I Am Misquoted by Bill O’Reilly

This is actually a Buddhism issue, but I’m posting on this blog so I can cross-post everywhere I can think of. Something I wrote on my Buddhism site has been misrepresented by Bill O’Reilly, and I want to set the record straight.

The back story: As I mentioned on The Mahablog earlier this week, on Sunday Brit Hume said some obnoxious thing on Fox News Sunday about how Tiger Woods should convert to Christianity —

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

My first reaction, from the Buddhism blog, is titled “Let’s Forgive Brit Hume“:

I don’t like to point out others’ faults, but given the record I would think Christians would show a little more humility about offering advice to the sexually wayward. As Jesus once said, let those who have never sinned throw the first stones (John 8:7).

However, Mr. Hume is right, in a sense, that Buddhism doesn’t offer redemption and forgiveness in the same way Christianity does. Buddhism has no concept of sin; therefore, redemption and forgiveness in the Christian sense are meaningless in Buddhism. Forgiveness is important, but it is approached differently in Buddhism, and I’ll get to that in a bit.

From there I went into a very general, brief, basic explanation of the way Buddhism guides people with, um, problems such as Tiger Woods’s, and I linked to articles with more detail. I don’t know Tiger Woods personally, I can’t imagine where his head is, and I don’t presume to offer spiritual counseling to people I don’t know and who haven’t asked for it.

But the point was that Buddhism has an entirely different approach to dealing with our imperfections. In brief, instead of redemption and forgiveness, you might say we do atonement and “cleansing.” The lack of “redemption” in the Christian sense is utterly irrelevant. It was by no means an “admission” that Christianity is the superior religion, or that Tiger Woods would be better off converting to it.

And you probably already see where this is going.

Initially the post had some good responses, including a nice mention on U.S.A. Today‘s Faith and Reason website.

Then the Family Research Council stepped in, quoting me but out of context to suggest I approved of what Brit Hume said. Then the FRC writer repeated the old slander that Buddhism is a religion without faith or hope, in which humans are doomed to trudge wearily through one life after another working off old, bad karma.

However, Buddhism is a path of liberation from the wheel of samsara, a little point the Family Research Council left out. The Buddha explicitly rejected the idea that people are fated to be punished in the future for the bad deeds of the past. Further, Buddhist teachings on karma and reincarnation are very different from what most people think they are, but I don’t want to go into a long lecture on that here.

Frederick Clarkson graciously gave me a spot at Talk to Action to rebut the FRC. And there I wrote,

A problem with side-by-side comparisons of the relative merits of Christianity versus Buddhism is that the two religions are understood and practiced within very different conceptual frameworks. For example, Sprigg and other conservative Christians persist in extolling redemption as an essential feature of their religion that Buddhism lacks. But to Buddhists, this is irrelevant. It might be said of Buddhism that it is a means to perceive, deeply and intimately, why we don’t need to be redeemed.

Finally we get to the Devil himself, Bill O’Reilly. Today I discovered I am quoted on his blog.

My colleague Brit Hume has aroused the ire of some secularists as well as some Buddhists by advising Tiger Woods to seek redemption through Christianity in place of his mother’s religion of Buddhism. Said Mr. Hume about Mr. Woods, “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.'”

Almost immediately, the far left began mocking Hume as a religious fanatic. Some of the comments directed at him were as hateful as anything directed towards Tiger Woods.

So, let’s look at what happened. According to the Buddhist journalist Barbara Hoetsu O’Brien, Hume is correct about Buddhism. That faith does not offer forgiveness and redemption the way Christianity does. That’s because Buddhism has no concept of sin.

The clear implication is that I absolved Hume of disparaging Buddhism and agree with everything he said. But he did disparage Buddhism. That’s plainly obvious. And I disagreed with what he said except for a minor doctrinal technicality.

And, of course, O’Reilly didn’t bother to link back to my site.

O’Reilly goes on from there to claim Hume wasn’t really proselytizing, which is absurd on its face, and that the only reason people are carping about what Hume said is that they hate Christians. Dissing Buddhism doesn’t count. They got a Buddhist to say so!

One other thing, unrelated to O’Reilly — all my life I’ve heard the phrase “let those who have never sinned throw the first stones” as a metaphor about not accusing others of something one is guilty of oneself. I assumed anyone with basic American cultural literacy would know that, especially when it is near a link to a list of scandals involving famous evangelicals.

But the conservative blogger The Anchoress came up with this —

Ms. O’ Brien seems to be mistaking Hume’s obvious compassion for Woods as “stone-throwing.” Having watched the video several times, it seems to me that Hume is doing no such thing. Like Creative Minority, I see Hume taking Wood’s situation, and the state of his soul very seriously, and from the perspective of his own beliefs. Rather than hoisting a stone of judgment in Wood’s direction, Hume is offering what he believes to be a healing balm. The distinction between stoning someone to death or offering them hope for their lives is not exactly a fine or subtle one; the fact that Ms. O’ Brien can’t make that distinction suggests that she -like most of us- has allowed a prejudice -or her condescension- to dull her own clarity, and that -again like most of us- she finds it hard to resist the urge to cynicism.

To which I can say only — WTF? She utterly misinterpreted the metaphor. Is she from this planet?

I also got this comment to the blog, which I mostly deleted, from somebody named Mark —

So suggesting someone consider Christianity as a faith tradition is somehow synonymous with stoning someone to death? How? Please give me a logical argument as to how those two concepts, suggesting someone adopt a particular religion, and executing someone by pummeling them with stones (a brutal, slow, and painful form of death) are equivalent? That is the most bigoted statement against any particular faith tradition I think I have ever read.

When the Jehovah’s Witnesses ring my doorbell and try to hand me literature, I don’t consider it to be the equivalent of taking my life. When a Hare Krishna tries to sell me a flower at the airport, I don’t see them as executioners.

How did you come up with such a hateful comparison? How dark is your heart to think this stuff up? How bigoted is your soul to have such a closed mind?

If I have a closed mind, this guy seems to have no mind at all. How twisted does one have to be to have interpreted what I wrote that way?

I understand that early Christians developed a martyr cult that glorified death by martyrdom. It seems some Christians still get their kicks out of imagining they are being martyred.

Where it comes to proselytization, I take very seriously the third of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Precepts of Engaged Buddhism

Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education. However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrow-mindedness.

It honestly doesn’t bother me when people choose other religions, or no religion. I try to clear up misconceptions and ignorance about Buddhism, but I don’t push it on people.

That said, I’m saying Buddhism is superior to Christianity in one way — enabling people to stop bullshitting themselves about themselves. The sincere practice of Buddhism leads one to a deep self honesty, especially about one’s fears and pain. Christianity — at least in its current popular formats — all too often amounts to slapping a band-aid of dogma over your wounds and then pretending you’re not still bleeding.

Short Takes

Holy Joe’s fall from grace, or at least from the favor of Connecticut voters.

So who’s emboldening the terrorists now?

It may be that Christianity has stronger redemption benefits than Buddhism, but as I remember the benefit doesn’t kick in until you repent. You can’t be redeemed until you admit you did something wrong, in other words, which means Brit Hume is damned.

Introducing the Manicheanism Alert icon. I figure it will save me time arguing with people. And we already have a winner!