeach him. Think about that.

The Brit Hume kerfuffle is worth talking about to the extent that it exposes a fundamental hypocrisy in our free-religion democracy. Danny Fisher noted that what struck him as offensive, bigoted, was Mr. Hume’s assertion “that Tiger Woods needs to convert to Christianity ‘if he wants to make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.'” I couldn’t agree with Danny’s offense more. But let’s remember that while Brit Hume certainly does not speak for all Christian Americans, he’s certainly not alone.

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5 thoughts on “Brit Hume: part one

  1. Interesting points.

    I think Brit Hume’s comment was potentially way more insulting to Christians than to Buddhists. It’s really a statement of astonishing cynicism. According to Hume, Christian redemption is, at its core, a PR ploy. It’s a way for Tiger Woods to win back public love, which means winning back his sponsor dollars. It implies you can commercialize and quantify redemption… it’s worth X amount of dollars or Y amount of approval rating or Z amount of extra votes.

    I’m not a Christian of course, but I have a little more respect for Christianity to go along with that.

  2. I have a hard time believing that Hume actually had commercial or cynical intentions when he said his piece…

    And as neither a buddhist nor a christian, I have no (personal) dogs in this race. But I will say this; what is frustrating about Mr. Hume’s comment *to me* is the magical thinking upon which his statement is predicated, and the ends to which that magical thinking is directed.

    That is, His “come to jesus” message didn’t suggest that Tiger actually had to “repent,” only that he had to CONVERT, and that Jesus would do the work for him. This message implicitly assumes that conversion itself may be miraculously capable of a) effecting an unconditional absolution of Tiger’s sins at a spiritual level regardless of personal acountability or subsequent action
    b)transforming public perception of him, performing a sort of social absolution or engendering a sort of benevolent,’christian” forgetfullness in response.

    This form of magical thinking has long been my stumbling block with christian theology, at least as it is popularly imagined– i.e., as it is imagined in statements like Brit Hume’s. Where in this model is the personal accountability that Scott describes as intrinsic to buddhist theology?

    I do not mean, however, to suggest that christian theologians (and contientious practitioners) do not contend with the issue of personal accountability. A quick survey of two important moments in christian literary history will show us that medieval (catholic) writers agonized and delighted over the processes, forms, and spiritual effects of confession, and that early american writers struggled with the notion of personal accountability for action in the context of a theology that assumed election as the sole basis of salvation, irregardless of worldly activity.

    The second instance is more germane to my current point, because this paradox in protestant theology generated a flourishing in the writing of conversion narratives as part of religious practice. These conversion narratives offered an assurance of their writers’ spiritual election (i.e., salvation), that was intended to imaginitevly compensate for the lack of visible signs of their spiritual status in the material world.

    And it strikes me that it is out of such profoundly christian (and, one might argue, deeply “american”) conversion narratives that Brit Hume’s particular form of magical thinking develops…

    …even as it is also implicated in the kinds of PR concerns discussed above, as well as in expectations of instantanaeity that Scott writes about in his post “Why I hate Now.”

    So I protest Mr. Hume as a donkey’s ass, not because he is “wrong” but because he is– above and beyond his demonstration of bias– marrying christian theology to PR and in so doing bolstering the sense of entitlement and exemption from personal responsibility that public figures seem to enjoy.

    As I said, It’s annoying.

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