Tim Challies|2:14 pm CT

A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity

large_75015You love him or you hate him. Like other polarizing figures (Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin come to mind) you’re probably not neutral about Bill O’Reilly. Judging by the amount of time his memoir has remained on the New York Times list of bestsellers (close to a year now), it seems that plenty of people must love the guy. The book’s intriguing title owes to an episode from O’Reilly’s childhood. He explains: “One day I blurted out some dumb remark, and Sister Lurana was on me like a panther. Her black habit blocked out all distractions as she leaned down, looked me in the eye, and uttered words I have never forgotten: ‘William, you are a bold, fresh piece of humanity.’” She was right, I guess, as millions have since discovered.

In this book, which is really not a traditional memoir, he attempts “to define why I believe what I believe by telling you how those convictions grew directly out of my life experience. This tactic is designed to keep you, the reader, entertained and amused, as you and I probably have much in common, at least in the upbringing department.” The purpose of the book, then, is to show the events from his childhood and early adulthood that shaped him into the man he is today. He seeks to show how his early years set the scene for what he believes today and why he acts as he does to defend what he believes.

Though O’Reilly reveals a fair bit of detail about his Roman Catholic background, he says much less about what he has come to believe an adult. Still, he does offer a useful summary. “My core belief…is that life is a constant struggle between good and evil. That each person has free will and must choose a side. Refusing to choose puts one in the evil category by default, because bad things will then go unchallenged.” This is quite an interesting way of looking at the world. He sees things in firm categories of black and white, right and wrong. It seems he has borrowed this dualistic world from his Catholic background. And yet he does not have a consistently Christian outlook, for the Christian faith does not demand that we choose a side. Rather, the Christian faith demands that we choose a Savior. Refusing to choose does not put one in the evil category but keeps one there, for we are all in that evil category by default.

Though I am grateful to see his use of the categories of good and evil, rare ones in a postmodern society, such categories will only be as useful as their definitions. Here is how O’Reilly defines evil: “if you knowingly hurt another human being without significant cause, like self-defense, you are committing an evil act. And if you do this as a matter of course, you are evil.” Evil, then, is something that happens only in reference to fellow human beings. It is not, as the Bible demands, first and foremost an offense against God, but an offense against another person. So while he does demand the use of the term, he tears it from its biblical moorings. We are left, of course, wondering how we determine what hurts another human being and what constitutes significant cause. At times both will be apparent; at others, the lines will be hazy. According to O’Reilly’s definition, and without referring to an extrinsic source of morality and authority, the individual must be the one who ultimately decides what constitutes evil behavior. Without reference to God, good and evil are not far removed from one another, for both are mere variants of normal human behavior.

These beliefs about good and evil shaped O’Reilly’s decision to create The O’Reilly Factor. He now uses the show as a means of defending good by exposing evil. I do not watch the show but I do wonder how successful he can be, trapped within the weakness of his own definitions.

Verdict: Read it if you’re a big fan of O’Reilly.

Categories: Biography

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