Last night, “Religious Left” leader Jim Wallis appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher. While the interview started out alright, I kept finding myself disappointed with Wallis’ answers — Maher kept asking him questions that any atheist interested in the Truth would ask, and Wallis kept dodging them in order to make the point that religion can be used for good (which no one is denying and is completely besides the point):
Josh Feldman at Mediaite points out one particular exchange that was really frustrating to watch:
Wallis countered that people who talk about the Bible haven’t exactly read it, though Maher protested he did. Wallis played up how he had a group of religious people rallying for immigration reform in D.C. because of their faith, but Maher interjected to say, “You’re cherry-picking the good parts.”
Maher told Wallis that it’s hard for someone to say God is “perfect” when there’s a lot of twisted morality in the Bible itself.
“It’s pro-slavery, pro-polygamy, it’s homophobic, God in the Old Testament is a psychotic mass murderer — I mean, there’s so many things in it, and I always say to my religious friends, you know, if a pool had even one turd in it, would you jump in?“
Wallis explained how he found there to be 2000 verses in the Bible talking about the poor, but two more times Maher called him out for not answering the question. At one point, he quipped to guest Eliot Spitzer, “This guy’s an even better politician than you.”
I want Wallis to be the go-to person for Christianity, and his stances on most social justice issues make him a natural ally for our side, but if this discussion is representative of how he operates, he’s ignoring the tough theological questions for the sake of political correctness.
What really rubbed me the wrong way was when Wallis said (at the 3:48 mark) “Jesus didn’t talk about homosexuality at all,” as if he’s always taken this stance against those other Christian bigots.But Wallis didn’t voice his support for same-sex marriage until just this past April.
In fact, in 2011, Wallis’ group Sojourners rejected ads from an LGBT-friendly church group for their magazine because it wanted to remain “neutral” on the issue. Because advocating for civil rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, was too controversial for them.
So it was nice to see Maher pushing back against Wallis’ cherry-picking. When it comes to current events, Christians like Wallis often have to overcome the Bible. Meanwhile, the rest of us progressives are fighting for many of the same causes by ignoring the Bible altogether. Sure, there were (and still are) great leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. who preached the Bible as they saw it, but they could just as easily have come to the same conclusions without it.
Ultimately, Maher was more interested in why anyone would take the Bible seriously and I thought he succeeded in making that point. Wallis did a poor job defending the Bible as a guidebook (usually by avoiding Maher’s questions) and his selective reading of it came through very clearly.
This is why, as much as I want to like him, I just can’t take him very seriously. He’s better than a lot of other Christian leaders, but he still has a long way to go.
He’d get there more quickly if he just admitted the Bible contains more problems than it does solutions.
On a side note, it may disturb some of you to see an all-male panel here — at least that stood out to me. I wanted to point out that Maher interviewed feminist activist Sarah Slamen for a while earlier in the program.