Friday, January 8, 2010

Buddhism versus Christianity: You are on your own, Tiger!

Interesting to find that the debate ignited by Britt Hume's comment that Tiger Woods should turn to Christianity in order to find redemption is reported here in NZ with a strong pro-Buddhist flavour, including this:

"So how do the world's 350 million Buddhists deal with infidelity, marital strife and sin?

They follow the example of Siddhartha Gautama - the Buddha - a wealthy prince they believe became enlightened in the sixth century B.C.

"Buddhism starts with the premise that we suffer," said James Shaheen, editor and publisher of Tricycle, a Buddhist magazine. "At the foundation of Buddhism is ethics. An ethical life leads to a life of less suffering."

Buddhism's code of personal conduct is just as strong as other major religions: followers should not kill, steal, gossip, use intoxicants like drugs or alcohol or commit sexual misconduct.

"Adultery is as much of a sin in Buddhism as it is in Christianity," Thurman said. "The ethics are the same in both traditions. Adultery is a sin and causes the kinds of problems that Tiger Woods is in."

Where many Westerners stumble is that Buddhists' definition of sin - and what happens after it - differs from the Judeo-Christian tradition, as the consequences of Buddhists' actions are a result of a person's thoughts and deeds rather than divine punishment. Believers have to look to themselves and turn to an ethical way of life for redemption, although there are savior figures within the faith who do their best to help a Buddhist in need. There is no one, omnipotent "creator god" to bestow redemption as in Christianity.

Said Stephen Prothero, a Boston University professor on Buddhism and the author of "Religious Literacy: What Americans Need to Know:"

"You have the law of karma, so no matter what Woods says or does, he is going to have to pay for whatever wrongs he's done," said Prothero. "There's no accountant in the sky wiping sins off your balance sheet, like there is in Christianity."

Certain Buddhist traditions believe that if a person misbehaves, he or she will be reborn into various realms of hell. Others believe the justice is much swifter, that the penalties will be suffered in this life.

"What causes you to do what Tiger Woods did is ignorance," said James William Coleman, a professor of Buddhist studies at Cal Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "If you do what he's done, it comes back and hurts you. You wouldn't do that if you weren't ignorant."

Brad Warner, a California-based Zen priest and the author of the book "Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate" suggests that Woods return to his Buddhism roots and become introspective.

"I would first tell him to sit with the problem, look into himself and try to see clearly for himself what he needs to do," Warner said. "The problem is something he's got to work out for himself." (End of citation from

But is this not quite revealing about the deep character of Buddhism in relation to the West? The essential message of Buddhism within this report is absolutely individualist, 'Tiger, you are on your own in the mess you have created; you can work your way out of it, but it is up to you. By the way, if you do not find yourself helping yourself, then there is an iron-cast law of consequences from which you will not escape.'

Here is a religion not only with no god, but also no mercy. A religion characterised as one of gentle tolerance yet with no room for error. A religion many would contrast with the absolutism of fundamentalist Christianity and Islam yet what is this if not absolutist, "You have the law of karma, so no matter what Woods says or does, he is going to have to pay for whatever wrongs he's done"!

Yet who is being vilified as the 'bad guy' with his talk of a better way, of a redeemer, and of the mercy of God? That's right, Britt Hume is the bad guy who dared speak of the faith which in the West, especially in its media, dare not speak its message!

I know Christians in the West are in danger of being paranoid about unfair treatment; and maybe our past record does not entitle us to fair treatment ... but I think there is sufficient evidence around to be entitled to wonder if, maybe, we are getting a bit of a media kicking.


moometer said...

"Here is a religion not only with no god, but also no mercy."

You know, I was feeling funny for some times ago when a friend of mine told me that the west will never grasp the real understanding of what Buddhism is all about. he believed that there are a very big gap between Christianity and Buddhism.

I was laughing and belittle the guy all time, now, reading yours and brit hume's pieces, I 'm started to convinced why a friend of mine think so.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Moometer
I am sure there is a big gap between Christianity and Buddhism; also that the West will never grasp the real understanding of what Buddhism is all about. In this post I am responding specifically to the descriptions of Buddhism given in a particular newspaper article and not trying to respond to an comprehensive account of Buddhism. Nevertheless the fact remains that Christianity proclaims Christ as Lord and Saviour which no other religion or religious way does.