I’m cringing as I write this.
That tells you a lot about me. When it comes to politics and theology, I identify as liberal. I firmly believe that Jesus wanted everyone fed, wanted universal health care, and that the Kingdom of God is about politics. It’s about structuring our personal and communal lives in a nonviolent way that ensures everyone has food to eat, debts are forgiven, and healing is freely provided for everyone.
Bill O’Reilly symbolizes almost everything that I loathe about American Christianity. His hyper-conservative politics is reinforced by his hyper-conservative theology. Many of my family members love his show, but I cringe when I hear his voice.
I know that many of my liberal friends agree with me. And, maybe like me, they are taking some pleasure in the criticism he has received during the last week. Mother Jones reported that, a la Brian Williams, Bill O’Reilly padded his resume by fabricating his war-time journalism. Mother Jones claims:
"O’Reilly has repeatedly told his audience that he was a war correspondent during the Falklands war and that he experienced combat during the 1982 conflict between the UK and Argentina … for years, O’Reilly has recounted dramatic stories … that don’t withstand scrutiny—even claiming he acted heroically in a war zone that he apparently never set foot in."
As a reporter who fashions himself as being tough, O’Reilly has defended himself in good Bill O’Reilly fashion. He calls the journalist at Mother Jones who wrote the article a “liar,” says he should be put in “the kill zone,” (ouch!) and has threatened a reporter from the New York Times covering the Mother Jones’ allegations by saying, “I am coming after you with everything I have.”
Which just reconfirms everything I loathe about Bill O’Reilly. And so I felt a certain sense of glee when I heard rumors that Fox News may have to fire him for fabricating his resume. But, as I looked for information to bolster my personal opinions against him (again, that tells you something about me!), I came across this video of O’Reilly on Jimmy Kimmel Live. I was shocked as I heard O’Reilly defend Brian Williams:
Kimmel: What’s your take on this?
O’Reilly: Well, number one, I feel that anyone who is enjoying the destruction of this man … you gotta look at yourself here. And there’s a lot of people who seem to be real happy that his career is going down the drain. That disturbs me. He made a mistake. Is it a character flaw? I don’t know. If it is, then he’s gonna lose his job … But I could see that when you come on a show like Kimmel, or any other late night show, you don’t want to be a dweeb. You want to have something interesting to say. And that’s what happens, is that a journalist will say, “Okay. I was there.” And then this story to make it more dramatic and interesting will emerge. And that’s what he did…
Kimmel: Interesting … I think that’s interesting that you have compassion for him …
O’Reilly: Look, every public person in this country is a target. And with the internet … it’s a sewer … and these people delight in seeing famous people being taken apart. And I just think it’s wrong. I mean, we’re human beings just like everybody else … I don’t like this taking and destroying people for sport business.
I could easily take a critical view of O’Reilly’s statement. I could easily say that he’s being hypocritical because he plays the same sport that takes and destroys people. I could easily say that he’s in the sewer just like those whom he criticizes.
But I’m much more interested in his statement that, “anyone who is enjoying the destruction of this man [Brian Williams] … you gotta look at yourself here.” Again, I cringe as I write this, but the same should be said about anyone enjoying the potential destruction of Bill O’Reilly. So, I’m going to follow O’Reilly’s advice (CRINGE!) and look at myself.
My identity as a “good” liberal Christian is in a very real sense formed in opposition to people like O’Reilly. In other words, my identity as a “good” person needs someone else who is a “bad” person. I enjoy seeing the destruction of someone whom I’ve labeled as “bad” because their demise confirms my sense of “goodness.”
This form of “goodness” is a trap that I regularly fall into. I enjoy seeing posts on Facebook and Twitter that mock my theological and political opponents. And that’s a huge problem, because it erodes the Christian soul. Christianity isn’t about being “good.” In fact, Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” That’s because being “good” isn’t the point of Christianity. Why? Because being “good” usually means being on the side of the crowd that accuses someone else of being evil. In this sense, liberals and conservatives are motivated by the same principle of “goodness” that unites us against each other.
The point of Christianity isn’t to be “good.” Rather, the point of Christianity is to follow Jesus in loving God and our neighbors, who include Bill O’Reilly and Brian Williams, as we love ourselves. Why? Because deep down we know that we have also lied. O’Reilly and Williams are not the only people who have padded their resumes. To paraphrase Jesus, “Those of you who haven’t padded your resume, who haven’t told a ‘little white lie’ to get ahead of someone else, you throw the first stone. And remember this, throwing the stone is itself an act that pads your resume to put yourself ahead of someone else.”
But even more important, the reconciliation of the world depends upon this divine love. As I examine myself, I realize that maybe the line dividing me from Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly isn’t as thick as I’d like it to be. Maybe I’m more like them than I’d like to admit. The great thing is that God loves us all just the same and is working in the world to reconcile us back to ourselves through nonviolent love.
Adam Ericksen blogs at the Raven Foundation, where he uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture. Follow Adam on Twitter @adamericksen .