What’s religion got to do with the Tiger Woods scandal?
One of the mainstream media’s journalistic luminaries, Brit Hume, put religion smack dab in the middle of this unfortunate story recently, counseling Tiger to consider converting to Christianity in the wake of his current predicament. Marital infidelity, betrayal of public trust, and secret meetings and texting with hot young cocktail waitresses—what better religion than Christianity to steer a powerful male through the thicket of public lambasting and condemnations, and lead him back to family, fame, and fortune?
Hume’s clumsy and ignorant attempt to turn Tiger away from the darkness of Buddhism and toward the righteous Christian path of forgiveness and redemption is at once both completely predictable and utterly offensive. The real story here is not what Brit said, or how his remarks reflect a dominant and desperate Christian narrative of human behavior that is selectively employed by the overprivileged to forgive and forget and profit; no, the real story is Brit’s chutzpah in making this kind of public judgment on national television. Even William Kristol followed up on these remarks with a remarkably humble-sounding (!) refusal to comment on the state of the Tiger’s soul—along with a prediction that he’d come back and win the Masters.
Perhaps this kind of religious moralizing should not be a surprise, coming as it did from a Fox news program. Perhaps this shocking display of religious arrogance is simply another instance in a long line of examples throughout American history of Christians dissing other religions while claiming the superiority of their own. Perhaps more important than any of these possibilities is another element in the religious story of Tiger; an element that has nothing to do with the sacred powers of Christianity or Buddhism or his soul, but everything to do with the sacred powers of sex and sports.
Let’s face it, Tiger is a God—to some. Before the scandal broke, we could easily assert that Tiger’s wealth, skills, success, and celebrity had led to his deification in public culture, a sports figure adored by millions. Whether he identified as a Buddhist or a Jew or a Hindu had nothing to do with the religious culture that engulfed him or the responses of his fans/fanatics over the last decade. Even without knowing whether or how this affected his self-image, or his inner sense of godliness, or his everyday powers of persuasion, we do know that followers flocked to him, wanted to be close to him, and modeled their own lives on his.
As if that weren’t enough to contend with, we can assume that Tiger had strong sexual appetites and longings that could be easily fulfilled by some of his stature and which led him outside of the realm of monogamy and into those realms where many mortals dwell: bars and strip clubs. The allure of sexual intimacy and excitement isn’t always sacred, nor is it necessarily a religious matter for everyone, but it can be and has been for many Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists and “nones.” When Tiger comes clean with the nation’s foremost religious confessor, Oprah, I would encourage the Sage One to ask about the power of sex in his life and if it became, like it does for some of us, a pursuit that supplanted those other sacred pursuits Americans are so proud of, like family, wealth, or spiritual liberation.
Brit, oh Brit, you’ve only scratched the surface of this story. If only you were a reporter who was informed, thoughtful, knowledgeable about the power, pervasiveness, and, for some, the perversity of religion in our lives, you might shed light rather than impose darkness on this subject. A good comparative religion class might do the trick, helping to broaden, deepen, and diversify your understanding of this powerful force in our lives.