How Bill O’Reilly used religion to fuel fear — and his show

It’s ironic that Bill O’Reilly — perhaps the most prominent Catholic conservative on American television — was fired the same day he met Pope Francis.

The two occupy different intellectual parts of the Catholic Church, and the television personality has made his disdain for some of the pope’s positions known.

After Francis derided then-candidate Donald Trump’s proposed border wall last year as “not Christian,” O’Reilly took to the airwaves to push back on the pope. At the time, he said, “I would suggest to Pope Francis, that millions of Americans have been harmed economically by our immigration system which desperately needs reform. I think I could persuade the pope that providing protection and enforcing settled law is certainly not un-Christian.”

It’s unlikely that O’Reilly ever got that chance to try to persuade the pope on Wednesday when he briefly shook hands with the pontiff in Rome while on vacation.

O’Reilly’s dismissal from Fox News brings an end to his 20-year helm as a de-facto champion of the Religious Right in establishment Republican politics. During his tenure, O’Reilly helped to shepherd the once-fringe right-wing movement into the heart of the GOP by marrying a religious movement with right-wing media.

Bill O’Reilly, longtime host of Fox News’s top-rated show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” will not return to the network. His departure comes after six women alleged he sexually harassed them. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

O’Reilly regularly invoked religion as a part of his show and acted as an aggressive right-wing prophet decrying the elitist secular left. Perhaps O’Reilly imagined himself as a modern-day King David, a prophet and psalmist, who with eloquence and persistence, would protect God’s people from the Goliaths of today — most notably the left.

In O’Reilly’s heyday, he was a mainstream champion of the Religious Right. His annual tirade against the “War on Christmas,” fueled fear that a much-beloved holy day would be culturally cast aside for a mere “Happy Holidays.” In 2012, he said the left was “tying the Christmas situation into secular progressive politics.” Why? Because they wanted “a new America, and traditional Christmas isn’t a part of it.”

For O’Reilly and Fox News, the most damning evidence of this supposed coordinated effort was the Obama White House’s refusal to say “Christmas” on their annual holiday cards, part of a bigger effort by O’Reilly and his allies on the Religious Right to bring the culture wars to the front and center of American politics.

O’Reilly tried to distinguish secular progressives as the far left of political…

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