Brit Hume Still Under Fire For Christianity vs. Buddhism Argument

It's been more than a week since Fox News Channel's Brit Hume gave disgraced golfer Tiger Woods advice that essentially urged him to ditch Buddhism and find Christianity. He says Christianity was the only way to recovery. Host Michel Martin talks with Washington Post columnist about the backlash that Hume has received and how Hume's comments shined light on true intolerance.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Now we turn to another question about speaking out of turn, or not. We're talking about Fox News contributor Brit Hume's suggestion last week that disgraced golf great Tiger Woods should seek redemption through Christianity.

It isn't clear what religion Tiger Woods is or commits to, but he said he has studied some elements of Buddhist practice. Now, Hume has received a barrage of criticism for these comments, which were made on "Fox News Sunday" last week.

He's being accused of everything from proselytizing and saying, essentially, my God is better than yours. Hume has stood by his comments, but some question whether these were appropriate for a newscaster in that context.

Here to talk more about this is Michael Gerson. He's a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. He writes extensively about matters of faith and spirituality and public affairs. He's a columnist for the Washington Post, and he wrote about this. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. MICHAEL GERSON (Former Presidential Speechwriter): Great. It's great to be with you.

MARTIN: Before we jump into this, let me just play the clip for listeners who may not have heard the comments so we know what we're talking about.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Fox News Sunday")

Mr. BRIT HUME (Journalist): 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.

MARTIN: Now, as we mentioned, a number of people said this was totally out of line. You say: absolutely not. He was completely - it was appropriate -awkward, but appropriate. What do you say?

Mr. GERSON: Well, yeah, I think that's pretty accurate. Awkward - I may have used different words, but appropriate in that this was a discussion about matters of sex, morality, you know, marital commitment, and religion naturally arises in a debate like this.

We're not talking about doing this in a public ceremony, in a governmental office. We're talking about doing this in a public discourse about an important debate, and ruling out of bounds the views and motives of - that many people hold as the most important factor in their entire lives in the public debate just doesn't make much sense.

MARTIN: You're saying that the American idea of religious liberty does not forbid proselytization, it presupposes it, and that free, autonomous individuals not only have the right to hold whatever beliefs they wish, they also have the right to change those beliefs and to persuade others.

Mr. GERSON: Right.

MARTIN: What of the context of this being a political program? I mean, some people are saying that - I mean, I take your point that he doesn't have any position of authority over Tiger Woods, nor over the audience. He can't - he's not - we're not required to listen to him. But what about the argument that this is - just this wasn't the right context for a sectarian statement of a particular definition of faith?

Mr. GERSON: Well, you know, proselytization is an important part of religious liberty. It's implied in this right, that First Amendment right. But it's also fraught with a lot of difficulties. You wouldn't want - you know, proselytization becomes problematic when there's a difference in power relationships.

You wouldn't want an employer pressuring an employee. You wouldn't want a teacher pressuring a student. We're offended by that, because it really violates this idea of free choice about some very important matters.

But none of that was implicated in this case. I mean, Hume is a semi-retired broadcaster. He doesn't have any particular power over, you know, a multimillionaire athlete. He was just adding to a public debate.

If he had said aromatherapy instead of Christianity...

MARTIN: Yoga.

Mr. GERSON: ...there would have been very little outcry. But here, just because it's a faith component, you know, I think that there's something really problematic about a view of pluralism or a view of tolerance that says to certain people shut up with your deepest - about your deepest views.

MARTIN: Well, what do you make of that, though? Why do you think it evoked the reaction that it made? Do you think it's in part because Christianity is the majority religion in this country, and as a consequence, people feel inherently bullied by the professing of it? If he had picked something else, if he had said you know what? People should practice yoga or meditate, whether there would have been the same outcome.

Mr. GERSON: Well, no. I think there's some element to that, but I think the reality here is that almost all faiths, not all, but almost all faiths have exclusive claims about the nature of reality, okay, that conflict with other faiths.

And, you know, I'm not a Buddhist or a Muslim, but I'm not offended when a Buddhist or a Muslim makes a statement of faith because that's the nature of pluralism. Pluralism is not silence about these questions. Pluralism means deep disagreements that are respectfully conducted, OK? That, to me, is the important thing, not ruling out certain categories of argumentation, a priori. That, to me, is not pluralism.

MARTIN: What kind of reaction have you gotten to your piece? We know that the reaction to Hume's piece was quite intense for a minute there. A number of people wrote about it in their own columns. What kind of reaction are you getting to your piece defending his right to make those comments?

Mr. GERSON: You know, more than most, you know, people on both sides of this issue. But that - that's the - I mean, that's the point of the piece. You want a real discussion that includes all of these voices, not a certain view of pluralism that says some views or voices are off-limits.

MARTIN: Michael Gerson is a columnist for the Washington Post and a senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement. He was kind enough to join us in our Washington studio. If you want to read the piece that he wrote, we'll have a link on our Web site. Just go to npr.org. Click on Programs, then on TELL ME MORE. Thank you so much for coming in.

Mr. GERSON: Thank you.

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