By Marty Duren
Jan. 3 on “Fox News Sunday,” in a roundtable discussion of talking heads, the subject turned to sports and Tiger Woods. And then it turned to Christianity.
Woods, whose well-publicized string of admitted and supposed infidelities has ridden the crest of the media wave for the past month, has now been dropped by most of his corporate sponsors and will receive reduced exposure from others. Brit Hume, one of the panelists, noted the losses that Woods has already endured, including his wife and children, then said, “The extent to which [Tiger] can recover, seems to me, depends on his faith. He’s said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption offered by the Christian faith. So, my message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn your faith, turn to the Christian faith, and you can make a total recovery and make a great example to the world.’”
Now this kind of statement makes for good preaching, but what happens when it is part of a news-and-opinion broadcast?
Unfortunately the results are far too predictable. In our world of tolerance and equality, the only sin one might commit with regard to religion is that of exclusivity. Had Hume said, “My advice to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to God and he will help you make a total recovery,’” the resultant stirring of dust would not have disturbed a napping sand flea. As of this writing, a mere three days after the broadcast, one YouTube channel of the video has over 45,000 views, while a second channel of the same clip has over 20,000 views and 600-plus comments. Some of those ranting wonder how Fox could allow Hume on the air, some describe how badly wounded they feel, others assert that God does not exist anyway and so on.
What is Hume’s trespass, his improper intrusion into the cultural milieu? He suggested that one religion (Christianity) could provide what another (Buddhism) cannot, that being forgiveness and redemption. That Tiger himself is the one who admitted certain “transgressions” (a biblical word if ever there was one), or that Buddhism does not teach atonement for sins, or that Christianity does provide just such an answer in the sacrificial death of Christ is irrelevant to those who insist on the equality of all faiths. Buddhism, depending upon the stream into which one immerses him or her self, is an attempt at enlightenment for the purpose of avoiding cycles of reincarnation; it has no theology of a God who has been offended by sin. In a world where everything is tolerated except intolerance, truth-claims such as Hume’s tend to be disbelieved as if so much fantasy or science fiction.
Why will many be content with the idea of God helping Tiger but flinch at the idea of Jesus doing so? Likely it is because God can be fashioned into any image that suits the person, while Jesus requires assent to a specific person in history who claimed a specific relationship to God and who offered a specific body of teaching that will result in a specific way of life for his followers. Acknowledgement of Jesus is not admiration of a religion in the pantheon of “ways to God,” but an acknowledgement that without him we are not on our way to God at all. As British literary critic Terry Eagleton noted in Reason, Faith and Revolution, “The traumatic truth of human history is a mutilated body. Those who do not see this dreadful image of a tortured innocent as the truth of history are likely to adopt some bright-eyed superstition such as the dream of untrammeled human progress.”
This mutilated body of the tortured innocent is what the New Testament refers to as the “stumbling stone.” Paul, quoting Isaiah, wrote in Romans, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame” (9:33). The stumbling stone is not a vague generic God, but the specific incarnation of Jesus Christ. He is the rock of offense; he is the one who causes people to stumble.
Hume’s offense in the end is neither new nor unique. It is the offense of the ages, committed by all who insist on the unique life of a unique Savior who was, and remains, uniquely God.