Was Brit Hume right on Tiger Woods?
One of the odder bits of fallout from Brit Hume’s already-odd decision to proselytize the Christian faith to Tiger Woods has been the even-odder backlash from two high-powered conservative commentators, the New York Times’s Ross Douthat and the Washington Post’s Michael Gerson. They each argue that Hume’s statements were not only appropriate, but that he has been unfairly pilloried, the result of an outmoded, politically correct decorousness about discussion of matters of faith.
This is preposterous.
Remember the circumstances here. Hume was speaking on Fox News Sunday – a political chat show in which pundits and politicians argue unproductively with each other about the events of the week. FNS and other Sunday shows are part of a larger ecosystem of TV political chat which is, to generalize, crass, superficial, flighty, and out of touch with both American public opinion and the workings of the political system it purports to analyze.
Pundits argue all the time about the role of religion in politics, a perfectly valid topic for discussion. But can we envision them expanding their portfolio to include religion itself, and the questions – cosmic, existential and deeply personal – it engages?
Imagine Brit Hume, Wolf Blitzer, David Gregory, Karl Rove, Keith Olbermann, John McCain, Joe Lieberman (and now, Sarah Palin) disputing over which religion is best (and worst – I’m pretty sure we already have a loser!). Or, more broadly, imagine them arguing over the purpose of existence, the meaning of suffering, the role of sin and of a redemptive God. It would create a whole new universe of stupid. It’s enough to turn the entire political-TV audience agnostic. (Which might not be a bad thing, now that I think of it. But never mind.)
These are the most important issues there are. They should be discussed and argued, and there are forums for doing that. But there are good reasons for, in keeping with the tradition of American political discourse, maintaining respect for all faiths. Given the nasty state of our politics, doing otherwise is an invitation to holy war.
I’m not big on proselytizing myself, but it is a part of the Christian faith. But I’d disagree with Douthat and Gerson on the appropriateness of Hume’s statement even in that narrow context.
Hume was, by all accounts, sincere in his desire to reach out to Woods (his faith, as Gerson describes it, comes from his own experience with personal tragedy). But if I were Hume and wanted to help Woods, I wouldn’t do it on Fox News Sunday. I would privately offer consolation and advice. Trumpeting “my faith is superior to yours when it comes to redemption, so give it a try” is no way to offer help to a troubled soul – the ostensible purpose here, not winning converts or arguing the relative merits of Buddhism and Christianity. To me, Hume’s decision to speak out this way casts doubt on his judgment in spiritual matters. Why should we listen to what he says about religion when he uses Tiger Woods’s personal pain as part of a kind of rhetorical stunt on a political TV show?