Tigerology Institute, comparative religion department

A Beltway colleague attempts a contrarian defence of Fox News panelist Brit Hume, who aroused widespread wrath a week ago by suggesting that troubled Tiger Woods should abandon Buddhism because it doesn’t offer “the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith.” The Hume imbroglio is funny when viewed from the standpoint of the convinced atheist: if you regard the major religions as a buffet of indistinguishably nonsensical self-help regimens, Hume’s “proselytizing” appears no more dangerous than recommending some particular book about sex addiction or suggesting that Tiger go on a program of Graham crackers and cold showers. Hume was asked what he thinks Woods ought to do, and gave his best answer. What is objectionable about this?

We do have a strong social taboo, double-reinforced on television and radio broadcasts, against defaming particular religions. But as Carl Cannon points out, it’s not clear that Hume said anything untruthful or unfair about Buddhism. Every great religion has particular practical strengths, and “forgiveness and redemption” are rightly recognized as very strong suits of Christianity. Buddhism offers no escape from the accounting of accumulated karma: “redemption” is foreign to it. In Buddhism, you can’t declare bankruptcy. You work off your debt, in this life or the next.

If Tiger were choosing a new faith to believe in sincerely starting today, and Christianity and Buddhism were the available choices, he would be crazy to choose the latter and thus take a thousand pounds of karma onto his shoulders at the outset of his spiritual trek. He should obviously take the Get Out of Jail Free card. This is not really how anybody chooses a religion, or it is not supposed to be. We are not supposed to hold beliefs because they are pleasant or convenient or conducive to our happiness: we are supposed to believe that which is true about the world. But if you’ve got a belief to sell to others, as Brit Hume does, it is easier to take the low road. Get ’em with the “forgiveness” pitch when they’re down! Tell them they can be “born again”! They can talk themselves into the theology and the cosmology and the tall tales later! Perhaps it’s the case that when Christians tell stories about the Devil trying to trick vulnerable humans into signing away their souls, they are projecting their own behaviour onto a fictitious adversary.

The real irony is that if we were choosing a faith for Tiger as a practical guide to his future behaviour, instead of a source of comfort, we might see distinct advantages in Buddhism. The ethical doctrine of the Buddha does not depend on what pleases some divine being; it is founded on the idea that suffering is caused by desire. Does it seem likely that Tiger would argue with that one?

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