Every so often I listen to Bill O’Reilly’s radio show, and while I often agree with him, we consistenly part company when he discusses morality. His ideas about morality are as self-contradictory and ineffectual as can be. He may come down on the right side of the issue here and there, but the way he gets there is an absolute mess. A couple of discussions he had with callers this week were good examples of this; I thought I’d highlight them by conducting an imaginary interview with O’Reilly. I’ll have to do these more often — they’re challenging and fun to create!
The MonT-SteR: Howdy friends! This is MonT-SteR Talk, where I — Your One and Only Favorite MonT-SteR™ — have the amazing opportunity to interview the glitterati and cognoscenti of our times. We’ve got a great show for you today. Up first: he’s the firebrand of Fox News and host of the fabled No Spin Zone, Bill O’Reilly. Mr. O’Reilly, thanks for agreeing to appear on MonT-SteR Talk today. I’m delighted to have you on the program.
Bill O’Reilly: Thanks. Glad to be here lookin’ out for the folks, as always.
TM: Mr. O’Reilly, I know you are on the receiving end of a lot of bashing and vitriol, and it doesn’t come from just one side of the political spectrum.
BOR: That’s right, it doesn’t. Too many of the folks out there are driven by ideology, both on the right and the left. They’re the ones who can’t stand the No Spin Zone. We cut through the spin and the propaganda to get to the truth of the matter, and we do that without partiality.
TM: Well, let me come to the point. There’s a specific reason why I asked you to come on MonT-SteR Talk. Whenever you discuss morality from a faith-based perspective, I find that I am in profound disagreement with you.
TM: Let me give you an example. A couple days ago on your program, you were dealing with the issue of state sanction of gay marriage. A gentleman called your radio program and commented that sodomy was a crime because the Founding Fathers and their generation — who, according to the caller, founded this country based upon the Bible — knew that same sex attraction was proscribed in the Scriptures.
BOR: Yes, I remember that call.
TM: Okay, and here (as I understood it) was your response. You disputed the notion that the Founding Fathers used the Bible as the basis for the country’s founding documents, and said that they were guided instead by a more generic Judeo-Christian ethos. Am I okay so far?
BOR: Keep going.
TM: You then went on to say in essence that using Scripture as the basis for arguing and deciding the issues of our time — like gay marriage — can’t be done. You said that one must make a “secular” appeal within the public arena of ideas.
BOR: Right. We’re not a monolithic culture. You can’t go out there and expect to make and enforce laws based on the Bible.
TM: And yesterday, you went so far as to say that people who quote the Scriptures (I think you specifically mentioned Leviticus and the Old Testament) and expect or desire them to the basis of law in our country are “nutty.” Is that accurate?
BOR: It is accurate, and I stand by it.
TM: Well, it’s at that point that your ideas about morality become completely incoherent.
BOR: How so?
TM: You consistently appeal to a Judeo-Christian ethos that animated the thinking of the Founding Fathers as they framed our democratic republic. And you rely on the existence of this Judeo-Christian ethos to rebuke what you call the “secular progressives” who are attempting to steer the social fabric of our country away from that paradigm. Now, my question to you, sir, is this: Where does that Judeo-Christian ethic come from, if not from the Jewish and Christian Scriptures contained in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible?
BOR: You miss my point. The Founding Fathers didn’t take law straight from the Bible in chapter and verse fashion. Last time I checked, we don’t have a theocracy in this country.
TM: Do you admit that the Judeo-Christian ethos you refer to is derived from the Bible?
TM: Then I fail to see how you can reasonably maintain that codifying (or wanting to codify) the moral ideas and principles advanced by the Bible in either our founding documents or modern law is “nutty.”
BOR: Look — you’re not going to win any arguments about which social direction our country should go today by quoting Scripture. It doesn’t work like that. Too many people don’t even accept the Bible as binding in any way. They don’t believe it. You’re not going to convince them by saying, “Hey, you can’t do this because Leviticus says not to.”
TM: Then how does one frame a moral argument at all?
BOR: You have to do it in a secular manner.
TM: You’re contradicting yourself, then.
BOR: No, I’m not.
TM: You are. What point is there in appealing to Judeo-Christian ideals as you do if you can’t even argue by them?
BOR: Arguing by Judeo-Christian ideals is different than arguing from the Bible.
TM: But you just admitted that a Judeo-Christian ethos is derived from the Bible.
BOR: Look. I don’t want to sit here and go back and forth. It’s pointless. Tell me your bottom line, I’ll respond to it, and let’s move on.
TM: My bottom line is this: trying to argue morality by secular means simply cedes the high ground to the secular progressives. You’re coming at the whole question of morality on their terms. Why should we do that? Take the issue of gay marriage, for example. How are you going to argue against that on secular grounds? To say that the family unit is traditionally composed a certain way is only to invite the question: What’s to stop us from changing the definition of the family unit? You don’t have an argument to stand on until you bring in the notion of a Creator who has a telos — a purpose and design of His own — for human sexuality or the human family. Now, our founding documents recognize the existence of this Creator, and they depend on the notion that His decree supersedes that of nations or their leaders. If He bestows liberty, as the Declaration of Independence states, then no people or government can licitly claim the right or ability to take that away. In a word, it’s immoral because it is proscribed not by men, but by God.
I think this shows that a Judeo-Christian ethos presupposes that moral good is theonomous. It follows logically that it is also theonomously revealed in the Scriptures the Judeo-Christian ethos depends on. When you throw out arguing morals along those lines, you really are cutting off your nose to spite your own face.
BOR: Well, we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on that.
TM: Okay. Unfortunately, we’re out of time. Thanks for being on the program, Mr. O’Reilly.
BOR: Thank you.