Brit Hume's choice
Q: Is there widespread media bias against Christianity? Against evangelicals such as Brit Hume and Sarah Palin? Against public figures who speak openly and directly about their faith? Against people who believe as you do?
Here's what we should learn about redemption and forgiveness from the Tiger Woods debacle: if Tiger should turn to Christianity or Buddhism in the coming years as a way of reorienting his life, fine. It's his choice. But can you imagine him turning to Jesus or Buddha or Muhammad or any other divine figure without making a huge effort to seek redemption from his children, his soon to be ex-wife, his family, and any future wife and children? Of course not.
Humanists and nonreligious people like me shouldn't have a problem with someone believing that their god can help them build a better life-- though we might ask, what's wrong with simply saying "I'm sorry" and then learning to ask yourself what the people in your life want and need from you, instead of just vice versa? But I would hope religious and nonreligious people alike can agree with the Humanist notion that with or without God, real forgiveness is something that happens among human beings. Worthwhile redemption is something that you earn with better behavior. The work may be painful, but it should be. What good is a religion that takes away the pain of having betrayed and destroyed your family? If a man can't allow himself to experience that pain genuinely, to grieve his own failure, I give him little chance at being able to get it right the next time.
I can't say I was shocked or scandalized by Brit Hume's comments, however. Hume is a devotee of the world's largest religion. He came to his devotion, apparently, after the worst and most painful kind of crisis-- his son's suicide. I hope I never have to understand how painful that must have been. Hume made the kind of choice American society affords, even encourages one to make, and later encouraged another person in crisis to make a similar choice. In a way he is right to ask: what is so surprising about that?
But Hume is presumptuous to think that the anger about his comments suggests that Christianity is fundamentally unique, inspiring emotions no other religion could inspire. If Hume were an Indian news anchor who made comparable comments suggesting that a comparably famous Indian Muslim should convert to Hinduism, the public response would have been equally tumultuous. The same would go for an Israeli anchor suggesting that a leading Palestinian should convert to Judaism. In countries that have a majority religion (and where there is real freedom for majority and minority groups to engage in open discussion and argument) people will always naturally be sensitive to any attempt-- or seeming attempt-- to impose the majority's faith on others. Religious freedom is so precious, and often feels so fragile. The opportunity to choose the meaning of our own lives, without interference from military powers or condescension from talking head pundits, is worth fighting for. So let's remember that when we criticize Hume (or any similar commentary), we're not going after his faith, his conviction that it can be important for others, or even his ability to speak freely about it in the media. Instead we are defending religious pluralism--the idea that we demean ourselves when we forget that others who live and believe differently can be just as capable of decency and good citizenship as we are, and deserve to be judged not on the on the form of their faith but on the content of their character.
Greg M. Epstein
January 12, 2010; 11:48 AM ET
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