I’ve been tuned out of the tawdry Tiger Woods sex scandal. However, when Fox newsman Brit Hume sanctimoniously put down Woods’ Buddhism a few days ago I started to take more notice of the story. The Tiger Woods saga has now taken on more interesting dimensions by laying bare some deep seated prejudices.
The controversy started when Hume started to evangelize Woods. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Hume said that the virtuoso golf player should convert to Christianity because Buddhism had no place for “redemption.” “The extent to which he [Woods] can recover seems to me depends on his faith,” Hume pontificated.
“He 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,” the newsman declared. Presumptuously, Hume then inserted his own personal message to the golfer: “Tiger,” he said, “turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.”
Needless to say, some Buddhists found Hume’s on air commentary distasteful. Kyle Lovett of TheReformedBuddhist.com writes “Could Hume get away with saying something like this about Jewish people or black people or the Muslim Faith? You betcha he couldn’t. Why should he be able to skate away scott free when speaking about Buddhists? Because we are only 3 or 4% of the population of the US?”
Did Hume have any second thoughts about his inflammatory comments? Apparently not: appearing on Monday’s edition of The O’Reilly Factor, the newsman refused to apologize. Speaking with Bill O’Reilly, Hume said that his remarks were not intended to proselytize but rather to point out where Buddhism fell short. O’Reilly offered support to his colleague, adding that he personally thought Hume had not denigrated Buddhism.
Tiger’s Buddhist inclinations have been well known for years, though the recent sex scandal has brought the golfer’s philosophical leanings under more intense public scrutiny. Tiger’s mother Kultida is Thai and a devout Buddhist. Over the years, she did her utmost to pass on Buddhist ideals to her son. She took him to temple, for example, to learn meditation practice. Every year on his birthday, Tiger and his mother would make gifts of rice, sugar and salt to monks who had foresworn a material life.
Woods’ upbringing may have had a psychological impact. The boy’s African American father, Earl, purposefully sought to disturb his son’s composure when Tiger was training to be a golfer. As the boy was in mid-swing, Earl would push over a golf bag, jiggle keys, and throw pebbles at Tiger’s ball.
Pressure interferes with the swings of the best golfers, but Tiger did not buckle. The golfer claims that meditation helps him focus on his game. “Your senses are heightened, your awareness of where the club is and what the situation is, and that’s when you execute the shot,” he has said.
Brit Hume’s remarks about Tiger’s Buddhism are ironic on a number of levels. In the first place, Buddhism does not place great emphasis on moral redemption or sinning as such. More of a philosophy than a set of ethics, Buddhism takes a very different view of suffering than other Western religions. Asking a priest to save or redeem you from sin will do little to ameliorate suffering, since neurosis resides in one’s own mind. By adopting a rigorous regimen of meditation, one may eventually grow to feel less neurotic about one’s individual thoughts.
Scores of Buddhist teachers such as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Pema Chodron have written about such issues and there are literally thousands of books about Buddhism in the United States which are aimed at a lay audience. Has Brit Hume read about the philosophy which he has chosen to excoriate on the public airwaves? One possibility is that he simply does not understand the notion of suffering within the Buddhist world-view.
Alternatively, Hume is familiar with Buddhism but does not believe in its psychological approach to human problems. That would certainly be ironic, since evangelical Christians within Hume’s own GOP have been caught up in a number of recent sex scandals. For them, embracing Christian faith hardly led to moral redemption. Perhaps, by seeking to forcefully discipline their minds and repressing thoughts, Republicans became even more neurotic about sex.
Barbara O’Brien, who writes on Buddhism for her Buddhism.about.com blog, has remarked “I don’t like to point out other’s faults, but given the record, I would think Christians would show a little more humility about offering advice to the sexually wayward.”
NIKOLAS KOZLOFF is the author of the upcoming No Rain In the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects The Entire Planet (Palgrave Macmillan, April 2010). Visit his website, Senor Chichero.