Monday, January 11, 2010

Keep The Faith to Yourself

Ross Douthat reacts to the reaction of Brit Hume telling Tiger Woods to come to Jesus.

A great many people immediately declared that this comment was the most outrageous thing they’d ever heard. Hume’s words were replayed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, to shocked laughter from the audience. They were denounced across the blogosphere as evidence of chauvinism, bigotry and gross stupidity. MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann claimed, absurdly, that Hume had tried to “threaten Tiger Woods into becoming a Christian.” His colleague David Shuster suggested that Hume had “denigrated” his own religion by discussing it on a talk show.

The Washington Post’s TV critic, Tom Shales, mocked the idea that Christians should “run around trying to drum up new business” for their faith. Hume “doesn’t really have the authority,” Shales suggested — unless of course “one believes that every Christian by mandate must proselytize.” (This is, of course, exactly what Christians are supposed to believe.)

Somewhat more plausibly, a few of Hume’s critics suggested that had he been a Buddhist commentator urging a Christian celebrity to convert — or more provocatively, a Muslim touting the advantages of Islam — Christians would be calling for his head.


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.

I think Mr. Douthat is missing the point. The reaction from most of Mr. Hume’s critics wasn’t as much about what he said as it is about how he said it: on national television and with what appeared to be that self-satisfied assurance that he — a Christian — knows best and is therefore entitled to lecture Mr. Woods about how to redeem his life. And while Mr. Douthat may think that it is “what Christians are supposed to believe,” there are a number of Christian denominations, including the Quakers and the Unitarians, who do not and who find evangelism to be offensive. If, as Mr. Douthat suggests, it is perfectly acceptable to have a debate in America about the role that faith and its practice should have in our society and the differences between them are worth discussing, then the way to begin is not to have a cable TV news analyst do it on a national broadcast singling out one person in front of God and everyone.

If Mr. Hume truly wanted to get his point across effectively to Mr. Woods, a personal message delivered in private would have been much more meaningful and probably received with the sincere appreciation in which the message was intended. It would not have put Mr. Woods in the uncomfortable position of having to formulate a response in public. (I think he has other things on his mind right now.) The way Mr. Hume did it was as if he really didn’t care if Mr. Woods heard the message at all; he just wanted to show everyone what a good Christian he was. All that does is prove the old adage that if you have to tell people how holy you are, you really aren’t that holy to begin with.