Within seconds of Matthew McConaughey’s Best Actor acceptance speech, his shout-out to the almighty became a public referendum on America’s endless culture wars. Reuters

Unless you were lucky enough to fall asleep at a decent hour on Sunday night, you probably already know Matthew McConaughey took home the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Ron Woodroof in the early-AIDS-crisis drama “Dallas Buyers Club.” During his impassioned acceptance speech, the 44-year-old Texas native took a rare (and temporary) detour from the typical self-congratulations that permeate the film-industry kudofest and waded into more spiritual terrain:

“First off I want to thank God, because he’s the one I look up to. He’s graced my life with opportunities, which I know are not of my hand or any other human kind. He has shown me that it’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late Charlie Laughton, who said, ‘When you got God you got a friend and that friend is you.’”

It wasn’t so much McConaughey’s shout-out to the almighty that got people talking, but rather the awkward silence and sparse applause that followed, an uncomfortable void that many commentators saw as indicative of Hollywood’s discomfort with all things pious.

Fr. Jonathan Morris, director of the Catholic Channel and an analyst for Fox News, called McConaughey’s speech “courageous” in a tweet, but he said the reaction to it “spoke volumes.”

Other critics were even harsher.

As many commentators, including Gawker, pointed out, scandal-ridden Woody Allen seemed to get a more enthusiastic response when he was thanked by Best Actress winner Cate Blanchett, but in all honesty, the polarizing director's mention didn’t exactly meet with thunderous guffaws, and what applause he did receive was clearly obligatory.

Why is the mere mention of God in an Oscar acceptance speech enough to generate so much armchair commentary? Rarity, for one thing: According to Harper’s Index, only seven Academy Award winners in the past 20 years have thanked God in their acceptance speeches (compared with 30 who have thanked Harvey Weinstein). While few would argue that this doesn’t reflect a disproportionate secularism among those who work in the entertainment industry, it’s also difficult not to place some of the blame on the fitful reactions to McConaughey’s speech -- and not those coming from the audience.

Perhaps more spiritually inclined Oscar winners would feel comfortable mentioning God if they weren’t afraid that every such reference would turn into a divisive public referendum on Hollywood’s role in America’s culture wars. For argument’s sake, see Exhibit A below:

And for the other side of the reactionary coin, here’s Exhibit B:

It’s interesting to note, as noted blogger Joe My God did, that McConaughey’s speech made no mention of HIV or the AIDS crisis, but the omission didn’t seem to have much overall effect on the shout-out commentary.

Tweets about McConaughey’s speech continued to pour in throughout the day on Monday, and yet it’s hard not to see the ensuing chatter as one of those day-after dustups that few people will remember by week’s end. It’s still nice to know that, with all the opinions coming in from both sides, McConaughey’s show of appreciation didn’t go unacknowledged.

Watch Matthew McConaughey’s full acceptance speech below, courtesy of YouTube user Curry Russell.

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