By Peter Sprigg
The liberal blogosphere has erupted in outrage over comments by Fox News analyst Brit Hume on "Fox News Sunday" (which he reiterated to Bill O’Reilly on Monday) suggesting that Tiger Woods’ life might improve if he were to—brace yourself!—become a Christian. Specifically, when asked for 2010 predictions, Hume said:
“Tiger Woods will recover as a golfer. Whether he can recover as a person I think is a very open question, and it’s a tragic situation for him. I think he’s lost his family, it’s not clear to me if he’ll be able to have a relationship with his children, but the Tiger Woods that emerges once the news value dies out of this scandal — the extent to which he can recover — seems to me to depend on his faith. He’s said to be a Buddhist; I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.’”
That anyone should be surprised—let alone shocked—when a Christian recommends Christianity is itself perhaps an illustration of the depths to which our society, the media (and perhaps American Christianity) have fallen. But shocked they are. “Darts of derision should be aimed at Hume,” declares The Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales. “First off, apologize. You gotta.”
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Apparently, Hume’s apologetics require an apology not just because he violated the well-known constitutional principle of the separation of church and television (?), but because he expressed his heretical disbelief in the scientific theory that all religions are equally valuable and effective.
Several things should be pointed out here. First of all, the depth of Woods’ Buddhism is questionable. When asked directly in a videotaped interview with Reuters in 2008,
“Are you a practicing Buddhist?” Woods replied, “Umm . . . I practice meditation. That’s something that I do—something my mom taught me over the years.” Referring to his Buddhist mother, he added that “we have a thing we do each and every year, we always go to temple together.” So to call Tiger Woods a Buddhist is like saying that a person who prays and goes to church once a year is a “Christian.” I think most “practicing Christians” (and probably most “practicing Buddhists”) would have a higher standard.
However, even if we assume that Mr. Woods identifies enough with Buddhism to take offense at Hume’s comment—should he? Has Brit Hume slandered Buddhists by mischaracterizing their theology? Not really. Barbara O’Brien, author of “Barbara’s Buddhism Blog,” admits, “Mr. Hume is right, in a sense, that Buddhism doesn’t offer redemption and forgiveness in the same way Christianity does. Buddhism has no concept of sin; therefore, redemption and forgiveness in the Christian sense are meaningless in Buddhism.”
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Buddhism is a religion of works, in contrast to Christianity, which is a religion of faith and of grace. Woods himself showed his understanding of this in the same Reuters interview, saying:
“In the Buddhist religion, you have to work for it yourself, internally, in order to achieve anything in life—and, in Buddhism, set up the next life. But it’s all about what you do and the internal work. So, that’s one thing [my mother’s] always preached is you have to work for everything in your life, and you get out of it what you put into it.”
The problem is, if Tiger Woods now gets out of this life what he’s put into his moral life, he’s in a heap of trouble. Buddhism is not tolerant of sexual libertinism—even Barbara the Buddhist Blogger agrees that it’s “fairly plain that Mr. Woods’s conduct has been falling short of the Third Precept.” If Buddhism is true, not only is there no redemption for him in this life, but because of reincarnation, Woods will be paying a price in the next life as well. According to Eerdmann’s Handbook to the World’s Religions, in Buddhism, “[G]ood works automatically bring about a good rebirth, bad works a bad one.”
Brit Hume was simply, and accurately, pointing out the difference between this Buddhist view and the Christian one. Another book on comparative religions notes that in Christianity, “[W]hen the commandments are broken and sin is committed, the believer has recourse by repenting and receiving absolution by the Christ who atoned for sin (1 John 1:9). No such recourse is available to the Buddhist.”
So it would appear that Brit Hume was accurate in his description of both Buddhist and Christian theology. But did he still do something wrong in suggesting that Woods should accept Christ? The Post’s Shales thinks so, asking indignantly, “[I]s it really his job to run around trying to drum up new business? He doesn’t have the authority, does he, unless one believes that every Christian by mandate must proselytize?”
The word “proselytize” is usually used pejoratively and sometimes with an implication of coercion. But the dictionary definition is simply, “to induce someone to convert to one’s faith.” By that definition—yes, Mr. Shales, it is his job and he does have the authority. According to the Bible, both (the job and the authority) were given by Jesus to his followers shortly before he ascended into heaven. Christians call it “The Great Commission:”
“Go therefore and make disciples of [i.e., “proselytize”] all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you . . .” (Matthew 28:19-20a, NASB)
Brit Hume has every right to share his faith on television, and he should be commended for doing so, not condemned for it. Tiger Woods, of course, has an equal right to tell Brit Hume to go jump in a lake. Everyone else should lay off.
But Woods would do better to listen to Hume’s counsel, and heed it.