Bill Moyers Interviews Thomas Cahill 

The impact of Pope Francis on the whole church – and American politics.

Bill Moyers & Company has posted a video of Moyers interviewing best selling author and At the Threshold contributor Thomas Cahill. This video is worth the fifteen minutes.

Why did conservative cardinals elect this man?

What is the bottom line for Christianity; what is “absolute” for the faithful?

What will this Pope be able to do about Women’s ordination, about all of the church’s obsessively fixated issues regarding sex and procreation?

What is driving people like Rush Limbaugh and editorial staffs like that of the Wall Street Journal up the wall?

Do any issues of partisanship and sectarian differences – doctrinal, liturgical, whatever – matter within Christianity any more?

What does Cahill mean when he says that he is “equally at home,” “equally impatient,” and “equally ill-at-ease” in each and every church?

You can also watch the interview and read its transcript on the Moyers & Company website.

Read Thomas Cahill’s articles for At the Threshold here.


A friend of mine said recently that Christianity is incredible. He didn’t mean incredibly wonderful; he meant not believable. I had just said that, once American voters knew something of Mormonism, Mitt Romney would find his election chances dimming, since what voter with two feet on the ground could possibly believe in mysterious golden tablets buried in upstate New York, giving (in “reformed Egyptian,” a language unknown to anyone but the engineers of this hoax) a fanciful history of the Americas, featuring native Americans as the Lost Tribes of Israel? The Book of Mormon, supposedly a translation of these disappeared tablets, reads as a lame parody of King James English.

Despite our laudable American tolerance for religious difference (a tolerance born at last out of our long Western history of bloody religious intolerance), there is a large difference between allowing people to believe whatever they wish and failing to note that some beliefs stem from ignorance, madness, or credulous need — and that people who profess such beliefs should not be trusted to steer our ship of state.

My friend, however, a smart, secular man with a considerable scientific background, dismissed orthodox Christian belief as cavalierly as I had dismissed Mormonism. I didn’t ask him for particulars, but we can all imagine what these would be, starting with the Resurrection of Jesus.


By Thomas Cahill for CNN

Thomas Cahill

Thomas Cahill

Editor’s note: Thomas Cahill is the author of the Hinges of History series, which begins with “How the Irish Saved Civilization.” Volume VI in the series, “Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World,” will be published at the end of October. He has also written “A Saint on Death Row” about his friend Dominique Green, who was executed by the state of Texas.

Killing people by lethal injection will soon be as distant a memory as burning heretics at the stake and stoning adulterers — at least throughout the civilized world. No country that employs the death penalty can be admitted to the European Union, and the practice dwindles daily. Read the full article at

Dear friends, 
The world waited anxiously, like the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, as the curtain on the balcony ruffled and Cardinal Tauran walked out to pronounce, “Habemus Papam” — “We have a pope.” U.S. news correspondents, clearly outsiders at the scene, struggled to hear the name of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Through Italian colleagues they learned that the new pope had chosen the name Francis, connecting himself to the medieval saint whose life of self-sacrifice and care of the poor inspired reform in the church. Hope arose in the hearts of those who recognize that the days of a triumphalist church are over, and there is hope for leadership that is open to the needs and opportunities of this day, not yesteryear. If only he can walk in the footsteps of St. Francis to lead the Church of Rome! 

As the new pope asked for prayer, a few facts about him had already begun to emerge: Pope Francis is a Jesuit. He was a runner-up in the 2005 conclave. He has lived his entire life in Argentina. Even as a cardinal, he preferred to ride the bus, cooks his own food, and live simply — as “a regular guy.” The man’s legacy demonstrates genuine humility in his personal daily life and in his affections, an unassuming nature, a friend of drug-addicts and an advocate of the poor.

Then, notice must be taken of the criticism leveled at him for certain political involvements and the appearance to some that he was not sufficiently active as an advocate for justice, especially for “the disappeared” during the “Dirty War.” And it must be acknowledged, that while his personal piety and his concern for the poor would suggest a new emphasis on social justice, the choice of Bergoglio as pope was in many ways a very conventional one, especially for protection of conservative doctrinal positions of controversy today — like contraception, abortion, the ordination of women, and LGBT realities — that seem to trump social and economic concerns. As the world gets to know the man who will serve as the uppermost religious authority to more than a billion Catholics, spiritual leaders and laypeople around the world are already adjusting their hopes, prayers, and expectations for the papacy. 
Thomas Cahill has established himself as a lay theologian and one of our most perceptive observers of historical patterns. We are pleased that he is an advisor and a frequent contributor to At the Threshold. A few short days ago, while the election was pending, The Wall Street Journal asked him to give them a short piece on the sort of man the new pope should be. He reports, “…Once they saw what I had written, they refused to print it. Though they gave no reason, I’m sure my piece offended their vulture capitalism. Whether the new pope will fulfill my requirements for him, only time will tell.”   

We are pleased to offer you his thoughts.

The Next Pope

By Thomas Cahill, author of the Hinges of History, including How the Irish Saved Civilization (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday), and Pope John XXIII (Penguin)

Thomas Cahill

Thomas Cahill

The next pope should be a Christian, that is, a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. Most popes have not been that, especially over the past millennium and more. Indeed, the idea of a Christian pope takes us so far from the historical norm that we must completely replace the images in our head with startling new pictures.

A real Christian would not wear special clothes nor would he live in a palace. Jesus had neither bank account nor art collection. He didn’t even have a home to call his own, for as he said to one inquiring contemporary, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). “The Son of Man” was Jesus’s usual description of himself. It was not intended as an exalted description nor even as a special designation. A better translation might be “Humanity’s Child,” in other words, a plain human being. The new pope would live among the poor, as Jesus did, perhaps even be homeless on occasion.

The new pope would not enjoy being addressed by special titles, nor would he wish to be called “pope” (or “papa”). Gregory the Great, elected bishop of Rome toward the end of the sixth century, was one of the few truly great popes. He refused to be called “pope,” saying “Away with these words that increase vanity and weaken love!” A bishop, insisted Gregory, should be ever “a minister, not a master,” who tries “to subdue himself, not his brothers and sisters.” The only title Gregory would accept was “Servant of God’s Servants.” (more…)