Buddhism and Forgiveness: What Brit Hume forgot to tell Tiger Woods

Steve Goodheart Essay

By now, many Buddhists and people interested in Buddhism have probably heard the remarks of Brit Hume of Fox News about Tiger Woods:

“He [Woods] 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. 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.”

When the inevitable storm of protests arose, Hume only deepened the hole he had dug himself by further “clarification” he made the next day on the Bill O’Reilly’s Show:

“He [Woods] needs something that Christianity especially provides and gives and offers, and that is redemption and forgiveness…”

As someone who grew up in the Christian tradition and later found refuge in the deep compassion, loving-kindness, and liberation of Buddhism, I feel a lot of strong emotions when I read Brit Hume’s words.

Aside from proving Hume’s sheer ignorance of what Buddhism teaches about forgiveness, his words also remind me of all the reasons why I left Christianity and its far too costly and exclusive “forgiveness.”

While Hume seems to be offering Woods a carte blanche forgiveness—accept Jesus and all will be forgiven!—I recall how exclusive and provisional  “forgiveness” actually is in the view of many Christians. I also recall all the things I literally found unbelievable about biblical Christianity—from Old Testament stories of the “fall” in the Garden of Eden to God’s genocide in the Noah story to New Testament doctrines that contend we all carry Adam’s sin and that God’s wrath against his own creation had to be assuaged by the torture and murder of his own son!

But the main thing that stands out to me in Brit Hume’s advice to Tiger Woods is what he conveniently fails to mention in terms of the forgiveness Christianity “especially provides.”

Because you see, Tiger, in buying Christian forgiveness, you will be getting a package deal. What is called “forgiveness” in orthodox Christianity can only be understood in the full context of a God who is assuredly NOT going to forgive billions of beings, but torture them forever in a burning hell.

What Brit Hume conveniently doesn’t say is that “forgiveness” in Christianity is fundamentally exclusive. According to the biblical orthodoxy, there is no universal salvation, and the consequences of a short lifetime of finite “sin” are infinite and eternal. In this fundamentalist religious world view, salvation pivots on absolutely one thing: accepting Jesus as the “one true savior” (or accepting the “one true church”) at the exclusion of any other way or path. The cost of not accepting that “one savior” is the unimaginable agony of eternal suffering wrought by a vengeful, “jealous” God who will be worshiped and loved—or else!

Brit Hume also forgot to mention that only certain people can be forgiven. One wonders if Brit Hume would have offered Woods Christian forgiveness had Woods been revealed to be a homosexual adulterer. The so-called “moral majority” of orthodox Christians tell us that homosexuals are going to hell and that the homosexual can’t ever be forgiven for his sexual orientation and way of expressing that orientation as a gay person.

And when it comes right down to it, only a very exclusive minority of humans are going to be saved, while all the rest of us are going to burn. No matter how good one’s life, no matter how good one’s works, after death, the faithful Hindu will not be forgiven, the faithful Muslim will not be forgiven, the faithful Jew will not be forgiven, let alone the good-hearted atheist or agnostic.  Uh, uh!  Sorry, you had one chance to accept Jesus and you blew it!

No matter how good a life anyone has lived, no matter how much good one has done in this world, in orthodox Christian belief, all this counts as nothing. You either accept Jesus as your personal savior before death, or you burn, forever. This is the full story and full context of forgiveness in the biblical Christianity that a Brit Hume offers Tiger. This is the “forgiveness” that orthodox Christianity “especially provides,” according to Hume.

Oh, and one final thing: Brit Hume forgot to mention that Christian forgiveness is granted by a supernatural being who is supposedly going to incinerate and destroy most of Earth, killing trillions of living creatures on land and in the oceans, as well as billions of “unrepentant” sinners, in a final orgy of supreme violence called the Apocalypse.

In this so-called “last judgment,” the “God of mercy” will mete out unending, unforgiving justice to billions: for the original sins of an Adam and Eve; for their own wrong doing as humans in their pitifully short years on Earth; and for the absolutely unpardonable sin of not accepting Jesus as their personal savior.

I admit I’m casting a very harsh light on Hume’s so-called Christian forgiveness, but I’m also literally sticking to the Christian text according to millions of true believers.  Any discussion about the supposed “superiority” or “specialness” of Christian forgiveness can’t be divorced from the unyielding, implacable words of Christianity’s own source book, the Bible, which is to millions the very Word of God.

Please don’t argue with me about who gets forgiven and who doesn’t according to Christian apologetics. Read what Christianity’s own book literally says and then argue with the God who is believed to be its inerrant author.  Or argue with your millions of fellow Christians who believe exactly what I have reported here, and who by the way, if you differ with them, think you are going to hell too, for your “liberal” and “non-biblical” beliefs.

If you believe there is a way to “spiritualize” and “detox” the Bible’s actual words or given them a non-literal meaning that sheds some genuine light, then I truly wish you success in this much-needed endeavor.  Ironically, that may well be doing God’s work!  Just don’t ask me to believe that Christianity has some special leg-up on forgiveness over everybody else, when, for example, Buddhism teaches that everyone—indeed, all beings—can find their way to total freedom and a perfect forgiveness that is the heart’s full-blossoming into absolute love and compassion.

Of course, there are people who consider themselves Christian who are way better than their own Bible’s literal words or the countless theologies and churches that sprang from those dark words. There are people who can shift the “chaff” of dark human beliefs from the “wheat” of genuine spiritual inspiration in scripture. There are people who can find true gold in scripture, for even as a Buddhist, I believe it is there to be found.

Indeed, I know and love Christians who are wonderful beings—further along in living love and truth than some Buddhists I know. And these Christians are certainly infinitely more loving and merciful than the so-called “God” of those who wait gleefully for the great exclusion of The Rapture and God’s final supreme violence enacted on a “sinful” world that He supposedly predetermined and created!

My argument is not with good people of faith, whatever their belief or religion. I have found that great inspiration can be found in the spiritual teachings of virtually all religions. To me, for example, the very essence of the Bible message is what Jesus himself affirmed: to love the Divine with all your heart, and soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself!  That, surely, is the very essence of a genuine religion.

But I have no compassion or sympathy for pernicious belief systems that lead people to think and do monstrous things in the name of God and “good.”  Tiger Woods deserves better than Brit Hume’s self-righteous “Christian forgiveness,” especially when this forgiveness entails swallowing monstrous theological ideas like selective salvation and eternal damnation.  All of us dear, precious human beings deserve—and, finally, will realize, I believe—the reality of something  so much better and more wonderful than that!

If you are interested in learning about the practical aspects of Buddhist teachings on forgiveness, here are some posts you might find helpful:

Buddhist Forgiveness-When We Have Hurt Another-Part 1
Buddhist Forgiveness-When We Have Hurt Another-Part 2
Buddhist Forgiveness-When We Have Hurt Another-Part 3


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

10 Responses to “Buddhism and Forgiveness: What Brit Hume forgot to tell Tiger Woods”

  1. I think Tiger has a good grasp on the situation.. after all he’s attending “sex addiction” classes!

    How bout attending some “why I shouldn’t cheat on my wife and kids” classes!

    • Hello William.

      Yes, I totally agree. In a situation like this, the fact of the sex acts pales before the much more profound issue of betrayal of trust and vows. The state of one’s heart is the most important issue.

      Thanks for you comment and for stopping by.

  2. What a post! It summed up much of what has turned me off to organized religion over the years and in particular, why I am so embittered by the exclusive ‘remedy’ to sin that many kinds of Christianity offer to their believers.

    It reminds of a conversation that I had about 5 years ago sitting next to an evangelical priest traveling to Peru to do missionary work (I was going there on business). We had a nice chat, he was a former hippie, loved rock music and passionate about his belief in god. We got pretty deep into our beliefs and the conversation ended when I asked him this question.

    You have two men at the gates of heaven. One is a rabbi who has led a virtuous life, helping the poor and serving his community as he believed god commanded him to. The second is a criminal, a convicted murderer who on his death bed accepts Jesus as his lord and savior.

    Who gets in? You can guess the answer, the murderer, and he was at peace with this. I wasn’t.

    I continue my studies of eastern thought as a compliment to my Jewish faith, they walk well hand in hand and I try to be respectful of other faiths. I only wish that people like Brit Hume would be as respectful of ours.

    Great commentary, I am sending it on to some friends.


    • Hey Jules! I’ve sure been enjoying your spiritual “walk about” at your blog. Hope all is going well in the “man cave.” 🙂

      Thanks for the kind words. I had to “sit” with the idea of this kind of post for a while before I did it; I didn’t want to just come across as merely religion bashing or a diatribe, and I hope I accomplished something better—”speaking the truth in love,” as the Bible says.

      Your encounter with the evangelical is one of those jaw-dropping experiences (I’ve had many similar) that seem to draw a huge chasm between us and the other person. The words that used to come to my mind were “invincible ignorance,” but further along in my path, I’ve come to see how much fear and how much terrible childhood pedagogy must be behind such a hideous concept of a divine “Father.” Understanding brings compassion, and though I reject that distorted view of divine justice and goodness with every fiber of my being, I also include such people in my compassion, forgiveness, and metta.

      I have looked into it and I have a very deep respect for what the Jewish faith teaches about forgiveness. It’s really developed and deep and comprehensive—would that more of this profound Jewish wisdom had made it into what was recorded of that remarkable Jewish itinerant preacher from Galilee!

      I hope you’ll continue your studies of eastern thought; I know you’ll find them a great boon to your faith. Over the years, there have been some wonderful dialogs between lovers of Buddhism and lovers of the Torah and Talmud, as there also has been between Buddhists and the Jesuits. You might want to check out “The Jew in the Lotus” by Rodger Kamenetz, too.

      Thanks for sharing my post; I hope it sheds some light. My new post today, “Yes-Buddhism does teach forgiveness!” (https://mettarefuge.wordpress.com/2010/01/12/yes-buddhism-teaches-forgiveness/) takes a small step into the big, deep teaching of the Buddha on the very subject the Brit Hume’s of the world say Buddha had no concept of! 🙂

  3. Whew…very cathartic to read that, Steve (and, I imagine, to write it as well). You summed up so well some of the things that I’ve been trying to articulate for much of my life, especially recently.

    It seems that people have made God in their own image, and it’s tragic, because “religion” has turned so many AWAY from a relationship with God. The reliance on impossibly literal interpretations of the Bible (which, as you say, does contain some beautiful and much more valid revelations about God’s true nature, embodied in Yeshua’s words about love as you quoted them) becomes a weapon. As I’ve mentioned many times recently, the most intolerant of the “followers of Christ” almost never actually quote Yeshua’s words, or follow his teachings, which have a universal and timeless message of love. (Of course, I’m not saying that Yeshua’s words are always quoted accurately by the people who recorded them decades after his death, but one can certainly get the gist of his teachings about unconditional love and REAL forgiveness–no, not forgiveness, even, because that implies that we have the authority to judge. Compassion and empathy are better words.

    You’re right–there are some wonderful, loving, compassionate, and selfless people who call themselves Christians (see, for example, my friend Eli’s blog, http://echoesandmemory.wordpress.com), and I’m sure that there are Buddhists and people of all other faiths who are harsh and judgmental and narrow-minded–hence my constant harping on the idea that it doesn’t matter what one calls oneself; it matters how one lives and loves.

    Well, you sure got me going for 7 a.m. and only half a cup of coffee in me! Thanks for the wonderful post (I actually try to avoid as much of the “news” as possible these days, unless it seems really relevant, so I hadn’t heard that Brit Hume had said such an ignorant thing. I wasn’t even aware that Tiger Woods is Buddhist!)


    • Hey Nancy! Thanks. I’m glad the post was helpful. I hadn’t noticed at the time, but I guess it was cathartic. 🙂 At every point along the way, I found I had to stop and be mindful of what was in my heart. When “speaking the truth to power,” a lot of energy can come up and not all of it is wholesome. I kept remembering my teacher’s, Thich Nhat Hanh’s, words that “man is never our enemy.”

      My disagreement is with ignorance, not people, as hard as that distinction is to keep in mind sometimes when facing injustice. And didn’t Jesus say on the very cross of suffering, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Ignorance is the “enemy.”

      What you wrote about people making God in their own image and impossible literal interpretations of the Bible hiding God’s true nature is so true, and as you said, so tragic. I love the inspired Word of the Bible—and the Talmud, and the Koran, and the Vedas and Upanishads, and the Buddhist canon—all give glimpses, and even startling revelations, of the Ineffable.

      Some teachings seem clear as a bell, and yet in apparent contradiction to other clear ringing bells! So we should never lose sight that all of these writings are dear human beings’ attempts to define that Ineffable to themselves, and are not infallible, and have to be tested in our lives.

      Couldn’t agree more about going to the source words themselves, and with a scholar’s eye, too, to what later interpreters have clearly added as doctrines blossomed. This is certainly as true in Buddhism as in Christianity! And yes, without compassion and empathy we can’t hear what’s struggling to break through in words….one can easily fall into the opposite error of just rejecting everything in any scripture simply because it comes from fallible humans. Still, as I’m sure Krishnamurti would warn, even scriptures can be a great snare; we have to be lamps unto ourselves.

      Thanks for the link to your friend Eli’s blog — I promise I will check it out. I love the light wherever it appears. And yes, it’s not what we call ourselves or identify with; it’s how we live and love.

      Glad I could add a boost to your coffee! 🙂 I too didn’t know the Tiger Woods was Buddhist; like any kid raised in any religion, it doesn’t mean he gets it at all, and who knows, maybe Tiger will find a path in the Christian or some other way. All the will matter in the long run is this path opens his heart to love and ahimsa–not doing harm, something he needs to understand about his infidelity.


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    […] What Brit Hume Forgot to Tell Tiger Woods […]

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