Last week I was watching The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and Bill O’Reilly was on as a guest. The two talked jovially about being altar boys and Fallon said he’d even considered becoming a priest at one point. Bill O’Reilly was there shilling for his new book about Jesus, so the conversation was about both men’s respective experiences with Catholicism. Towards the end of the interview, Fallon asked O’Reilly if he considered himself a “religious” man. Bill O’Reilly shook his head and said that, although he attends church every Sunday, he doesn’t consider himself “religious”.
I was struck by his answer. I’d always thought of O’Reilly as a fairly “open” Catholic in the media. He’s “written” numerous books about Jesus and I’m pretty sure I’ve heard him discuss his Catholicism before. So why, on a popular late night show hosted by a fellow Catholic, would he shirk from the adjective “religious”?
Upon further thought, I realized that maybe I’d be guilty of the same thing. The Tonight Show, I’m assuming, is watched by a largely secular audience. Maybe he didn’t want to sound like a fanatic. I’ve definitely been in social situations where, not wanting to sound like a zealot, I’ve toned down my Catholicism to fit in or appear more mainstream. I’m convicted of this particularly because it’s Holy Week, a week we remember how rejecting Jesus in a hostile environment led to him being tortured and dying on the cross.
The thing is, there’s really no way to be just a little religious. Either you believe Jesus died for you and devote your life to Him, or you’ve rejected him. Jesus makes it very clear that there is no middle ground. Denying Jesus is so easy because, especially in this day and age, you can claim to love the tolerant, “nice” Jesus that Matt Walsh aptly writes about in his recent post:
They insist that Jesus was a nice man, and that He never would have done anything to upset people. They say that He came down from Heaven to preach tolerance and acceptance, and He wouldn’t have used words that might lead to hurt feelings. They confidently sermonize about a meek and mild Messiah who was born into this Earthly realm on a mission to spark a constructive dialogue.
Anyone who is familiar with the Gospels knows that this Jesus is a modern caricature. If you believe the Bible is the word of God, you know that distorting it gets you nowhere. Jesus was who He was, no matter what people would like to believe. In any case, I hope this Easter we can all embrace a Biblical Jesus who got angry, performed miracles, judged, and rose from the dead. He’s the reason I call myself “religious”.