Hume can't say that!

Fox News analyst Brit Hume has taken some major hits over his advice to Tiger Woods that he embrace Christianity if he wants redemption. I've embedded the clip here. In a society that is deeply uncomfortable with any substantive discussion of religious differences, that Hume favorably compared Christianity to Buddhism is downright shocking. Now, I'm sure that there are readers here who think Hume admirably showed concern for Woods' soul and readers who think he's an anti-Buddhist bigot (and many other views). But I think the whole brouhaha is most interesting for the media freak out over response to his words.

The Washington Post's "On Faith" section featured an essay from someone outraged that a hard news reporter would "engage in proselytization." Apparently they didn't get the memo from 2008 that Brit Hume had stepped down as anchor in order to do punditry and analysis. Indeed, he was quite open about the role faith played in his decision to stop doing the news. The Los Angeles Times profile from that time had a line from him saying that family, Christ and golf were his big reasons for the switch. And this:

As he prepares to anchor his last presidential campaign, Hume said he's eager to immerse himself in a more spiritual life after dwelling for so long in the secular. The anchor described himself as a "nominal Christian" until 10 years ago, when his son Sandy committed suicide at age 28.

"I feel like I was really kind of saved when my son died by faith and by the grace of God, and that's very much on my consciousness," said Hume, who plans to get more involved in his wife's Bible study group.

I think the phrase "when my son died" should have commas or dashes around it, but you get the point. Or here's The Hollywood Reporter from the same time:

THR: What other things would you like to do in retirement? Hume: I certainly want to pursue my faith more ardently than I have done. I'm not claiming it's impossible to do when you work in this business. I was kind of a nominal Christian for the longest time. When my son died, I came to Christ in a way that was very meaningful to me. If a person is a Christian and tries to face up to the implications of what you say you believe, it's a pretty big thing. If you do it part time, you're not really living it.

Anyway, as you can imagine, the Tiger Woods statement has lit up the internet and gotten all sorts of people talking. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann apparently said Fox News and Brit Hume were trying to force conversions and were "just like Islamic extremists." So, you know, there's that.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post's Tom Shales -- we've looked at his defense of David Letterman's sleeping with employees and he's also recently defended Roman Polanski raping a 13-year-old -- has finally found someone to criticize. He says Hume must apologize and that he's the laughingstock of the industry. I'll defend the right of anyone to criticize Brit Hume and what he said, but this Shales piece is remarkably petty. He says Hume is full of "something" and comes forth with a new commandment from on high: Thou shalt never share religious beliefs of any substance. Well, actually, I can't recall him criticizing any MSNBC pundits for condemning, say, traditional Christians, so I guess this commandment just applies to certain pundits. Here's a sample:

First off, apologize. You gotta. Just say you are a man who is comfortable with his faith, so comfortable that sometimes he gets a wee bit carried away with it. If Hume wants to do the satellite-age equivalent of going door-to-door and spreading what he considers the gospel, he should do it on his own time, not try to cross-pollinate religion and journalism and use Fox facilities to do it.

At the same Republican convention where Hume bemoaned his advancing years, he spoke of knowing when to leave the party and go home. "I'd like to walk away while I'm still doing okay," he said, "and not have people say, 'He was fading.' " It's easy to understand the sentiment, but Hume ought to know that what people are saying right now is a whole lot worse than that he's fading.

Shales seems to think that he is some kind of voice of media orthodoxy. So it means something for him to issue a rule -- complete with a condescending warning of ostracism -- against pundits saying what they believe about the Christian faith.

But what about journalism? I loved how USA Today's Cathy Grossman handled the controversy, looking at the spiritual advice that others have also offered Woods. It sparked quite the conversation.

And this other blog item, in which Grossman quotes a Buddhist journalist simultaneously criticizing Hume and conceding that he's right about the differences between Buddhism and Christianity vis-a-vis forgiveness:

However, Mr. Hume is right, in a sense, that Buddhism doesn't offer redemption and forgiveness in the same way Christianity does. Buddhism has no concept of sin; therefore, redemption and forgiveness in the Christian sense is meaningless in Buddhism. Forgiveness is important, but it is approached differently in Buddhism. . .

I would love more discussions of the substantive differences between religions. The religious literacy in most newsrooms and, indeed, throughout the country, means that many people are unable to articulate the differences between major world religions. People who are religious or even simply religiously literate probably don't have a problem acknowledging that each religion has different teachings.

The Politico also offered some coverage, with liberal use of the word "proselytize." GetReligion reader Will Linden said something here many years ago that has stayed with me. It's something like, "We share, you preach, they proselytize." I sort of think you can judge stories about the Hume comments by how much they use that word.

Anyway, the piece that I found most interesting was from Manya Brachear at the Chicago Tribune. It certainly has the best headline, with "Can a leap of faith save Tiger Woods?" Here's how it ends:

If Woods heeded Hume's call, he wouldn't be the only fallen athlete to seek Christian redemption. Remember Michael Vick, the Philadelphia Eagles football player? He allegedly accepted Jesus before pleading guilty to an illegal dog-fighting operation. Jury is still out on whether the strategy worked.

But Christianity isn't always the answer. Remember the Revs. Ted Haggard and Jimmy Swaggart?

Accenture Drops Tiger Woods From Advertising Campaigns, Signs Still Remain

Now, I haven't followed the Vick story at all. I wasn't really aware he'd "allegedly" "accepted" Jesus, much less that this was part of some "strategy" that may or may not have "worked." I'm not sure that it's really our place to judge such conversions anyway.

But I really find the following paragraph fascinating. In what way is Christianity not the answer for the Revs. Ted Haggard and Jimmy Swaggart?

I mean, I've always had this suspicion that the mainstream media thinks Christianity is basically a set of rules, mostly about sex, that are imperfectly followed by hypocrites such as Haggard and Swaggart. And in the media's defense, I think this view could be based in part on what some of the more media-friendly Christian figures teach.

But what if the central teaching of Christianity is forgiveness? To say that "Christianity isn't always the answer" because some prominent Christian mega-tele-preachers have sinned sexually in violation of their church's teachings denies the view that Christianity is a "great answer" for sinners such as myself who are in desperate need of forgiveness.

People interested in a mainstream media blog post from someone who does understand the importance of forgiveness to the Christian faith, check out this item from Julia Duin at the Washington Times.

Now, I think there are some excellent journalistic avenues to explore with this controversy, should media outlets choose to do so. Let's hear more from some Buddhists and Christians and others about doctrinal tenets at play. I mean, if people don't even know the role of forgiveness in Christianity, I'm not hoping that general Buddhist literacy is better. This is a great hook for deeper exploration of both religions.

But there are other interesting issues to explore, too. Why is it socially acceptable to advise Woods on what he should or shouldn't do to manage his public relations problem, but not what he should do to repair his family or spiritual health? Or why is it that we have such trouble engaging religion in the public square? Is there a double standard between public discussion of religious views? Is it OK for pundits to talk about religious views so long as they don't actually believe their views are true?

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