Brit Hume on Tiger Woods, Buddhism, and Christianity

Brit Hume, who currently serves as a senior political analyst for Fox News, sparked a bit of controversy on Sunday when he opined regarding what Tiger Woods should do in light of his highly publicized string of extramarital affairs. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Hume said the following:

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.”

I was surprised to hear Hume speak this way—even despite the fact that he’s gone on the record saying he wanted to pursue his own faith more upon his recent retirement from previous roles at Fox News. I was surprised simply because such things just are rarely, if ever, said in venues like Sunday morning news-talk.

Much less surprising is the fact that Hume and his comments have quickly become the target of criticism. MSNBC’s David Schuster tweeted, “I respect everybody’s faith, different from mine or not. But don’t use a sunday news show to preach your faith. Analyze the news. In the interest of fairness, that sunday show should make time for a member of Bhuddism given Brit’s criticism of that religion.” Similarly, Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic wrote, “The pure sectarianism of this comment—its adoption of the once-secular stage of political journalism to insert a call for apostasy—is striking.” Scanning the comments on a few blogs and news stories turned up—how shall I put it—“more strident” feedback.

All this sparked a number of related thoughts:

  • More than a few people have expressed that Hume’s comments are out of place on a “news” show. On one level, this is curious to me. None of the Sunday morning news-talk shows (not to mention much of cable news programming in general) are exclusively or even mainly news “reporting” programs. They’re designed for people to offer opinions and engage in debate. What Hume did was in a substantial way no different than what happens on those shows on a near continual basis.
  • Of course, it was the particular opinion Hume offered that proved to be the controversial point. His perspective was not only openly religious, it was specifically advocating Christianity. But here’s a question: why is this a problem? Schuster’s admonition not to use a Sunday news show to “preach your faith” strikes me as a bit naïve. How often do people go on such shows and express positions that are thoroughly tied—whether overtly or not—to their own moral and religious beliefs? I understand people disagreeing with what Hume said, but why is he out of bounds in saying it? Does our society’s supposed love for the free exchange of ideas preclude the free exchange of religious ideas?
  • This brings up an interesting question. Would Hume’s comments have drawn similar media criticism if the roles were reversed? In other words, had Woods been a Christian and Hume advocated he embrace Buddhism, would there be a number of media members calling the latter out as inappropriate? Perhaps, though I’ll admit I have my doubts. My own hunch—and I could be wrong—is that if Hume were criticized in such a scenario, it likely would have a different tone. More along the lines of “that was unusual/weird” than “that was offensive/inappropriate.”
  • I’d also suggest that Andrew Sullivan’s reference to a “call for apostasy” is a bit over the top. It seems to suggest that anyone to try to convince another to change his or her religious beliefs is somehow reprehensible, an idea that is patently absurd in a society that values the freedoms of expression and religious belief.
  • Often underlying these controversies is a prevailing notion that everyone should treat different religions as equally valid, at least in public conversation. But in what other instance do we all submit to the idea that you can’t publicly advocate one idea or belief over another? Are all political viewpoints equally valid? All economic models? All parenting strategies? All offensive schemes in the game of football?
  • As for Schuster’s suggestion that Fox News should bring on a Buddhist, my answer is: great. In fact, why not interview both a Christian and Buddhist authority and have them advocate for their respective religions?

Having mentioned these things, I’m not sure that Hume’s comments were the wisest to make from the standpoint of advancing the cause of Christ, though I am a bit torn on the issue. On the one hand, I substantially agree with what he said, and I was personally encouraged that he said it. And the mere fact that many people criticized him (even fiercely) doesn’t prove it wasn’t the right thing to do. Jesus promised that and more would happen to those who follow him.

One the other hand, it’s at least partially because much of our society has a negative view, warranted or not, toward expressing and advocating religious beliefs in this kind of public venue that I wonder whether the overall effect of Hume’s remarks is positive. Christians might be ecstatic, but were many outside of the faith more inclined to embrace Christ? Answering that question invites a larger discussion, but I think it’s one worth having.

*On a related note, for those wanting to delve more into issues of religious expression in the public square, I’ll again recommend Hunter Baker’s The End of Secularism, the subject of The Crossing’s next book discussion on February 15th.

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