For the last few days, I’ve been browsing the reactions to Brit Hume’s comments on “Fox News Sunday,” when he said Tiger Woods could use a change of religion to extricate himself from his scandals. "He is said to be a Buddhist,” Hume said. “I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith.”
Hume has had a few defenders, and an informal poll by NPR showed that 51% of respondents were not offended by Hume’s remarks. More common reactions include people like Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly, who said, “To assert that Christianity is a better faith from which to seek comfort than Buddhism seems a bit naive, to put it kindly.”
Tom Shales, working himself into a particular lather at the Washington Post, derides the comment as one bound to be “one of the most ridiculous of the year,” and then really tells us what he thinks:
It sounded a little like one of those Verizon vs. AT&T commercials -- our brand is better than your brand -- except that Hume was comparing two of the world's great religions, not a couple of greedy communications conglomerates. Further, is it really his job to run around trying to drum up new business?
Good God. Oh, excuse me, Mr. Shales — good Generic Spirit. Is it really so remarkable that a religious person would think his own religion better than the competition? Shales implies that a person who believes something shouldn't think his beliefs are more correct any anyone else's. In other words, believe whatever you want, just don't offend us by thinking your beliefs are actually true.
I suppose Shales would never argue that his employer the Post publishes the best newspaper around, for fear of offending New York Times or National Enquirer readers.
People tend to be where they are by choice. They live, when they can, in the neighborhoods and towns they choose; they subscribe to the liberal or conservative political views they think are right. They also choose their religion. It is safe to say that the average Christian thinks Christianity offers more than Buddhism, or else he would become a Buddhist.
So please, spare us the self-righteous shock. I find it irritating that anyone would insist that a religious person pretend he doesn’t believe in the truth of his faith, just to spare the feelings of people who believe differently. There is a difference between putting someone down for his beliefs and simply saying that you do not believe his creed is the correct one. If I believe something is the truth, I am doing neither myself nor anyone else a favor by keeping my mouth shut. If you don’t think what I say is the truth, you have the right to discard it.
Somehow I am reminded of a saying of G.K. Chesterton: “Tolerance is the virtue of a man without convictions.”
There are two things Americans are not supposed to talk about: religion and income. A Hollywood star will write a book detailing every sexual encounter he may have had, but don’t ask the size of the book advance. Even though religious faith informs the opinions of many people as much as or more than anything else, we aren’t supposed to discuss faith, except in the vaguest terms.
Hume said what he said as a private employee working for a private corporation that doesn’t even broadcast on the public airwaves. And he did it on an opinion program. If he can’t say what he said at the time he said it, exactly when do people like Shales and Tucker think he should? In the closet at home, facing away from the door? Should he cover his mouth, too?
Let’s face it, people like Shales think religion is like Janet Jackson’s breast. They know that a certain population wants to see it, and they accept that, but they want fair warning when it is coming so they can clear the women and children out of the room. They don’t object to Hume’s proselytizing so much as they object to it being sprung on them without warning. Religion should be safely relegated to channels and times a good secularist can easily skip.
The offended need to be reminded that there is a difference between freedom of religion and freedom from religion. The first is guaranteed by law in this country. The second is not, and people of reason must accept the idea that people who have a strong religious creed have a right to say so in public.
It’s pretty simple: If you don’t like it, change the channel. People who complain about Hume’s remarks and consider themselves progressives need to take a step back and look at what they are saying. Is it enlightened to tell other people to censor themselves? Do you want to live in a society where no one speaks for fear of offending another, or one where people don’t hold back, at the cost of an occasional ruffled feather?
One last thing. Some people will call me a hypocrite, saying that my telling people not to object to Hume’s statement is itself a form of censorship. That’s not what I said. You can criticize Hume any way you want to — it is only unfair to say he should not say it. It is fair to challenge his assumption, that Christianity is the best path for Tiger Woods. But to argue that he shouldn’t have said it is a special complaint that should be reserved only for public statements that risk public safety. Hume’s remarks did not approach inflammatory speech.
For the record, I happen to agree with Hume. People like Woods are not likely to pull themselves out of their misery without finding a new moral grounding. And Hume is right — the strength of Christianity is the conversion story, the life-altering experience on the road to Damascus that opens new possibilities. I have studied Buddhism, and while I think there is much to be said for it, it is not a faith conducive to dramatic reversals and sudden revelation. Of course, Tiger Woods’s faith is his own business, but it is an accurate characterization of Christianity to say that it strongly emphasizes redemption and inner conversion. I don’t see why Hume shouldn’t have said it, especially if that is what was on his mind.