Friday, January 8, 2010

Faith In the USA

In this now-famous clip, Fox News senior commentator Brit Hume advises Tiger Woods to switch from Buddhism to Christianity. After all, says Brit, if Tiger wants complete repentance and absolution, Buddhism doesn't offer total cleansing. (I'm not an expert on Buddhism, but I'll take him at his word.) "I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption offered by the Christian faith. My message to Tiger would be turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery, and you can be a great example to the world."
I have no problem with Brit Hume proselytizing on TV. In fact, I'd rather more people profess their faith actively. If people don't like it, they'll stop watching Fox News and Brit will stop doing it. What does bother me is Brit's uniquely American view of religion: the faith of "what's in it for me?"
It would be one thing if Brit said, "Everyone should be Christian because that's what I believe to be the true faith." But that's not what he said. He said that Tiger's looking for forgiveness and redemption. And he can't get what he's looking for in his own religion. So he should abandon that faith for a set of beliefs that will give him what he wants.
Last I checked, religion was something people adhered to because that faith articulates eternal truths that connect us to the Eternal. It would be nice if I liked everything about what my faith teaches me. But some aspects of faith can be uncomfortable, difficult and challenging. I hope that's why Tiger's a Buddhist: because he believes in Buddhism.
But Brit Hume seems to think that you can change religions like you change shirts. If this one isn't working for me, then I can just put on another one that offers me the services and theology that work for my lifestyle right now. Buddhism not offering absolution? Not to worry - just switch! Christianity will work for you.
The way I see it, the faithful religious person slips and sins. Judaism is quite clear about that. Every person sins. And then he must struggle with the guidance his faith gives him in dealing with and repenting for his sin. That guidance might not give him what he wants - instant, total forgiveness - but it will help him struggle through the process of cleansing and redemption.
Switching faiths for convenience doesn't really change matters much. All it means is that you truly believed neither in the faith you abandoned, nor in the one you picked up. It's just what works for you now.
And that's the true religion of the United States.