Did Tiger Choose the Right Faith?

Did Tiger Choose the Right Faith? for urban faithTiger Woods was raised a Buddhist, and now he’s returning to his childhood religion. Hopefully, he’ll avoid one of the great pitfalls many of us Christians fall into when it comes to living out our faith.

Recently, Tiger Woods went before TV cameras and a roomful of journalists and friends to apologize for his marital infidelity and all the damage it has wrought. In the midst of his confession, he revealed what he considers to be a key component to his rehabilitation: A return to his Buddhist roots.

I admit, as a Christian pastor, I would’ve loved to hear him announce that he had committed his life to Jesus while in rehab, but I was nonetheless thankful that Tiger seems to be confronting the spiritual dimensions of his problems. He now takes responsibility for his actions and recognizes that true restoration will require something greater than himself. And, based on his family background, Buddhism was the natural choice.

The thing is, most Christians are as Buddhist as Tiger Woods wants to be!

Can you guess what I mean?

Tiger Woods is facing the same challenge we all do: What do we do with our desires?

Two basic answers: Feed Them or Deny Them.

Option #1 is fraught with promise and peril. When we feed our desires we can say, “We are doing what comes natural.” That is, God gave me these desires and it’s only right to follow their lead. The downside? Weight gain, broken hearts, STDs, debt, and, oftentimes, a secret life.

Secrecy sets in because something inside us knows that just pursuing our desires without limits is wrong. Tiger said as much.

Option #2, a denial of our desires, has one big downside: Suffering. We suffer when we don’t indulge our desires. There is a discomfort that goes along with not doing what you feel you have to do. Just try not to scratch your next itch and see if you wouldn’t describe it as suffering. Denial of desire carries with it ultimate satisfaction. But we rarely get to experience it, because we don’t like the suffering required to get there.

Tiger’s solution to the dilemma is to become a better Buddhist. This ancient philosophy teaches a great deal about dealing with desires.

Here’s a summary of “The Four Noble Truths” of Buddhism: Life leads to suffering; suffering is caused by desires; suffering ends when desires end; thus we should eliminate our desires.

I think that most Christians, in practice at least, are as Buddhist as Tiger wants to be … unfortunately.

Unlike Buddhism, Christianity has a very different view of suffering and desires. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Unearned suffering is redemptive.” Jesus didn’t exempt himself from suffering and he invites us to take up our cross and follow him (Matt. 16:24-25). Furthermore, desires are meant to be pursued to their fullest extent. That is, all the way to God.

That’s why Jesus is revealed as bread and water … so that we might feast on Him. That’s why the psalmist sang, “Fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Ps. 16:11) . Our soul is able to sing because it is God “who satisfies our desires with good things” (Ps. 103:5).

Like Tiger Woods, we all need to confront the root of our sins and strive for healing and restoration. I just hope we recognize that genuine healing must eventually get beyond the act of simply denying ourselves and focus on the process of allowing ourselves to be filled with the good things of God.

C. S. Lewis was correct in The Weight of Glory when he said that our problem is that we satisfy with too little. Like little children making mud pies in the gutter when we are being offered a vacation to build sandcastles on the beach.
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Tiger Woods photo by Jim Epler from Wikipedia.

Health-Care Reform and the Golden Rule

Health-Care Reform and the Golden Rule for urban faithTelling half-truths about health-care reform makes it harder for us to judge Obama’s plan based on the facts. But it also violates one of our greatest biblical precepts.

Good will is a primary element of moral conduct. This is an important idea in the thought of philosopher Immanuel Kant. A good will is good in itself because it does not depend upon whether or not the person will benefit from a particular action or not. An individual acting out of a good will considers his or her duty to act in accordance with the moral law.

Kant’s test for whether or not an action coheres to the moral law is his Categorical Imperative, which is very close to the Golden Rule that Jesus taught. The Categorical Imperative says: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it become a universal law.” The Golden Rule says: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). So, to act from a good will is to act in accordance to one’s duty to do to others as we would be done by — to ask ourselves what kind of world we would create if everyone acted the way we do.

Sadly, many of our leaders in Congress are not acting with a good will. In advance of President Obama’s health-care reform summit, for example, at least one Republican Congress member said that the American people oppose the President’s health-care reform proposal. He is correct. A recent Rasmussen poll reports that 56% of its respondents strongly oppose President Obama’s health-care reform. However, what the Congress member does not say is that in polls where the respondents are told what the elements of the bill are, they approve of the various elements, and support for the bill goes up.

A Newsweek Poll conducted Feb. 17-18, 2010, found the following opinions of the President’s plan: opposed 49%, favor 40%, unsure 9%. After hearing about the specifics of the proposal, the numbers changed: opposed 43%, favor 48%, unsure 9%. Fifty percent of the respondents favor “a government-administered public health insurance option to compete with private plans.”

More people in the Kaiser Family Foundation Kaiser Health Tracking Poll believe their families would be better off if the President and Congress passed health-care reform (better off 34%, worse off 32%, 26% not much difference). This number goes up when asked if the country as a whole would be better off (better off 45%, worse off 34%, not much difference 12%). Thirty-two percent think that Congress should pass legislation that has already been approved while 20% think Congress should pass only those provisions where there is broad agreement. Fifty-nine percent think the delay is due to both sides playing politics.

That Congress member told the partial truth, which is still dishonest. There are items in the polls that would support Republican positions. Most people think it is important for health insurers to have the ability to sell across state lines. However, by giving only the facts of the poll that support his position, that Congress member violated the Categorical Imperative and the Golden Rule. The presumption here is that he would not want people to tell half-truths to him or that we ought not to make half-truth-telling a universal law.

What is worse, we have to spend time checking the facts of a poll rather than learning the facts of the various proposals, a combination of which may finally get this country to universal health care. And universal health care is a moral good and ought to be a legislative imperative.

Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler.