Brit disses Buddhism


photo taken by Karen Topakian at Angkor Wat


by Karen Topakian

Brit Hume, Fox News’ Senior Political Analyst, recently offered some religious advice to Tiger Woods.

“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,” Hume said. “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.'”

If Tiger Woods is guilty of adultery, I really don’t care if he is or not, is Christianity the only way to recover? Couldn’t his own religious beliefs serve him as well?

According to Rev. Lisa Hoffman, Zen priest, “The Dalai Lama says that, “My religion is kindness.” Buddhism is about doing all good, and not doing harm. It’s about living for the benefit of all beings, being of service, knowing deeply that we are all connected. So while the Buddha did not talk specifically about forgiveness and redemption, our practice involves not harming and when we do to correct the harm as soon as we recognize it.”

If Tiger is a practicing Buddhist, his religious/spiritual beliefs can certainly accommodate his alleged acts.

Since Buddhism doesn’t speak to the Christian concept of redemption, which calls for absolution for past sins and deliverance/protection from damnation, the notion of needing redemption seems to be immaterial.

I couldn’t help but wonder if Mr. Hume offered this same advice to Senator John Ensign, a resident of the C Street Christian Fellowship, who had an extra-marital affair with a staffer who was married to an employee in his office. Or to Governor Mark Sanford, an Episcopalian?

Ask a stranger

by Karen Topakian According to a study about the usage of holiday gifts, by Jeffrey Vietri, instructor of psychology at Albright College in Reading, Pa, a stranger is a better predictor of our usage than we are.

This soon to be released behavioral study, “Actor-Observer Differences in Frequency-of-Use Estimates: Sometimes Strangers Know Us Better Than Ourselves,” demonstrates that we don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do.

“People make optimistic predictions about themselves,” he says. “They expect relationships to last longer, tasks to take less time and things to turn out generally better than they will.” And when they ask for a waffle-maker for Christmas, they think, “I’ll use this all the time!”

Vietri’s 164-person study determined that an informed stranger, one who didn’t know the participant personally, but who is told how often the participant predicts they will use a much-desired Christmas gift assessed the participant’s actual usage with greater reliability than the participant’s own prediction.

Before you send your Christmas list to Santa, ask a stranger to review it to see if you really will use that ovulation cell phone as often as you think or wear that those squirrel foot earrings as often as you promised.

one million strong

by Karen Topakian

Far be it from me to criticize someone who calls for civil disobedience.  But when Chuck Colson, former Watergate felon, suggests it. I need to take a second look.

As a co-drafter of the Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience, Mr. Colson seeks 1,000,000 signers to this manifesto.  This 4,700-word document expounds on the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife and the freedom of conscience and religion. And it urges civil disobedience, if necessary, to fight for these principles.

While reading the online tome, authored by Christian, Catholic and Orthodox leaders, I looked in vain for an argument against capital punishment or war. But found none.

What I did find while searching for information about Mr. Colson was a reference to a letter that he and other religious leaders sent in 2002, to then President Bush outlining their theological support for a just war pre-emptive invasion of Iraq.

I also searched in the Declaration for a nod to the persecution of non-Christians. Again I came up empty handed.

To date, 200,000 people have signed on including, theologians, Catholic bishops and arch bishops, reverends, ministers and a few notables: Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; and the Most Rev. Peter J. Akinola Primate, Anglican Church of Nigeria (Abika, Nigeria) who opposed the consecration of Gene Robinson, the first openly homosexual bishop in the Anglican Communion.

When I think of religious leaders committing acts of civil disobedience, I think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dedication to racial justice and Philip Berrigan and his brother Daniel’s commitment to nuclear disarmament.

Imagine one million religious leaders performing acts of civil disobedience in opposition to sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan or against any state sponsored execution.

I guess I’m just a little jealous.


images-1  by Karen Topakian

A few weeks ago, when I was in Armenian Church, the priest presented the parishioners with a quiz that he said five year olds had answered accurately but that graduates of Princeton couldn’t. Here’s the quiz:

What is greater than god? More evil than the devil. Rich people want it. Poor people have it. And if you eat it you will die?

He gave us a few minutes to think about it.

The Sunday school children in attendance wrote their answers on pieces of paper and handed them in.

I hoped I was smarter than a five year old and a Princeton grad but I just couldn’t come up with the answer. Being a non-believer in god and the devil put me at a distinct disadvantage. I kept thinking nature or the natural world, in answer to the first part but the other questions didn’t fit. And I also believe that poor people can be rich in ways other than monetarily.

The women sitting in front of me, turned around and whispered the answer before the priest divulged it from the pulpit.


I never would have come up with the answer. My eco-agnostic-economic views prevented me from seeing the world as simply as a child would. I’m not sure who has the better vantage point.

P.S. This will be my last posting for a few weeks, off to travel.

Believe it or not

 images-2by Karen Topakian

Beliefs.  We all have them. Whether they are religious, spiritual or political. We all believe in something.

Two recent sociological studies enlighten us about our beliefs. When we cling to them and when we don’t.

The first, a study from Ohio State University, examines how career dreams die.

When a group of Ohio State students were told that their GPA was too low to pursue their career goal, they didn’t give up the dream. In fact, their self-doubt declined and they showed higher levels of commitment to pursing the degree.

“We have a brilliant ability to spin, deflect or outright dismiss undesired evidence that we can’t do something,” Patrick Carroll co-author of the study said. “We try to find reasons to believe.”

When another group of Ohio State students were not only told that they didn’t have the grades or the skills to make their career goal a reality but that bad things could happen if they pursued their goals and failed, they abandoned their dream. They stopped believing. 

Who wouldn’t in the face of bad things happening?

The second study, “There Must Be a Reason: Osama, Saddam and Inferred Justification” from the University of Buffalo demonstrated how we support our false beliefs.

Four major research institutions focused on “…one of the most curious aspects of the 2004 presidential election: the strength and resilience of the belief among many Americans that Saddam Hussein was linked to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.”

The study, “…argues that the primary cause of misperception in the 9/11-Saddam Hussein case was not the presence or absence of accurate data but a respondent’s desire to believe in particular kinds of information.”

In the world of sociology, this is known as “motivated reasoning” whereby people seek out information that confirms what they actually believe instead of searching for information that will either confirm or deny their beliefs.

Isn’t that why we listen to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!?

Because we were at war, voters searched for justification for that war by constructing elaborate rationalizations based on inaccurate information. When presented with the available evidence of the link between Saddam and 9/11 along with the evidence that there was no link, the voters were then pushed to justify their opinion. Respondents overwhelmingly stuck to their belief in support of the link.

“They wanted to believe in the link,” co-author Steven Hoffman, Ph.D. says, “because it helped them make sense of a current reality. So voters’ ability to develop elaborate rationalizations based on faulty information, whether we think that is good or bad for democratic practice, does at least demonstrate an impressive form of creativity.”

If only we had known the results of the Ohio State study in 2004, we could have told those voters that bad things could happen to them if they clung to their false beliefs. But wait, it did. George Bush was re-elected and the war in Iraq continues.