Don’t know much about theology

That is the title of my latest essay published on The Catholic Thing. Here is how it begins:

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were watching an episode of “The O’Reilly Factor” in which the host, Bill O’Reilly, was interviewing Bill Maher, a comedian and host of HBO’s “Real Time.” They were discussing religion, with the focus on Christianity. Neither one seemed to know much about the topic, though Mr. O’Reilly seemed slightly better informed. And this on the Fox News channel, which is supposed to be friendly to traditional religious faith.

Mr. Maher, if you did not know already, is particularly hostile to Christianity, saying things about Christians – their intellectual powers and the rationality of their beliefs – that would not be tolerated if it were one religious believer speaking about another. If Maher, for example, were a Fundamentalist Christian and said on national television that Islam is a false religion, he would be excoriated for being “Islamaphobic.” But because Maher maintains that all religions are false, he is hailed as an edgy freethinker and a courageous comic willing to speak truth to power. You are a bigot, apparently, if you think one religion is true and all others false. But if you think no religion true and thus all of them false, you are a paragon of cultural sophistication.

To give you an idea of Mr. Maher’s intellectual acumen, consider this comment, from his 2008 documentary, “Religulous”: “The only attitude for man to have about the big questions is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt.” Yes, arrogance is bad, to be sure. It is a character flaw that each of us should avoid. But if “arrogant certitude” about the big questions is to be shunned, and the nature of man is a big question, then is it not arrogant certitude for Mr. Maher to claim that he offers to his audience the “only attitude for man to have about the big questions?”

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  • bethanycr

    Hi Cousin,
    Loved this. What would your response have been though, to his “kill your neighbor on Sunday” comment? I know the comment was incorrect in many ways, but how do you respond to the supposedly embarrassing things in Christian beliefs?
    Love you,

  • Francis J. Beckwith


    It turns out that if you read the O’Reilly Factor transcript, the show’s staff did some research and discovered that Maher had butchered the verse so badly that it was not even remotely close to what he claimed. ( )

    Having said that, in an age in which millions watch American Idol and stare into their iPhones in narcissistic trances, I am sure that a 17th century Virginian would find those behaviors “embarrassing.”

    Today, some of the “embarrassing” Christian beliefs are those that many from our parents’ and grandparents’ generation would think as uncontroversial: sex outside of marriage is wrong, homosexual acts are immoral, Christ is the exclusive way of salvation, only men can be ordained ministers, celibate clergy are a good thing, etc. On the other hand, many practices that are widely excepted our predecessors would find embarrassing; easy access to abortion, no-fault divorce, ubiquitous pornography, etc.

    What I am suggesting is that we should begin by understanding our place in history and not be so quick to judge our predecessors, since the only reason why they can’t defend themselves is because they are dead. But we should not discriminate on that basis, for that would make it mortophobic.

  • bethanycr

    Mortophobic! Dying (See what I did there) of laughter!