This past Sunday, Brit Hume of Fox News said the following of Tiger Woods:
Reaction to Mr. Hume’s statement has resulted in a bit of an internet sensation, ranging from adulation (lauding his bravery for making such a clearly Christian statement) to vilification (questioning his journalistic integrity for proselytizing Christianity, calling him ignorant and criticizing his use of Christianity as a means to justify adultery). Mr. Hume would go on to defend his remarks on Monday, claiming he was not proselytizing, just giving advice (he was proselytizing — and what is wrong with that?) For me, however, the most striking aspect of the reaction to Mr. Hume’s comments about Tiger Woods was the stunning amount of ignorance about both Christianity and Buddhism.
As a result, I have endeavored to do a little research on the basic philosophical core of Buddhism so that I could compare and contrast them to basic Christian beliefs.
Buddhism is built upon what are called the Four Noble Truths:
- Life means suffering.
- The origin of suffering is attachment.
- The cessation of suffering is attainable.
- The path to the cessation of suffering is a gradual path of self-improvement (detailed in what is called the Eightfold Path).
Let’s take a look at each of these from a Christian perspective:
- Whereas Christianity certainly acknowledges the inevitability of suffering (bad things do happen to good people), life cannot be equated with suffering. When God brought His creation out of nothing, He declared it “very good” (Genesis 1:31) — the way life was meant to be. Suffering came about because of the choice of Adam (literally humanity) to know evil — a world without God. Through this choice sin, death, decay, and suffering were introduced into creation. Thus, suffering is not the equivalent of life, but rather the result of a separation from God.
- Buddhism sees our attachment to transient things — virtually everything in creation, including the self — to be the source of suffering. Because everything is finite, their loss is inevitable and suffering necessarily follows. There is a lot here that Christianity can agree with. When we place more value on creation than upon God we fall into idolatry which inevitably brings suffering because we have separated ourselves from that which is eternal — God. However, God has created us in His image and likeness (Gen 1:26-27) — we were made with an innate ability to become like God. Christ (and our relationship with Him and in Him) is the ultimate fulfillment of humanity becoming like God. In other words, Christians are free to love and have relationships with other people because in Christ these things are not destined to be finite or transient. This is exemplified by our relationships with the saints.
- The cessation of suffering is certainly attainable in the Christian world-view — there will be no pain, sorrow or suffering in the Kingdom; however, suffering is and will be a part of the fallen world, even for the good, the holy and the spiritual. The reality of martyrdom exemplifies this sad truth. Our participation in Christ and the life of the Church gives us the strength to move through that suffering and to the truth and realization of the Kingdom. The martyrs are again an example of this reality.
- The road to self-improvement from a Buddhist perspective and a Christian perspective can look very similar externally — both traditions emphasize humility, a respect for all life and the conquering of our passions; however, the ultimate goal and the means to that goal of these paths couldn’t be more different. For Buddhism, the state of Nirvana is attained through dispassion — disconnecting oneself from the word. In Christianity the goal is attachment — to God through Christ and His Church. The state of Nirvana is accomplished on one’s own. Christianity insists that salvation is impossible without God and that we are saved as a people, not as individuals.
Mr. Hume stated that “I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith.” It doesn’t. Buddhism offers dispassion. If something bad happens to you (despite your apparent success as a Buddhist) it is due to past lives on the wheel of life. In contrast, Christianity acknowledges that bad things happen to good people and that people not only make mistakes but we are bound to at some point or another. God refuses to stand by and watch His creation suffer, wallow in sin and die. This is why He sent His Son — to intimately show that He knows what we go through, that He forgives us our shortcomings and that we can join Him in love and eternity.
We know that even the worst of humanity is redeemable. St. Paul himself condoned the murder of St. Stephen (Acts 8:1); however, the saint most appropriate for the case of Tiger Woods is St. Mary of Egypt. A prostitute for over 40 years, she repented and went out into the desert. St. Zosimas found her there some 40 years later floating in the air while in prayer. Let us all pray that we might find the redemption of St. Mary through our own repentance and unity with Christ our God:
Having been a sinful woman,
You became through repentance a Bride of Christ.
Having attained angelic life,
You defeated demons with the weapon of the Cross;
Therefore, O most glorious Mary you are a Bride of the Kingdom! — Kontakion of St. Mary of Egypt