Bill O’Reilly, Christian, on Homelessness, or Pieces of Humanity

3 07 2015

I am not a Christian. Any understanding I have of the New Testament comes second-hand, though I’ve done a decent amount of reading about it. As I understand it, Jesus had quite a lot to say about helping the poor and downtrodden and very little to say about the issues that people typically moralize and scold about these days (like homosexuality, for instance). I always think of Matthew 25:40, “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” and maybe I’m putting undue weight on it, but as I understand it that’s Jesus talking as he’s separating the “sheep” from the “goats” at the End of the World, describing his primary criteria for judgment. Seems like a big deal.

Bill O’Reilly is a Catholic. In a 2010 column, he talked about staying with the church in the aftermath of the priestly sexual abuse scandals, saying

Throughout it all, however, I stayed with the church. If you cut through all the bull, the doctrines of treating others as you want to be treated, forgiveness and redemption, and charity for all stand the test of time. Even if the atheists are right and there is no God, the philosophy of Jesus is full-force positive. Live the way he lived, and the world will be a better place.

Presumably, as a Catholic who focuses on the “full-force positive” “philosophy of Jesus” and believes that “the world will be a better place” if people “live the way [Jesus] lived,” he has spent more time with the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus than I have as a fairly secular Jew. The “pieces of humanity” part of the title of this post comes from the title of one of O’Reilly’s books, A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity, which was apparently an epithet hurled at Young Bill by one of the nuns who taught him in Catholic school. It seems safe to say that he’s spent a pretty good amount of time with the scripture.

That brings me to a question I have for many, many Christians, one I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer for – what’s the deal with your priorities?

The most recent catalyst for asking this was O’Reilly’s recent airing of a segment by Jesse Watters about homeless people in New York City’s Penn Station. The piece is uniformly snide and devoid of any kind of sympathy for people on the lowest rungs of society, struggling to survive. He talks about how it got especially bad last winter, how there were “tent cities” at the station. Last winter – the one during which New York saw its coldest January to March on record? Apparently there were more homeless people seeking shelter then. How awful. During the segment and in discussion afterward, Watters and O’Reilly only sound anything approaching sympathetic when they’re using the plight of the homeless to ding liberal New York mayor Bill de Blasio, and even then it’s not “these people need help,” but rather “he won’t let the police be tough on these people.” The police don’t make them move on, which Watters and O’Reilly lament as the absence of “quality of life policing.” It’s not about the situation of the homeless – it’s about the impact the homeless have on their quality of life. Sure, those people are hungry and clinging to any shelter and comfort they can find, but we have to look at them, and it’s awful!

Watters also calls attention to the fact that at least some of the Penn Station homeless people receive aid from the government, but mainly as a sort of “tsk tsk tsk” moment, rather than a look at how that aid may be insufficient – Look at these moochers! The whole segment is a nasty, scolding look that considers the awful conditions of “the least of these my brethren” only in terms of the inconvenience it causes the healthy, seemingly financially secure tourists and commuters who have to tolerate the presence of the homeless on their way to and from jobs and sightseeing, or as an opportunity to score political points. In doing so, they completely ignore the impact De Blasio’s policies seem to have had on homelessness. According to the Coalition for the Homeless:

Last year’s rise in homelessness was the result of New York City’s worsening housing affordability crisis; the lingering effects of Bloomberg-era elimination of housing for homeless children and families; and the failure of the State and City to act quickly enough to restore desperately-needed permanent housing resources for homeless New Yorkers.

The good news, however, is that Mayor de Blasio’s plan to address family homelessness – which aims to move more than 5,000 homeless families out of shelters and into permanent housing – will lead to reductions in child and family homelessness over the coming year. Indeed, there is early evidence that the Mayor’s plan has begun to halt increases in family homelessness for the first time in years. Since December, in fact, the number of homeless families with children actually declined by more than 300 families.

O’Reilly has spent a lot of time railing against gay marriage, which isn’t an issue Jesus ever said anything about. What’s more, he’s strongly and vocally opposed to social safety net programs like welfare and Obamacare, programs whose goals are entirely about helping those who are poor and sick (and, hopefully, keeping those who aren’t sick from becoming sick). It’s possible that he believes that these programs aren’t effective, but he hasn’t changed his stance a single iota when study after study has shown that the nightmare scenarios the right predicted for Obamacare haven’t come to pass and that the law is genuinely helping people. Just like with de Blasio and the homeless in Penn Station, he doesn’t care whether policies are helping anyone – he just cares that he is inconvenienced, or that the government is using a tiny bit of his money to try to help people.

I have to ask – how does he square that with his understanding of Jesus’s philosophy? How does that fit with his idea that living like Jesus will make the world a better place? Does he really believe that Jesus was a snide, dismissive scold when confronted with sick, hungry, impoverished people who are just trying to survive? The definitive account of his life shows otherwise. Again, I can’t claim any particularly deep study of the New Testament, but it seems pretty unambiguous that Jesus’s first criteria for who is righteous and who is not is all about how people treat the disadvantaged, and that seems impossible to square with O’Reilly and Watters’s treatment of the homeless people of Penn Station.

EDIT 7/7/2015, 11:56AM – Changed “This winter – the one during which…” to “Last winter – the one during which…” and corrected some wonky formatting.



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