Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


The separation of religion and life

posted by Rod Dreher

Good Ross Douthat column today, talking about the meaning of Brit Hume’s on-air appeal to Tiger Woods to embrace Christianity. Douthat neither endorses nor condemns Hume, but does question our culture for pushing the discussion of religion strictly to the margins of private life. This is accomplished in two ways, Ross says: one, by secular-minded people screaming bloody murder when somebody like Hume treats the ideas behind religious belief seriously in a public statement, and two, by religious people howling “stop, bigotry!” when someone criticizes their beliefs in public. Here’s Ross:

This doesn’t mean that we need to welcome real bigotry into our public discourse. But what Hume said wasn’t bigoted: Indeed, his claim about the difference between Buddhism and Christianity was perfectly defensible. Christians believe in a personal God who forgives sins. Buddhists, as a rule, do not. And it’s at least plausible that Tiger Woods might welcome the possibility that there’s Someone out there capable of forgiving him, even if Elin Nordegren and his corporate sponsors never do.
Or maybe not. For many people — Woods perhaps included — the fact that Buddhism promotes an ethical life without recourse to Christian concepts like the Fall of Man, divine judgment and damnation is precisely what makes it so appealing. The knee-jerk outrage that greeted Hume’s remarks buried intelligent responses from Buddhists, who made arguments along these lines — explaining their faith, contrasting it with Christianity, and describing how a lost soul like Woods might use Buddhist concepts to climb from darkness into light.
When liberal democracy was forged, in the wake of Western Europe’s religious wars, this sort of peaceful theological debate is exactly what it promised to deliver. And the differences between religions are worth debating. Theology has consequences: It shapes lives, families, nations, cultures, wars; it can change people, save them from themselves, and sometimes warp or even destroy them.
If we tiptoe politely around this reality, then we betray every teacher, guru and philosopher — including Jesus of Nazareth and the Buddha both — who ever sought to resolve the most human of all problems: How then should we live?

It’s like the anthropologist Wade Davis said in his lecture about cultural diversity, which I quoted in the previous post, people who are raised in different religious or philosophical traditions will at times arrive at very different conclusions about the best way to live in regard to, say, the environment. People who want religion never mentioned in public (unless it’s to make fun of it), and people who only want it mentioned in public favorably, are dishonoring both intellectual honesty, and human potential. Anyway, if we never talk about faith in a critical but respectful way, we’ll never know what we don’t know, and we’ll never learn things we ought to learn. One thing I learned from my Templeton Cambridge fellowship last summer was how very much Taoism had in common with Eastern Orthodox Christianity, especially in metaphysical terms. I had had no idea, and it opened up an intellectually exciting (for me) line of inquiry, one I hope to deepen, and perhaps even turn into a book. I’ve really taken to Sir John Templeton’s saying, “how little we know, how eager to learn” — but that cannot be lived out if, for whatever reason, we cannot discuss religion civilly but openly in the public square.



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MargaretE

posted January 11, 2010 at 10:48 am


Great post, Rod. And I really enjoyed Douthat’s column, too, which was even-handed, gracious, and made good, plain sense. I only wish I hadn’t given in to the temptation to peruse the reader comments that followed it. And the beat goes on… Sigh.



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Paul

posted January 11, 2010 at 11:14 am


Great post, Rob. But I sorta disagree with the suggestion that “Hume treats the ideas behind religious belief seriously in a public statement”. I think “serious” is exactly what he wasn’t, since he:
1) didn’t seem to know what he was talking about with Buddhism,
2) used a questionable medium (his Fox News role) to make that point. [Remember Glenn Beck, a couple of weeks ago, saying the holy Hindu river Ganges "sounded like a disease"? Um... probably not where I'd go for serious, respectful religious debate.]
Religion is very personal, and very difficult/impossible to prove philosophically, so debating it’s going to be hard. I don’t think the “Brit Hume” example will be taught in seminaries.



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DavidTC

posted January 11, 2010 at 11:45 am


The fact that different religions should, in fact, speak to each other does not mean what Brit Hume said wasn’t stupid, or rather, how he said it wasn’t stupid.
For one thing, I’m not entirely sure that Buddhists have the same concept of ‘sin’ and that religion certainly don’t require ‘forgiveness’. Saying, essentially, he should switch to Christianity so he can get at is just, well stupid, and not a very well researched position. (Perhaps we could have some actual Buddhists talk about this, but even me, with my scant knowledge of Buddhism, knows this is a silly position to take.)
The idea that any Buddhist would go ‘Oh, crap, I’ve sinned, and I’ve got no way to fix it! Better find a religion that lets me erase sin!’ is just so inherently dumb that it’s hard to talk about seriously. Because no Buddhist has ever done the wrong thing before in the entire history of Buddhism and needed to deal with the…karma(?)…of it?
Secondly, talking about religion in the context of someone else is fine when you’re talking within the context of their religion. If Hume were to have said ‘Tiger is a Buddhist, Buddhists think blah blah blah, and hence he’s going to be meditating a lot on what he’s done’ (Except, you know, with actual research to find out what a Buddhist would do.), that would be fine.
Saying ‘He should convert’ is entirely outside the bounds of normal public discourse about him, though. This isn’t a policy debate where philosophy and religion have become an issue, this is talking about a single person personal beliefs. It’s way past the line for a ‘news’ broadcast. You want to proselytize to Tiger Wood, you walk up to him and do that, in private. Or invite him to a church. You don’t take a public platform and urge him to switch, especially one he’s almost certainly not watching. (1)
Thirdly, talking about religion and how it informs actions would be fine in a political debate.
99% of the time, though, people bring religious arguments in as finishers. They expect to be able to say ‘God says X, QED.’, and then get upset when that is rightly pointed out as a rather dumb line of reasoning for an officially secular government and people who don’t believe that. Hence there tends to be a pushback against any mention of religion in political discussion.
It happens this way because, frankly, a lot of religion being injected into a debate is just ‘God says X’, without there actually being any philosophical underpinning. Often times they aren’t even able to demonstrate that God said it! They just sorta think God said it. We really shouldn’t be give such people any political platform, but our media is entirely broken.
If you want to have the discussion of religion theories in politics, a) Brit Hume set that back quite a bit with his stupid comment, and b) the way to do is to come armed with religious philosophy, not a religious text. Where you can make a coherent line of reasoning from basic principles that people agree with, to the position you hold. If you want to explain that this is the official line of reasoning of the Episcopalian church or whoever while doing it, more power to you.
1) And someone needs to point out the wallbanger of saying ‘You should be a Christian because you can get out of jail free’. No, that’s really _not_ why you should be a Christian. Really truly.



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Franklin Evans

posted January 11, 2010 at 12:05 pm


The ongoing criticism that needs to be made, and will never be accepted as anything but offensive by Christians, is the notion that the object of discussion is that someone — in this case
Woods — is just plain wrong and should apply the One and True correction to his being wrong: convert to Christianity.
Hume’s remarks, however well intentioned, were offensive to every non-Christian listening to them. That we non-Christians have not spoken up about it (yet) is a further illustration of the inequity inherent in so-called “public” discussion about religion. Those who have the loudest voices dictate the boundaries of the discussion, and see any complaint about those boundaries as bashing.
Hume misspoke. He phrased his points badly. If he has an iota of journalistic integrity left in him, he’ll own up to that and offer a public apology to Woods.



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MargaretE

posted January 11, 2010 at 12:06 pm


David, you make some valid points. But do you really think Brit Hume was offering Tiger a “get out of jail free” card? What I saw was a man who’s been to hell and back (after the suicide of his son), offering another drowning man the lifeline that saved him. I saw it as a completely sincere moment of television – what a rarity! – and it really moved me. Was it inappropriate? Probably. I guess I just don’t care.



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MargaretE

posted January 11, 2010 at 12:10 pm


Franklin, are you kidding me? “Non-Christians haven’t spoken up about it yet?” What media-sphere do you live in?! The internet was ablaze with criticism of Hume all last week…



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forestwalker

posted January 11, 2010 at 12:15 pm


“When liberal democracy was forged, in the wake of Western Europe’s religious wars, this sort of peaceful theological debate is exactly what it promised to deliver.”
Ross should know better than to parrot this line of crap. Liberal democracy was forged in the wake of the rise of the modern European states, a symptom of which was the so-called wars of religion (wars which invariably had alliances of Catholics and Protestants on both sides fighting over primarily political, not religious, questions). The “peace” that was brought was just an end to the war that had been begun by the great centralizers. Primary loyalty and identification were shifted from the Church and various and overlapping local obligations to the new centralized states. All competing claimants to obligation were either destroyed (the aristocracy), made vassals (state churches, civic organizations), or turned into private hobbies (Christian faith). The relegation of talk of faith to outside the town hall that Ross laments is most certainly by design. Someone needs to send the man some Cavanaugh to chew on.



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Liam

posted January 11, 2010 at 12:17 pm


Hume’s choice of medium to make this appeal to Woods was designed to reflect more on Hume’s religiosity rather than real faith; it was the faith-sharing equivalent of a showy Hallmark card.
Now, I realize there are many Christians in this land who rather like such showy Hallmark cards, and Hume’s approach appealed to them. But they were not the proper audience; Woods was.
Hume failed.



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Your Name

posted January 11, 2010 at 12:19 pm


“Saying ‘He should convert’ is entirely outside the bounds of normal public discourse about him, though. This isn’t a policy debate where philosophy and religion have become an issue, this is talking about a single person personal beliefs. It’s way past the line for a ‘news’ broadcast. ”
Yeah, that’s where the line was crossed.
Oh, and proof read your crap, or hire an editor.



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Your Name

posted January 11, 2010 at 12:24 pm


Franklin,
I’m not offended you find Christianity, with its call to repentance and conversion, and its claim to be founded by Truth incarnate, offensive.
I’m just sad for thin little skin.



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Hector

posted January 11, 2010 at 12:31 pm


Mr. Douthat’s editorial is thoughtful and intelligent. (I usually find his writing insightful and convincing when he touches on religious or sexual morality issues, and I find him fairly silly and wrongheaded on economics or foreign policy issues, but that’s just me).
Read the comments though….ugh. So, so stupid. The peanut gallery that comments on Mr. Douthat’s threads truly makes me despair for the future of American education.



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John E - Agn Stoic

posted January 11, 2010 at 12:31 pm


I suspect that Miss Manners would have advised Mr. Hume to convey his kind thoughts and suggestions to Mr. Woods via a handwritten letter perhaps delivered by a mutual acquaintance.
To give advice on a personal and delicate matter via such a public and impersonal medium seems to me to be not well mannered.



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Arabesque

posted January 11, 2010 at 12:39 pm


The approach to religious dialog you seem to be advocating is:
1. Have a public figure pooh-pooh another man’s religion. Pointing out to a (tarnished) hero of millions, that he could be a hero, if only he chose the right religion.
2. When the condensation and affront are pointed out, cry foul. Point out that if religion can’t be talked about, we fail. Wring hands.
I disagree that the comment was meant in “a critical but respectful way.” I disagree that there was any attempt to “discuss religion civilly but openly in the public square.” These are phrases for people who don’t understand why Hume was wrong. They use them to dress up their defense of his religious prejudice, minimizing and sanitizing as best they can. ‘How can anyone object to civility?’ they ask themselves, when the proper question is ‘If that man was speaking of me, and my life, would it be an honest suggestion, or is it selfish evangelizing?’
Rob, if you wish to be seen as intellectually honest, you should applaud the former and condemn the latter. In the days following the comments, Hume has made it clear to everyone listening that it was to advance Jesus Christ that he said what he did. Hume has set himself up as the persecuted bringer of Good News. He has wrung his hands. Do what is right, link to those explanations of Buddhism, bring in comment from people who articulately explain where Hume’s error was, give your readers a chance to see for themselves the way Evangelical Christians tack themselves up to the closest tree anytime they’re called out.



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Franklin Evans

posted January 11, 2010 at 12:39 pm


Your Name January 11, 2010 12:24 PM… you clearly don’t understand what it is that is offensive here, at least from my POV. I’ll thank you to ask me to clarify rather than putting words in my mouth.
Margaret, with respect, my standard is that a non-Christian gets as much airtime on Fox as Hume got and gets. A buzzing internet is not, for me, a very loud voice by comparison.
Personally, and in some sense in agreement with you, getting to rant on some website is a waste of time and bandwidth. I have no interest in getting a pat on the head for being offended. My interest is in dialogue, something not usually possible with most of the Christians in the media (at the level of Hume and Fox). See also my reaction to “Your Name” above. :-\



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Mac S.

posted January 11, 2010 at 12:49 pm


“And someone needs to point out the wallbanger of saying ‘You should be a Christian because you can get out of jail free’.”
A bit of an overgeneralization there but I absolutely understand your point. I have heard some people claim this, but not so very much in my RC circles.
Margaret- I am sorry for Hume’s struggles but I did read the transcript as him 100% proselytizing and comparing Buddhism unfavorably to Christianity. That said, if his boss allows him to say “he should convert” on the air as part of a Fox Newscast, then …he can. He expressed his belief and then his staunch opinion – he is not forcing Tiger to convert.
Due to my faith, I also believe in “forgiveness and redemption” as the path to salvation or, at very least, as a source of comfort in time of personal loss, darkness, etc. Would I take advantage of a very public media role to tell non-Catholics to convert, no.
It must be upside-down and backward day because I feel as if I am defending Brit Hume, but sanitizing public commentary from all traces of any one religion or ALL of them from is more troubling to me than if we disagree. Still, I am curious the reaction of Fox news and my fellow Christians if a non-Christian cleric advised a Christian caught in a scandal to convert?



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Franklin Evans

posted January 11, 2010 at 12:49 pm


Anyway, after a deep breath, here’s the deal from my POV.
Making an evangelic statement over the air, directed at a celebrity whose hard times are blown way out of proportion by his celebrity, is not an opening offering in a public dialogue about religion. It is, plain and simple, standing on a soapbox, being paid for it, and getting to make personal statements and expect all listeners to either agree or to keep their mouths shut.
One may agree or disagree with my conclusions, but without knowing how I arrive at them there is no way to contribute to an actual dialogue about this incident. Do you (general) want to pity me for being a non-Christian, or do you want to learn what being a non-Christian in this society means? The choice is yours. It was the same choice Hume by implication made with his phrasing and subsequent disclosure of his motivations and intentions. He expressed pity. It was as offensive as such things can get.



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Rod Dreher

posted January 11, 2010 at 1:42 pm


I didn’t get the sense that Ross was defending Hume specifically, only in principle. I wouldn’t have said what Hume did, or I wouldn’t have said it the way he did. But I don’t agree with you, Franklin, that the only way for religion to be discussed in a forum like that is without advocating one religion as superior to another. As Ross points out, however clumsy Hume’s remarks might have been, they brought for intelligent and informative responses from Buddhists. That’s why I think, Franklin, when you say: Hume’s remarks, however well intentioned, were offensive to every non-Christian listening to them. …that you overreact. Had a Jewish TV figure said that if Tiger Woods would convert to Judaism, he’d get his life in order, I wouldn’t have been offended by that remark, as a non-Jew. Why should I be? It strikes me as normal that a practicing and happy member of a particular religion should want me to practice that religion too? If a believer — pagan, Christian, Buddhist, whatever — is only permitted to speak of issues of faith in public if he grants that he will never, ever indicate that his views are superior to anyone else’s, well then, what’s the point? You and I haven’t had the pleasure of talking about faith at length — that’s one of the things I’m looking forward to about moving to your city — but I would not want you to think that I would be offended by your claim that paganism is superior to Christianity in any or all respects? If you did it in a spirit of triumphalism — which may be what irks people about the way Hume went about it — that would be obviously rude. But if you went about it in such a way as to say, in effect, “I respect you, Rod, but you’re wrong about that, and here’s why my faith tradition is more on target,” well, I would welcome that. Seriously. Anyway, I think Ross’s conclusion is right on: whatever else one thinks about Hume’s comments, the basic question his remark poses — How should we live? — is the most important question there is. Christianity has an answer. So does Buddhism. So do the various sorts of paganism. I hope it doesn’t sound pollyanna-ish, but I really do think we can learn from each other, but we have to be willing to engage, and be able and willing to accept that we are not going to be able to agree … and that that’s okay. Does that make sense? I can see, Franklin, your unwillingness to converse with a religious opponent who only uses what you say as an opportunity to gather his breath before telling you once again why you’re wrong. I wouldn’t want to talk to such a person either. On the other hand, when these dialogues take place in public, there are untold numbers of people listening in on the conversation … and learning, and making up their own minds. So there’s a benefit…



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MargaretE

posted January 11, 2010 at 1:44 pm


Margaret- I am sorry for Hume’s struggles but I did read the transcript as him 100% proselytizing and comparing Buddhism unfavorably to Christianity.”
Mac S.
January 11, 2010 12:49 PM
Well, I never claimed otherwise. I only said I didn’t think Hume was offering Tiger a “get out of jail free” card. (I don’t see Christianity in those terms, and I don’t think Hume does either.) I DO think he was proselytizing. As much as it annoys plenty of people, Christians actually are called the spread the good news (a point to which Douthat alludes). And yes, I guess he WAS comparing Buddhism “unfavorably” to Christianity, if that’s the way you want to put it. From what I know of Brit Hume, he had a serious conversion after the death of his son and is a sincere believer in Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life. I’m of the opinion that there’s no point in following a religion if you don’t believe it to be true. Anyway, yes… I’ll give you that. He was proselytizing. I just don’t care.



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MargaretE

posted January 11, 2010 at 1:52 pm


“Margaret, with respect, my standard is that a non-Christian gets as much airtime on Fox as Hume got and gets. A buzzing internet is not, for me, a very loud voice by comparison.”
Franklin Evans
Franklin, we’re talking about Fox, here. Get real! … Although I hear that Christopher Hitchens gets plenty o’ face time there… not to mention William Kristol :-)



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Christopher Mohr

posted January 11, 2010 at 1:52 pm


Rod – you’d be surprised how closely Orthodox Christianity and various…hmm…well, other “Eastern” traditions tend to have in common. At Ch-BOLC last summer, there was a certain Greek Orthodox candidate (pity he had to go back to seminary halfway through) who I pretty much immediately got into discussion with. We had several strong commonalities in terms of doctrine and belief, and could discuss the more mystical side of religion without issue.
As for Hume, I have no problem with him trying to proselytize, but for crying out loud, do so offline. It just makes him look foolish and overzealous. Zeal is good. Zeal on overkill…not so much.



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GingerMan

posted January 11, 2010 at 2:06 pm


Arabeque hits it squarely on the head:
In the days following the comments, Hume has made it clear to everyone listening that it was to advance Jesus Christ that he said what he did. Hume has set himself up as the persecuted bringer of Good News. He has wrung his hands.
This is what made Hume sound like a pompous jerk, not that he was evangelizing per se, but the manner of his delivery. He could have talked in more intimate terms of the solace his faith has brought to his own life (given MargaretE’s comments above) and made an appeal to Tiger on a more personal basis.
However, the forum itself belies Hume’s own words. Is this really the right venue to authentically advocate for Tiger Woods conversion to Christianity, or to set oneself up as an evangelizing martyr in the media firestorm to follow? We report, you decide!
The cavalier air in which he delivered his recommendation to convert and the benefits that would seemingly immediately accrue to Tiger suggests condescension towards Buddhism as well as the apparent belief in the “cheap grace” of Christianity that Rod has so rightfully has castigated in the past. It wasn’t that his remarks were Christian that made them offensive, it was that they were classless.
Of course, The Daily Show lays into him with appropriate vigor
http://www.hulu.com/watch/118886/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-the-temple-of-hume



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Franklin Evans

posted January 11, 2010 at 2:07 pm


Rod, my later posts offer some clarification which, after reading your post, at least imply some agreement with you. However, that I “overreacted” is irrelevant to the gist of the premise and my response: Hume did not, rationally or logically, offer an opening statement to a dialogue.
You well know my stance on phrasing and civility. We are in general agreement there, if we may approach it in a detailed context differently (and at odds with each other). Your citing a Jew as an example, and previously another person offering a similar example above, may be part of the problem. Keeping in mind that I’m not intending to get into a detailed semantics argument, the Jew would (I personally expect) phrase it like this: Jewish text and commentary have this or that to say, and it means to me thus and so forth in the current context. That is a far cry from Hume’s pontificating at Woods, his thinly-veiled contempt for Woods’ choices and the implied pity for Woods’ getting what he deserved. Um, yes, I’m putting words in Hume’s mouth, but his later comments would seem to permit me those words.
I see a strong parallel in the schools, starting with the prayer-in-school debate and extending to the very strong Christian protest (a large step above taking offense) against any non-Christian activity or offering of knowledge. It is clear, to me at least, that a Christian prayer at the beginning of a school day or at a sporting event is a ridiculous thing at which to take offense, but an afterschool club exploring Celtic myth or discussing Wicca prompts Christian parents to call for the heads of the teacher(s), principal and school board members.
If we, here, are going to share our knowledge and experiences with each other, then I respectfully demand that the superiority of one belief system over another be left at the door, because by itself it negates the entire concept of “discussion” and obviates the dialogue into justifications and the very pontifications Hume used.



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MargaretE

posted January 11, 2010 at 2:09 pm


“Read the comments though….ugh. So, so stupid. The peanut gallery that comments on Mr. Douthat’s threads truly makes me despair for the future of American education.”
I agree, Hector. The comments following Douthat’s piece made my heart ache. They mostly seemed to be made by articulate, well-educated people who nevertheless had zero understanding of Christianity… or even the religious impulse in general. But a lack of knowledge I can handle; it’s a lack of kindness I find frightening. Nothing scares me more than smart people with cold hearts. Especially when they’re altogether in one place like that.



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Franklin Evans

posted January 11, 2010 at 2:13 pm


Margaret, if you are suggesting that I just dismiss this because it’s Fox… I do have some sympathy with that attitude, but it does me no good in the general case we are debating here. I don’t actually care that it was Fox, so much as I care that (in this case) Christians own the spotlight. Besides, it being Fox also means that having Hitchens on is a ratings ploy, not an attempt to offer balancing views. I’d like to move beyond the medium and address the larger issue here.



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hlvanburen

posted January 11, 2010 at 2:23 pm


A while back there was a thread on Crunchy Con blog where an issue of Christian theology came up. I forget the exact issue now, but my response was something to the effect that while I did not really have a horse in this race (i.e., was not a Christian), I saw the issue as “x”.
Very quickly there were responses from several commenters stating that since I was not a Christian there was no way I could properly understand the history of Scripture or the intricacies of the theological issue at hand. One even went so far as to suggest that I had no right to comment on this issue since I was not Christian.
Now we have Brit Hume, a man who honestly has been to hell and back through the death of his child, and who found solace and peace through the Christian faith. But there is no evidence at all that he knows anything about Buddhism. Yet he offers commentary in a very public manner about what he sees as a problem with the Buddhist faith with regards to Tiger’s actions.
If there is to be an honest and sincere discussion of religion in the public square, it would seem to me that the rules need to be the same for each side. It seems that Christians are quite willing to critique other religions based on sketchy knowledge of those faiths (mostly Christian apologetic texts or websites), yet they bristle when others critique their own faith in the same manner.
Thin skin does abound on both sides of these issues, and the sooner we get over it the better it will be for the civil dialogue we all claim we wish to have.



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SomeJoe

posted January 11, 2010 at 2:28 pm


All these comments about “discussion” and “conversation” puzzle me. With whom was Brit Hume “discussing” anything? He delivered a “personal message” to Tiger Woods with approximately fifteen million [wild guess] people listening in? And with absolutely no knowledge as to whether Woods was watching?
I’m all in favor of “serious discussions” about religious issues with intelligent, eloquent representatives and scholars of various religions. In my opinion, nothing does more to increase mutual understanding and to undermine fanatical certainty of one religion’s superiority.



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R Hampton

posted January 11, 2010 at 2:35 pm


I think most of the criticism of Hume stems from the (purposefully) blurring of objective reporting and editorial commentary among the broadcast/cable news outlets.
It used to be that the two kinds of coverage were deliberately separated and identified as such for the benefit of less sophisticated viewers. Being able to discern the intermingling of coverage we common see today requires skills a seemingly lacking in a sizable minority of the audience. FOX and MSNBC, for example, are frequently blamed for taking advantage of this segment of viewers — that these news outlets deliberately editorialized the news to promote a given agenda.
I haven’t seen the video, but I assume that’s the heart of the controversy: how clear is it to the viewer that Hume has – in the course of the segment – switched from delivering factual news to personal religious beliefs?
Conflating empirical truth with scriptural truth is the heart of the Culture Wars. Because the two are not at all the same, this concept is hard for more conservative Christians to accept. It’s not an ideological neutral and open public square they want, rather an offical (media and government) endorsement of Christian belief as objective fact.



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steven joseph rotolo

posted January 11, 2010 at 3:25 pm


One question, does Christianity bestow on the follower a license to offend? Furthermore, why would anyone think that Christianity is superior to Buddhism? Has Brit Hume forgotten about Jim Baker, Ted Haggard, Robert Tilton, Jimmy Swaggart, and… well the list of adulterous Christian leaders is endless?
What about George Tiller who killed an abortionist in the name of the Christian God and showed no remorse? Really, there is a long list of Christians who have murdered and bombed abortion clinics in the name of God and who not only did not show remorse but seemed to be in rapturous ecstasy about it. When was the last time you heard of Kamikaze Buddhists or murdering in the name of Buddha?
And why does Brit Hume think that Tiger Woods needs redemption and forgiveness? Those are not to be found in the Buddhist doctrine, and as such Tiger Woods needs to fix his problems himself and find the correct path to Nirvana himself and not rely in anyone outside himself. That is the Buddhist doctrine, an ethical path to bliss unencumbered by the fanatism that so often accompanies Christianity and as exemplified by the zealot Brit Hume.
I am Catholic and I do believe in the good news of Jesus Christ, but I also firmly believe that God speaks to different people in different ways, and whether you follow Buddha, Christ, Nature, Mohammed, Zoroaster, or any of the many Hindu deities, it is God who is behind them all and he will guide you to salvation using whatever flavor suits you best.
Brit Hume, go ahead and spread the good news if you must, but do so respectfully of all other religions.



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Cecelia

posted January 11, 2010 at 4:26 pm


Lots of thoughtful posts here. I do agree that we should not ban all discussion of religion from the public sphere. However, there is an issue of when it is appropriate to do so. Hume is a newcaster – his job is to report the news – he went well beyond that role with his comments.
I admitt that what bugged me about Hume’s comments was that he seemed in his great proselytizing zeal to have forgotten the thing about “judge not lest ye be judged”. Seriously – who appointed Brit Hume the judger of Tiger Woods soul? And if Hume was so seriously interested in Tiger Woods well being – why make such a statement on national TV?
Somehow this incident doesn’t seem like the proper example to use when discussing the role of religious commentary in public.



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Hector

posted January 11, 2010 at 4:47 pm


Stephen Rotolo,
For the record, there have been plenty of Buddhists killing other people in the name of Buddha. Take a look at Sri Lanka and the history of Sinhalese violence against Tamils (from the 1960s through 1980s).
I’m not sure if your reference to ‘kamikaze buddhists’ was meant to be a bit of hipster irony that i’m too dumb to grasp, but the original kamikazes were Japanese soldiers who were……yes, Buddhists (like most Japanese).



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MargaretE

posted January 11, 2010 at 4:51 pm


Okay, just to address a few misconceptions here… Brit Hume is a retired news reporter who was serving as one of several commentators on a panel. (Commentator… editorialist… opinion giver… NOT reporter.) The moderator asked the question (and I paraphrase): “Do you think Tiger can recover from this?” They went around the table, and each panelist gave an answer. Most focused on what Tiger should do to fix his image… or salvage his “brand.” Brit Hume, in what I believe was a moment of sincere compassion, made a clumsy and inappropriate attempt to reach out to a broken man in the best way he knew how… by sharing the faith that saved him when his son committed suicide. Deride Hume all you want, wax superior about his ignorance and parochialism if it makes you feel good, but I think you’re all missing the point. This was a genuine moment of human sincerity and kindness. It’s like we can’t even recognize those anymore.



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elizabeth

posted January 11, 2010 at 5:07 pm


As a Buddhist, I found Hume’s comments not out of the ordinary at all. Clumsy, maybe, but not unkind. It doesn’t strike me as requiring a serious discussion about religion in public life.
Every human has a propensity toward a limited, self-centered view that gets in the way of seeing clearly. When we see clearly, we understand that harming others, breaking marital vows for instance, causes suffering. Since all beings are inter-related, harm to one is harm to all. The more one practices, the less conceptual that doctrine becomes. The sensitized being is repelled by actions that cause harm and drawn to actions based on loving-kindness (metta) and compassion. Wholesome remorse, not maudlin chest-beating guilt-which is a symptom of more of the same delusion of a separate self, will guide one away from similar actions in the future.
Buddhists are encouraged to engage in contemplation of wholesome remorse and to take a good look at the ugliness and potential for ugliness within us.



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John E. - Agn Stoic

posted January 11, 2010 at 5:44 pm


but the original kamikazes were Japanese soldiers who were……yes, Buddhists (like most Japanese).
Hector, I thought most Japanese at the time of the Second World War were Emperor-worshiping Shintoists.
As always, I could be wrong about that.



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MargaretE

posted January 11, 2010 at 6:08 pm


Thank you for your words, Elizabeth. They shed some light on Buddhism and make me want to explore it more deeply. And your loving acceptance of another human being’s “clumsy” attempt at kindness speaks very well of the faith. (Incidentally, is Buddhism a faith or a philosophy? I’m never quite sure… )



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rj

posted January 11, 2010 at 6:37 pm


I think Hume hit on an a real truth, however inadvertent. A public conversion to a mainstream, familiar Christianity would probably get him most of his endorsements (or at least replacements) and a very public display of faith would probably wipe the slate clean for most of the American public.
Chuck Colson knows this. George W. Bush knows it too. There are many others too numerous to mention.
I don’t pretend to pass judgment on what’s in the hearts of public converts and whether they believe what they say, because for the outside world, it hardly matters. Nor do I want to dive into the theological details of which religion offers the most thorough/fastest/lowest calorie forgiveness of sins. Hume was asked a PR question and a very public conversion is PR gold. Hume gave good advice, however clumsily given.



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Jon

posted January 11, 2010 at 6:52 pm


Re: I’m not sure if your reference to ‘kamikaze buddhists’ was meant to be a bit of hipster irony that i’m too dumb to grasp, but the original kamikazes were Japanese soldiers who were……yes, Buddhists (like most Japanese).
Japanese Buddhism is hopelessly intertwined with Shinto and to the extent Japanese are still religious they tend to be both Buddhist and Shinto (“Marry Shinto and bury Buddhist” describes the division of labor between the faiths in terms of lifetime rituals). But it was Shinto that played a supporting role in Japanese militarism in WWII not Buddhism.



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Fake Fan Base

posted January 11, 2010 at 6:52 pm


Christianity is probably out on a limb in its easy link to the culture of celebrity. Ritual media humiliation is now a part of our culture with journalists and commentators well able to condemn given their platform/pulpit. It’s an ugly balance of sin and retribution.
Sure Buddhists can fight but balance and empathy appears to be the first principle.
Tiger Woods has probably let himself down and those who love him most. I think one strand of Buddhism seeks release and freedom from what it may regard as ‘irrational’ family love. He will need to find his own way.
A debate about religious values is overdue, but I hope that the conclusion are the things we as humans should share: Honesty, respect and human rights.



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Steve

posted January 11, 2010 at 7:38 pm


Frighteningly, much of the outrage of muslims against anything anti-islam has been adopted by christians in America. The meaning of Hume’s announcement on a national talk show that had nothing to do with religion is that some line has been crossed. There is nothing wrong with talking about religion or even pointing out the merits of this or that faith comparatively. People make a career off of that sort of thing. But Brit Hume does not. His position is that of an authoritative social commentator and news man. He blurs the lines and weakens our society when he does what he did there. Hopefully this was simply an inelegant phrasing of a sentiment and not something more unfortunate.



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Mac S.

posted January 11, 2010 at 7:57 pm


“A public conversion to a mainstream, familiar Christianity would probably get him most of his endorsements (or at least replacements) and a very public display of faith would probably wipe the slate clean for most of the American public.”
RJ – I have been trying to improve upon my cynical nature but I think you hit on something there! Find Jesus. Make donation to Rick Warren’s ministry (although it seems to have met his stated goal). Do Oprah. Begin redemption tour.
His advice was perfect.
But I think I’d prefer proselytizing over that as his intention.
Margaret – I honestly don’t think we are that far apart on this. Of course we are called to spread the good news. Based on my past experiences (listening as office mates bash my faith/the Catholic Church during many lunch discussions – they figured I wouldn’t care!, personality type and the (shocking!)lack of a panel post on Fox, I just tend to opt for a different route.



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MH

posted January 11, 2010 at 9:33 pm


I’m not a Christian and I wasn’t offended by Brit Hume’s remarks. I found them laughable, but I wasn’t offended.
The Daily Show had the best take on it:
http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-january-4-2010/the-best-f–king-news-team-ever—tiger-woods–faith



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MH

posted January 11, 2010 at 9:39 pm


The Ross Douthat article was interesting though.



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Peter Hoh

posted January 12, 2010 at 1:59 am


I must have missed that episode of Fox News Sunday when Hume gave Vito Fossella advice about picking a better denomination.
The funniest thing happened the next day, when O’Reilly replayed the clip and asked Hume, “Was that proselytizing?”
Hume’s reply: “I don’t think so.”
Jacques Derrida must be proud.



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Christopher Mohr

posted January 12, 2010 at 3:36 am


Jon -
The Japanese, as you correctly point out, are syncretistic in their religious views. It’s just a part of the way they are. It’s a part of why Christianity even in modern settings doesn’t do well there (though I do think that some slightly modified form of Orthodox Christianity might be able to work on it). But to suggest that militarism was more heavily linked to Shinto would be inaccurate. Both (and other) religions in Japan since Meiji, but especially in the late Taisho and early Showa periods were co-opted into imperialistic, militaristic service. I’m not sayign it was hard to do, only that both were forced to play a large role. Victor Hori wrote extensively on the subject of Soldier Zen (even in the very recent book Buddhist Warfare, 2010, Oxford University Press). Maybe, as Hori claims, it wasn’t so much Buddhism as Buddhists that played the role, but in either case, the government saw in religion a way to get people united behind the war effort, and went off on a crash course toward their goal.
Elizabeth -
and here I thought I was the token Buddhist commenting on Rod’s blog. Excellent comment, as well. I hope to see more such comments in the future.
As for Tiger Woods and Brit Hume -
I do think this whole thing has been blown out of proportion. we should have compassion for both of them, realizing that, just like us, they are human and will sometimes do things that are wrong or clumsy or just generally beneath our better nature.



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public_defender

posted January 12, 2010 at 7:37 am


You missed the first paragraph of the article:
Liberal democracy offers religious believers a bargain. Accept, as a price of citizenship, that you may never impose your convictions on your neighbor, or use state power to compel belief. In return, you will be free to practice your own faith as you see fit — and free, as well, to compete with other believers (and nonbelievers) in the marketplace of ideas.
This is an interesting debate because conservative Christians feel beseiged by the rest of society and much of the rest of society feels besieged by conservative Christians. Let the Victim War begin!
Yes, some liberals are too squeamish about public expressions of Christianity, but too many conservative Christians want to use the power of government to compel compliance with their religious beliefs, even when that means others can’t practice their beliefs.
Even Douthat says only that it’s improper to use State power to “compel belief.” The bargain goes further than that. If you want tolerance of your religious beliefs when you are in the minority, you have to be willing to allow others to act according to their beliefs when you are in the majority absent truly compelling reasons. And “I believe it,” or “my church says it’s so” is not a compelling reason, especially when you want to impose real harms on people of other faiths (or no faith).



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Athelstane

posted January 12, 2010 at 8:46 am


“I am Catholic and I do believe in the good news of Jesus Christ, but I also firmly believe that God speaks to different people in different ways, and whether you follow Buddha, Christ, Nature, Mohammed, Zoroaster, or any of the many Hindu deities, it is God who is behind them all and he will guide you to salvation using whatever flavor suits you best.”
This is indifferentism, and it is an error according to the Catholic Church. (And the Orthodox churches).
God certainly speaks to men and women in milieus outside the visible Church. Some of their beliefs may even participate in the truth of Christ as revealed in Scripture. But that does not make these other religious institutions or dogmas salvific.



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Franklin Evans

posted January 12, 2010 at 9:40 am


Christians have a distinction to which I often return in confusion: proselytizing vs. witnessing. I’ve seen a quote (forget from whom) that ends with something like “and use words if needed.”
I don’t have a problem with any belief system unless and until it has a personal impact on me. As a modern pagan, one can imagine some of the things I’ve witnessed, but it all comes down to one tenet of Christianity: “spreading the faith.”
It drives the cultural and political paranoia of places that arrest Christians on sight (being also places the US State Dept. lists as countries to which citizens are warned not to go). It drives many of the horror stories mentioned in Rod’s more recent post above about mental illness, particularly the ones about missionaries whose zeal to “modernize” has damaged the mental health of entire groups of people.
In an atmosphere of open discussion, Christians are challenged almost before opening their mouths — a state with which I have strong empathy from the “other” direction, having some half-truths and myths perpetrated about my belief system.
So, here’s what my cynicism prompts me to say: If your core belief that you must spread your faith cannot be left at the door, then you enter that door under deceptive assumptions. If your “discussion” has the primary goal of converting the listeners (however “convert” meets your personal view of proselytizing), then that is a false pretense. Discussion is an exchange, not an imposition.
Hume is free to tout his beliefs in any forum that encourages or permits him to do so. He does not, however, have the right to expect “respect” for those expressions when they are founded on the Christian belief that every other belief system is false.



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MargaretE

posted January 12, 2010 at 10:37 am


“Hume is free to tout his beliefs in any forum that encourages or permits him to do so. He does not, however, have the right to expect “respect” for those expressions when they are founded on the Christian belief that every other belief system is false.”
Franklin Evans
January 12, 2010 9:40 AM
I don’t think that Hume DID expect “respect.” Not of the universal sort, anyway. He has an interview in Christianity Today that suggests he expected just what happened to happen… though perhaps not on as large a scale. According to him, he said what he said in hopes his words would reach Tiger.
Hume: “I certainly expected this. I’m nowhere near the first Christian to be mocked for his faith. It is simply a fact of life that the two most explosive words in the English language appear to be Jesus Christ. You don’t even need to say them if you speak openly of Christianity. Faith engenders a tremendous reaction, a lot of it positive and a lot of it negative.”
I think Hume was sincere, and was willing to let the chips fall where they may. In other words, he thought the “positive” was worth the “negative.”



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hlvanburen

posted January 12, 2010 at 12:25 pm


“Hume: “I certainly expected this. I’m nowhere near the first Christian to be mocked for his faith. It is simply a fact of life that the two most explosive words in the English language appear to be Jesus Christ. You don’t even need to say them if you speak openly of Christianity. Faith engenders a tremendous reaction, a lot of it positive and a lot of it negative.”"
To which I might offer that he received that which he gave.



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Franklin Evans

posted January 12, 2010 at 12:59 pm


Okay, Margaret. In that spirit of sincerity, please help me with this.
What is/are the reasonable assumption/s behind expecting a negative reaction? Not that we live in an uber-politically-correct world (we do, which I abhor), that’s not rational. Not that we seem to be having some sort of culture war (something I find arguable). Just basic, rational motivations and consequences. Why expect a negative reaction?
I’ve alluded to some things that I would answer with. You’ve not responded to them (as yet), so I further ask: Do I have a logical leg to stand on when I question a Christian’s motivations for coming to a discussion about faith?
The choice to respond is yours, and I have no expectation either way. Nothing ticks me off more than a demand to respond when I don’t feel like it (any more). If you’re tired of this thread, I will understand.



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MargaretE

posted January 12, 2010 at 4:42 pm


Franklin, what I meant to say (and probably didn’t very well) is that I don’t think Brit Hume was thinking in terms of “discussion” when he made that comment on TV. I think he was, in fact, proselytizing. (He said he didn’t believe he was, but he may not understand what the word means. It’s always used as a pejorative in our culture, but it simply means “attempting to convert.” And Christians are, in fact, called to do so.) Why expect a negative reaction, you ask? Well… because Brit Hume lives on the earth and isn’t stupid. He’s seen how these things play out over and over again, and certainly knew he would made a certain faction of the public angry. I guess he just believed it was worth it. As he said, he was hoping his words would reach Tiger Woods. Also, he may have believed that for every angry viewer out there, there might have been someone else who thought, “Huh…? Brit Hume is a believer. Maybe there’s something to this Christianity thing after all… Maybe I’ll look into it…” That’s how it started for me. I learned that someone I respected immensely (not a personal friend, but a writer I liked) was a serious Christian. After I got over my shock, I started thinking “hmmm….” Of course, I have no idea what Hume’s actual motives were. I just feel compelled to give him the benefit of the doubt (something I RARELY did before becoming a Christian, incidentally…)



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Franklin Evans

posted January 12, 2010 at 9:13 pm


Thanks, Margaret. Finding it difficult to offer the benefit of the doubt is something I sympathize with, ;-), though like you I don’t find it as difficult as I used to. My comments on this thread may contradict that, but I assure you that it’s true.
I must gently offer you a “where do you live?” retort at this point: How could Hume not expect his statements to generate controversy? Anyway, onward and upwards, eh? :-)



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MargaretE

posted January 13, 2010 at 6:44 am


Franklin, either I’m completely failing to make my point, or you’re determined not to get it… Again, I’m willing to assume it’s my failure. So, one more time: What I keep trying to say is that Hume DID expect his statements to generate controversy. He KNEW they would. He’s said so several times… that he DID expect it. But he was willing to take the heat. Followers of Christ have been warned as far back as the Bible (by Christ himself) that they will be despised (by some) for following him…. that his name divides. This truth has borne itself out over and over again throughout history. As a news man, Brit Hume has seen it borne out over and over in our age.
So, of course he expected his statements to generate controversy. He simply made them anyway.



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Muskat

posted January 13, 2010 at 10:32 am


If we, as Christians, accept that we are called to spread the good news, then it must follow (at least to my dim mind) that the call is to spread this wonderful news in such a way that it will actually bear fruit.
When I read or view the manner in which a great number of Christians in America approach non-Christians, I really doubt that they are winning many people over.
Hume may, by the letter of the law, have spread the message. Did he do so in a manner which would cause me, were I a non-believer, to view Christianity as anything but, to use a phrase mentioned already, a get-out-of-jail-free-card?
No.
Just the opposite, actually.
When I look at the public face of Christianity in our country today, I see very little to attract someone to our Lord.
There are furious people who first demand homosexuals be put to death in Uganda and then lie that they did no such thing.
There are furious people demanding that murderers like Roder be found innocent because his violation of one of one of our Commandments was justified to prevent further abortions.
The attacks on the US President from many Christians in the public square are both ignorant of clear Biblical teachings as well as using our faith as a weapon to advance worldly political goals.
We give politicians like David Vitter a pass on his fornication because his politics are in line with the beliefs of most conservative Christians in the US (and his replacement would have been a Democrat at that time).
I don’t often hear much about Christian Charity except in terms of condemning those who don’t see things our way to eternal damnation, pronounced as though the speaker himself is God. Is this really effective?
This is not our task as Christians.
When I die and come before God, I really hope He is not going to confront me with a long list of people whom I have driven away through my judgmental, unbending demands that their beliefs must be identical to mine. We start from different places, we live in diverse circumstances.
Hume did our Lord no good service in my eyes, as best I can tell from what he has since said, it wasn’t really his goal to reach Woods, but to use Woods as a means to reach his own ends. That is about as far away from everything I know about what Jesus wants for us and demands of us as you can get.



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MargaretE

posted January 13, 2010 at 12:31 pm


Muskat, you make a lot of great (and sad) points about the face of Christianity in this country today. I have chosen to give Brit Hume the benefit of the doubt – to extend him some grace, if you will – because I’ve read a great deal about his conversion over the years (way before this incident occurred) and know how deeply he’s suffered. I honestly believe he meant well, however clumsily he executed his intentions. Obviously, you disagree with me, and I respect your point of view. Thank you for the thoughtful post.



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interpreter

posted January 13, 2010 at 1:14 pm


May God bless Brit Hume. I hope Tiger takes his advice.



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R Hampton

posted January 13, 2010 at 1:30 pm


MargaretE,
I believe Albert Mohler captured the essence of what was wrong with Hume’s comments (from Why Moralism Is Not the Gospel — And Why So Many Christians Think It Is, Sept 3, 2009)
In our own context, one of the most seductive false gospels is moralism. This false gospel can take many forms and can emerge from any number of political and cultural impulses. Nevertheless, the basic structure of moralism comes down to this — the belief that the Gospel can be reduced to improvements in behavior.
Sadly, this false gospel is particularly attractive to those who believe themselves to be evangelicals motivated by a biblical impulse. Far too many believers and their churches succumb to the logic of moralism and reduce the Gospel to a message of moral improvement. In other words, we communicate to lost persons the message that what God desires for them and demands of them is to get their lives straight.



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