TV legend Norman Lear was an effective secular activist

TV legend Norman Lear

Norman Lear wasn’t just the creator of perhaps the most beloved socially conscious shows in television history — he was also in the forefront of the fightback against the religious right.

The evangelicals realized what a formidable foe they had in Lear (who died on Tuesday at the age of 101), especially after he founded People For the American Way to take on outfits such as the Moral Majority. Jerry Falwell labeled him the “number one enemy of the American family,” a sobriquet that Lear undoubtedly accepted with glee.

Lear was clear about his motives for establishing People For the American Way.

Falwell and Pat Robertson were “abusing religion,” he stated. “I started to say, ‘This is not my America. You don’t mix politics and religion this way.” He added elsewhere that his organization “also recognized people of every other faith and people of no faith.”

His penchant for activism extended far beyond just one (very effective) group. Lear was a prominent figure in the wryly self-titled “Malibu Mafia,” a loose collection of wealthy Jewish men who generously gave to a host of progressive causes. And he himself set up the Lear Family Foundation, which financed an array of liberal groups focusing on a range of crucial issues.

It is important to note here that Lear was not Jewish in a religious sense. When once asked to clarify what he had meant by calling himself “a total Jew,” Lear replied: “Well, I had to have been talking culturally, because I’ve never been religious. But I am a total Jew. I don’t like prayer, per se. I like gratitude.”

Of course, Lear is best known — and deservedly so — for the way-ahead-of-their-time shows that he crafted, such as “All in the Family” and “Maude,” often in the face of network hostility.

ABC was “afraid of it,” Lear told “Democracy Now” host Amy Goodman about the corporate reaction to “All in the Family.” “CBS and the person that was the new leader, Bob Wood, put it on with an advisory warning people that if they watched it, they might not like it, or they’d be frightened by it.”

Thankfully, Lear didn’t let conventional wisdom dissuade him here or elsewhere. Back in the 1980s, Lear took on then-President Reagan via an open letter in Harper’s Magazine. “Without freedom from religion we would have no freedom of religion. Because the very essence of freedom is the ability to say yes or no,” he aptly stated.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is the country’s largest freethought organization, with 40,000 nonreligious members and several chapters all across the country.

If you are an FFRF member, sign into your account here and then update your email subscriptions here.

To become an FFRF member, click here. To learn more about FFRF, request information here.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend