Saturday, January 09, 2010

The honest intolerance of Brit Hume

In an op-ed column in today's Post, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson argues that it was not Brit Hume who was intolerant for advising Tiger Woods to abandon Buddhism and seek salvation in Christianity but Hume's critics for chastising him for doing so. Indeed, Gerson argues that Hume was merely asserting a religious freedom that lies at the core of American society:

The assumption of these criticisms is that proselytization is the antonym of tolerance. Asserting the superiority of one's religious beliefs, in this view, is not merely bad manners; it involves a kind of divisive, offensive judgmentalism.

But the American idea of religious liberty does not forbid proselytization; it presupposes it. Free, autonomous individuals not only have the right to hold whatever beliefs they wish, they also have the right to change those beliefs and to persuade others to change as well. Just as there is no political liberty without the right to change one's convictions and publicly argue for them, there is no religious liberty without the possibility of conversion and persuasion.

But that's not the point. I don't deny this -- namely, the connection between religious liberty and proselytization -- and, I suspect, nor do Tom Shales, Andrew Sullivan, and Hume's other critics.

Proselytization is more common in some religions (like Christianity) than in others (like Judaism), but, more broadly, "claims about the nature of reality that conflict with the claims of other faiths" are common to all, or virtually all, religions. In a liberal democracy, though -- and this takes us back to Locke, perhaps the major philosophical influence on the American Founders -- religious practice, including the making of such claims, not to mention proselytization, is expected to be conducted in the private sphere. We expect a preacher at a Sunday-morning church service, for example, to make claims about his or her specific faith, claims that put that faith above other faiths and that essentially deny the validity of other faiths. What we do not expect is a similar outpouring of (self-)righteousness from a supposed newsman on a supposed news network.

This does not mean that there should be no expression of religious faith in public, or even on a news network like Fox. Larry King, for example, regularly has religious guests who promote their own faiths, some with the sort of arrogant zealotry that is all-too-common nowadays on the theocratic right. Again, the problem here is that Hume, to use Sullivan's words, brought "pure sectarianism" into what was a "secular discourse." And that crossed the line.

And yet Hume is a commentator now, not an anchor or reporter, which means his proselytizing wasn't nearly as bad as it would have been had it come from, say, Katie Couric. And so what he did was merely to expose his own religious prejudice, a prejudice, I suspect, shared by many (self-)righteous Christians who believe that the only way to salvation, and to happiness generally, is to embrace Jesus Christ. This is nonsense, I believe, but at least Hume was being honest.

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  • Hi there.
    Chanced upon your blog when i was searching for a bit more on Brit Hume.

    I am glad that at least someone sees that Brit did nothing wrong by speaking up for what he believed in.
    However, i do believe you have certain misconceptions of Christianity. To call Christians, "self-righteous" would be erroneous. The argument can be turned on its head to say that non christians are self righteous because they think they do not need Jesus for salvation. In fact, logic would support the latter rather than the former according to the definition of self-righteousness.

    As christians, we believe that we are enemies, scum and total sinners before God. And the only way out would be to trust in Jesus, not in our own ways or methods. It takes real humility to do that! Can we admit that we are evil, sad and depraved? And that our only hope is to hold onto the one who gave his life for us? Chances are, we cannot. And by holding on to our self worth, we neglect Jesus. Which other religion requires such honesty or demands that we lay down all pride?

    So the thing is, are you willing to let go of your pride and to see yourself as you really are, before a Holy God? Let's not be self righteous. Look to Jesus.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:32 AM  

  • Well, Anonymous, I didn't say that Hume did nothing wrong. I do think it's wrong to proselytize the way he did. I'm just saying, it's not as bad as if he were an anchor or reporter.

    As for your other points, sure, there is a good deal of self-righteousness among secularists, too, and I would tend to characterize myself more as agnostic than atheist. I understand your beliefs as a Christian, but, needless to say, I do not share them. If Jesus works for you, fine.

    Yet, politically, I will fight against theocracy in any form, and the problem with many Christians in the U.S. is that they wish to impose their faith politically on the country.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 2:39 AM  

  • Lol pwned by a christian. Good luck with your blog kid. I could just see the badeet-badeet-badeet thing happen.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:30 AM  

  • I have no idea what that means.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 3:31 AM  

  • Oh, I see, a stupid web/gaming term. Whatever. The guy's entitled to his views, and to his faith, even if I find it all quite silly.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 3:36 AM  

  • Remember, Anonymous, Frodo gave his finger for you.

    By Blogger Mustang Bobby, at 12:42 PM  

  • Our friend seems to have forgotten that his perceived self-righteousness in disbelievers in his complex myth system can only be said to exist if that myth system can be proved or given, at least, a preponderance of evidence -- which it certainly can not be. Uncertainty, after all, is one of the most well documented and tested properties of existence.

    So if he wishes to continue that line of fallacy, I'd like an explanation as to why he self-righteously denies Zeus, Ammon Ra, Yamataka, Quetzalqoatl, Attis, Mithra, Refafu, El the Bull and Cerberus the five-headed dog.

    Pretending that there can be no valid doubt and no possibility of being wrong about one's inherited cultural beliefs is something the word self-righteous can barely envelop and the haughty contempt this self-righteous fellow shows makes me glad that the internet only conveys words and images and not smells.

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 9:37 AM  

  • As to whether Hume did anything wrong: that's only the question here if one assumes his job is to report events and give information.

    I haven't noticed that the show is called Britt's personal opinions. or The Sermons of Hume

    That is in fact what people expect of Fox, not honest journalism, so if it's repugnant and arrogant it's still none the less the Fox Format.

    Personally, I think all who don't accept Refafu are arrogant losers destined to be eaten by leopards.

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 9:42 AM  

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