You likely know actor and comedian Jay Mohr from his role as Bob Sugar in "Jerry Maguire," from his television work on "Gary Unmarried," "Saturday Night Live" and "Ghost Whisperer" -- or from his regular podcast "Mohr Stories." But did you know that the successful entertainer is also an outspoken Catholic? After learning about the conversion that Mohr made just four years ago, we decided to catch up with him to talk about his spiritual journey, and his views on heaven, hell, atheism and Jesus Christ.
Mohr, who grew up in a Presbyterian church, claims that he's always been a person of faith. As a child, he sang in the choir, played the bells and participated in church activities. However, he wasn't a fervent adherent during most of his adult life. So, four years ago, he realized that he needed structure -- something he claims Catholicism inevitably brought him.
Plus, he says he found himself tired of generically describing his faith to the people he interacted with. When people would ask if he was religious, his response was less-than-stellar.
"I got tired of telling people, 'No, but I'm a spiritual person,'" he said, going on to joke, "I'm like, 'that's what strippers say.'"
MOHR'S CONVERSION EXPERIENCE
Mohr claims that he transitioned from "spirituality" to embracing Jesus Christ after his wife's aunt (he's married to actress Nikki Cox) passed away a few years back. While he had only met these relatives a few times, his wife's uncle (the husband of the deceased) called him and asked if he was willing to be a pall-bearer -- a responsibility that Mohr called "an honor and an obligation and a delicate thing." Little did the actor know that the funeral would serve as the catalyst to getting him on a new-found Christian path.
"It was so beautiful. There was pageantry and robes and everybody knew the same prayers and there was this really incredible sense of togetherness," he said of the funeral.
Seeing all of the religious imagery and being such an integral part of the ceremony caused Mohr to have what he described as "this odd feeling." And the actor claims that he suddenly felt as though he wanted to belong somewhere and he realized that the Catholic Church was just the place.
"I was home," he said, going on to describe the feeling he experienced as "a calling."
But it wasn't only the funeral, itself, that brought the comedian into the Catholic fold. He also described telling his wife about this internal pull he was experiencing. He was so moved that he decided to go to mass at a local church and when the priest began speaking, the first thing the faith leader said was, "we are a called people." It was this "call" that Mohr says was already tugging at him and that the priest's words brought it all together for him.
Then, after he told his wife about the experience and the priest's message, he found out that she was baptized in the very church he was sitting in at that day -- a fact he hadn't known beforehand. All of these factors combined, compelled him toward the Catholic faith. In the end, he described his religious awakening as coming after this "incredible confluence of events."
Mohr is also careful to note that he didn't convert to Catholicism as a result of his wife's prodding (the two married in 2006, two years before his conversion). Cox, as mentioned, was already a believer when they wedded.
"I cannot emphasize this enough: I did not convert to Catholicism because of my wife. I was called upon," he reiterated.
MOHR'S UNCONVENTIONAL VIEWS ON HELL & THE BIBLE
While he was learning Christianity's ropes, Mohr said that Catholic leaders were patient and that they took the time to describe and assist him in understanding the parameters and core beliefs of the faith. Rather than forcing ideals upon him, the actor claims that he was given the opportunity to ask questions and to talk about the complicated elements.
"No one lied to me at any time. It wasn't: 'This is how it goes, Jonah lived in a whale. Believe in it or you're going to hell,'" Mohr said. "It was more, 'Well, let's talk about it.'"
Now, when it comes to hell, heaven's opposing locality and the devil's so-called lair, the entertainer separates from many faithful and doesn't buy into the notion that non-believers (that is, those individuals who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior) will be banished from heaven. He also calls the notion that hell is a literal lake of fire "absurd," claiming that to punish those born before Christ with hell (i.e. they didn't and couldn't yet believe, so they can't possibly be accountable) wouldn't be fair.
Additionally, Mohr separates himself from fundamentalism and doesn't take the Bible overtly literally. Throughout our discussion, he was also very open about the fact that his faith is continuously evolving and changing. He doesn't embrace every portion of the Old Testament as literal fact, but he does appreciate, it seems, the "decorum and rules" that it sets up.
"I'm not sure that God wrote 10 commandments on tablets, but I am sure that a man came and told masses [the masses], 'Hey this is what I just got,'" he said, referring to Moses in Exodus and Deuteronomy.
Through this lens, he says the Bible becomes a book that is a fascinating work to interpret rather than "to obey." Mohr believes that theology flourishes when it is allowed to be malleable and when people remain open to go on "a continuous journey."
"I know enough to know nothing and that's what's great about the Bible as a piece of work," he said.
Some on the evangelical side of the spectrum would likely scoff at some of these ideals, as would conservative Catholics. But Mohr, who goes to a somewhat unconventional church, seems open to being refined in his faith journey. Thus, there's no telling how he will evolve on some of these more complex and controversial issues. In speaking with him, it is clear that he continues to thoughtfully consider his views on these matters of theological importance.
Obviously, he's rooted in a more theologically liberal footing. His current church, he says, has an "all are welcome" policy, which means that anyone and everyone is allowed through the house of worship's front doors (it even has a gay and lesbian-friendly mass).
Previously, the actor described, in longer form, the process through which he became a Catholic. Listen to a recent episode of his podcast, below (faith conversation starts around 31:50 -- caution: language):
MOHR'S VIEWS ON JESUS CHRIST
When I asked Mohr if Jesus is God's son, he paused briefly.
"I think we're all God's sons, because in John 3:16, he says 'you're the son of God,' but earlier in John he says 'you're the son of man,'" he claimed.
Certainly, many in Christian circles would embrace the notion that we are all, indeed, God's sons, however this response didn't dig deeply into the character of Jesus. That being said, Mohr did highlight the importance of people believing in a loving God.
"If we all, as a mass, believed in God and one another we would truly evolve into something much more peaceful...and beautiful," he continued.
As for Christ, he said that his teachings provide the basis through which he, his wife and his family members wish to live and that his children, too, will be raised with these Biblical ideals. Also, at the center of his faith is the notion that the Golden Rule is what he wishes to live by.
When pushed a bit further and asked if Christ is "the way" to God, Mohr said, "I think Jesus is the way for me...I don't think anybody's going to hell because they don't believe in Jesus Christ as God's son. God is too loving to allow people to go to hell for choosing to believe in something else." This, of course, would be a sticking point for many believers, but Mohr maintains that the belief that one must accept Christ to reach heaven is "too exclusionary."
THE ACTOR'S "CONFUSION" ABOUT ATHEIST ACTIVISM
While there are many areas of disagreement between Mohr and more conservative Christians, there's surely one issue they can agree upon: Atheism. During our discussion, the actor said that his conversion story dumbfounds many non-believers, because they can't comprehend how an adult who wasn't indoctrinated ended up accepting Christian doctrines.
He also played off of the atheist argument that believers are child-like in their acceptance of God, giving his own assessment of people who choose not to believe that an Almighty exists.
"To not believe in a supreme being or beings...to me is more child-like," he said, going on to re-word his statement in a more hard-hitting form: "To not believe that there's something larger than you, to me, is the most child-like belief..."
Mohr also said that he's confused by the aggression that atheists sometimes showcase. They are, in his view, unbending and he takes particular issue with their characterization that those who believe in a higher power are foolish.
"[But] I'm more confused by the certainty of their stance," he proclaimed.
His issues with non-belief also extended into confusion, particularly when it comes to Penn Jillette (read our profile on Penn here) and Bill Mahr and the way in which these atheist comedians and entertainers market their non-belief.
"I would love to sit with Bill Maher. I would love to sit with Penn," he said. "The unwillingness to even entertain the idea that anything else could be possible belies their intelligence and we're talking about two of the more intelligent men alive."
As a fixture in Hollywood, Mohr admits that most of Tinseltown is more liberal and not as Christian as other areas of the country. But he also maintains that belief in Christ is growing and that many people, though the public doesn't know it, are adherents. As for Mohr, he's continuing on his journey and he's encouraging others to keep seeking the faith as well.
Belief in God and his conversion to Catholicism, he says, have changed him profoundly.
"I feel a part of something much larger than me. I feel smaller than I've ever felt before and my heart feels larger than it's ever felt before," he said. "And I still have the ability to make my heart get even larger."
For more on Mohr and to listen to his podcast, click here.