What’s wrong with this picture: a stupid atheist comic makes me grumpy

Right. Until the New Atheists stop lumping us all with the crazies, and failing to apply any sort of interpretive nous to the Bible, I’m going to dismiss everything they say as ridiculous. Seriously. Their cause is so incredibly weakened by their bizarro fundamentalist hermeneutic when it comes to the Bible that I don’t know how anybody finds anything they say about Christianity convincing.

So the Friendly Atheist posted this comic today:


From: Atheist Cartoons

And said “I’d love to hear the Christian response to this”…

Well, here is a Christian response to this.

That cartoon is stupid. Have you ever wondered why the billions of people calling themselves Christians who have lived on this planet have not run around stoning people – and only a very small minority who everybody thinks is crazy (both within the Christian camp and outside it) are pushing for that sort of behaviour? No? Well it’s because those people are crazy. You have your crazy atheists, we have our crazy Christians. You guys implement genocidal political regimes, ours run around picketing with “God hates …” signs.1

You can push your case that these loonies are “embracing Biblical ethics” all you like. But most Christians have figured out that that’s not the case simply by reading the New Testament. And reading the Old Testament too. The overwhelming narrative thrust of the Old Testament, and its own summary of the law, has nothing to do with stoning disobedient children, or homosexuals, and everything to do with God making promises, and fulfilling them, which includes calling a chosen people out from the immoral nations and seeking to establish clear markers around those people (where the purity laws fit).

The rest of this post can be found in the comments at the Friendly Atheist too…
If the so called “new atheists,” and some fundamentalists, could just get a grasp of two things, the world would be a nicer place.

a) Christianity is about Jesus Christ. That’s why the “Christ” bit is in “Christian”…
b) The Old Testament national purity laws are not binding on Christians, and they had a particular function in forging Jewish national identity as “set apart.” If you wanted to be a homosexual in the Ancient Near East, and you were born Jewish, you could always jump on donkey and head to the neighbouring nations where it was OK. Jewish identity was both ethnic and religious.

Choosing what commands to follow and what to ignore is not arbitrary, the New Testament is pretty clear about the role of the Old. So the Jesus bit, which is by definition, the Christian bit, makes the New Testament pretty relevant in interpretation of the Old.

This atheist notion that Christians are being inconsistent if they fail to stone their disobedient children is a theological fallacy dreamed up by some disillusioned teenagers in their bedrooms who watch some crazy people who happen to be Christians. Why do you persist in taking the crazy person’s word for what Christianity is? It makes your arguments much easier to dismiss.

There’s a bit of a fallacy in the initial statement in the post too – humanist values are not a rejection of Biblical ethics, but an adoption of Biblical ethics. The whole “love your neighbour as yourself” and, it is in the Bible, despite being in other sources as well. Just to pre-empt that little objection…) thing being the summary of the law both in the Old Testament and the New Testament… and the whole point in both cases was that if your application of the law failed to be loving you were failing at applying the law. And I know you’re going to say “it’s not loving to stop people loving each other if they’re gay” and I’ll say “it’s not loving to let people disobey God and end up in hell”, I don’t make the rules.

Perhaps the answer to the question posed by the comic can be found in the Bible, in James 1:27:

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. “

Tell me how that’s not humanistic?

1Nerds, fags, atheists, take your pick – but when you can refute that sort of action with the most famous Bible verse of all time it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or clinical psychologist, to figure out that these guys have wandered off the reservation.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

18 thoughts on “What’s wrong with this picture: a stupid atheist comic makes me grumpy”

  1. Unfortunately, it’s not just atheists that do this kind of simplistic reading. When I was in seminary, my more liberal fellows went out of their way to claim I was inconsistent for stating that Jesus was the only way to salvation (a New Testament univocal statement) and not claiming that eating shellfish was an abomination (an Old Testament statement expressly exempted from Christian living in the New Testament).

  2. Hi, I am from Melbourne.

    Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that some Christians (quite a lot in fact) claim that the entire Bible is the infallible word and that all of it is binding on all human beings.

    The unanswerable dilemma of course either ALL of it is binding or none of it is – the entire house of cards thus falls flat (which it does)

    Some righteous very zealous true believers even claim, via books such as Total Truth and Above All Earthly Powers that, they alone are qualified to govern humankind (and that everyone else is full of relativistic errors – this includes Christians of a more liberal persuasion)

    But then again what did Saint Jesus of Galilee really teach and demonstrate while he was alive?

    Did he even have anything to do with the creation of the very worldly power and control seeking religion ABOUT him?

    After all he was a Spiritual Teacher/Master who appeared and taught entirely within the Jewish tradition of his time and place. His direct disciples were also Jews.

    He and they would not have considered themselves to be (or called themselves) Christians- the word most probably did not even exist.

    He certainly had nothing, and could have had, anything to do with the creation of the entire death-and-“resurrection” doctrine which became the central core of Christian-ism.

    This reference provides a unique Spiritual Understanding of the Secrets of the Kingdom of God as taught by Saint Jesus.

    http://www.beezone.com/up/secretsofkingdomofgod.html

    Also the Christian Idol

    http://www.dabase.org/proofch6.htm#idol

    1. Hi John,

      Sorry, your comment ended up in spam.

      “Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that some Christians (quite a lot in fact) claim that the entire Bible is the infallible word and that all of it is binding on all human beings.

      The unanswerable dilemma of course either ALL of it is binding or none of it is — the entire house of cards thus falls flat (which it does)”

      Well, that’s an interesting set of assumptions you bring to the table. Your first statement is a bit of a fallacy – the Bible doesn’t claim to be binding on all humans. It claims to be binding on the people of God, those who he calls to be “children of God” – namely, Christians, and before that, Jews. You get into real trouble if you try to suggest that people who aren’t Christians live like they’re Christians because Christians need the Holy Spirit to live like Christians (so the Bible says) and even then, they still don’t always live like Christians. So while some people do claim that the Bible is binding for all people, that’s not a claim the Bible makes of itself. So the second premise doesn’t naturally lead from the first premise. The second premise is based on a particular approach to believing the first. So your “unanswerable dilemma” falls flat for the people who think one and two are inextricably linked (a fallacy) and thus falls flat itself.

      Especially when the Bible doesn’t treat itself like that and still contains a claim of infallibility (Peter, the apostle, calls Paul’s words Scripture, Paul says all scripture is God breathed… you can build a doctrine of infallibility/inerrancy like that). Infallibility doesn’t mean each word is literally true and to be interpreted without thought – infallibility includes considerations of genre – ie some apocalyptic prophecy shares the characteristics of other apocalyptic prophecy and thus should be interpreted the way apocalyptic prophecy is read, and not taken literally.

      As you point out, some people have claimed that, but clearly most people think they’re wrong, or those people would be running the place. Relativism does lend itself to errors – but these people are centering their claims of truth on something that is incorrect (their interpretation of God – not God’s interpretation of himself).

      What did Jesus teach?

      Well, I’m happy enough to go with the recordings of his teaching, and the first hand accounts of his teaching, and those who were the witnesses to his teaching also endorsed Paul’s teaching – so I’m happy to go with that too. Which, I think, means he did have something to do with Christianity – but not with the “very worldly power and control seeking” religion that has sprung up from wrong use of Christianity. Wrong use doesn’t do away with right use. It just makes right use harder to identify. I think there has been much done in Jesus name that he will disown (and he even, according to the gospels, warned that this would happen Matthew 7:22-23, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’’

      Yes. Jesus was a Jew. Yes, his followers were Jews. But Jesus also threw open the concept of “God’s people” to the gentiles. That’s kind of the point of his Great Commission, and the whole point of the book of Acts.

      The word Christian springs up for the first time in Acts (chapter 11) as the church spreads. It was probably meant to be an insult. This happened before 51-52 A.D, because we know that is when Paul was in Corinth (because that is when Gallio was the Proconsul responsible for Corinth). So the term arrived relatively soon after Jesus died, and relatively early on in the history of the church, but it was not recorded any earlier. Though Jesus was happy for Peter to call him “the Christ”, and he was crucified for claiming to be the king of the Jews (treason in Roman law).

      When you say he had nothing to do with the death and resurrection doctrine – that’s a very interesting claim to make. He most certainly died. Historians are united on that. Which accounts for the death part, and he predicted that he, the temple (at least in his understanding of himself, according to the Gospels) would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days, and that he would be crucified and rise. Of course, these gospels were written after the fact, so you may feel like dismissing the account on that basis. But that’s bad history. We don’t have any written documents from between Jesus statement about his future, and the crucifixion, nor should we expect to. It wasn’t an altogether impressive claim being made by somebody who was particularly noteworthy at that point in history. The noteworthiness comes solely on the back of people believing that he was raised (see 1 Corinthians 15). If he wasn’t raised he was just a lunatic running around in the backwater that was first century Judea, claiming to be the fulfillment of an ancient, near irrelevant (except for the Jews, who were scattered throughout the Roman Empire) religion.

      Those links are interesting – but they say absolutely nothing about what the “Kingdom of God” meant, what weight it carried, for a first century Jewish hearer, there’s plenty of evidence for what these expectations were from the Old Testament, and interpretations of the Old Testament found at Qumran (the dead sea scrolls). The Jews were expecting the kingdom to bring about permanent political independence, and to place the Jewish nation back on the social pinnacle. They expected the Messiah to bring military and religious revolution (some were even expecting a kingly, and a priestly messiah). The writers of the New Testament (especially the unknown author of the Book of Hebrews) claim that Jesus met those expectations (of two messiahs) by combining the role in the way that an Old Testament figure, the Priest-King, Melchizedek (literally “King of Righteousness” in the Hebrew) did. He just brought in the kingdom in a different manner, with their expectations, and Old Testament prophecies – to be fulfilled in the way Christians hope for the “new creation” of heaven. A renewing of God’s good creation. Physically. With those who follow God present for eternity. Not pie in the sky, so much as future pie here on earth.

  3. I think the cartoon is stupid too, for a variety of reasons, including that it simply doesn’t make much sense. I write a column on Friendly Atheist, but I don’t always agree with some of the things stated or implied there. I was interested in your response, but then your first paragraph ended in this:

    You have your crazy atheists, we have our crazy Christians. You guys implement genocidal political regimes, ours run around picketing with “God hates …” signs.

    I am so sick and tired of this willfully ignorant canard about Pol Pot or Mao or any of the other tyrants of history who committed their atrocities because they were crazy, yes you said it right, but not because they were atheists, which you clearly imply. There is nothing in atheism, which is nothing more than the absence of belief in gods, that necessitates genocide. Fred Phelps and his ilk are definitely justifying their hate addiction with a twisted version of Christianity, but I think, probably as you do, that there is nothing in Christianity that necessitates the despicable things he does. Your guilt by association and false cause amount to a cheap shot just as bad as the cartoon you’re criticizing. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by implying that atheism has a causal link to horrendous crimes. Otherwise you’ll set yourself up for the same unfair arguments. For instance:

    Gilles de Rais, a 15th century French knight and wealthy aristocrat, kidnapped, raped and murdered as many as 800 peasant children. He was a Catholic. He was crazy. I don’t think there is anything in his religion that necessitates serial rape and murder, and I would be quick to challenge someone who tried to imply that.

    Countess Elizabeth Bathory de Ecsed, a 16th century Transylvanian aristocrat was accused of kidnapping, torturing and murdering as many as 650 girls and young women. She was a Protestant. If the accusations are true, she was crazy. I don’t think that there is anything in her religion that necessitates serial torture and murder, and I would be quick to challenge someone who tried to imply that.

    Radovan Karadzic, also known as the “Butcher of Bosnia, is accused of being responsible for the slaughter of thousands of Muslims and Croats. He’s a Serbian Orthodox Christian. He’s crazy and ruthless. I don’t think there is anything about his religion that necessitates genocide, and I would be quick to challenge someone who tried to imply that.

    John Wayne Gacy was a serial killer who murdered 33 teenage boys and young men in the Chicago area between 1972 and 1978. He was raised a Catholic. He was crazy. I don’t think there is anything in his religion that necessitates serial murder, and I would be quick to challenge anyone who tried to imply that.

    I could go on, but I think you get the point. None of these people were driven by their religion or lack thereof to kill. Your article has a good point about the New Testament putting the Old into perspective, but you blew it right at the start with that clumsy and annoyingly often repeated lie about atheism causing genocide. There’s no more connection than if the mass murderers were left-handed or right-handed. Just as it is unfair to lump all Christians with the crazies who happen to be Christian, it is also unfair to lump all atheists with the crazies who happen to be atheists.

    Please, keep your own arguments fair and you’ll have more credibility when you refute someone else’s unfair argument.

    1. Hi Richard,

      I enjoy your columns, and comments – and that line was deliberately provocative. As in, I was deliberately making a point by throwing it in there. It’s a horrible line. Atheism doesn’t cause immorality or violent genocide (it also doesn’t stop it). I know the type of response it creates amongst reasonable atheists when Christians trot it out (I’ve seen it enough times in the threads on the Friendly Atheist) – but it’s almost exactly how we feel when people cite the Westboro Baptist mob as examples of “Christian ethics.” That was kind of the point. And had anybody pulled me up for it there – I would have drawn the analogy. I like my arguments to build over a few comments.

      ” Your guilt by association and false cause amount to a cheap shot just as bad as the car toon you’re criticizing.”

      I guess satire is hard to pull off – but that was, as I’ve said, exactly my point.

      “Just as it is unfair to lump all Christians with the crazies who happen to be Christian, it is also unfair to lump all atheists with the crazies who happen to be atheists.”

      Yep. So I guess we’re agreeing that the comic was dumb, and my line was exactly the same as the comment.

  4. I think you may have missed the point of the comic.
    The point is that liberal christians will agree that (for example) religious freedom (that is, the legally protected right of all human beings in society to hold whatever religious beliefs they choose) are good and chrsitian values (after all loving your neighbour means letting him worship as he pleases).
    On the other hand, they will say that (for instance) going the ‘god hates fags’ route sucks.
    Nowhere in the bible does it literally say that god hates fags…but neither does it say that people should have religious freedom. This was practiced for political reasons by many rulers throughout history (genghis khan, the muslims, enlightenment europe, etc).
    The point is simply that if both of these are misinterpretations of the text, how or why do we call one good and the other bad?
    The final point is really that, as Richard Dawkins has said, religious people clearly don’t get their morality from their holy texts.
    Fundamentalists will never acknowledge this…but moderates should.

    1. AW,

      “religious people clearly don’t get their morality from their holy texts.”

      Well, no, and yes… I’m a religious person, and I get some morality from the holy texts, I also get some because I believe being a Christian means God works in my by the Holy Spirit (you might call it conformation bias – who knows). And I get some because all people are made in God’s image, and thus carry a certain stamp of God’s morality in their very being. That’s why I don’t buy into the “you can’t be good without God” trope – it’s just not true. Without God is not a category Christians should be talking in – everybody has God whether they know it or not (if we’re right).

  5. Richard,

    Sorry, I got a little bit confused – I thought I’d used that line over on the Friendly Atheist and not here – the point still stands though – the Westboro Baptist people are to Christianity what anybody who calls themselves atheist and does bad stuff are to atheism – just crazy people who hate others and have adopted a brand name with which to peddle their hate.

  6. the “you can’t be good with­out God” trope

    I like how Michael Nazir-Ali put it:
    “The question is not whether atheists can be moral but from where the moral codes come to which we seek to adhere. ”

    In regards to the whole causal nature of Atheism – I agree that there’s no direct causal relationship between not believing in gods / believing in no gods (depending on who you ask) and killing 60m people, and persecuting churches, however, neither is there an in-built restrain mechanism. So while we might say there is no reason in Atheism to be a murderous dictator, we might also say that there’s no reason why we shouldn’t either! And while we cannot say there’s a direct causal relationship, I think the fact that Stalin and Mao persecuted Christians is not as unrelated to their philosophical beliefs as being left-handed or having moustaches – I think that argument goes too far the other way.
    Of course, there are other ideologies that come into play, but let’s not pretend they are completely unrelated.

  7. I’ve actually not heard many apologists use the “you can’t be good without God” trope. From what I’ve heard, based on the moral argument for the existence of God (which often has as a premise that a universal objective moral standard needs a creator for that universal objective moral standard), it would be more “I don’t know what you’re talking about when you say you can be good without God”.

    In any case, it is fair to say that there is no necessary link between atheism and genocide (I believe there is no god, therefore I must kill all balding men), but similarly there is no direct link between theism and genocide (I believe there is a God, so I must kill all redheads). In both cases we’re talking about a facet of multiple belief systems, not a belief system itself. Of course, noting that simple difference would almost immediately destroy the entire cottage industry of using 9/11 as an excuse to attack all religious belief structures. After all, then they might have to admit that it’s the belief structure as a whole, not belief or non-belief in God, that leads to dangerous conclusions.

    Of course, the comic is attacking Biblical Christianity, and thus the atheistic opposite is not atheism simpliciter, but one of the myriad atheistic belief systems (marxist communism, secular humanism, randian objectivism, political secularism, monistic naturalism, materialistic determinism etc.). Some atheistic belief systems actually do, quite unapologetically, advocate genocide, as do some theistic systems.

    1. Yeah, Steve, I’d distinguish the way apologists raise morality from the way organisations like Answers in Genesis raise morality (ie, an atheist is going to shoot you with a gun because he doesn’t believe you matter to God), and the clunky way people use arguments about genocidal figures from the past who happen to be atheists.

      The answer to the question about the source of morality, for the theist, always lands on God – whether an individual believes in him, or doesn’t. But yeah, I agree with what you’ve said. It’s a helpful clarification of the issue.

  8. Nathan, Thank you for your explanation. You said that you deliberately used the line to provoke. It certainly did that, but it didn’t help you to persuade. It interfered. Satire is hard to pull off on the internet, and so I would suggest that you just leave that canard alone, along with the infuriating “no atheists in foxholes” lie. If you must refer to them, be very explicit in your purpose. These insults that you and I both suffer have long hurtful histories, and it’s important to keep that in mind when we are trying to illustrate a subtle point. It’s like trying to use a reference to African Americans and watermelons ironically, meaning no insult. Lots of luck. We all have sensitive spots, usually made so by repetition of the insult.

    My best wishes to you, and no hard feelings. Again, I think your point about the New and Old Testaments has merit.

  9. Nathan (#8):
    Thanks for an interesting response.
    I think the main problem with your assertion (we all have God; that’s why we’re good) is it ignores a specific category of people: psychopaths.
    They don’t feel emotions like shame or guilt at all – whether they’re stealing somebody’s purse or slitting somebody’s throat.
    They can go their whole lives without committing a crime, but only because they don’t feel like it or are afraid of getting caught (they’re obviously not worried about harming others).
    Oddly, they do very well in corporate environments; apparently being an amoral backstabber who is superficially friendly is helpful when scaling the corporate ladder.
    The problem is that they seem to be ungood; do you think this means they are without god?
    I look forward to your response.
    -AW
    PS: If there’s a way to reply to specific comments, can someone let me know?

    1. Sorry AW,

      You got spammed. Not sure why… but I found your comment and restored it.

      I turned off threaded comments a while ago

      Psychopaths would be the type of people described by Romans 1 as completely given over to sinful desires, they fit entirely with the concept of total depravity (part of Calvinism) – though total depravity is different from absolute depravity. I don’t think psychopaths are “absolutely” depraved, many still do “good” deeds while being as you describe them. If a psychopath, for one reason or another, helps an old lady across the street, perhaps his mother, it’s still a good deed.

      I don’t think it means they are without God. Have a read of Romans 1 (I won’t post it all hear) – but it describes God gradually giving people over to sin to the point they are unable to recognise what good and bad is, this process kicks off with people turning from God (worshipping the created rather than the creator). Pyschopaths are doubtless born, and wired, the way they are – but the Bible’s doctrine of Original sin (Romans 2) suggests we are born with sinful predispositions (or born rejecting God naturally) so it doesn’t surprise me that there are people who appear to be born in the second or third category described in Romans 1. Romans is complicated, I’m not claiming to have my head completely wrapped around it, but that’s where I’m at in my thinking currently.

  10. Great article, Nathan, and some really good discussion which spun off of it.

    @John (comment #4)
    The whole “infallibility of the whole text” thing is an interesting point. What’s perhaps most interesting about it is that when presented by an atheist in a discussion, it’s pretty universally ignored in the content of the actual point. So someone will say, for instance, “But you have to accept the whole Bible as infallible or you there’s no reason to believe any of it”, and then in the same sentence will focus on one specific passage without any context and not consider the rest of the Bible in trying to understand what that passage actually means.

    I do believe that the entire Bible is God-breathed (we can debate exactly what that means another time), but it’s all bound together for a reason: any passage must be understood in the context of the whole.

  11. Hi Nathan – the formatting seems to have gone dodgy – was only intending to to make “@John” bold, not all the following text. Please can you fix that and then delete this message?

    Thanks! :)

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