Devout Christian and controversial conservative gadfly Bill O’Reilly is never at a loss of words and his recent defense of his book Killing Jesus has given him opportunity to wax eloquent – perhaps his favorite pastime. However, has he been treated fairly?
He’s been mocked on late-night TV. He’s been nitpicked by theologians. He even found himself on the defensive in what should have been an ultra-friendly venue, the Food Network, not exactly the home of sensationalistic journalism.
There wasn’t such a brouhaha when he wrote the bestselling Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln. But now, he tackles the topic of faith and finds himself in the media’s crosshairs. Ridicule by such pundits as John Stewart and Stephen Colbert can be withering – even for somebody who basks in the media’s glare.
Of course, the book isn’t perfect. He opens with an odd assertion that Jesus was on Earth 36 years. Hmmmmm. The Bible and most traditions have Him beginning His ministry at age 30 and being crucified three years later at age 33 – then after His resurrection appeared for 40 before His ascension into heaven. O’Reilly never explains the 36-year assertion. At least a footnote would have been nice.
Then there’s the typical O’Reilly bluster – yes, he actually told the press that the book was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Yikes. Naturally, that provoked snickers. Most Christians take very seriously their conviction that the Holy Bible is Holy Spirit-inspired. Southern Baptists use the term “God-breathed.” Was O’Reilly claiming his bestseller should be inserted into the Scriptures, perhaps between The Book of Acts and Paul’s Epistle to the Romans?
O’Reilly on Ray’s Food Network show
“While speaking in a recent interview with celebrity chef Rachael Ray, Fox television host Bill O’Reilly defended previous comments he made when he said the Holy Spirit guided him,” writes Katherine Weber at the Christian Post.
O’Reilly, who hosts Fox’s top-rated “The O’Reilly Factor,” told Ray on her daytime Food Network talk show that his claims regarding the Holy Spirit’s inspiration “were in-line with his Christian faith, and atheists had misinterpreted his comments,” writes Weber.
“Catholics and Christians believe there’s an interactive God,” O’Reilly told Ray, adding that God “pays attention to all of us, and that’s where the inspiration you get comes from.”
He made the divine inspiration claim on the CBS News program “60 Minutes.”
O’Reilly told “60 Minutes” reporter Norah O’Donnell that specifically, that the Holy Spirit in the middle of the night inspired him with the name of the book. “All of the ideas come to me in the middle of the night, and one night, I just woke up and it went, ‘Killing Jesus,’” O’Reilly said. “And I believe – because I’m a Catholic – that comes from the Holy Spirit. My inspiration comes from that. And so I wrote Killing Jesus because I think I was directed to write that.”
O’Reilly on 60 Minutes
When O’Donnell asked O’Reilly if he considers himself chosen by God, O’Reilly answered: “I’m just one of many who have been given gifts. i can write. I can bloviate on TV. So I’m trying to use the gifts in a positive way. And I believe that’s all directed and that’s why I’m here on the planet.”
Atheist critics jumped on the claim, scoffing predictably – a rather ironic position by people who will admit freely they have no experience in hearing from God.
Howard Gensler, a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, quipped that if “the Almighty had come to O’Reilly in a dream, telling him to write the book Killing Jesus, God might have come up with a more original title.” After all, it is the third of a series of books with very similar names.
“Stephen Colbert’s takedown of Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus is one of the most scathing and hilarious criticisms of the book yet,” writes media critic Teri Schwartz.
On “The Colbert Report,” the comedian host pretended to defend O’Reilly, calling him his mentor. “As a Catholic, Bill believes in the Trinity,” Colbert joked, treading awfully close to blasphemy. “In this case, the father, the son and the holy ghostwriter.”
Comedian Stephen Colbert
“Bill knows he is simply God’s humble servant,” Colbert told his audience, showing a media clip where O’Reilly said he is simply one of many who have been blessed by God. Colbert went on to joke that the Almighty actually came to him first with the idea for Killing Jesus, but that Colbert declined. He then told his audience that he actually was the one who whispered the idea into O’Reilly’s ear at night.
What about O’Reilly’s claim on “60 Minutes” of extraordinary insights, particularly a claim that Jesus would have been unable to speak while on the cross – which contradicts the biblical account? Colbert noted: “This is O’Reilly claiming that his book about God is more factually accurate than God’s book about God.”
“The Holy Spirit may have inspired Killing Jesus,” quipped theologian Candida Moss, in a special column on CNN’s website, “but he didn’t fact-check it.”
It’s “the best-selling book in the world right now. But it’s far from flawless,” writes Moss, a professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame. She is no stranger to controversy as the author of The Myth of Persecution, claiming Christians haven’t been mistreated all that badly over the years. Apparently she isn’t alarmed by the idea of being fed to lions in the Coliseum, gunned down by militant Islamists in Sudan or Nigeria, or being targeted by police in Pakistan, China or Iran.
Among her odd complaints with Killing Jesus is her assertion that Roman historians didn’t always get the facts right and O’Reilly shouldn’t have relied on them so heaveily. Well, they were on the scene. Now, 2,000 years later, it’s a little gutsy to believe we have a better perspective – unless we want to assert that O’Reilly was, indeed, divinely inspired and didn’t need to cite any sources.
Going down a list, she claims that contrary to O’Reilly’s book, the Apostle Paul was not a Christian. That’s an interesting claim, considering that Paul wrote most of the New Testament and is credited with spreading the faith as the first missionary – establishing churches throughout the known world of his day, then dying a martyr.
Bill O’Reilly and his new book
She is offended by O’Reilly’s statement that Paul was “a former Pharisee who became a convert to Christianity.” No, claims Moss. “Paul was not a Christian; he was a Jew who moved from one branch of Judaism to another. He never uses the word Christian. It seems that the early members of the Jesus movement referred to themselves as followers of ‘the Way.’” That would seem to be splitting hairs. Perhaps she would like to debate how many angels can dance on the tip of a needle.
Of course, O’Reilly knows controversy sells books and has fanned the flames – claiming that the media is targeting him because of his faith.
But even though he protesteth too much, one wonders. Why didn’t he come under such criticism when his topics were merely conservative politics and dead presidents?