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: