Editor’s Note: Americans love their freedoms, but not when someone uses one of those freedoms to criticize something near and dear to them. My feeling is that the old expression, “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” must be applied to all aspects of freedom of speech; otherwise, the First Amendment is just a hollow shell. (If the reference to the Catholic League is unfamiliar, they’re a group that goes ballistic whenever anyone says anything at all critical about Catholicism. It’s run by a really gung-ho crackpot named Bill Donohue [see photo below], who was parodied in an extremely clever episode of South Park that dealt with the Easter Bunny and summed up his mission pretty well.) This article caused one reader to write an impassioned and incoherent Letter to the Editor, that did a real nice job of misrepresenting most of what I’d written. It also inspired another reader to write to the paper to support me and to attack my critic.


Freedom of Religion Requires Free Speech

 

We must respect the other fellow’s religion,
but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory
that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.

                                — H.L. Mencken

 

During a Fox News Sunday panel discussion, newsman Britt Hume created a bit of a furor by opining that Tiger Woods needs to embrace Christianity to resurrect his damaged reputation. The Fox anchorman advised Woods to abandon his religion, because the golfer’s Buddhist faith provides neither the forgiveness and nor the redemption offered by Christianity.

This might surprise the Dalai Lama, and it does demonstrate a rather dismissive attitude on Mr. Hume’s part toward religions other than his own. However, as a believer in free speech, I have to ask, “What did Hume do wrong?”

When a certain amount of controversy ensued, the newsman subjected himself to some less-than-hard-hitting questioning by Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, during which he observed that invoking the name of Jesus often creates hostility. However, America is an extremely religious country, the Religious Right is the soul of the GOP and Fox is the Republicans’ de facto media arm, making it one of the leading voices of right-wing Christianity in America. Hence, Hume’s preaching to the choir on Fox is about as daring as Louis Farrakhan praising Mohammed on Al Jazeera.

Hume’s critics are attacking him for transgressions other than raising the name of Jesus, but I’ve heard only one make a valid point. (Not surprisingly, it was The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, who lampooned Hume’s lame contention that he wasn’t proselytizing.)

Some pundits assert that journalists shouldn’t preach. However, no one expects anything less than advocacy journalism from Fox, which stopped even pretending to be “fair and balanced” years ago. Besides, Hume was just doing his job: He made his comments on opinion programs, where he was expected to express opinions.

Some critics believe newsmen shouldn’t reveal any biases. However, all journalists have them, and Hume has supported the Religious Right for years, which is one reason he’s such a good fit at Fox. Besides, anchormen need to be candid about their biases, so we’ll know where they’re coming from when they’re delivering “straight news” stories.

Others are offended by Hume’s apparent attitude that his religion alone offers redemption — i.e., his expression of Christian triumphalism. However, triumphalism — the ethnocentric theology that states “my religion is the truth … and everybody else’s is false” — is a pillar of Christianity that distinguishes it from the Eastern religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism. In this, Christianity mirrors Islam, which reveres Allah as the one true god and calls non-Muslims “infidels” who should expect damnation.

What’s wrong with Hume expressing his belief that Christianity is Tiger’s only path to redemption? If he thought other faiths had The Truth, Hume would be practicing one of them instead. As a true believer, it’s his duty to “witness” for his religion, especially on right-wing talk shows that are in synch with his creed.

But doesn’t Hume’s public disparagement of Buddhism, a faith revered by 350 million adherents, make him a bigot? No, because disdain for another’s religion isn’t the same as racism or homophobia, for example. Religion is a choice, not some accident of birth over which people have no control.

More importantly, Hume is within his Constitutional rights. The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech allows everyone to say whatever they want about everyone else’s beliefs. This isn’t theocratic Iran, where ayatollahs issue fatwas demanding death for blasphemers, no matter what Bill Donohue and the Catholic League might believe.

On any given Sunday, televangelists endlessly exercise their Constitutional right to disrespect all religions other than their own. Going on TV to persuade Tiger to relinquish the religion of his birth and embrace the one true faith is as American as football.

This being said, let me add my two cents on an analogous subject. It’s my opinion (or belief, if you will) that Buddhism is a religion that’s far superior — ethically, spiritually and intellectually — to Christianity. I’m not a practicing Buddhist, but, personally, I don’t think it’s even a close call.

Just as bloggers continue to criticize Mr. Hume for his opinions, readers are free to castigate me for having written the preceding paragraph, because this is America. You can call the newspaper to say I’m a moron or a “Christian basher,” or write a letter to the editor* to express your glee at my inevitable consignment to Hell (it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard that). You can do this because you have the same free-speech rights that I do.

But I digress. Although Americans may not consider it as important as golf, our political landscape has been stained in recent years by the adulterous activities of many of our conservative politicians**. So, paraphrasing Mr. Hume, I’d like to say to David Vitter, Larry Craig, Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston, John Ensign, et al., and, particularly to the Tiger Woods of GOP adulterers, Mark Sanford, there’s still time to save yourselves through the forgiveness and redemption offered by Buddhism.

Evidently, Christianity failed to keep you guys on the straight and narrow. Maybe it’s time you tried chanting and meditation.


* One person took my advice and wrote an outraged Letter to the Editor just a day after my article ran. This woman’s bigoted screed cause a second letter to be written to paper, which came to my defense and took the offensive against the obnoxious woman who wrote the first letter.

** At the time this article was written, I thought we’d heard the last of that most loathsome of Democratic adulterers, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards. But then, he re-emerged with another in a long series of confessions, this time as to parentage of his mistress’s child, about which he’d been lying unconvincingly for years. Edwards is certainly equal to, if not worse than, any of the hypocrites mentioned above. In fact, I think he’s probably beyond redemption, even if the Buddha, Moses and Jesus came together to work on him.

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