15 January 2010

Brit Hume, Televangelist?

There's been a good deal of brouhaha over Brit Hume's comments about Tiger Woods on this week's Fox News Sunday program. The show included a discussion about Woods' comeback to professional golf in light of the recent revelations about his recurring inability to keep his driver in the bag when prudent (sorry, I had to get one jibe in there). Anyway, Hume made a statement that has struck many people as being out of line. Here's the quote (you can watch the whole segment here):

The extent to which he [Woods] can recover seems to me depends on his faith. He is 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, Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.

The criticisms have been vociferous. Most have taken the form of “What gives him the right to say this?” “How can he claim to be a Christian?” and the like. When I first considered writing about this incident I had some of those initial reactions, but having thought about this further I've arrived at some self-surprising conclusions.

Bear with me. Let's take some of these criticisms head-on. First, “What gives him the right to say this?” Actually, this one's easy to answer. Recognize this language?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...

That would be the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Hume has the right to his free exercise of religion and his freedom of speech (a nice two-fer), and Fox News has the freedom of the press to broadcast it. One could question whether Fox News should be including this kind of proselytizing on a putative news commentary program, but that's really up to them. Don't like what Fox News has to say? Then turn the freakin' channel and get your news and commentary from The Daily Show! (Better yet, turn off the freakin' TV and go read a serious publication like The Economist.)

Then there's the criticism that questions Hume's Christian bona fides, i.e., “How can he say that Christianity has something to offer that Buddhism doesn't?” In fact, this is exactly what hundreds of millions of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians say each and every day, based on their theological understandings and interpretations. Basically, it goes like this:

God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life. Man is sinful and separated from God. Therefore, he cannot know and experience God's love and plan for his life. Jesus Christ is God's only provision for man's sin. Through Him you can know and experience God's love and plan for your life. We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know and experience God's love and plan for our lives.

If you recognize this language, then you and I ran in some of the same crowds in college. Regardless, if you actually believe this theology, then it's incumbent upon you to share this knowledge with as many people as you possibly can. Doing otherwise would be a grave disrespect of your fellow human being's eternal soul, and would be downright unloving.

I have absolutely no question about Hume's sincerity. I think he really does believe what he said, that Buddhism offers no chance for eternal forgiveness, and that for Woods to save his soul he needs to put his faith in Jesus Christ. Further, I believe that in America, Hume has every right to say that as often as he wants and in as many ways as he can.

Now, just because someone's sincere doesn't mean they're right. One can be sincere and also be sincerely mistaken, or sincerely deluded. Buddhism doesn't offer the kind of eternal slate-cleaning that Hume's Christianity does, but that's because Buddhism doesn't believe in a supreme deity who keeps an account of sins and punishes sinners (meaning, of course, all of us) with eternal damnation unless we accept the human blood sacrifice of an incarnated man-god who took on the wrath of said supreme deity (who happened to be his own father) in our stead. (Kind of makes the Campus Crusade language above sound better, doesn't it?) What Buddhism does believe is karma, the principle that causes have effects and that our actions have consequences. This belief makes individuals responsible for their own actions (and according to many interpretations, they are responsible for their actions in past lives as well). It precludes the necessity for divine forgiveness, but does not release a person from the need to find forgiveness in his or her own life and relationships.

In short, I find Hume's error not to be his sincerity of faith, but rather his ignorance of other faiths. He, like so many followers of faith traditions (not just Christians – if you want some really messed-up but dedicated people, let's start with Al Qaeda), is convinced that his way is the one true and right way, to the exclusion of all other possible ways. Many (but not all) people who hold this kind of faith have had little exposure to people of other faiths who display many of the same virtues extolled by one's own faith. This kind of exclusive faith-claim thinking leads to all kinds of bad outcomes (see, e.g., the Crusades, the Inquisition, 9/11, etc.), and it's this kind of thinking that enlightened people need to struggle against if we are to truly save the world.

Fortunately for Hume, there's always some crazier Christian out there to take the spotlight – enter Pat Robertson with his explanation of the tragic earthquake in Haiti:

Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal.

Wow. Brother Pat, you're an asshat.


Jedi Pastor Ken said...

Well said Dan.

Dman said...


I am sure you've heard this before, Dan, but when you say that "exclusive faith-claim thinking leads to all kinds of bad outcomes" a few questions pop into my mind. Doesn't exclusive faith-claim thinking lead to all kinds of good outcomes?

"Religion that is pure and simple is this to care for orphan and the widow in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world" -James

To have faith that it is always right and even a necessary part of our identity as humans to care for and serve the downtrodden is a faith claim that excludes other faith claims like "I should live for my personal safety and gratification."

One leads to the establishment of orphanages and life giving communities, the other leads to bigger mortgages and expanding waste lines (in one of its more benign expressions) or perhaps infidelity.

I realize this is not exactly what you were addressing, but I would press the point; How can you have a meaningful faith-claim that is not exclusive?

I honestly don't see how its possible. It seems more the object and the content of the belief that makes the difference. I may not clearly understand the situation but it does appear that Jesus' redemption (assuming its real) offers a lot more to a man who's ruined their life through poor moral decisions than the law of karma (assuming it is real).

There's a lot more to talk about here, but blogging seems more conducive to dealing with bite-size chunks than long treatises. Thanks for your courage and insight, Dan. I look forward to the conversation.

Dan said...

@Dman, I definitely hear your point, but I think there are examples of faith traditions that don't necessarily claim to have an exclusive hold on Truth (with an intentional capital T). It's not so much that they don't think they have a good angle on Truth, or even a unique perspective that no other faith tradition offers. It's more that they think that they have one part of the truth, rather than the whole thing. The most common story cited in illustration here would be of the three blind men who are touching an elephant to try to describe it - one thinks it's like a snake because he touches its trunk, one thinks it's like a tree because he touches its leg, and one thinks it's like a fan because he touches its ear (or something like that).

I believe this is a Hindu saying: "Truth is one, but the sages call it by many names". That's basically my point herein, not that a particular faith tradition doesn't have some very good things to say, but rather that many faith traditions have some good things to say, and we can learn Truth from many sources.

Thanks for your comments here and elsewhere on my blog - look forward to hearing more from you!

Dman said...

I enjoy your blog very much, Dan. Thanks for the welcome.

I would agree that there are faith traditions that don't claim to have an exclusive hold on all that is True, but I would argue that those traditions are only relevant and functional around exactly those points on which they do make truth claims and that to make a truth claim is necessarily to exclude all of that which is not the truth.

So the blind men may say that they have snake or a fan or a tree or a whatever, but the Truth is they have an elephant and their insights are really only valuable to the degree that they help others recognize they are dealing with an elephant. Otherwise their claims are irrelevant or dangerous. Watch out for the blind man whose found a drinking fountain...

Exclusivity is not bad. Exclusivity is necessary.
I think we just don't like it because then we get confrontation, and historically people have a poor track record in dealing with confrontation well.

The real question in my mind is: by standard do recognize that which is true and that which is not?