, , , , , ,

Brit Hume of Fox News has been lighting up the Buddhist blogosphere lately, with this criticism of adulterous golfer Tiger Woods:

“The extent to which he can recover, seems to me, depends on his faith. He’s said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So, my message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn your faith, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.”

Shortly afterwards, in an appearance on The O’Reilly Factor, Hume attempted to defend his comments with the claim that his point was about Christianity rather than about Buddhism:

Hume is, of course, wrong about Buddhism. While Buddhists typically don’t speak in terms of forgiveness and redemption, the rest of the claim is a complete non sequitur, as well as being false: Buddhism has helped countless people recover from committing past wrongs and become better. If Hume is anything other than a complete ignoramus, he does nothing to illustrate such a status in the first clip; the second demonstrates little more than an attempt to weasel out of criticism. (Others inform me that this combination of poor argument and non-argument may be typical of TV news in general and Fox News in particular, but I don’t watch TV news enough to know, and don’t care about it enough to find out. I’m interested in the particular case here.)

That said, I disagree with the way several Buddhist bloggers have reacted to Hume’s words. The Bitterroot Badger (a pseudonym, presumably) offers a good and reasoned criticism of Hume in his (her?) blog post itself; the problem comes into play with the letter to Fox News in the post’s second update. If you think sending a letter to correct misinformation on Fox News will have any positive effect, well, I have my doubts, but more power to you. But the Badger goes far further than merely correcting Hume’s poorly informed claim:

But the most troubling point, so beyond the pale, is for a purported journalist to use an American mass-media format to call for the conversion of someone from one religion to another. So, in the interest of fairness and balance, I’m writing to insist on an on-air apology from Mr. Hume to all the Buddhists he so casually disrespected on your program.

In what way, I must ask, are Hume’s words “beyond the pale”? Surely a call for conversion is the least troubling point of his speech, much less so than his ignorance. Televangelists use American mass media to call for conversion all the time. Is it “disrespectful” to Buddhists when Christians criticize Buddhist tradition? Well, most Christians consider it a duty to attempt to convert others, to spread what they take to be the good news of Jesus’s exclusive saving power. No doubt the Badger would criticize this aspect of Christianity – but if criticism equals disrespect, then the Badger is being similarly disrespectful to these Christians.

Perhaps the Badger is objecting merely because of Hume’s status as a “purported journalist,” in that Hume’s action deprives him of journalistic neutrality or objectivity. I don’t know much about Hume, but Wikipedia classifies him as a “commentator” and “political analyst” as well as a journalist; the O’Reilly bio line bills him as a “political analyst” as well. And the commentator’s or analyst’s role is not to be neutral, it’s to take a side.

The Badger’s criticisms are mild compared to those of Kyle at Progressive Buddhism (with whom I have previously sparred). In a post quoted on MSNBC, Kyle urges letters to Fox that “respectfully ask for the on air apology to all Buddhists or Mr.Hume’s dismissal from Fox News all together,” adding “we have come to far in this country and this world to stand idly by while an ignorant political mouthpiece spews hatred and intolerance.”

We have here one man expressing his sincerely held (if ignorant) beliefs that one tradition is more effective and another person should convert to it, without even the merest suggestion of compulsion by the state or an employer. We also have another man requesting that someone else be fired for expressing those very sincerely held beliefs. Which one of these is being intolerant?

The Badger’s post quotes a text that’s dear to my heart, the sixth chapter of Śāntideva’s Bodhicary?vat?ra. But I wish the two Buddhist bloggers had taken to heart the verse of that chapter that deals most directly with issues like this:

“But my anger about the abusing or destruction of images, st?pas or the true dharma is not justified, for the Buddhas are not distressed.” (BCA VI.64)