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Brit Hume recently spoke out on Tiger Wood’s Buddhist faith saying:

“I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith,” Hume said. “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.”

and

On Monday during an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, Hume addressed the topic again, but didn’t apologize to Buddhists: “My sense about Tiger is that he needs something that Christianity, especially, provides and gives and offers. And that is redemption and forgiveness.”

In the clip above, John Stewart goes after Hume for intolerance and proselytizing and gets “Muslim Correspondent” Aasif Mandvi to chime in. They both got a lot of laughs and big nods from other liberals. And they’ve got some good points, especially the hypocrisy of Fox on tolerance of other religions. Here’s the rub though: I think there’s a whole lot of black people in America who would agree with Brit Hume. I was raised in the church so I know. Even before Hume opened his big mouth on the subject, I can hear the beauty shop & barbershop talk now at the height of the scandal:

Mph Mph Mph. I know one thing for sure.

What’s that?

Tiger needs to get right with God, you know what I mean?

Mmm hmm, girl you know that’s right.

Though I had a strong churchified upbringing, as I grew up, I’ve read other traditions and my spirituality has been influenced by other faiths including Buddhism. This has been hard at times on my family, especially in the early days. I remember the Christmas my brother took my hand, looked deep into my eyes with sincere troubled concern on his furrowed face after refusing my gift of Thich Naht Hanh’s classic Living Buddha, Living Christ and saying: “I just…I just worry that we won’t be reunited in Heaven for eternity as a family. And that grieves me.” Translation: it makes me sad, really truly sad that you, Jill, are going straight to Hell.

The fam has moderated their thoughts over time, but I fear that many African-Americans have not. There are a lot of black folk out there, I know, who would encourage Tiger to find Jesus and save his troubled soul. My uncle was a huge golf fan, loved Tiger Woods to death and a longtime leader in his Baptist church. He’s gone now, but I can just hear him clucking his tongue right now if he were here, agreeing with Hume.

I’ve walked among many cultures and here’s what I have to say on the matter. First, I agree with white liberals that Hume sounded insensitive and intolerant. I agree that Fox pundits should exercise caution when speaking given their checkered, mostly bigoted past on matters of religion. I agree with Buddhists that Hume showed a deep ignorance of the Buddhist faith. From Yahoo News:

“I think it’s ridiculous to make those statements,” said Robert Thurman, a professor of Tibetan studies at Columbia University. “It is insulting to Buddhism to indicate that Buddhism doesn’t take care of its own believers and followers. But I think he will discover that Buddhists are very forgiving about his stupid statements.”

Forget not that Tiger’s mama is Thai and most Thai are Buddhist. So it should not seem strange in a modern, multicultural America to hear a man who looks black describe himself as Buddhist.

“I believe in Buddhism. Not every aspect, but most of it,” Woods told Sports Illustrated in 1996. “So I take bits and pieces. I don’t believe that human beings can achieve ultimate enlightenment, because humans have flaws.”

Indeed they do, Tiger! There are actually a lot of black buddhists out there, including Alice Walker, Herbie Hancock & Tina Turner. You can hear her sharing her faith and chanting on Larry King. I believe that African-Americans can provide a nuanced perspective here. I believe that if there was ever a time for a man to re-connect to his faith and spirituality for higher guidance, that Tiger Woods is there. And I think Tiger would find the African-American community supportive in that overall goal. However, I would encourage us to be tolerant — ultimately it’s not appropriate for us to suggest which faith Tiger should reach out to in his time of need. All faiths have merit and can connect us to the divine source and to those universal values we all hold sacred.

I also think that liberals would do well to check their reflexive eyerolling on matters of spirituality. Most Americans feel deeply about religion and the Republicans have for too long hijacked religious sentiment in service to their often retrograde agendas. It’s time for us to embrace spirituality (not necessarily in the form of one religion over another) to show we understand one of the most important  sources of positive values & community spirit that many embrace. We must model tolerance ourselves if we hope to teach tolerance to others and build a tolerant society.

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