I Am Misquoted by Bill O’Reilly

This is actually a Buddhism issue, but I’m posting on this blog so I can cross-post everywhere I can think of. Something I wrote on my Buddhism site has been misrepresented by Bill O’Reilly, and I want to set the record straight.

The back story: As I mentioned on The Mahablog earlier this week, on Sunday Brit Hume said some obnoxious thing on Fox News Sunday about how Tiger Woods should convert to Christianity —

“The extent to which he can recover seems to me depends on his faith,” said Hume. “He is said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of redemption and forgiveness offered by the Christian faith. My message to Tiger is, ‘Tiger turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.”

My first reaction, from the Buddhism blog, is titled “Let’s Forgive Brit Hume“:

I don’t like to point out others’ faults, but given the record I would think Christians would show a little more humility about offering advice to the sexually wayward. As Jesus once said, let those who have never sinned throw the first stones (John 8:7).

However, Mr. Hume is right, in a sense, that Buddhism doesn’t offer redemption and forgiveness in the same way Christianity does. Buddhism has no concept of sin; therefore, redemption and forgiveness in the Christian sense are meaningless in Buddhism. Forgiveness is important, but it is approached differently in Buddhism, and I’ll get to that in a bit.

From there I went into a very general, brief, basic explanation of the way Buddhism guides people with, um, problems such as Tiger Woods’s, and I linked to articles with more detail. I don’t know Tiger Woods personally, I can’t imagine where his head is, and I don’t presume to offer spiritual counseling to people I don’t know and who haven’t asked for it.

But the point was that Buddhism has an entirely different approach to dealing with our imperfections. In brief, instead of redemption and forgiveness, you might say we do atonement and “cleansing.” The lack of “redemption” in the Christian sense is utterly irrelevant. It was by no means an “admission” that Christianity is the superior religion, or that Tiger Woods would be better off converting to it.

And you probably already see where this is going.

Initially the post had some good responses, including a nice mention on U.S.A. Today‘s Faith and Reason website.

Then the Family Research Council stepped in, quoting me but out of context to suggest I approved of what Brit Hume said. Then the FRC writer repeated the old slander that Buddhism is a religion without faith or hope, in which humans are doomed to trudge wearily through one life after another working off old, bad karma.

However, Buddhism is a path of liberation from the wheel of samsara, a little point the Family Research Council left out. The Buddha explicitly rejected the idea that people are fated to be punished in the future for the bad deeds of the past. Further, Buddhist teachings on karma and reincarnation are very different from what most people think they are, but I don’t want to go into a long lecture on that here.

Frederick Clarkson graciously gave me a spot at Talk to Action to rebut the FRC. And there I wrote,

A problem with side-by-side comparisons of the relative merits of Christianity versus Buddhism is that the two religions are understood and practiced within very different conceptual frameworks. For example, Sprigg and other conservative Christians persist in extolling redemption as an essential feature of their religion that Buddhism lacks. But to Buddhists, this is irrelevant. It might be said of Buddhism that it is a means to perceive, deeply and intimately, why we don’t need to be redeemed.

Finally we get to the Devil himself, Bill O’Reilly. Today I discovered I am quoted on his blog.

My colleague Brit Hume has aroused the ire of some secularists as well as some Buddhists by advising Tiger Woods to seek redemption through Christianity in place of his mother’s religion of Buddhism. Said Mr. Hume about Mr. Woods, “He’s 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. So my message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn your faith—turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.'”

Almost immediately, the far left began mocking Hume as a religious fanatic. Some of the comments directed at him were as hateful as anything directed towards Tiger Woods.

So, let’s look at what happened. According to the Buddhist journalist Barbara Hoetsu O’Brien, Hume is correct about Buddhism. That faith does not offer forgiveness and redemption the way Christianity does. That’s because Buddhism has no concept of sin.

The clear implication is that I absolved Hume of disparaging Buddhism and agree with everything he said. But he did disparage Buddhism. That’s plainly obvious. And I disagreed with what he said except for a minor doctrinal technicality.

And, of course, O’Reilly didn’t bother to link back to my site.

O’Reilly goes on from there to claim Hume wasn’t really proselytizing, which is absurd on its face, and that the only reason people are carping about what Hume said is that they hate Christians. Dissing Buddhism doesn’t count. They got a Buddhist to say so!

One other thing, unrelated to O’Reilly — all my life I’ve heard the phrase “let those who have never sinned throw the first stones” as a metaphor about not accusing others of something one is guilty of oneself. I assumed anyone with basic American cultural literacy would know that, especially when it is near a link to a list of scandals involving famous evangelicals.

But the conservative blogger The Anchoress came up with this —

Ms. O’ Brien seems to be mistaking Hume’s obvious compassion for Woods as “stone-throwing.” Having watched the video several times, it seems to me that Hume is doing no such thing. Like Creative Minority, I see Hume taking Wood’s situation, and the state of his soul very seriously, and from the perspective of his own beliefs. Rather than hoisting a stone of judgment in Wood’s direction, Hume is offering what he believes to be a healing balm. The distinction between stoning someone to death or offering them hope for their lives is not exactly a fine or subtle one; the fact that Ms. O’ Brien can’t make that distinction suggests that she -like most of us- has allowed a prejudice -or her condescension- to dull her own clarity, and that -again like most of us- she finds it hard to resist the urge to cynicism.

To which I can say only — WTF? She utterly misinterpreted the metaphor. Is she from this planet?

I also got this comment to the blog, which I mostly deleted, from somebody named Mark —

So suggesting someone consider Christianity as a faith tradition is somehow synonymous with stoning someone to death? How? Please give me a logical argument as to how those two concepts, suggesting someone adopt a particular religion, and executing someone by pummeling them with stones (a brutal, slow, and painful form of death) are equivalent? That is the most bigoted statement against any particular faith tradition I think I have ever read.

When the Jehovah’s Witnesses ring my doorbell and try to hand me literature, I don’t consider it to be the equivalent of taking my life. When a Hare Krishna tries to sell me a flower at the airport, I don’t see them as executioners.

How did you come up with such a hateful comparison? How dark is your heart to think this stuff up? How bigoted is your soul to have such a closed mind?

If I have a closed mind, this guy seems to have no mind at all. How twisted does one have to be to have interpreted what I wrote that way?

I understand that early Christians developed a martyr cult that glorified death by martyrdom. It seems some Christians still get their kicks out of imagining they are being martyred.

Where it comes to proselytization, I take very seriously the third of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Precepts of Engaged Buddhism

Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education. However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrow-mindedness.

It honestly doesn’t bother me when people choose other religions, or no religion. I try to clear up misconceptions and ignorance about Buddhism, but I don’t push it on people.

That said, I’m saying Buddhism is superior to Christianity in one way — enabling people to stop bullshitting themselves about themselves. The sincere practice of Buddhism leads one to a deep self honesty, especially about one’s fears and pain. Christianity — at least in its current popular formats — all too often amounts to slapping a band-aid of dogma over your wounds and then pretending you’re not still bleeding.

28 thoughts on “I Am Misquoted by Bill O’Reilly

  1. I knew an ex-marine (Viet Nam era) who proclaimed that he could speak English in 4 different languages. He knew the joke he was making, an analogous situation exists here. Substitute ‘chrisianity’ for English and ‘religions’ for languages. And the christians will never understand how foolish they are.

    You won’t be able to convince these rubes that it’s arrogant to expect that christianity is THE root religous belief system.

    Christian Fundies think that everyone falls into 1 of 3 possible categories.
    1) christians 2) People or religions who wish they were christian or 3) People or religions who should be wiped out for not belonging to categories 1 or 2.

    Wingnuts have a political corollary – Everyone falls into 3 national categories.
    1) Americans 2) people or countries who wish they were American or 3) people or countries who should be wiped out because they are not in categories 1 or 2.

  2. Gee. maha, I’d like to comment on this posting but things here are a little hectic right now. Seems I’ve misplaced some of my whole armor of God ….last I remember seeing of my helmet of Salvation it was in the hall closet, but it’s not there now! And heaven only knows where my breastplate of righteousness is. So I don’t feel prepared to do battle with either El Diablo or the Anchoress*

    * The Anchoress is the ultimate in delusional. It’s very rare to find a sicker mind than the delusional fantasy she suffers from. She fashions herself as a High Priestess of Christianity with intimately divine ties by the right of her virtue and service to Christ, but in reality she’s just a major nutball trying to sponge love and acceptance from whatever source the universe will provide.

  3. This is just my opinion–but, most people become Christians so they can commit all the sins they want to and then be forgiven. I grew up in the church and it is full of sinners who just keep commiting sin after sin because they know they will be forgiven. This is the kind of “Christian” George W. Bush is. I stopped going to church. While this plays a big role in why I do not go to church any more, it is not the sole reason. The most important reason in the fall and winter is that I prefer to stay home and watch football, which starts at 10 a.m. on the west coast. The rest of the year is so that I can sleep in on Sunday morning, which was very important to me when I worked. Now that I am retired, I sleep in every day. I love being retired.

  4. If Hume had any real idea of what Buddhism was about, or if they had someone who was a Buddhist there to talk to, then his remarks would not have been so staggeringly ignorant. But for people to defend Hume and STILL have no clear concept about the religion/belief they are disparaging, all the while insisting that Hume and Christianity are being attacked, that really takes the cake.

    I could never be a Buddhist because it would take away the fun images I have of people like this burning in the afterlife for all eternity, with a look of incredulity on their faces of course.

  5. maha and Swami,
    Many years ago, I wrote something on the Anchoress’s site and she responded via e-mail. We kept an exchange going for a little while. It was interesting at first. I stopped when I realized that she is really delusional. I mean truly delusional. She is a very weird person. I don’t think she’s a bad person. Just a really lost one… And the fact that she doesn’t get it, doesn’t surprise me.
    As for Orally, he and his staff are malignant idiots. “Nuff said there.

    Then there’s the old joke where Christ gives the stones and person who committed no sin line to the group sorrounding some poor young woman, and the crowd disperses. Then an old woman breaks from the crowd, picks up a rock, and hurls it and kills the young woman.
    Christ looks at the old woman and says, “Mother, sometime you really piss me off!”

    What’s that I smell? Sulfur? Oh-oh!

  6. “Forgive me for misspelling “committing”.
    O.K., Bonnie, but you need to say 20 Hail Marys and do the stations of the cross.
    Save yourself some trouble and buy a couple of indulgences, “preemptive forgiveness” is the way of the “smart set”.
    Indulgences are for sale everywhere, $19.95, cash only, please.

    This whole thing strikes me as “theater of the adsurd”.
    Over a million people have been slaughtered since 9/11, and the “media focus is on a young narcissistic billionaire athlete/entertainer who decides to make a hobby out of having sex with large numbers of women, and possibly a couple of guys. What else does Tiger have for stimulation? In the end, it always boils down to sex and / or drugs; unless you have an army, then entertainment for the powerful is simply finding people or persons you don’t like ,making up a reason why they are “evil”, pestering them until they lash out, and killing them for fun.
    For some reason, “folks” like Hume don’t have the mental capacity to understand that our jails and mental wards are chock full of “Christians”. It seems like just about every mother who drowns her babies in a bath tub or by immersing her car in a canal was told to do so by the voices in her head, be they demonic or angelic.

    Ever notice how the craziest sons of bitches aspire to be “leaders”, either of a “congregation” or a political group?
    Ever notice that there is less and less room for “redemption” in the legal system?
    Most of my right wing Christian friends embrace “kill them all, let God sort ’em out”, kind of a “fillet and release” policy. Redemption is for sissys. Until THEY get in a jam…….

    This is why I subscribe to “The Church of George Carlin”.
    I believe in being a compassionate, fair and reasonable person for the sake of being compassionate, fair, and reasonable; NOT for the celestial reward awaiting me at the end of the journey, not because I fear eternal damnation, not because “God” will bless me with money if I go around quoting scripture.
    As far as religion goes, Buddhism sure seems to be the one I’d choose if I was to convert.

  7. Maha,
    Actually, I get it how your readers misperceived your “throw the first stone” allusion. Problem seems to be this:

    I would think Christians would show a little more humility about offering advice to the sexually wayward. As Jesus once said, let those who have never sinned throw the first stones (John 8:7).

    If a reader fails to recognize that Brit Hume’s ‘friendly advice’ is only friendly when Buddhist thoughts are inferior trash, then the reader will miss how Hume is essentially stoning the entire religion to death in his mind before he even starts talking. That’s why they can’t see the analogy between (A) offering advice, and (B) throwing stones. You can see why they would be uncomfortable knowing that all the time they are murdering understanding with their words.

  8. I know you’ve said above that the analogy was not between advice and stoning, but the thing being analogized was something implicit in advice, that the advisor (Hume and others) are in the properly superior position to denigrate/stone Buddhist morals. Tricky for the intentionally self-deceiving.

  9. O.K., Bonnie, but you need to say 20 Hail Marys and do the stations of the cross.

    Thank you, erinyes – my thoughts exactly.

    But here’s the thing… I married a Catholic. I watched her family gather at a funeral, looking bleak. Then the priest came in, lead them in 27 Hail Mary’s and Our Fathers – said as quickly as possible with flat intonation – then left. And they all looked totally relieved.

    At the time, I was laughing over the count, speed, and lack of feeling. “Will God forgive him if the priest miscounts and only does 26 prayers?” It struck me as pointless. But I’ve come to understand that it gave the relatives actual relief.

    My position since is, hey, life is very, very hard and whatever gets you through is just fine with me. Just please return the favor – whatever happens to get me through should be just fine with you, Christians; I do not need your help.

    By that measure, I prefer Buddhists. And, of course, my fellow cynics.

  10. I like your way of pulling it all together in the last paragraph with “bullshitting themselves” and “dogma” so that when Orally decides to apologize for his distortion via the carefully selected partial quotation he will be able to explain to his baggers exactly where he went wrong.

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  12. I am a Catholic and was repulsed by what Mr.Hume said.
    First of all, he has no business as a journalist(and I use that term loosely being associated by anyone from Fox News), commenting and telling someone that their religious choice is lacking. That kind of conversation should be in private, not on a Fair and Balanced news station. Balanced would have included a Buddhist, to explain that religion.
    And to use the term ‘Christian’ these days is crazy. Did he mean Evangelical like sarah palin and the Apocalypse is coming soon? Did he mean he mean Methodist, Episcopalian, Catholic, Baptist etc???
    Catholics believe in sin,confession, repentance and forgiveness.
    And it seems to me that the republican party ‘Christian’ that commits sins these days,only has to say he found Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour and all is forgiven. No other actions needed.

  13. Oh, dear, maha, both O’Liely and the Anchoress? You must really be in the big time now, to attract the attention of such crazed stars of two different media, huh? My sympathies.

    Like you, I’m astonished that anyone misinterpreted your meaning in the ‘stones’ reference, which I thought was perfectly clear (even before the explicatory update I notice you’ve added.) It’s a perfectly common metaphorical expression.

    The Anchoress’ confusion was bad enough, but that comment from Mark, well, wow. There are a lot of people struggling with a lot of issues out there, and I guess he’s one.

    What is saddest to me about those who mistake your use of the phrase is that it suggests that not only didn’t they catch the conventional rhetorical meaning of “don’t be a hypocrite”, but they maybe also never really ‘got’ the biblical story in the first place. It isn’t about stoning, it’s about the NOT stoning, and the what-happens-instead-of-stoning.

    I’ve always understood it as a lesson about humility, and understanding our own human frailty; that while it is tempting to enjoy the rush to judgment and the punishment of the ‘other’, we should rather pause in that moment, and reflect upon our own imperfections, so that we can, in the process find compassion for ourselves and through that, for that ‘other’. Not only does the crowd not stone the woman, they don’t start stoning themselves, either.

    So, on the first level it’s about “don’t apply to someone else a standard you don’t apply to yourself”, i.e., don’t be a hypocrite, it also asks us to think about the standards we apply to ourselves and the extent to which we do, or do not, meet them, and how we handle that.

    Why don’t they stone themselves for their own sins? Have they, in some way, forgiven themselves? And if it is possible to forgive ourselves, or accept our own shortcomings, then why not for others? Maybe this whole idea of judging and punishing needs more thought, the story suggests, and perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to think we know how others should live, or to tell them how to behave.

    And so to me, it’s also saying “pay attention to living your own life, and being better at living up to your own goals, and don’t go poking your nose into other people’s until you’ve gotten yourself straightened out.”

    Which, (despite the Anchoress’ contention that Hume wasn’t judging) is exactly NOT what Hume was doing in offering Woods that completely unsolicited advice on how to live his life, and what religion he ought to believe in.

    Of course, I wasn’t raised in a church, and most of what I know about Christian teachings has been picked up by osmosis and self-teaching, so what do I know? Perhaps I have it all wrong, though I do suspect there must be at least one or two denominations where my interpretation would be acceptable.

    In any case, I’m certain you weren’t advocating any actual stoning, nor suggesting that you felt you were being stoned, nor implying that being surprised by proselytizing on a ‘news’ program and having your religion disparaged has any resemblance to being stoned, (though I do find Fox News to be kind of trippy, if I may be forgiven the pun.)

  14. I once believed that taking things out of context provided slow news day excitement for wingnuts. Fool! I’ve since learned that this is how they think. I dont think they even care about what context is. But I’m curious about what exactly goes through Hume’s and O’Reilly’s heads when they do their lucrative jobs.

  15. Perhaps it would have been better to use the secular cliche concerning glass houses and stone throwing.

    Then again the religious context is there for the Christians to willfully misunderstand.

  16. For the record, I grew up in the Presbyterian Church not the Roman Catholic Church and know very little about Hail Marys and indulgences, etc.

  17. Considering that fundamentalist born-yesterday Christians are by far the dominant group in this country, with the majority of political, judicial and media power, it always amazes me how they are a persecuted and marginalized group. They act like they are being thrown to the lions every time anyone expresses even the mildest disapproval of their smug sanctimoniousness, their bullying and condescension, everything that makes them obnoxious and clueless.

  18. To some people, particularly conservatives it seems, any attack on their faith however sligh t — or simply imagined — is a direct and personal attack on their identity. So tightly do they wrap themselves in dogma and orthodoxy, they are unable to treat any discussion of the matter with anything resembling nuance or tolerance for dissent.

    And of course, this is how the devoutly religious justify cruelty and war in “defense” of their gods.

  19. They are in the business of stirring the pot that will raise this ire of their viewers. I can’t say for sure but I suspect that O’Reilly, Hannity and Hume are nominal Christians as a means of tribal identification and personal advancement. I’d love to get a better glimpse at their practice by any of those “old time religious” standards such as church attendance, tithing etc.

    They’re apparently gratified when their acrimony and indignation mirrored in those who view them. It seems more than a little narcissistic to me.

    Just remember than when they bend, twist, distort and willfully misrepresent the words of others that it’s not about the one they’re quoting but rather another exercise in turning the silent dog whistles of their “flock”. That connection has little to do with the Christianity I learned in my youth.

    This is about politics and commercialism — selling into a market.

    Who was it..Gandhi?… who observed that Christ was to be admired but that Christians were unlike their Christ.

    It seems that way to me. That’s no judgment on Christianity either, just a few who exploit it for their own gain. If that offends some then maybe they can find it within their hearts to forgive me.

  20. From what I can tell from the “anti-Buddist” arguments, it is argued Buddhism is inferior to Christianity or something because of what it doesn’t offer.

    What is being argued, however, is the way the world works. Christians are saying, essentially, a being will absolve them of sins and they won’t be punished for them. Buddhists argue that you’re unable to escape the results of your action except through intelligent understanding and contemplation. The powers that be, in general, can’t/don’t/won’t clean your karma.

    Christianity relies on the idea someone else will forgive you. Buddhism doesn’t seek that – you have to do the work yourself.

  21. I’m also amazed by the misunderstanding about the “stone-throwing.” Perhaps it’s also because they consider themselves holier-than-thou, and definitely better than those inferior Buddhists, so how dare you infringe on their stone-throwing…

  22. I remember seeing (Youtube maybe) a youth-group belonging to some fairly mainstream church.

    They’d shut themselves in the church basement, put away the big coffee canisters and potluck dishes, and shut off all the lights.

    Then they sat around pretending they were Early Christians, and telling each other stories of persecution, by candlelight; and I thought “That looks like great spooky fun!”

    You don’t expect them to stop pretending just because they’re all grown-up, now do you?

  23. I can explain where people came up with the whole “stoning” bullshit. Please understand that I’m providing a translation from “stone stupid” (so to speak) to “human”, and I am *NOT* defending the comparison.)

    The verse you quote comes from the story of the adulteress who is facing death by stoning, and Jesus was explicitly referring to that method of execution when he made that statement.

    So, if a person is looking for a reason to condemn you, they could do such a thing, and pretend that they are being honest. They aren’t, and if they’re even remotely self-honest, they know that they’re being intellectually dishonest.

    But you are correct – Brit Hume has no right to “condemn/accuse” (depending on your translation) Tiger Woods as being in need of Hume’s brand of healing, unless Hume is without sin. From the Christian perspective, it might be good if Woods grew closer to God – but Woods’ spirit is (again, from the Christian perspective) in God’s hands. Hume is more likely driven by pride than compassion – “I’m better than you are, I’m better than you are! My religion forgives me, my religion forgives me! Ha haha ha ha, ha!”

    But what’s really sad is you have folks like the Anchoress and O’Reilly who spread the idea that Christianity is about exactly that kind of pride.

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