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Converting Tiger Woods - varnamvarnam
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Converting Tiger Woods

When it was discovered that Tiger Woods had a distributed harem, one of the issues that came up was his faith: Woods is Buddhist. Fox News anchor Brit Hume suggested that Tiger convert to Christianity and obtain “forgiveness and redemption.” The reason this conversion was needed is because Christianity offers a way for redemption from sin while Buddhism does not.

This can be quickly dismissed by blaming Hume’s ignorance of Buddhist philosophy, but that suppresses a larger issue hidden in that statement. To the question on if  Buddhism offers a way of forgiveness and redemption, the answer will always be no. According to Buddhist philosophy, there is no one to forgive you; you attain nirvana through spiritual practice without belief in constructs like Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.

The issue here is not of theological difference, but of theological superiority and this argument has been made before regarding another Indic religion; it was a common theme among missionaries operating in India in the 18th and 19th centuries.

To see an example we need to go to go to Serampore (in Bengal) of 1799 where the Baptist missionary William Ward preached. He was an evangelical who believed that even unbelievers had to hear the Gospel to be saved from damnation. According to his colleague and mentor William Carey, Hindus definitely had knowledge of God, but it was not the same as attaining salvation by accepting Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Ward, who had gone beyond the rituals of Hinduism, agreed with this. He was not one of those missionaries, who during Alexander Duff’s time, preached in street corners. He had learned Sanskrit from the Head Pundit at Fort William –  one Mrityunjay Vidyalankar. He had read Vedanta and even translated Vedanta Sara.

According to him Non-Christians — Africans, Indians, Greeks, Romans — all knew about God. That was not sufficient; only through divine revelation, you would know how to worship God. Hence the idolaters would never reach the Kingdom of Heaven and any religion which did not have this concept was irrational and absurd.

Three decades after Ward, Peter Percival who spent fifteen years in Tamil Nadu, did a similar comparison. He found that the goal of a Hindu was to merge with the sole, self-existing essential spirit. He then held this concept of an impersonal Brahman against Hinduism; the God mentioned in the Bible had personality, free will, and absolute power and hence that theism was more attractive.

You just can’t win.

In his staged apology for the media, Tiger Woods talked about his religion

Part of following this path for me is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. People probably don’t realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously, I lost track of what I was taught.[Tiger Woods’ apology: Full transcript]

Tiger Woods also ignored the televangelist’s suggestion.

References:

  1. Dr G A Oddie, Imagined Hinduism: British Protestant Missionary Constructions of Hinduism, 1793-1900 (Sage Publications, 2006). 

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