If you’ve been alive in the United States at any time during the past 60 or so years, you’ve heard of Billy Graham. Unlike a lot of prominent American religious leaders like Father Charles Coughlin, Rick Warren, Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, Graham hasn’t built his career on running to the ideological and political extremes. That would, of course, get in the way of his true calling as a presidential starfucker.
In fact, he’s volunteered himself as the de facto bipartisan White House chaplain from the Truman administration to the present, rubbing shoulders with every Commander in Chief from Nixon to Clinton to Johnson to both Bushes. He practically comes with the job as an automatic friend that every President gets for free. Sort of like “Tom” on MySpace.
For the past several decades, he’s been frequently held as one of the most respected Americans. He’s walked this tight rope through the avoidance of making political or partisan statements that would detract from the bland, non-denominational Christianity he preached. Well, most of the time.
There have been times he’s dipped his toe into controversy, like his praise of North Korean dictator, Kim Il-Sung as ‘”a different kind of communist.” He also exchanged gifts with the despot’s son Kim Jong-Il, whose later atrocities cannot be limited to kidnapping a Japanese filmmaker and forcing him to make him a pro-regime Godzilla film.
Graham has also made private remarks to then-President Nixon, , where he ranted about “satanic Jews” who had a “stranglehold on the media.” Nixon concurred. He adamantly denied these statements when they came out in a memoir in 1994, but it was confirmed by audio recordings declassified and published in 2002.
Despite all of this, Graham is normally held up as a paragon of moderate Christian virtue by religious folks of all stripes and presidents of both major political parties. Unlike the polarizing figures like Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, Graham didn’t build his career on fiery culture war rhetoric. Yet, you don’t need to be a cartoon monster like Fred Phelps to be a bigot. Sometimes the worst sorts of ignorance and discrimination come in subtler and friendlier garb.
Take the example of a disgusting response that Billy Graham wrote in his advice column last year. The letter writer, a Christian, found her belief that morality is the exclusive domain of the religious shaken by the example of an atheist she describes as “[t]he kindest, most thoughtful person [she] know[s].”
How did Graham respond to the question of an atheist’s demonstrable morality and decency? He told the letter’s author that her atheist friend’s kindness is probably a fluke, “because a true atheist has no real reason to believe in right and wrong, or to behave sacrificially toward others.”
There’s nothing more terrifying to someone who sells Jesus for a living than a contented, charitable non-believer. So much of their Amway sales pitch is predicated on the idea that people cannot truly happy or moral without their religion. Therefore, any thoughtful and giving atheist must be exactly the opposite of what they appear to be, damn the evidence to the contrary! Just like a conspiracy theorist, Billy Graham believes that any pesky counter examples to his ideology are brushed aside as a sham or a cover-up.
I wish I could say that this was the only time that Billy Graham, the patron saint of non-denominational moderation, has said something so monumentally stupid about atheists, but well…you can see where I’m going with this.
A couple of years ago, when asked about the growing atheist visibility movement, he had the following to say:
Yes, atheism has been in the public eye more in recent years, largely because of a few atheists who’ve captured the public’s attention through their books. They aren’t large in number but they do tend to be aggressive in promoting their ideas
Are you kidding me? Aren’t you the Grand High Poo-bah of pushing your ideas, Mr. Graham? Aren’t you the guy who’s been putting on “evangelical crusades” for decades where you spout off about hellfire and brimstone before crowds of thousands in cities all over the world? Aren’t you the one writing books and lectures on Christianity for the purpose of bringing people to your point of view? Aren’t you the guy with a Christian movie production company and Christian children’s programming? Are you not the man who for 50 years had a national radio program and a magazine for the explicit purpose of changing minds?
I’m not going to say that attempts to change someone’s mind on a topic is inherently bad, as it’s the backbone of all debate on any topic, but for him to chastise any group for being “aggressive in promoting their ideas” is like being called “self-destructive” by Charlie Sheen.
They also appeal to people who want to be free from God or any moral restraints.
Second verse, same as the first. See, how beautiful this circular logic is? Atheists are selfish hedonists that just want to avoid any moral responsibility. And if you do find a self-sacrificing and morally sound atheist, don’t be fooled! They’re not really happy or moral.
And then this odd contradiction:
Like the philosophers of Paul’s day who were constantly looking for new ideas to debate, many people today eagerly latch onto the latest fad (see Acts 17:21). Atheism attracts their attention – at least for a while.
In reality, however, modern atheists have very little new to say. In fact, atheism has been around for thousands of years…
Which is it, Billy Graham? Are we just a fad, or have we been around, unchanged, for thousands of years? This, again, is a pot-and-kettle accusation from a man who believes his two-thousand year old book is the immutable, unchanging and perfect work of the creator of the Universe. Why has the atheist message remaining largely the same?
As long as there have been people promoting bad ideas without a foundation of evidence, there have been skeptics that just won’t buy their magic beans. If the so-called “New Atheism” of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens has changed little from the “Olde” Atheism of Robert Ingersoll, Thomas Paine or Clarence Darrow, it’s because religious believers haven’t updated their arguments for the existence of gods since the days of Blaise Pascal or Thomas Aquinas. Graham is simply slapping a new coat of paint on a very old house.
What changes, though, are the ebbs and flows of fundamentalist stupidity and violence.
In recent years, we’ve witnessed Muslim religious believers riot and commit acts of violence and murder because they were offended by a cartoon. We’ve cringed when pastors and Christian leaders have tried to prevent women from divorcing even an abusive husband. We’ve stood dumbstruck as doctors have been slain by the faithful for explicitly religious “crimes,” while his non-violent contemporaries imply the killing was justified. We’ve watched as African Christians literally went on witch hunts, condemning even small children to painful deaths. We’ve seethed as church groups tastelessly picketed the funerals of a dead soldiers. Our stomachs have turned as evangelical Ugandan lawmakers pushed for legislation that would jail or execute people for simply loving someone of the same sex. We’ve spoken out when Islamic extremists issued death threats to television writers when they offended their tender feelings. We’ve seen two monolithic religious organizations join forces to fund million-dollar campaigns to limit the rights of gay and lesbian families. We’ve watched religiously-motivated terrorist attacks murder people by the thousands.
So we started a “fad.” We thought it would be cool.
The most recent incarnation of the atheist visibility movement can largely attributed to a reaction to this combination of Islamic terrorist violence and Christian fundamentalism’s aggressive push to dominate American politics. It’s a realization that polite silence in the face of apocalyptic idiocy and sectarian bullying simply doesn’t work.
And in the face of this horror, the atheist visibility movement has not responded in kind with violence, threats or intimidation of our own. We’ve returned fire with only words, arguments and a resolve to no longer stand quiet while people like Billy Graham put words in our mouths and slander our very potential for ethical behavior.
To hear Graham say that atheists as a whole are incapable of the same moral character as religious believers is perhaps the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard a religious leader say — and this is out of a field that includes Ray Comfort.
Given Christianity’s long, shoddy record on questions of personal freedom, human rights and intellectual honesty, he should be fucking ashamed of himself for making sweeping generalized statements about the universal moral nature of any group of people.
And then he trots out this beauty:
…even the Psalmist – writing hundreds of years before Christ – referred to them: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'” (Psalm 14:1).
If Coca-Cola wrote a book, what do you think it would say about Pepsi? And why would Pepsi care if someone brought it up in an argument?
Don’t be misled by those who claim God doesn’t exist – because He does. And the ultimate reason we know it is because He came down from heaven and walked on this earth in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ was God in human flesh – and He proved it by rising from the dead. Put your faith in Him, for He alone gives us peace in the present and hope for the future.
I just love the “Nu-uh!” tone of that first sentence. His argument is a baseless assertion premised entirely on another baseless assertion. That would be like me saying that you need to worship Chuck Norris because it was written somewhere that he can punch a hole in the moon with his mind.
I wish he would please, please, please… shut his mouth about his religion’s fake monopoly on decency, peace and hope. It is a lie exposed by the example of even a single ethical, optimistic and upstanding non-Christian, and cemented by the all-too-frequent hateful and violent acts and words that find easy Scriptural support in the pages of his holy tome.
We won’t accept this sort of lie from the foam-speckled lips of zealots like Bill Donahue or Wiley Drake, so why should we tolerate it from their caffeine-free, less offensive counterparts like Graham?