As one of the most visible and boisterous voices on cable news as host of “The O’Reilly Factor,” Bill O’Reilly has a reputation that is defined by his personality and politics more than his faith convictions. But I’ve long known O’Reilly apart from his public persona, and I’ve known there’s more to him than meets the eye.
With the release and success of the historical page-turner “Killing Jesus” (which followed “Killing Lincoln” and “Killing Kennedy,” all co-authored with Martin Dugard), I was eager to explore the spiritual side of a Fox News star. These are the highlights of our conversation.
You grew up Catholic. How big of a role did faith play in your home?
I lived in a traditional Irish Catholic home that didn’t deviate very much from what had happened in the past 150 years. We went to church on Sunday, went out to breakfast afterward. There were rituals. My mother wanted me to be an altar boy, so I was. I can compare it to a very working-class, predictable, faith-based situation. It was just: Here are the rules. Here’s what we do. There wasn’t a lot of why in it.
Did you believe in God?
Yes, I bought into the orthodoxy. When you’re a little kid and your parents believe and then the school teaches you, it’s an inculcation. I didn’t challenge it.
And what about Jesus? Did you believe Jesus was the Son of God?
Oh, yes. Sure. Yes, back then in the late ’50s, early ’60s when I was in Catholic school, everybody believed it.
What do you believe now?
Pretty much the same. I’m much more sophisticated in my analysis of Roman Catholicism, but the theology I have no problem believing.
So what is God to you?
There’s an Intelligent Design in the universe that created the human race. And there is a free-will component to every individual — you either choose to do good or you choose to do evil. And if you sit it out, then you’re in the evil category. And then, what you choose to do in your lifetime will be rewarded or punished by the Intelligent Designer of the universe.
That’s pretty much it. My philosophy is, generally speaking, if everybody followed Jesus’s teachings, then there wouldn’t be any war, wouldn’t be any strife, wouldn’t be any abuse. Everybody would be, not perfect, but certainly in a positive realm.
And if I’m wrong, so what? I’m dead. It doesn’t matter. If it’s a positive while you’re alive to follow the Christian tenets, why would you not do so?
So you believe that Jesus was sent by God and —
I believe the whole narrative. I’m going to accept it, because there’s no reason not to.
I expected that ‘Killing Jesus’ would be a religious book. In fact, it’s more like a history book. There was no sense of proselytizing.
No, I wanted to stay away [from that]. We have “A History” on the cover. I just wanted to make the world aware that this man existed.
I saw the ‘60 Minutes’ interview where you talked about how you believe that the Holy Spirit guided you to write this book. That comment was derided, but I wanted you to talk a little bit more about what you think your earthly purpose is and how your faith informs what you do.
The problem with the secular-progressive movement is it simply cannot accept any people of faith and take them seriously. They’re so condescending and they’re so arrogant that, even though you might be a brilliant person, if you believe, you’re an idiot. So that just knocks out the whole Jesuit organization. It knocks out Thomas Aquinas, Augustine. Everybody is knocked out because they believe. That’s what the genesis of the criticism was.
When I was honest with ‘60 Minutes,’ I said, ‘Listen, I’m an ordinary guy.’ I don’t consider myself to be extraordinary. I have ideas that come to me. And as a Christian, I believe those ideas, when they’re positive, come from the person who created me. And the person who created me is God, and in Christian theology, God is made up of three elements. So of course it would be the Holy Spirit. It’s all logical.
This is what all Christians, if they understand their faith, should believe. It’s not you [who is] creating this monumental book or song or hitting 500 home runs. It’s the talent that you’ve been given and that you’re blessed with. That’s what’s doing it.
Why do you think that there is so much sneering and ridicule toward religion by people who don’t believe?
Because they don’t want to be judged. They believe that religious people are judging their behavior, and they don’t want to be judged. They want to do what they want.
Take a guy like Bill Maher. He’s probably the most visible atheist in the American media. Well, Bill Maher does not want to be told what to do. He wants to do whatever he wants. And if it’s take drugs, he wants to be able to do that. If it’s commit adultery, he wants to be able to do that. Whatever it may be, he doesn’t want anybody telling him not to. And the people that would do that would be religious people, so he strikes out against them.
Have you ever had a crisis of faith?
Not really. I’m a simple man. I keep it really simple. Look, I was blessed with a lot of things. Can I give back an hour a week? I mean, is that too much to ask? And that time is well spent for me, by the way. I’m sitting there thinking about spiritual things. You know, getting outside myself and thinking about the big picture, what I can do better, projects that I can launch that will help people. I do that in church.
And then I read the Scriptures. I read them and I think about them and then, when the priest is boring me into shreds — and these priests are ridiculous. They don’t make it relevant. I don’t even listen to them. I just do on my own little deal. But I think it’s worth an hour a week for me to get out of myself and go into the church. I like the whole ritual. I think it’s worthy. I think it’s good for me. And I’ve never in one part of my life not tried to get to church every Sunday.
You said you pray every night. What kind of prayers?
Just standard prayers. If there’s a bad thing happening, I’ll think about it and try to say, Give me a little inspiration here on how to handle this thing. I try to be humble enough to say, ‘Look, I don’t have it right now and I need some help.’ And it usually comes.
You dedicated your book to those who love their neighbors as themselves. I thought a lot of the O’Reilly haters would be surprised to see that dedication.
They’ll never read it, though. The O’Reilly haters are pretty much the people that have no idea what I do. And I like that — I mean, I don’t have any problem with people disliking me, and I’ll tell you why. I’m not comparing myself, but who was the most hated person in Judea 2,000 years ago?
Many, many loved him, but just as many despised him. They’re always going to do that. If you speak your mind, you’re going to have some who like you and some who hate you.
You say you’re the biggest sinner of all. What are your sins?
Everything. I’m a volatile guy. I’m not a holy-roller. I’m not a malicious guy, but I’m like everybody else. I’m fallible. I’m not going to tell you, Sally Quinn, what my sins are. But I’m certainly fallible and I don’t put myself up as any paragon of virtue.
When you’re going after somebody as a warrior, do you sometimes pull back and think, maybe I’m being too tough on this person?
That’s a good question. My staff is under strict orders: we don’t go [after someone] unless we’re 100 percent sure. So I don’t have anything on my conscience in that realm. In 18 years, I haven’t had to retract or apologize to anybody other than one time we took something off a Web site that was incomplete.
If there were no God, there would be some people who couldn’t do anything, but every human being, even people who are damaged, even people who have birth defects, Down syndrome, whatever it may be, everybody has a talent. Everybody.
When you’re interviewing somebody like President Obama, and you’re asking tough questions, do you see them as an adversary?
Depends what the interview is. With the Obama situation, I respect the president, but my job is to get as much information out of him as I can. With everybody else, and I mean everybody — I mean, I couldn’t do it with the pope, but besides the pope and President Obama — there’s nobody on Earth where I would say [to myself], ‘Well, you can’t be assertive, you can’t be rude.’ Those are the two people I can’t be rude to because of the office.
You come in and you start to lie or dance, I’m going to come after you. But with the president it’s different, because you have to respect the office. And I do. I respect him. But I’m not going to let him control the interview. That’s not happening.
Whom do you admire?
I admire people who are making $40,000 a year and living an honest life. Life is hard. I don’t like phonies. I don’t like liars. I don’t like narcissists. I like the regular folks.
How would you like to be remembered?
I don’t want to be remembered. Once I’m gone, I’m gone. I don’t care.
Are you afraid of dying?
No, not at all. My time is up, I’m going.
Do you think that you’ll ever stop?
Yes, I do. I’m tired now, so I’ve got to cut it back soon. I just don’t know when that will be.
Sally Quinn is the founding editor of OnFaith. This article is excerpted from one that appeared originally at OnFaith.