January 11, 2010
Bravo to Brit Hume: Why Faith Is Not a Private Matter
Not too many things raise my eyebrows in these days of through-the-looking-glass America, where I fully expect up to be down, left to be right, and right to be wrong. It's not that I'm a pessimist -- just a realist. And this is why hearing mainstream-media newsman Brit Hume recommend Christianity over Buddhism on FOX News Sunday -- well, made my eyebrows say "bonjour" to my hairline.
In case you missed the story, Hume was addressing Tiger Woods' womanizing woes and recommended that the golfer seek his answers in Christianity, saying, "I don't think that faith [Woods' Buddhism] offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, 'Tiger, turn to the Christian faith, and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.'" While pleasantly surprised, I knew that Hume was going to take heat for straying outside the Box of Tolerance, which is about the size of Get Smart's Cone of Silence. And the reaction came promptly. Describing it at Politics Daily, Carl M. Cannon wrote:
Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal Constitution asserted that "faith is a private matter between that person and God, and is not a matter to be judged by some pompous TV anchor." In case Hume was misunderstood, Bookman subsequently called him "rude and crass" and guilty of "bad manners." MSNBC anchor David Shuster maintained that Hume had somehow "denigrated" and "diminished" Christianity. Even knowledgeable religion writers were nonplussed by Hume. USA Today religion writer Cathy Grossman asserted on her blog that the Fox commentator was "talking trash."
Now, Cannon must be unusually kind, because a writer who is "nonplussed" by Hume is certainly not knowledgeable. Nor is he religious -- at least not in any sense beyond the recreational.
But let's cut through the nonsense here. I'm always amused when people object to others' efforts to convert them, especially since it's a daily occurrence. What I mean is that conversion is the business of most of the world -- and it's especially the business of the commentators criticizing Hume. Democrats want to convert others into Democrats, liberals want to convert others to liberalism, Muslims to Islam, Coca-Cola to Coke-drinkers, Ford to Ford-drivers, dairy farmers to milk-drinkers (it does a body good), and the United States Golf Association to golfers. And don't many of the liberal commentators criticizing Hume try to convert others to supporters of things such as universal health care, faux marriage, and anti-spanking laws? This is why it's nonsense when Bill O'Reilly (who defended Hume) says, as is his wont, that he's not trying to change anyone's mind. Unless someone is so mercenary that he renders opinion simply to make money, he must care about certain things enough to want to win philosophical soul mates. I mean, could you imagine, let's say, Jay Bookman stating, "You know, I like universal health care, but, hey, dude, whatever works for you"? Could you imagine him applying his own standard to political proselytization and refraining from mention of the issue? I guess he can't, either, because Bookman has been quite unabashed in his advocacy of ObamaCare, writing, for instance, "By any measure, we are grossly inefficient in health-care delivery compared to our industrialized competitors." Is that like Buddhism being grossly inefficient in salvation-delivery compared to Christianity? Stop being "rude and crass," Bookman. That's my country you're talking about.
You see, playing the "I'm offended!" game is a lot easier than actually thinking. But I accept that liberal journalists will portray America as inferior to other nations in manifold ways. What is far more offensive -- at least, to any discerning intellect -- is the profound stupidity and prejudice reflected in a double-standard that denies only Christians (and perhaps a few other groups) the right to advocate their beliefs.
Yet something must now be asked about this notion that "faith is a private matter." If secularists are so adamant about it, why do they never admonish the Richard Dawkinses and Christopher Hitchenses of the world to mind the principle? Hitchens wrote a book titled God Is Not Great and makes a lot of money and waves parading around the country and spreading his anti-theist (as he puts it) message. And there is no shortage of liberal journalists echoing his sentiments in their effort to convert others to their way of thinking (or, I should say, feeling). Am I to understand that faith is private when you want to spread it but public when you want to condemn it? The contradiction here is so thick that were I as intellectually sloppy as those I criticize, I'd call them hypocrites. But they're too philosophically juvenile to embrace their contradiction with full knowledge. So I'll be kind and just call them ignorant.
At this point, many will aver that there is a profound difference between politics and religion. This idea has not just given us the separation-of-church-and-state principle (flawed and misunderstood in itself), but it also has been expanded into what Brit Hume violated: the separation-of-church-and-society principle. In reality, though, if there is no reason for religious proselytization, there is also no reason for the political variety. After all, why do we argue about political ideologies? It's because different ideologies espouse different values, and we can't have a healthy civilization unless we adopt the correct values. Thus, the ideology we embrace matters.
Likewise, different religions also espouse different values; therefore, applying the same principle, a conclusion is inescapable.
The religion we embrace matters.
Many people are uncomfortable with this, as they fear the messy business of actually determining what Truth is. Thus do they embrace religious-equivalency doctrine and claim that all faiths are morally equal. But since different religions do espouse different values, they cannot all be morally equal unless all values are so. This is moral relativism, and sure, it would render religious proselytization unnecessary. Yet it would also do the same to the political variety, for then all ideologies would have to be equal as well. Perhaps politics should be a private matter, too.
Of course, settling these matters really is messy business. This is why we hear, "Never discuss religion or politics," an admonition as stupid as the counsel "Faith is a private matter." Both are prescriptions for superficiality because logically rendered, they mean, "Never discuss anything of importance."
So today, we live a contradiction. We seek to convert politically while condemning as intolerant those who seek to convert religiously. Thus we fail to realize that politics and religion are inextricably linked. After all, politics is about putting into practice what is good, and this is impossible unless there is a knowable good. And there cannot be good in a real sense unless there is moral Truth -- something outside of and above man that is the yardstick for making value judgments -- and this implies God. Thus, we cannot determine good as a society unless we discuss Truth and God -- those things categorized under "religion." Ergo, faith is not a private matter.
It is, in fact, the most public of matters, because it deals with the most important of things.
Note that I haven't discussed here the relative merits of Christianity and Buddhism, as that would be premature. Without the understanding that there is Truth -- that eternal yardstick for judging religions, ideologies and philosophies -- it is a waste of time. It would be like debating which diet is best with people who won't acknowledge that there are rules of human nutrition or which car design is best with those who won't acknowledge the laws of physics. Or it's like debating politics with someone who won't acknowledge there is Truth. The lesson here is a tautology: First things come first.
There are some of us, though -- and perhaps Hume is one of them -- who have escaped the contradiction. We don't preach more than the relativists, just with less hypocrisy. We don't say there is no God but then talk about good. We don't say good is opinion but nonetheless impose it on others. We don't say there is no great treasure, but that we'll search for it anyway. Some of us also know that what really stops secularists from hashing out the Truth is not that it's messy, but that it's scary. It places limitations on our personal lives, ambitions, and agendas; we can no longer play God. Why, we may even learn that while faith should not at all be private and constrained, sex certainly should be.
And we also know something else. As our confused world at the edge of a precipice proves, while determining Truth can be messy, messier still is not doing it at all.