Brit Hume, a conservative commentator serving as an analyst for Fox News, said that Tiger Woods's recovery will be possible only if he converts to Christianity. Specifically, Hume said with a straight face, "The extent to which he can recover seems to me depends on his faith. He is said to be a Buddhist. I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. My message to Tiger would be, 'Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.'"
That obvious Christian bias would be astounding if not so disturbingly common. Hume goes unchallenged in a society in which 70% falsely believe the country to be a Christian nation. If the intolerance inherent to Hume's statement is not self-evident to the majority, then let's play a game of substitution and see how we would feel. What if Woods was a Christian and Hume told Woods he should convert to Islam or Judaism for redemption? We know that would go over well.
Since Brit goes unchallenged, let us judge the merit of his advice by looking for guidance from other good Christians.
• South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, a vocally conservative Christian, was caught in a torrid affair with his Argentinean mistress, a crime under his own state's law, which he is responsible for enforcing. By the high moral standards of South Carolina adultery is a punishable offense defined as "habitual or carnal intercourse with each other without living together as a man and woman when either is lawfully married to some other person." Sanford has compared himself to King David, and has said that god wants him to remain in office in spite of his civil and moral crimes.
• Nevada Senator John Ensign, another Conservative Christian, had an extensive on-going extramarital affair with a woman on his campaign staff. Ensign is a long-standing member of the Christian men's ministry called the Promise Keepers. The irony!
• Former U.S. Representative Mark Foley had a yen for male pages, urging one to "get a ruler and measure it for me." According to ABC News, Foley emailed an invitation to one male page to stay at the congressman's home all for the low price of oral sex. This is the representative who piously introduced legislation to prevent exploitation of children under the banner of Christianity.
• Ted Haggard was accused of paying male prostitutes for sex while using crystal meth. This is the man who held weekly meetings with President Bush, teaching the president that homosexuality is an abomination. Haggard was at the time the head of the National Association of Evangelicals.
• U.S. Senator Larry Craig infamously was charged with soliciting sex in an airport bathroom. What makes that interesting is his vocal, loud and prominent opposition to gay marriage on the basis of his adherence to "Christian values."
• Bob Allen, a Republican Congressman in the Florida House of Representatives, was charged with paying an undercover cop $20.00 for the pleasure of offering to the officer oral sex. This act of illicit love is in bright contrast to his active sponsorship of Christian-inspired anti-gay legislation.
• Glen Murphy, Jr., while National Chairman of Young Republicans, allegedly got some young Republicans drunk, and then decided to practice some oral sex on the inebriated up-and-comers on the right.
• Republican State Representative Richard Curtis from Spokane, Washington was involved in a gay sex scandal. Donald Fleischman, Chairman of the Republican Party in Brown County in Green Bay, WI, was ensnared in his own scandal of homosexual yearnings.
This list is by no means comprehensive, nor do these activities include the more than 4,000 priests who have faced sex abuse charges in the past 50 years, involving more than 10,000 kids, mostly boys. These cases are so numerous that only the most hardened anti-rationalist could ignore the conclusion that immorality is not an anomaly of the Church but inherent to the blind teachings of faith.
So yes, Christianity certainly offers an example, but not the kind implied by Hume. And for the apologists out there, appealing to the ideal in contrast to actual practice is no excuse: actions speak louder than words. And the actions over the past 2,000 years are not pretty.
So why exactly would Hume make the absurd suggestion that Tiger Woods turn to Christianity for moral guidance in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence of moral corruption within the Christian faith? Because Hume lives under a false premise. He makes the horrible mistake of confusing religion with morality; yet nothing could be further from the truth.
Religion offers only a false and dangerous morality by bribing people into good behavior with ugly threats of eternal damnation and alluring promises of eternal bliss. Our inherent good has been corrupted by these divine carrots and sticks. Under the burden of religion, morality has become nothing but a response to bribery and fear, and a cynical tool of manipulation for priests, ministers and gurus. We have forsaken our biological heritage in exchange for some primitive belief in life after death. Personally my morality is more fundamental than something that can be purchased with cheap coupons to heaven.
Instead of looking to Brit Hume, we should turn to another Hume from a different era. Over 200 years ago, the English philosopher David Hume dedicated himself to showing that moral life can be lived and fully explained without the resources of religion, and free of any reliance on divine authority.
Hume, born in Scotland in 1711, was even in his day one of the most important figures of Western philosophy, and a towering presence as a philosopher, economist and historian in the Scottish Enlightenment. His main idea still relevant today but often forgotten is that, "We hang in perpetual suspense between life and death, health and sickness, plenty and want; which are distributed amongst the human species by secret and unknown causes, whose operation is oft unexpected, and always unaccountable. These unknown causes, then, become the constant object of our hope and fear."
Hume also said of mankind, "They suppose their deities, however potent and invisible, to be nothing but a species of human creatures, perhaps raised from among mankind, and retaining all human passions and appetites, together with corporeal limbs and organs. Such limited beings, though masters of human fate, being, each of them, incapable of extending his influence everywhere, must be vastly multiplied, in order to answer the variety of events, which happen over the whole face of nature."
The idea that deities are "nothing but a species of human creatures, perhaps raised from among mankind" of course applies to more than the old discarded gods of the past. The words exactly describe Jesus. Hume knew then as we know now that god is a construct of the human mind, a myth arising from unreasonable fear and hope. He had to couch his conclusions in the haze of polytheism if he wished to avoid a burning stake, but his intent is clear when he says, "...it will appear, that the gods of all polytheists are not better than the elves or fairies of our ancestors, and merit as little any pious worship or veneration."
How can we be moral in a world in which god is nothing but an elf or fairy, and avoid the false conclusions of the modern Humes of the world? What is our motivation to be moral if not to please the Almighty? Those very questions rest upon the false premises that morality derives from god and that something has been lost by letting go of god. But nothing is lost. Morality is our biological destiny. Traits that we view as moral are deeply embedded in the human psyche. Honesty, fidelity, trustworthiness, kindness to others, and reciprocity are primeval characteristics that helped our ancestors survive. In a world of dangerous predators, early man could thrive only in cooperative groups. Good behavior strengthened the tribal bonds that were essential to survival. What we now call morality is really a suite of behaviors favored by natural selection in an animal weak alone but strong in numbers.
By shedding the burden of a wrathful god, we reveal the power to create our own meaning, our own sense of purpose, our own destiny. By rejecting the false premises of religion we are free to move beyond the random hand we are dealt at birth to pave our own road to a better life. Neither birth nor god defines our fate. Imagine for a moment this world in which no invisible man hangs in the sky using magical powers in "mysterious ways" to control our life. Imagine that we can toss away the crutch of false hope and bad myth to walk unhindered down the path of personal responsibility. If only Sanford or Ensign understood that message.
By walking this path, we collectively have the opportunity to enhance our humanness, to further define who and what we are, by choosing to behave morally because we can. A new moral code is based on the principle that with the ability to choose to be good comes the obligation to make that choice; choosing to be moral is what makes us special. The act of choosing to live a good life is the foundation for all pleasure, peace and happiness. Whereas religion claims that happiness is found from submission to a higher power, a new moral code defines happiness as the freedom to discover within ourselves our inherent good, and then to act on that better instinct, not because of any mandate from god, but simply because that choice makes us more human, more special. Happiness, virtue and morality are possible with nothing more than what is within each of us. We need not and cannot appeal to any other authority.
Virtue is its own reward, yes, but in a deeper sense than is often meant with that idea. Spinoza wrote in Ethics, "...men believe they are free in as much as they are conscious of their volitions and desires, yet ignorant of the causes that have determined them to desire and will." But we are not ignorant of those causes; we know, and we are each truly free. Our causes are our biology, our evolutionary history, our sociality. That the reward of pleasure, peace and happiness is achieved through the freedom to discover and act on our virtuous instincts is only half the story. Virtue is its own reward, too, as an essential element of humankind's nature that allows for our survival in large groups.
With this personal freedom, of course, comes also the obligation for each of us to act wisely and responsibly. That is the message lost by the Ted Haggards of the world who cling to the false morality of Christianity. What such hypocrites fail to understand is that we fulfill our moral duty first by taking a more modest view of our place in the world. When we see that humans are a natural part of the ecosystem, not above or separate from the environment, we will protect the resources that sustain us. When we reject the hubris and conceit of religion, we will redefine our relationship with each other without calling upon god to smite our enemies. When we understand that true morality is independent of religious doctrine, we will create a path toward a just society. A new moral code is our guide to a full life in which we no longer accept the arbitrary and destructive constraints of divine interference. We will finally take personal responsibility for our action when we no longer depend on the failed fears and hopes of religion.
So Tiger, here is the advice you need: reject Brit Hume and embrace David Hume. You will then be on the path to recovery.