Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Eleventh Commandment

By Don Klein
I never thought much of devout people who lecture others on the qualities of his or her faith. To me, when it comes to religion, what you believe in – or don’t believe in – is no one’s business but your own. It is like someone clumsily presupposing they know the path to goodness and morality while the other person does not.

It also presupposes there is only one pathway to virtue. Such propositions are flawed and ignorant. And unseemly.

Many years ago when I was an executive with the Maryland Port Authority on a trade mission in Japan I experienced a haunting example of misplaced religious ardor. Four of us were in a taxi on the way to the airport near Osaka when the head of the delegation somehow turned the usually light travel talk to religion. The others were Christians, I wasn’t.

"Klein, you’ll never have a satisfying life because you do not accept Jesus as your savior," he said. I thought he was jesting and laughed, but he wasn’t.

I wondered what this arrogant muttonhead considered a satisfying life. His wife was an alcoholic who died earlier than she should of sclerosis of the liver. His only daughter left an exclusive college without graduating after three years of costly tuition. He was forced out of his top job before retirement because of his professional ineffectiveness and ended up a lonely widower with few friends.

If that was what the "good life" his religion brought, no thank you. Actually, it wasn’t his religion that made his life good or bad, it was his tactless demeanor, his poor business judgment and his arrogance that provided the downturn of his career and private life.

Brit Hume’s demeaning remarks about Tiger Woods’s need for religious forgiveness brought that memory back to me. "Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world," he lectured on television the Buddhist Woods for his womanizing antics.

Having religious beliefs are fine and often serve good purposes. But to have the nerve to openly suggest what others should do is loathsome, but not unusual. Take the thousands of missionaries who are scattered around the world proselytizing their faith over the beliefs of natives with bribes of food and medicine.

The endearing quality of life in America is the Constitutional protection of religious belief. The government will never indorse a specific religion and will never restrict its citizens in choosing the religion they prefer. In most cases people follow the religion of their parents and family. But if they wish to convert, it is their free choice.

I would hope no one construes what I am saying as opposition to conversion. If people freely decide to change their faith, so be it. Congratulations and good luck. But for an outsider, layman or clergyman, to gratuitously preach conversion is definitely a no-no in my mind. Hands off, friend, this is the land of free choice.

Now to the subject of Brit Hume’s proposal to Tiger Woods – "forgiveness." That’s a beauty in itself. What does that mean? What sins are forgivable and who decides which? Would we forgive a cold-blooded slayer of children? A traitor to his country? A murderous head of state like Hitler or Stalin?

All right, cool off. Tiger has only admitted to having extra-marital affairs. That’s got nothing to do with religion and all to do with his relationship with his wife. They must resolve the problem. There is no need to change his religion. Did not Brit Hume’s mother ever warn him to stay out of other people’s personal lives?

There should be an Eleventh Commandment – Thou shalt not stick thy nose in other people’s private affairs.

When I was growing up in polyglot New York City we would often hear a bigot claim that many of his best friends are Jewish. We laughed at the obvious hypocrisy. But I can claim the reverse with unembarrassed preciseness. Many of my best friends are Christian. If fact most of my friends are Christian and I have no complaints.

The ordinary people I have met in life, which includes a career in journalism and public relations and my wife’s career in public education and later as an accountant, has been sprinkled richly with great people of all religious denominations. Except for a minimal of aberrations, like the one mentioned above, I found people keep their spiritual preferences to themselves, no doubt because they felt their faith is a personal matter.

It is truly a shame that a few unthinking immoderates like Brit Hume besmirch the good intentions of so many others who respect the honest differences in faiths found in a thoroughly mixed and educated society such as ours. The thought that one religion is superior to another is not what this country is about, and should not be in the minds of fair minded person.

Tiger Woods will find his own way out of his current troubles or – he will not. And his religion with have nothing to do with it.