Tiger Woods: Buddhist, Interfaith, Deeply Flawed

On Sunday, talking head Brit Hume suggested that disgraced golfer Tiger Woods, “said to be a Buddhist,” turn to  Christianity to achieve redemption.  On Monday, Jon Stewart ran a hilarious sendup of Hume by a panel of faux “religion experts” on the Daily Show. Today, a convoluted Washington Post column asserted Hume’s right to proselytize. And all week, I tried to resist piling on–I don’t care about sports, and there were already too many bloggers on board. Then I began to feel the familiar itch to out a national figure as an interfaith child.

I realize this is a bizarre moment to “claim” Woods as part of my motley crew. But I never said that every interfaith child has a true moral compass, any more than every Jew or Christian does.

What interests me, as usual, is our need to pigeonhole Woods as a Buddhist, or Christian. As if you can’t be both. As if labels are necessary–Tiger himself resists them, as many interfaith and multiracial children do. Tiger’s mother is a Thai Buddhist. His father apparently comes from a Christian cultural background. Woods is an interfaith child, with all the rights of self-definition that term implies.

So how has he defined himself? With the complex language often used by adult interfaith children. Woods told Sports Illustrated in 1996: “I believe in Buddhism. Not every aspect, but most of it. So I take bits and pieces. I don’t believe that human beings can achieve ultimate enlightenment, because humans have flaws.” Little surprise here: Woods is very much a flawed human being. Ironically, that Sports Illustrated profile revolved around predicting whether or not fame would destroy the young golfer.

I realize that those who are uncomfortable with my dedication to “being both” could use the spectacular moral failure of Tiger Woods as an example of the failure of the “take bits and pieces” approach to religion. But Tiger’s mess could just as easily be chalked up to an early midlife rebellion by a man who has been relentlessly pushed and primed for one role since toddlerhood.  Or, even more likely, he was simply seduced by the intoxicating mix of wealth, fame and power that has led to the downfall of many an important man before him–whether Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, or all or none of the above.

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