Saturday, January 23, 2010

Brit Hume’s Comments on the Tiger Woods Scandal on Fox News (perceptions of religious arrogance)

Beyond Mr. Hume’s violation of the apparently sacred rule to not mention religious faith publicly, the other chief concern that folks like Mr. Shales seem to be raising is Mr. Hume’s expression of his opinion that Christianity is superior to Buddhism. Again, I’m personally sympathetic to any offense towards Buddhism, but I do not really understand the media specific concerns.

Most people who have strong beliefs—on politics, religion or any other topic—believe their beliefs are superior to those of other people. Members of the Green Party undoubtedly think their beliefs are superior to those of Republicans, I’m sure Libertarians believe their beliefs are superior to those of Democrats. If conservatives can voice their beliefs on Fox News that the Democrats in Congress or the Obama White House are misguided on various issues, I don’t quite see how it is all that different to then have a Christian expressing the notion that his religion is superior to another. Mind you, I don’t particularly think this is a prudent approach to have “news” channels spending all their time spouting personal opinions. But if that train has already left the station, what is the difference if the opinions are rooted in politics or religion? Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly say things that are offensive and demeaning to people on the left all the time. Do they need to apologize when they insult the Democrats? I would not think so. If for no other reason, they would spend all their time in apologies. Besides, Democrats know they are going to be insulted if they tune in, so they can decide to avoid Fox News. Similarly, if Fox News is now opting to become known for touting the superiority of Christianity, I suppose it would be wise for non-Christians to avoid the channel. As a result, I am rather baffled by Mr. Shales’ demand that Mr. Hume apologize for his comments. In the current media context, that does not seem necessary.

I think that anyone who is serious about his or her faith thinks that his or her religion is superior to others. Perhaps that is not politically correct, but I think that’s being honest. And many Christians (particularly culturally conservative ones) follow a theology that people who do not accept Christ as their personal savior while in this life will be condemned to eternal damnation in the next. (Many are unaware that other Christian denominations—including Catholics and Episcopalians--have a very different theology on this matter.) But for those Christians who are convinced non-believers are doomed to spend eternity in hell, there is often a passion for converting those who are not “saved.” In my experience, such a passion is typically based on a sincere concern for non-believers and an altruistic desire to prevent non-believers from enduring a horrific fate. In my opinion, the hearts of such Christians are in the right place. And I say that even though I do not share the same theology on this point. Nonetheless, I’m very aware of how such zeal is often received by non-believers.

For example, over the years, I’ve had several friends of East Asian, South Asian and Arab heritage who have had very miserable experiences with Christians trying to convert them from Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam. Their own religions mean a great deal to these friends. It gives them a great deal of spiritual comfort and is often the means to fellowship with others who share the same heritage. As a result, it is very hurtful (and quite annoying) when Christians try to proselytize to them. Moreover, often but not always, the proselytizing Christians are Caucasian, and are utterly insensitive to cultural and social issues unique to the heritage of the person they are trying to convert. The end result is simply not positive. The Christian is disappointed to have not converted the person, and the would-be convert ends up thinking all Christians are extremely arrogant, insensitive, and boorish. I’ve actually had several different South Asian and East Asian friends who had such negative encounters with Christians over the years that years later they expressed to me that they were very worried when members of their family decided to marry individuals from families that were (at least nominally) Christian. Their main concern was that the new in-laws would try to proselytize to them and be disrespectful of their own deeply held beliefs.

I suppose my point in all this is simply that I think there is a tremendous amount of misunderstanding, and a lot of resulting feelings of hurt and resentment, because of Christian proselytizing. The flack over Brit Hume’s comments is emblematic of this. I simply wish people on both sides understood a little better the opposite perspective.

Proverbs 15:1 (New King James Version)

A soft answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.

1 Corinthians 4:21

What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?

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