Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Does Brit Hume Deserve a Rummy?

I don't know if I've mentioned it on the blog before, but occasionally I give out Rummy Awards to people who say something perfectly reasonable that sounds kind of odd and then get unfairly lampooned for it in the media. Its original inspiration was Donald Rumsfeld's "unknown unknown" speech, which was made fun of by seemingly everyone despite conveying the sensible notion that unforseen circumstances and problems will exist. Other past winners include John Kerry (for "I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it," referring to the difference between substantive procedural votes and protest votes) and Janet Napolitano ("The system worked," which referred to what happened after Captain Underpants got on the plane). Anyway, I'm mulling over giving a Rummy to Brit Hume.

Brit Hume, as you probably know by now, is the Fox News anchor who said that Tiger Woods should ditch Buddhism for Christianity so he can gain forgiveness for his adulterous behavior. The chorus of voices ripping Hume has grown since then.

Now I don't think much of Hume as a newsman, but in this case I fail to see the problem with Hume's statement. Hume is, presumably, a Christian, and Christianity states that forgiveness for sins is only possible through belief in Jesus as the Savior. To Christians, then, Buddhism doesn't offer forgiveness in the same way as Christianity because it doesn't involve Christ. So to Hume, Tiger is not just a sinner - we're all sinners, after all - but he's not forgiven for his sins because he doesn't believe in Jesus. So of course Hume would say that Buddhism doesn't offer forgiveness for Tiger's sins while Christianity does, because that's a basic tenet of Christianity.

What I think is at work here is that this particular Christian belief is an uncomfortable one for those who want to put a happy-face on all religion and pretend that it's all about everyone getting along all the time. I'll admit, too, that those people aren't all barking up the wrong tree in their desire to make religion about that. It's a noble goal. But Christianity isn't just about "be nice to one another" - it's also about salvation and the afterlife and God and Jesus and all that other stuff I just mentioned. So when someone wants to give voice to those other aspects of Christianity, it doesn't really fit into the "be nice to each other" narrative, and so those who subscribe to that narrative react viscerally and want to shut down the expression of that part of the faith.

I should know about such reactions - as Ben can attest, I've been down that road. But I don't think it's appropriate to ask a Christian like Hume to hold back on his religious views just because some people might find those views disagreeable or laughable. He has the right to voice his opinions, we non-Christians have a right to disagree, but his opinions are hardly ridiculous - rather, they're consistent with mainstream Christian belief. This doesn't mean Hume's beliefs are above criticism, just that Hume's statement is hardly the out-there crazy missive it seems to be portrayed as in the media.

Hume's Rummy for flagrant and inconvenient Christianity wouldn't be unprecedented - Rev. Jerry Falwell, for whom long-time readers know I had absolutely no love, got a belated Rummy for his statement about the anti-Christ being Jewish*. Of course, I'm not a Christian, so I might have this all wrong. That's why I'm not pulling the trigger on the Rummy yet. If any of you Christian readers care to weigh in and tell me if I've got this fouled up, let me know.

* An injudicious statement, perhaps, but one which is backed up by sound millenarian Christian theology and thus isn't really anti-Semitic at all. John from Truth Before Dishonor has a summary of the theology here.

Update: Michael Gerson has taken up residence in my head. Spend too long up there, Gerson, and you'll become a moonbat like me...

One note: Gerson attributes the criticism of Hume to intolerance of strong belief. I don't necessarily buy that - I don't think most of the people reacting negatively to Hume are intolerant of strong belief; rather, they're merely naive. That is, they simply don't understand what strong religious belief entails. I can see where Gerson would get this idea, and calling it intolerance tells part of the story, but it doesn't tell the whole story in my opinion.


Mike said...

I question whether the "Christianity is the only path to salvation" is actually a "mainstream" view. Most Christians that I know (and bear in mind, I'm talking more my parents' generation and less ours) see it as one path only, certainly their path, but not the only path. I've in fact had discussions with a few who have argued that a belief in multiple paths was not inconsistent with their own faith. (Myself, I was never able to reconcile this belief with the teachings of the Bible. In fact, I prefer to think of Heaven as much more inclusive, and Hell as not temporary rather than eternal.) Like yourself, I'd like a practicing Christian's view.

But anyway, overall I like the objective nature of this post. Too often we fail to put ourselves in the other person's shoes (if you'll pardon the overused cliché) and resort to visceral reactions and mockery. I know I was guilty of this when I first saw Hume's spiel, but this post helped provide perspective. Also, seeing you defend (in a manner) Jerry Falwell and one of his more loathed statements is kinda amusing.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Hey, I'm a practicing Christian.

But I don't really have too much in the way of views on this. I wasn't aware of the comment having been made until I read this post. Plus, as a Christian, I find talking about the salvation of other specific individuals somewhat unpalatable. That's between them and God.

Talking in a general sense, however, is more doable. So, re: forgiveness. As a Catholic, I'd first cite to the sacrament of Reconciliation, which, you know, only we use. I'd say that's the fullest expression of God's forgiveness. But there are other ways of getting forgiven too, so it can certainly happen.

One of the biggies is baptism, where the old sins are washed away. The Catholic Church actually teaches the necessity of baptism for salvation, but also points out that you can be "baptized" without actually undergoing the sacrament. Basically, if you live your life in a good, God-fearing way it's a type of constructive baptism.

Which I guess is all a really long way of saying "as a Christian I hold that we've got the best route to salvation. Classifying it as just 1 of many doesn't do it justice, since it's the best and surest way to experience/serve God. But I certainly won't rule out other paths entirely, since, you know, I don't exactly have a say in determining God's will. And I'd even go so far as to say that, knowing God like I do, I'd guess that he'd probably be cool with saving non-Christians, so long as they at least meet some sort of basic qualifications."

Which I guess is a really long way of saying itself...

How's that sound?

Oh, and I expect comments or your own posts on music 2009 from y'all.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the linkage, Jeff. I wrote a long-winded treatise (if it qualifies for such a high-falutin word) on Christianity and salvation and suchlike that may be of interest here.

I like word-pictures. You are standing on the roadway on a dark and foggy night and you just saw the bridge over a chasm had collapsed. Oncoming traffic on that high-speed road cannot see the (lack of) bridge. What do you do? Try to stop the traffic and redirect it away from certain doom? Or choose to be liked (or unnoticed) by the drivers who will soon meet their demise?

Brit Hume's statement could be deemed unwise if you're looking at it from a "glory from man" perspective, but if you're looking at a "saving a man's soul" perspective, silence is unwise and possibly even sinful. How much hate must a person have in order to know the way out of certain doom but not declare that way out? It is for this reason I have an amount of contempt for professing Christians who withhold the good news from those around them.

If that driver wants to protect himself from falling over the chasm, he'll do it himself. That's between him and his car.

Jeff said...

Back when I was anti-proselytizing, Ben (a regular here) used similar imagery to explain his position, though I think he used a burning building. I resisted the analogy at first, but over time it made sense. If you view proselytizing not as an intentional act of disrespect but as an act of love, it's a lot easier to deal with.

Anyway, proselytizing/witnessing/whatever you want to call it is part of the Christian mandate in the Bible, right? "Go and make disciples" and so forth?

Anonymous said...

You're right, Jeff, it is a New Testament commandment, if you will. I wanted to respond quickly while you're still "live" here. Now, let me try to do some proper research to give the proof.

Be back soon, I hope. In the meantime, you might want to study my link. ;)

Anonymous said...

You caused me to write an article on my blogsite, but since it is rather longish, I'm only linking to it here. I think it covers the "proselytize" question and the "love" question.

Feel free to quote the article in full or in part here.

Matthew B. Novak said...

I think TBD took a dig at me, appropriating my language as he did... so I'm gonna defend myself.

He said he has contempt for Christians who withhold the Good News from others. I can certainly understand that. But there's a difference between "sharing the Good News" and "taking a position on another individual's salvation". It was only the later that I find unpalatable.

I don't feel I'm qualified to assess whether or not someone else is living as God would have them live, and, more importantly, God hasn't given me any authority over whether or not other individuals receive salvation. Salvation is such a personal thing and a product of a relationship that I'm not a party to. I'm called to try to get those two sides talking, but I don't get to hear what they talk about. And so I have no basis for commenting on the conversation.

Does that make sense? I'm not against spreading the Good News - exactly the opposite - I'm just against drawing conclusions about other people's relationships with God.

Anonymous said...

Mr Novak, you are correct in that I took a dig at you. But my dig was based, at least partially, on a misunderstanding of your position regarding witnessing. Insofar as your previous statement of "other ways" to salvation, I remain digging. And, in regard to your "drawing conclusions" statement, I am conditionally against your statement there, as well. My first link I provided in this thread covers that to an extent.

And you and others can call me John. My moniker here ties into the way I log my comments (not anon) on this site, not in how I present myself on the various blogsites.

Matthew B. Novak said...

John -

Well, I think a lot of our disagreement might come down to our different theology. You put a simple on/off test on salvation - either you've accepted Jesus as your personal lord and savior or you haven't, and the result turns on that alone - and I accept a more complex picture: essentially, that faith is a necessary step that may or may not be sufficient.

I maintain that the relationship between an individual and God is something I cannot pass judgment on, since I'm not a party to it. Even in the rubric of your theology it's a question of whether God has been accepted as a "personal" Lord and Savior. How do you know the status of that relationship? You aren't a party to it.

I'm plenty comfortable maintaining my position that we can't draw conclusions about other people's relationships with God. Not only do I think we're incapable of doing so in a meaningful way, I just don't see it as something important to my theology.

Ben said...

Sorry that I'm WAY late in commenting about this. I'm glad to see that Jeff, while obviously not converting to Christianity, has come to agree with me in our old college-era debate about witnessing/sharing the Good News/etc. (That it's an act of love, not disrespect.)

I guess I'd have to actually read Hume's statement before I form an opinion on it.

And, of course, being a Protestant, I agree with John more than Matt on what's required for salvation.

That being said....historically, Christianity has always had SOMETHING in it that pissed off the prevailing culture. When missionaries were trying to preach to the "barbarian" tribes that eventually destroyed the Roman Empire, the tribes were really offended by all this "love your enemy stuff." Their culture valued strength, valor in battle, and physical courage above all else. Loving one's enemies was, to them, a sign of sniveling weakness. Of course, eventually those tribes were "Christianized"....but, it seems, usually adapted Christianity to fit their pre-existing norms rather than the other way around.

These days - in a culture that values individualism and its cousin, tolerance, above all else....especially in a postmodern culture that believes everybody should find their own truth and is skeptical of over-arching truth claims - the part of Christianity that pisses people off is the claim that salvation requires Jesus Christ. And, if Jeff's characterization of Hume's comments and the subsequent controversy is correct (and I have no reason not to believe my old college roomate), it appears that's what happened here.

Tim Keller, in his book The Reason for God, addresses the objection to the exclusivity of Christianity. Hopefully I'll have time to rehash his ideas at some point, but I've spent enough time avoiding work today.