Jim Wallis’ Cherry-Picking of the Bible Was Evident on Last Night’s Real Time with Bill Maher

Last night, “Religious Left” leader Jim Wallis appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher. While the interview started out alright, I kept finding myself disappointed with Wallis’ answers — Maher kept asking him questions that any atheist interested in the Truth would ask, and Wallis kept dodging them in order to make the point that religion can be used for good (which no one is denying and is completely besides the point):

Josh Feldman at Mediaite points out one particular exchange that was really frustrating to watch:

Wallis countered that people who talk about the Bible haven’t exactly read it, though Maher protested he did. Wallis played up how he had a group of religious people rallying for immigration reform in D.C. because of their faith, but Maher interjected to say, “You’re cherry-picking the good parts.”

Maher told Wallis that it’s hard for someone to say God is “perfect” when there’s a lot of twisted morality in the Bible itself.

“It’s pro-slavery, pro-polygamy, it’s homophobic, God in the Old Testament is a psychotic mass murderer — I mean, there’s so many things in it, and I always say to my religious friends, you know, if a pool had even one turd in it, would you jump in?

Wallis explained how he found there to be 2000 verses in the Bible talking about the poor, but two more times Maher called him out for not answering the question. At one point, he quipped to guest Eliot Spitzer, “This guy’s an even better politician than you.”

I want Wallis to be the go-to person for Christianity, and his stances on most social justice issues make him a natural ally for our side, but if this discussion is representative of how he operates, he’s ignoring the tough theological questions for the sake of political correctness.

What really rubbed me the wrong way was when Wallis said (at the 3:48 mark) “Jesus didn’t talk about homosexuality at all,” as if he’s always taken this stance against those other Christian bigots.

But Wallis didn’t voice his support for same-sex marriage until just this past April.

In fact, in 2011, Wallis’ group Sojourners rejected ads from an LGBT-friendly church group for their magazine because it wanted to remain “neutral” on the issue. Because advocating for civil rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, was too controversial for them.

So it was nice to see Maher pushing back against Wallis’ cherry-picking. When it comes to current events, Christians like Wallis often have to overcome the Bible. Meanwhile, the rest of us progressives are fighting for many of the same causes by ignoring the Bible altogether. Sure, there were (and still are) great leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. who preached the Bible as they saw it, but they could just as easily have come to the same conclusions without it.

Ultimately, Maher was more interested in why anyone would take the Bible seriously and I thought he succeeded in making that point. Wallis did a poor job defending the Bible as a guidebook (usually by avoiding Maher’s questions) and his selective reading of it came through very clearly.

This is why, as much as I want to like him, I just can’t take him very seriously. He’s better than a lot of other Christian leaders, but he still has a long way to go.

He’d get there more quickly if he just admitted the Bible contains more problems than it does solutions.

On a side note, it may disturb some of you to see an all-male panel here — at least that stood out to me. I wanted to point out that Maher interviewed feminist activist Sarah Slamen for a while earlier in the program.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • DESTROY ALL RELIGION

    Destroy all religion.

    • ShoeUnited

      I can’t help but feel you’ve got some kind of ulterior motive with your post.

  • sara

    So long as his reading of the bible doesn’t lead him to claim it should be taught as science, or that anyone who sees it differently than him should be persecuted, we have religion I am willing to live beside with little more than the occasional eye roll. As much as I would love to see all religion slip into the realm of ancient mythology, I won’t get too frustrated with them if they stay out of the way.

    • evodevo

      BUT, that is the whole point of Christianity – they CAN”T refrain from interfering. The whole religion was based on “spreading the good news”, and making sure their neighbors (see Christianity – 100-600 AD !) believed exactly the same thing they did, or be killed or driven out of town. As long as there are fundie Christians, they will be striving with all their energy to insinuate themselves into positions of power, and then to exert that power over you. It’s a feature, not a bug, to them. (Actually the same with all monotheistic religions, but we’re talking US here, I presume …)

      Beware.

  • Quintin van Zuijlen

    Religion can justify anything, so using it to justify progressive policies really does nothing more than lend credence to conservative arguments from religion.

  • L.Long

    The preacher is a load of BS. He avoided answering any statements because the answers are to embarrassing. When xtains as a whole (not all as that is impossible) tear out all the awful BS from the buyBull and say this is the dogma and then say to all xtians that we live our life by example too all and force NOTHING onto others.
    That is when I stop pushing against them.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Why are Rev./Pastors always so touchy- feely? As if touching and feeling the person over and over has some sort of magical power and will make them agree with you.

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

      “If I keep touching them… maybe they’ll get a Jesus-jolt and join our church!”

      • Randay

        As Bill said in another segment about World Youth Day in Rio, young people getting together with priests, what could possibly go wrong?

    • WingedBeast

      It’s an attempt to create intimacy. They’re trained to do it because, for the flock, it helps to establish a bond and makes followers more apt to confide and trust in the cleric.
      For those not already in the flock, however, it just comes off as creepy with a side order of social awkwardness as I have to be the one to tell the other person “don’t touch me” in such a way that I don’t look like the jerk rather than someone who initiates contact without consent.

  • Marisa Totten

    Maybe we’ll eventually get to a point where the christian bible looks a whole lot more like Jefferson’s bible than the current version. I think Aslan is right, cherry picking means the bible says what the reader wants it to say, the religious ought to really examine that statement for what it means about them as people.

    • Edmond

      Aslan said that?

      • Marisa Totten

        If you watched the video, then you know what I’m talking about. Otherwise, not sure if you’re simply disagreeing with my paraphrase, or being cute, in perhaps a less-than-cute manner. If the former, fine, if that latter, whatever.

  • Carpinions

    The Wallis’s if the world are why religion on the left is seen mostly as a goofy footnote even though it’s still much more widespread than atheism, and why the right so disdains religion that is not rigid. Religion on the left just is not something to be feared with anything approaching the same magnitude when compared to its counterpart on the right. Wallis might as well be a UU minister based on his demeanor and answers.

    I find this exchange to be less frustrating because at the end of the day, people in Wallis’ position on the left (or non-right as I’m starting to call it) are practically humanists already. I’m much less worried about their ability or lack thereof to make proper leaps into logic when pressed. The right, on the other hand, loves being strong and wrong. They feed off of it, and so religion on the right is necessarily more insidious and openly caustic to civil society.

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    I used to be a liberal Christian, and the need to cherry-pick the Bible to support any kind of decent and humane worldview is pretty much what drove me to become an atheist. Cherry-picking is preferable to the cognitive dissonance of believing the Bible literally while simultaneously believing God is good, but atheism makes more sense.

  • Harry Underwood

    I was just thinking about how most currents of Abrahamic religion, even the liberal denominations, rely upon endless (re)interpretation of the Bible. I would wonder if the idea of an “open canon” of scripture (what the Mormons/LDS use, i.e., “revelations” by the president of an LDS church to create new scriptures) would fit more into the idea of “progressive Christianity”, rather than “putting new wine into old bottles”, so to speak.

    Granted, LDSers have used “open canons” to canonize racist, sexist and homophobic prohibitions, among other problematic issues (the Missouri-based Community of Christ church is moving in the opposite direction as of late), but I can’t think of a good reason as to why people like Jim Wallis should relegate themselves to interpretation, semantics and cherry-picking of a closed canon when the Bible, by itself, is textually inadequate and chronologically-deprived as a basis for his and other “progressive” Christians’ (or other Abrahamists’) beliefs.

    Countering the United Church of Christ, “God” cannot still be “speaking” when “His Word” is closed to changes.

  • Frank

    speqking of not taking someone seriously….

  • Matto the Hun

    Wallis seems to be the unfortunate example of one of the more insidious things religions does. It takes perfectly good, kind, caring, moral people and makes hypocrites and liars out of them.

    That Wallis cherry-picks the good bits says far more about his virtues as a person and nothing about his religion. Without his faith he wouldn’t have to be so dishonest about the bad parts. Without his faith he might have come around to supporting civil right for LGBT people earlier or even from the start. How convenient for him to come around now when it’s apparent to pretty much anyone the social winds are moving in that direction.

    What a shame, another decent human being sullied by faith.

    • Dave

      Tell me what moral goodness exists inside humanity outside of God? I don’t mean this as a snide comment or arrogant so please forgive me if it comes across this way. I use to be an atheist, so I have much compassion for those who scrutinize Christians, because at one time I was one of the cruelest towards followers of Christ. Regardless of Wallis (whom there is not much I would agree with) I think it is important to recognize our own depravity and how short we fall to God’s standard. It is something that most of us do not want to recognize. Let’s take children for instance. Often we are told of the innocence of children, however place three toddlers and two cookies in a room and we will see near barbaric behavior if left to their own. My dear friends, we have all gone astray and not one of us is righteous. Truth will not be found searching within ourselves, but only from above. May I suggest listening to some Ravi Zacharias if you are interested in philosophy? For sound gospel preaching look up Paul Washer or Chip Ingram are good sources. Please don’t judge the Christian community by those who pretend to be Christians. There is a vast difference between church goers and those that are authentic followers of Christ, regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

      • Stutz

        Assuming God exists and created us, why did he only give us limited “moral goodness”? Why not make us completely good? I suspect your answer would be “free will”, but if he gave us TRULY free will, he would have instilled us with neither good nor evil, but let us choose. So quit giving your god all the credit for human morality while blaming humans for evil. If we have free will, any good we do is freely chosen by us alone. Ravi Zacharias is not a serious thinker. I’ve listened to him on many occasions, and he is nothing more than a preacher, enthralling his already-saved audience with shallow platitudes and a soothing voice.

  • Tel

    I have more respect for people when they say, “I don’t know,” or, “That’s difficult,” or, “Yeah, you have a point,” than when they refuse to answer anything whilst seemingly pretending to answer everything.

    Admitting you don’t know something is an important step in gaining knowledge. Knowledge is good. Refusing to do that leads to deliberate ignorance and misuse of facts, and arrogance and preventing others from learning and actually being useful and so on. His views are admirable, but his discussion ain’t.

    • Crazy Russian

      That seems to be religion’s big selling point to people uncomfortable with uncertainty. You know, the ones stating that “science doesn’t have all the answers” — as if that makes it less valid or relevant.

  • Randay

    Jim Wallis is the worst cherry-picker. “faith without works is dead”. That is James. Paul said exactly the opposite. He said works don’t matter, and only faith in Jesus will save you. So this guy doesn’t know his bible.

    Where were the Faith Heads during the union battles of the 19th and early 20th centuries? Joe Hill’s song “The Preacher and the Slave” describes it very well. aka “Pie in the Sky”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXGuHCsjXro

  • Brian

    The sad part about the Bible is that yes, there ARE good parts to it, and there are some great lessons to be learned, especially about how we should love one another, and take care of the least of us. What is sad is that Christians seem to think that these life lessons can ONLY be learned and applied through Christianity, as if they have a monopoly on kindness and generosity.

    It will be great if someday people end up treating those stories much like Aesop’s Fables: a few inspirational stories that can teach us some important life lessons, but definitely not a literal story that actually happened, nor something we should be worshipping.

  • qp3

    Matthew 25:45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

    46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

    Such a moral teacher that Jezus guy… treat me good or ill torture you for eternity!

    • ShoeUnited

      Actually, I always read that as help those who need the most help or you go to hell because when you snub one downtrodden individual or group you’re snubbing Jesusgod.

      Which would actually make a case for giving equal rights to all peoples (e.g. gay marriage). You’d think bringing up Mat 25:45-46 could help these preachers who are leaning but afraid to make their biblical lessons match their moral convictions.

  • David

    I was a Christian for the first 18 years of my life. When I was 17 I decided to be a better Christian and read the Bible front to back. This started my trek to atheism. When I read the horrible, terrible things and all the contradictions, I reasoned that the Bible must have been written by men. Then I realized that the Bible was the only source of information for Christians so the entire canon was based on the words of man. But here’s the sad part. When Christians read the awful things in the Bible, they pretend they don’t exist. It doesn’t shake there faith in an “awesome” god, it doesn’t make them critically think about morality. So these people are purposefully keeping themselves blind.

  • Danny Klopovic

    I do think that Wallis did not adequately address Maher’s question – but I think the question of cherrypicking is a red herring. All Christians cherrypick – indeed this has to be done and cherrypicking is appropriate. I do think Maher is misinformed in his claim that “fundamentalists take the bible literally” but this does seem to be a common atheist strawman.

    • Anathema

      I’m not sure it is fair to say that the idea that “fundamentalists take the bible literally” is a “common atheist straw man” when atheists are merely repeating what a lot of fundamentalists say about themselves.

      • Danny Klopovic

        If that is all it is then that is fine – but that is not what atheists usually do. What atheists often argue is this: only fundamentalists take the Bible seriously because they take it “literally” and anyone else who does not take the fundamentalist tack is therefore not taking the bible seriously. Hence the strawman – any non-fundamentalist reading of the text is simply dismissed by many atheists as not a serious approach. This is a common example of the lack of intellectual charity amongst atheists – and I think this article is a good example of that lack.

    • Edmond

      Why should cherrypicking ever HAVE to be done, or be appropriate? The only case I could see for it having to be done would be to simply ignore the unpleasant and inconvenient sections, but this is only from a “need” to try to support an unsupportable argument. But, appropriate? Even if a theist is not a literalist, there are many terrible portions of the Bible that must be addressed. There’s nothing “appropriate” about just lifting up a corner of the rug and sweeping the ugliness out of sight.

      • Danny Klopovic

        Cherrypicking is always appropriate towards the end of promoting what is ethical and just. It is simply a given that there are terrible texts in the bible and they should be discounted and not relied upon either by Jews or Christians – precisely those texts that Maher identified as patriarchal, anti-women, anti-gay etc. That same process occurs even within the bible and it is as old as the prophets who similarly cherrypick from the Torah in order to serve what is both ethical and just.

        • evodevo

          But, they are only “terrible” in the light of our secular, modern societies. They were used to justify laws and behaviors that we today would call extreme only a few years ago (see miscegenation laws; sodomy laws; anti-contraception laws; Sunday “blue laws”; slavery; etc. etc.)
          Modern society has side-lined the Bible, and it was a GOOD thing.

          • Danny Klopovic

            I disagree – they were terrible even then. I am not that much a cultural relativist to think that those laws then were morally good even then. In other words, I think we can criticise past cultures for their moral failings just as we do with present ones. We have come a long way in some respects but regrettably not in all instances.

            As for modern society sidelining the Bible – I am not as sanguine to think that is true as per the interminable culture wars over things like the status of women, gay & lesbian people, the right of children to not be harmed under the guise of religion etc.

        • EvolutionKills

          Okay, try this on for a second.

          You are using your own morality and ethics to vet the contents of the Bible. Your morality is still primary, and your reasoning is circular.

          If you are already not taking the Bible as literal truth, then why be a Christian (liberal or otherwise)? An atheist or a non-believer can read the Bible and pick out a part that resonates with them, like the Sermon on the Mount or the Golden Rule; while ditching the rest of the racist, homophobic, misogynistic stories for the bullshit that they are. You can be an admirer of some of Jesus’s teachings, without having to believe in God, his claimed divinity, or any other doctrinal obligation.

          You can study and examine the Bible, without having to make unsubstantiated claims about the nature of reality. So that being said, what reason is there to really cling to Christianity outside of fundamentalism?

          • Danny Klopovic

            I am not sure what specifically is circular about my reasoning. My morality/ethics comes from a variety of sources, of which the Bible is but one source.

            As for not taking the bible as “literal truth”, I am not sure what the point of that question is since it seems to me precisely the kind of strawman that so often comes from atheists. Fundamentalist Christianity is a tradition that is not even yet 200 years old but why should I defend a tradition that I don’t belong to, especially since as a child of the Radical Reformation, my roots go back much further and does not subscribe to what you appear to presume as normative Christian belief. If I were a Catholic, then again asking about the “literal truth” or “fundamentalism” is just setting up a question without any substance.

            In relation to unsubstantiated claims about reality – the reason that I remain Christian is because I find the tradition to be interesting and attractive. I presume that what you assert to be unsubstantiated refers to the question of whether God exists or not. I am not of the view that it is unsubstantiated as much as it is unknowable and one should live accordingly – with a very large dose of humility about such claims.

            • EvolutionKills

              If you are using your own morality to validate cherry picked verses from the Bible, that you then use to reinforce your own morality, then it is circular. You can just cut out the cherry picking the Bible and simply rely on and defend your own morality. The ethic of reciprocity can be defended and argued for without reference to Jesus, and all of the baggage that carries with it. Since you have admitted to not adhering to a literal interpretation of the Bible, then you can’t quote it for the purpose of attempting to back your assertion with a ‘divine authority’; since you are admittedly agnostic in regards to the existence of that very being. So apply Occam’s Razor, you have an extra unneeded step there.

              Fundamentalist is a blanket term, used to refer to someone who adheres to a ‘fundamental’ or as-close-to-literal interpretation as possible of their religious dogma or writings. Fundamentalism as you know it might only trace itself back 200 years as you claim, but there have been people taking these religions ‘fundamentally’ since their inception over 2000 years ago. When the most dangerous, racist, misogynistic, and hateful followers of a religion are those adhering the closest to it’s most fundamental principals, then there is something wrong with those fundamental principals. You’re not going to find support for freedom of religion or freedom of speech from adherence to the Bible. It’s not a strawman, it’s a recognition of history and reality.

              So in light of all that I just don’t see the point of labeling yourself as a Christian, unless you like being misinterpreted? I find the meditative tradition of Buddhism to be interesting and the philosophy of Jainism to be admirable, but I wouldn’t label myself a Jain or a Buddhist. You make it sound like you’re not so much a follower of Christ, as you are a fan of some of the teachings attributed to him; so why label yourself as a ‘Christian’ when your connection to the Bible (the source of ‘his’ teachings) seems so tenuous? You sound like an agnostic atheist trying to defend the cherry-picking of the Bible, and to me that seems nonsensical.

  • WingedBeast

    It’s one of the things about the bible.

    If you’re a liberal and you use the bible to bolster your points, you have a lot of principles to point to. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “As you do unto the least of these you do unto me.” “If you would be perfect, sell all your possessions and give unto the poor.” That kind of thing.

    But, if you’re conservative, you have straightforward, unambiguous commands to point to. “If a man lay with man as with…” “Women, submit to your husbands.” And clobber verses that aren’t even taken out of context that would soften them up.
    Someone in the Christian community has to admit that these things are in conflict and be ready to have an honest discussion on, not the discrepancies of story but the discrepancies of moral.

  • Travis Myers

    “On a side note, it may disturb some of you to see an all-male panel here — at least that stood out to me.”

    I really hate it when people insinuate that there’s some kind of discrimination just because one particular small sampling of people doesn’t have the same statistical parameters as the entire population. Let’s do some statistics: let the null hypothesis be that Bill Maher selects his panel of four people randomly from a population containing 50% men and women. Then the probability that the panel will consist of only men is (1/2)^4 = 0.0625. This is low, sure, but using the usual standard of rejecting the null hypothesis if p-value < 0.05, we fail to reject the null hypothesis. So we do not have sufficient evidence that Bill Maher is biased in his selection of panel members.

    • CottonBlimp

      I really hate when people are this obtuse. How many episodes do you think there are with all female guests?

      I’m not gonna shit on Maher just for that, because it’s not clear how much of this has to do with him directly as opposed to broader societal problems (the fact that there are more men than women in the workforce, the fact that women are valued for appearance more than substance leading to less substance, the fact that audiences prefer men to women).

    • paizlea

      So as long as an occasional token woman is included on a panel, there’s no discrimination?

      • rg57

        From Jan through March of this year, the show’s guests were about 7 men for every 3 women, according to Wikipedia’s list of episodes. Given that it’s a political show, and politics is dominated by men (even though there are more voting-age women than there are men), it’s not surprising that most of his guests would be men.

        • paizlea

          Your attitude is part of how discrimination is perpetuated, even by those who claim to want to change it. I’m not arguing that Maher is sexist, but by not challenging the status quo, he is helping perpetuate it. I only want to show support for Mehta highlighting the gender disparity on the show. Women should be more involved in politics and political discussions, and pointing out when they’re not helps address that issue. I don’t mean to get into a broader argument about how to right historical inequities.

          • Anna

            There are five guests on every show, but only three on the main panel. On the episode in question, the first guest was a woman.

            I won’t deny that there is a gender imbalance on the show, but I think it would be wrong to come away with the idea that all-male panels are common. There is almost always at least one female guest, often two.

  • cipher

    I want Wallis to be the go-to person for Christianity, and his stances on most social justice issues make him a natural ally for our side, but if this discussion is representative of how he operates, he’s ignoring the tough theological questions for the sake of political correctness… He’s better than a lot of other Christian leaders, but he still has a long way to go

    Wallis is a good guy, and he’s done more to help the urban poor than I ever will – but, yeah.

    I don’t think he ignores the tough questions out of political correctness; I think he’s just doing what they all do – engaging in cognitive dissonance in an attempt to protect his belief system.

  • geru

    I guess this is what a “good Christian” looks like: someone who has absolutely nothing to say about religion, except for “Jesus was a good guy, we should all be more like Jesus”. Forget the Bible, forget the basic tenets of the faith, all you need to do is keep saying “Jesus”, and you’re a respectable moderate religious figure.

  • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

    Wallis is pretty new in his support for marriage equality. In the past, he was pretty outspoken against marriage equality. The best he had to say was that it wasn’t a priority. So when he did come out in support of gay marriage, it was a pretty big deal. The way I see it, is that he is still very uncomfortable with his support for marriage equality, but that he felt that he had no choice because he makes a living being the “liberal” Christian. Then one day he woke up and people where pointing out that he wasn’t so liberal.

  • MoriyaMug

    What I tell people like that is that, the instant you declare one part of scripture to be literal and another to be allegory/metaphor, you must provide a literary yardstick by which it can be gauged, or else it’s just cherry-picking. If the god of the Bible is absolute, why is the word of the same god anything but?

  • Frank Key

    There is a reason Jim Wallis is more noted for being an author and publisher than a debater and it showed up at the least opportune time last night – he doesn’t do well in speaking formats that require verbal wizardry with 30 second sound bytes. That interview was so painful to watch because I could feel the thoughts forming in Wallis’ brain but too slowly to yield the concise, witty responses required to be a success on Real Time. Having been a distant admirer of Wallis ever since I learned of Sojourner’s Community and Magazine, I wished he would have done better on that show but not surprised when he didn’t. No one was to blame – Jim and Bill were simply not a good pairing in that setting.

  • Graham Martin-Royle

    It really doesn’t matter if the bible has good bits in it. It really doesn’t matter if some christians people do some good things. It really doesn’t matter if christianity gives something (anything) to people.

    Christianity is based on a false premise, that an interventionist creator god created and meddles in the universe. Unless and until christians can prove that this premise is true, their holy books, their sermons, their theology mean nothing.

  • LesterBallard

    Maybe someday he’ll realize he doesn’t need the Bible, or religion, to be a decent human being. But he’s invested his life in it, and I imagine that’s difficult to give up.

  • Ryan Hite

    It’s not about cherry picking, it’s mainly about understanding that the bible is full of myths but they do teach us good morals for the most part if we can understand it correctly. Unfortunately, every Christian and Christian church has it all wrong…. all wrong.

    • midnight rambler

      To me as an atheist who has read a lot of the Bible, it looks to me that it’s the fundamentalists and Orthodox Jews who are understanding it correctly, and people like Wallis who have it all wrong. For the most part it teaches bad morals, and Wallis can only get around that by using the massive contradictions found in it to justify the side he prefers. Yes, that happens to be mine as well, but why pay attention to it at all as a source of morality when it contains so much that is bad?

  • rg57

    “On a side note… ”

    Has it gotten so bad now that you can’t even remark on another program without having to apologize for it?

  • Art_Vandelay

    Although I’d rather hang out with people like Wallis, this is why I begrudgingly have more respect for the fundamentalist/creationist-types. At least those people really buy the bullshit they’re selling. If you have any intellectual honesty at all…once you start rejecting the word of God, there’s no reason not to reject the whole thing.

  • Pseudonym

    The bizarre thing about the clip is that everyone except Bill Maher seemed to get what Wallis was saying. When Eliot Spitzer is the voice of reason, you know something’s wrong.

  • playonwords

    At oner point Jim Wallis points out that in seminary he and his fellow students cut all the verses about helping the poor out of the Bible and they found more than 2,000 of them …

    There are 30,000 verses in the bible …

  • Grant Gordon

    It really irks me that Maher includes polygamy in his list of ‘twisted morality’ amongst pro-slavery, homophobia and mass murder. Because clearly people loving more than one other person is in the same category as these things.

    • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

      Biblical polygamy (reflected by groups such as fundamentalist Mormons today) is not something to be admired. I’m sure he was referring to that, which has little to do with love-rather, male domination of many women.

      • Anna

        The problem isn’t polygamy itself. It’s the patriarchal attitudes that often accompany it. Regular fundamentalist Mormons (not the ones who hide away on compounds) are no more sexist than followers of any other brand of patriarchal Christianity.

        I don’t think it matters if a man has one wife or three wives if he has the attitude that he is the ruler of the family and that his wife must be a submissive follower. If a culture exists that tells men they are the ones in charge, then of course women are disempowered.

        There’d be nothing at all wrong with polygamy if it existed in an egalitarian society that allowed both men and women to have more than one spouse.

        • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Yes, that was my objection. I’m not sure that the “regular” fundamentalist Mormons don’t have the same attitudes, but no matter.

          • Anna

            Oh, they’re definitely sexist, but on the same level as other fundamentalists. All fundamentalist women have to contend with sexism. They’re not allowed to be leaders in their families or in their religions. Ultra-Orthodox Jews have to wear skirts and wigs and undergo invasive bodily rituals. Fundamentalist Catholics and Quiverfulling Protestants have to eschew birth control and have as many babies as possible. Fundamentalist Muslims have to cover their bodies with hijabs, chadors, or even burqas.

            Fundamentalist Mormon women are raised to accept polygamy as something which will allow them to reach the highest levels of the afterlife. It’s sexist in that it’s entirely one-sided. The man is allowed to have more than one wife, but the wife is not allowed to have more than one husband. I’d say this is no more or less sexist than any other fundamentalist belief. The constraint to the woman’s life is either more or less depending on one’s perspective. Personally, I’d rather share my husband than wear a burqa or endure endless pregnancies, but other women might feel differently.

            • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

              We’re on the same page about this. Voluntary polygamy with full legal rights for all the spouses is not my concern. This would include both polygyny and polyandry, of course. Matter of fact, polygamy that allowed spouses to divorce, gain alimony or the rest would be a deterrent against the unequal variety we’re discussing, I’d say.

  • Don Gwinn

    My reaction was perhaps different: When Spitzer talked about making common cause with religious people as long as they have “progressive” viewpoints, I thought: “OK . . . just don’t ever whine about the Republicans and their right-wing evangelical coalition again, because you’ve accepted the same fate. And have fun trying to get out of the same trick bag they’ve been trying to figure out how to escape for the last twenty years!”

    It’s one thing to be able to say, “We don’t agree on much, but we can collaborate on this because I think you’re right about this issue.” It’s another thing entirely to give in to the temptation to let yourself take on full partners whose nonsense beliefs you have to cater to in order to have their support.

  • Dave G.

    By the way, we need to apply the scientific method to this whole notion that people devoid of any religious belief would reach the same conclusions as those originating from religious thought, since religious belief and human civilization are equally old. We have no examples of any human civilization that existed apart from some form of religious belief. And even atheists don’t grow up in a vacuum. So somehow we need to get a group of people from birth, raise them in an environment completely devoid of any religious input, and see if they reach the same conclusions someone like MLK reached. Until then, that’s a nice, fluffy thought, but it’s completely short of anything but an unverified personal opinion – at best.

  • Anna

    It sounded like Eliot Spitzer kind-of-sort-of came out as an atheist?

  • leftist seminarian

    I was disappointed that Maher was arguing with Wallis as if there is only one way to read the Bible– with a fundamentalist, literal hermeneutic. To have approached that interview with any sensitivity to the contextualization of the Scriptures, or a historical-critical or literary-critical lens, would have showed greater depth of understanding of the Christian faith than continuing to push a question that wasn’t relevant to Wallis. In my eyes it would be the same as persisting in asking any liberal why they love giving their money away or worshiping government, when a more relevant, productive question would be to ask why they want to invest in the betterment of society as a whole or growth of the middle class. Maher clearly wanted to make an example of Wallis as the symbol of his narrow understanding of Christianity in general, rather than allowing space for a liberal Christian to offer a helpful, reconciliatory view of the church in this modern era.

  • Guest

    Jim Wallis spoke this week at the Greenbelt Festival in England. I heard him speak and was greatly blessed, seriously challenged, and positively encouraged … to follow Jesus more closely. In England we hardly ever hear of the ‘religious left’ or the ‘religious right’. These are irrelevant concepts. The only thing of importance is that we follow Jesus into a deeper understanding of God.

  • Gordon Clark

    Jim Wallis spoke this week at the Greenbelt Festival in England. I heard him speak and was greatly blessed, seriously challenged, and positively encouraged … to follow Jesus more closely. In England we hardly ever hear of the ‘religious left’ or the ‘religious right’. These are irrelevant concepts. The only thing of importance is that we follow Jesus into a deeper understanding of God.


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