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Beyond Buddhism, Tiger Woods has converted to another religion

Tiger Woods’s confession on Friday was a forced conversion to the Oprahite religion of emotional openness and making public one’s miseries and failings.

By Brendan O'Neill / February 22, 2010


Much has been made of the fact that, in his mea culpa beamed around the world, Tiger Woods said he had rediscovered his childhood religion of Buddhism and hoped to relearn its lessons of restraint. This was Tiger’s “leap of faith,” said Newsweek, his very public religious conversion.

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It is true that we witnessed the conversion of Tiger Woods last Friday, but it was no voluntary conversion to an old religion. Rather, this was a forced conversion to the new Oprahite religion of emotional openness and making public one’s miseries and failings.

Mr. Woods has effectively been strong-armed by the world’s media and experts into ditching his former, apparently outdated commitment to the ideals of privacy, and has been made to embrace the cult of letting it all hang out. What we witnessed on our TV screens was the end result of a global show trial, complete with the “suspect” denouncing himself and expressing self-disgust, and I for one found it unedifying.

Woods’s public apology – to his wife, his fans, and the media – came at the end of months of pressure on him to stop fantasizing that he has any right to a private life and to tell us everything about that car crash in November and his various alleged affairs. His desire to keep his troubles private, including by taking refuge on his yacht called “Privacy,” was treated as some kind of crime.

His former coach, Butch Harmon, said the public wants Woods to “stand there in front of everybody, take his medicine, be humble, be embarrassed, be humiliated, and answer the questions.” The idea that Woods had to be “humiliated” before he could move on was a recurring one. Under the headline “Tiger Woods: redemption lies with Oprah Winfrey,” a British journalist said at the end of last year that Woods must “ring Oprah and get on her sofa pronto” and “share his pain” with the public.

Experts from around the world advised (“hectored” might be a better word) Woods that only by opening up could he hope for public forgiveness. (Why Woods should seek my and your forgiveness, rather than simply his wife’s and children’s, was never made clear.)

The sports correspondent for Britain’s Mail on Sunday said in December that Woods had “better learn the US formula for public redemption,” which includes “display[ing] one’s contrition on a very public platform” and partaking in the “three A’s”: “admit, apologise, advance.” The idea that Woods might devise his own formula for resolving his personal problems, in private rather than on a very public platform, was not countenanced.

Many of the attacks on Woods, and the demands that he advertise his pain and sorrow for all the world to see, were motivated by a strange anger toward his well-known protection of his privacy. A British journalist criticized Woods for guarding “his privacy with legendary zeal.”