Brit Hume was right about Buddhism – or maybe half right.
Earlier this month, the right-wing Fox commentator (redundant) was talking (like practically everyone else on TV) about the sexual sins of Tiger Woods.
"He is said to be a Buddhist," Hume intoned with gravitas. "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 your faith, turn to the Christian faith, and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.'"
Of course, the elite, liberal, Dalai Lama-loving media went nuts. The Buddhist blogosphere erupted. Jon Stewart mocked the ignorance and intolerance of it all.
Hold on folks. Let's try to move beyond the "my religion is better than your religion" rants (including within the Buddhist ranks) and think about this.
Here's how Brit Hume is right: Buddhism is a non-theisic religion. There is no God or priest to forgive you. Buddhism does not promote the same go-to-heaven promise of redemption offered by conservative evangelical Christianity.
On top of that, many if not most evangelicals believe that giving your life over to Christ is the only way. So, what's wrong with a Christian commentator saying that on TV, especially on Fox?
Not much is wrong with it except for this: Buddhism does offer a time-tested path for Tiger Woods, who appears to have a problem with sexual addiction. Buddhism teaches that many of our problems as skin-encapsulated egos are a consequence of attachment and craving and desires that we can never really fulfill. Anyone who suffers from any kind of addiction can relate to that. On a more mundane, moral level Buddhists are also reminded that adultery is not a good thing – at least in the end. One of the faith's precepts is to avoid sexual misconduct.
If I were Tiger Woods' priest, I would suggest that he read a new book written by a friend of mine named Kevin Griffin. It's titled A Burning Desire: Dharma God and Path of Recovery. I don't agree with everything Kevin says about the role of "God" in Buddhism, but it's a fine book and it could help Tiger or anyone else looking for a spiritual path out of the agony of addiction.
So I sent Kevin an email and asked him what he thought about the flap over Brit and Buddhism. He writes: "This is what I hear in Brit Hume's voice: concern about Tiger Woods. He sounds genuinely compassionate and, of course, one of the fundamental teachings of his religion is about forgiveness and redemption. I don't think he really means to be particularly disrespectful of Buddhism. That, to me, isn't the tone of his comments, and to attack him on that basis just seems like more of our 'gotcha' culture."
Whether or not you believe Christianity, Buddhism or any other religion will "save" Tiger, you need to know the basics about the faith in order to properly contextualize it. We can't grasp the richness and complexity of faith traditions just by reading a headline about the Dalai Lama or taking a yoga class. Like everything else in our profession, getting this story takes legwork and a willingness to learn.