Tiger Woods received both acclaim and criticism for his choreographed statement of remorse Friday, with the critiques centering on his refusal to allow any questions from the media.
But one thing that the world's top golfer certainly cleared up was the question of his religious faith -- and whether he would be taking the controversial advice of Fox News' Brit Hume and converting to Christianity in order to become a better person.
"I recognize I have brought this on myself, and I know, above all, I am the one who needs to change," Woods told the carefully screened audience of friends, family and reporters at his Florida announcement Friday morning. "I owe it to my family to become a better person. I owe it to those closest to me to become a better man. That's where my focus will be. I have a lot of work to do, and I intend to dedicate myself to doing it," he said.
"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."
Woods took no questions, so no one was able to press him on his religious reawakening -- not that religion is exactly what journalists were salivating to ask him about. From his limited remarks, however, Woods' counseling program does seem to have a spiritual component, which is not always the norm:
"In therapy, I've learned the importance of looking at my spiritual life and keeping in balance with my professional life," he said, according to the transcript
. "I need to regain my balance and be centered, so I can say the things that are most important to me..."
That is a rather Buddhist-sounding sentiment, but it is also echoes something of the language of addiction recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. Those programs can be too religious for some, and not enough for others.
In the wake of Tiger's fall from grace following a Thanksgiving weekend dispute with his wife, who had discovered his serial infidelities, the media was abuzz over the story. But Hume's suggestion on "Fox News Sunday" in early January that Woods needed to become a Christian if he hopes to become a better person sent the discussion in a whole new direction, with many questioning whether Tiger had any serious Buddhist upbringing and whether Buddhism was a valid means to rehabilitation:
"Tiger Woods will recover as a golfer. Whether he can recover as a person, I think, is a very open question. And it's a tragic situation," Hume said
. "But the Tiger Woods that emerges once the news value dies out of this scandal, the extent to which he can recover, seems to me to depend on his faith. 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 to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.' "
Buddhists of course weren't too happy with what they took as Hume's disparaging of their religion, and Hume also didn't quite get his thumbnail sketch of Buddhism completely right. (Jews and followers of other faith traditions that have teachings on forgiveness and redemption were also a bit dismayed at Hume claiming those precepts for Christianity alone.)
Moreover, there doesn't appear to be much evidence showing that Christians, in America at least, are any better people than Buddhists. Indeed, there is some evidence that as far as marriage goes, Buddhists are more faithful
than Christians. (It didn't hurt Buddhism's image this week that everybody's favorite spiritual guru, the Dalai Lama, met Thursday with President Obama at the White House.)
But Christianity helped Hume through a very difficult time after the suicide of his son, so his views are certainly understandable. In a subsequent interview, Hume said
he hoped some word of his spiritual advice might reach Tiger. Today's statement seems to be the golfer's response -- and some Buddhists appreciated it.
"Nice work, Tiger," one commenter wrote
at the Shambhala Sun blog. "Without even using the Words 'Brit Hume' or 'Christianity,' Tiger neatly flicked away Hume's ignorant assumptions about Buddhism and what it does or doesn't offer. I hope he meant what he said, and I wish him well."
And so it goes. "Buddha" is the name Siddhartha Gautama took when he received enlightenment while meditating under a tree in the sixth century B.C. and it means "awakened." Perhaps Tiger's travails and his public embrace of his childhood religion will prompt an increased awakening to the growing presence of Buddhists in America (at least 1.5 million and growing) and to the history and teachings of that ancient religion -- and to the cause of interfaith understanding.
Whether it helps Tiger's golf game is yet another unanswered question.