Billy Graham on the Rise of Atheism; He Gets It Wrong

I don’t know who writes to Billy Graham seeking advice, or why they take him seriously, or what newspapers would run his responses… but his latest column doesn’t make a strong case for reading him.

The letter writer asks why atheism appears to be on the rise and why it’s getting more attention these days.

Graham first explains that it’s really just a handful of successful authors:

They aren’t large in number, but they do tend to be aggressive in promoting their ideas.

You want to talk about aggressive?

Who’s more aggressive: Richard Dawkins, who gives lectures about science? Or Sam Harris, who started a non-profit called “The Reason Project“? Or Christopher Hitchens, who appears on television and writes magazine articles?

Or Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern, who passes a legal proclamation that says our Constitution was made only for moral and religious people, implying that atheists are not true citizens of America?

Graham later answers why the atheists are getting so much attention:

One reason, I believe, is because they know how to use the media very effectively.

Really? The highlight of the year for us has been seeing our ads on buses.

Christians get their own TV stations… as well as their own shows on regular channels on Sunday mornings and later at night the rest of the week.

Christians win the media battle hands down.

They also appeal to people who want to be free from God or any moral restraints.

Free from God? Yes, because we don’t believe in one.

Free from moral restraints? I don’t recall any of the New Atheists telling atheists to run off and fornicate with the next person they meet… or to steal their books from the bookstore. If anything, they explain how atheists can indeed be moral without a god.

Like the philosophers of Paul’s day who were constantly looking for new ideas to debate, many people today eagerly latch on to the latest fad (see Acts 17:21).

Atheism is a fad? Not even close.

Slap bracelets were a fad.

Pet rocks were a fad.

Atheism’s been around for a long time and it’ll be around for a long time. That’s not a fad; that’s a tradition.

The difference now is that we’re tired of being silent about it and we’re finally speaking up and voicing our (non-)belief. To hell with what others think.

Graham manages to get it right in one sentence, though:

In reality, however, modern atheists have very little new to say.

True. There are no new arguments against religion. The same ones still hold true as they always have. But again, in the past, you could’ve been killed for making those arguments. Not anymore. Since conservative Christians have attempted to take over politics in America and fundamentalist Muslims have killed around the world because of their beliefs, people are finally listening to what atheists have to say.

They’re tired of faith being a destructive force, and if religion isn’t going to offer something more positive and less divisive, atheists can fill that niche for more reasonable people.

Graham ends the response with some Christian platitudes, probably copied and pasted from the column he wrote the day before.

We need a syndicated atheist advice columnist. I nominate Richard Wade. Any reader who checks out his comments on this site knows what I’m talking about.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I second the nomination!

  • Jason

    I have yet to see atheists laugh at Buddhist monks, or burn a copy of the Tao Te Ching, or fiercely debate with a Jainist. It seems hilarious, in fact, that so-called atheists only seem to focus on Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. If someone is a real atheist, shouldn’t they be against every religion and belief system? I find it incredible how there are Atheist bus campaigns that say there is no God, “ex-catholic” shirts, shirts that mock Christ or Islam or whichever…but why doesn’t Christopher Hitchens write about a book about the “evils” of the Dalai Lama? Or why is there not a coffee thermos that has “ex-Jew” or an offensive potrayal of a rabbi on it? Where is a shirt mocking Sheeva or Vishnu? Why not have a highway sign that says “Thor never existed”? I see no atheists mocking pagans or earth-based religions either…where are they? Why doesn’t Richard Dawkins write a book against Zoroastrians, or how about the Bah’ai? Is there a bus campaign making fun of the aborigines of Australia and their beliefs? If not, then why not? Do atheists hold parades in Japan outside of Shinto temples? If one claims to be an actual atheist, then nothing should be held as sacred. Or is it only a select few beliefs that atheists feel it is right to mock, slander, and criticize?
    Think about it. If you are going to dedicate your time and energy to criticizing two or three western religions, why not go for them all? Or is that wrong?
    If atheism is inherently against all theistic thought and systems, why is it only a select few western religions that are focused on?

  • Justin jm

    They also appeal to people who want to be free from God or any moral restraints.

    Would one of those moral restraints be… honesty, perhaps?

    Look in the mirror, Mr. Graham, before talking about us.

  • Justin jm

    Jason, most of us only face those three religions most of the time. If people went around trying to make laws based on the Norse religion, or argued that people can’t be moral without Odin, we’d step up to the plate and debate them as well.

    Many of the arguments used against the Abrahamic religions can be used against other religions. But if you expect us to try to address the who-knows-how-many-thousands of religions that have existed throughout history, don’t hold your breath, because you’ll be out of it in the time it would take to actually undertake such an endeavor.

  • Sock

    Great post. And with a strong ending.

  • Jason

    Fair enough. I guess I just often wonder how the “evangelistic” approach of telling people there is no god is any better than the fundamentalist telling people there is. I think it would be quite interesting to see the response generated by Hitchens or Dawkins taking on eastern religion in general…incidentally, the religions I listed off aren’t exactly obscure. Of the twelve major world religions, it seems only two or three get major criticism, which I find hypocritical.
    My philosophy is live and let live. I could care less what someone believes in or doesn’t believe in.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Jason, You are a “step above” some Christians I personally know who think atheists are “Satan possessed” and destined to Hell for eternal torment. I wish these fundamentalist Christians I know had your “live and let live” philosophy.

    Atheists wouldn’t think at all about religion if there were not religious people evangelizing and demonizing atheists.

    For example, I don’t spend time thinking that a belief in the under-sea god Neptune is silly because I don’t encounter anyone evangelizing “Neptune belief” to me (Except for possibly Sponge-Bob-Square-Pants :) )

  • beckster

    Jason, christians (both strangers and relatives) are constantly informing me of how I should live my life and attempting to pass laws that interfere with my rights. The buddhists leave me alone so I will leave them alone.

  • Jen

    Ever since the Mrs Billy Graham died, I mentally decided that it means that Billy is dead. I find myself startled anytime the media mentions him talking, because isn’t he dead? Good on you, Billy Graham, for not being dead. However, that means you continue to spout nonsense about atheists. Isn’t it about time to retire and leave the reigns to your even more conservative son? I’ll feel better about making fun of Frank since he’s not so elderly, and you’ll get to take the time to research other religions, so its win-win.

    Jason- I fight the good fight against those that cause trouble. The Jews are not causing problems for me, personally. The Christians (as a political group, and as a social/cultural group) do. For me, I would find it better to fight those political Christians, be a good ambassador of atheism (watch as I live morally without your god!) and fight the woo-woo “science” bullshit that seems to take it over, rather than fight those 27 guys that think Thor hates me.

  • http://atimetorend.wordpress.com atimetorend

    Who’s more aggressive…

    …or Billy Graham himself, holding mass rallies in stadiums to convert people???

  • Quester

    If someone is a real atheist, shouldn’t they be against every religion and belief system?

    Nope. A “real atheist” should be without a belief in any god. That’s about it. Of course, if a member of a religion tries to restrict rights, increase suffering, shorten lifespans, or spread ignorance in the name of their religion, there’s few reasons an atheist should not speak up, and plenty of reasons why speaking up is a good idea.

    If it helps, Jason, the bus ads saying there’s probably no god should be read as intended to include every god, including Thor, Vishnu, and all the rest.

  • Shane

    If someone is a real atheist, shouldn’t they be against every religion and belief system?

    No. Atheists don’t believe in gods or “theism”. Theism does not equal religion, and certain not “every belief system”.

    but why doesn’t Christopher Hitchens write about a book about the “evils” of the Dalai Lama?

    You can find Hitchens’ opinion of the Dalai Lama and Buddhism fairly easily, and it’s not positive. Check Wikipedia.

    Is there a bus campaign making fun of the aborigines of Australia and their beliefs?

    Has there been a bus campaign making fun of any specific belief? It’s usually “There is no god so enjoy life” or “You can be good without god” not “LOLZ! JESUS IS A STINKY PANTS”.

    My philosophy is live and let live. I could care less what someone believes in or doesn’t believe in.

    Until someone else’s belief is that their God gives them the right to kill you and take your virgin daughter as a sex slave (Numbers 31:17-18).

    Actions derive from beliefs. If you hold certain insane beliefs, I am at least justified in criticizing you. In extreme cases, killing someone (in self defense) for holding certain, violent beliefs would be justified. I’m sorry, but beliefs do matter. A lot.

  • Sue DeNimme

    Did anyone honestly expect anything else out of Billy Graham? He’s believed and spouted this stuff for about 180 years. He’s only going to stop spouting it when he dies.

  • Cafeeine

    Jason, if you see Dawkins’ tv special, the Enemies of Reason, he addresses the several mystical ideas that many people, even some atheists believe in, such as astrology, spiritualism etc. that are often based on eastern philosophies and religious beliefs. Sam Harris, I believe uses Buddhist ideas, yet rejects the mysticism, but I don’t know if he has addressed it in writing yet.

    Furthermore, a reason you see atheists addressing the main abrahamic religions more than any else, is that those religions are currently the more aggressive proselytisers in the western world, and are actively trying to hobble our access to science to keep their interpretations of their religious texts out of scrutiny (See the creationist saga, is you are unaware of it).

    Also note that Hemant, our host here comes from a Jain family I believe. I freely confess that I was unaware of Jains before I stumbled across this blog, so I would be hard pressed to argue against them. On the other hand, I arguably have better knowledge on the history and Eastern and Greek Orthodox Christianity than most Baptist-raised atheists. Forgive me if this seems uncalled for, but you seem to be implying that as an atheist I should spend time on each and every religion, which frankly won’t happen.

    However, you may be right that there is less coverage in the arguments against other religions. Part of it may be the issue of the language barrier (The fact that atheists have connected through the web is no small factor in the newfound open voice and even strigency). However we are not a ‘movement’, we aren’t a coordinated force dedicated to eradicating religions, we are speaking our minds, from our point of view.

  • Alex

    Jason, Christopher Hitchens actually does cover many of the “eastern” religions in God Is Not Great, including specifically the absurd claims of the Dalai Lama.

  • http://avertyoureye.blogspot.com/ Teleprompter

    Jason,

    “My philosophy is live and let live. I could care less what someone believes in or doesn’t believe in.”

    And this is why atheists don’t decry Jain influence in society: it isn’t a serious problem. When a Jain legislator proclaims that atheists are un-American, when Buddhist activists proselytize in the American military, when someone receives death threats over desecrating a copy of the Tao de Ching – then protests and denouncements will ensue.

    Like you, most atheists believe in “live and let live”. The problem is that there are a sizable number of religious fundamentalists in America who believe in the exact opposite approach: interfere with everything you can in the name of your religion. That’s why it’s important for atheists and all people concerned with the separation of church and state to speak out and be open in the public eye.

    When religion does not interfere with peoples’ lives, then most of us will probably revert back to “live and let live”. Until then, it would be completely irresponsible to do anything other than to act in our full capacity to prevent the encroachment of individual liberty by religious fundamentalists in American life.

  • Insignificant Speck

    Jason For a “live and let live” dude You sure are highly motivated to get on a blog and criticize atheist’s speech and actions Methinks you have a hidden agenda What could that be I wonder?

  • SarahH

    Slap bracelets! I *so* remember slap bracelets!

    Great post, spot on.

  • Nomadz

    I don’t recall any of the New Atheists telling atheists to run off and fornicate with the next person they meet…

    They don’t. But they definitely should.

    People don’t fornicate nearly enough these days.

  • Snuggly Buffalo

    It’s usually “There is no god so enjoy life” or “You can be good without god” not “LOLZ! JESUS IS A STINKY PANTS”.

    Guys, I just had a great idea for a new bus campaign…

  • llewelly

    Graham later answers why the atheists are getting so much attention:

    One reason, I believe, is because they know how to use the media very effectively.

    I doubt Graham actually believes atheists know how to use the media effectively. More likely, Graham intends to imply atheists do not have any arguments worth listening to; that all we have to say is mere propaganda. It’s a dismissal, not an argument.

    Really? The highlight of the year for us has been seeing our ads on buses.
    Christians get their own TV stations… as well as their own shows on regular channels on Sunday mornings and later at night the rest of the week.

    You mistake power for effectiveness. Christians certainly have more power in the media – that doesn’t necessarily mean they are using it effectively. Given the notoriety they have won, it is possible that the bus ads are highly effective, though they don’t represent very much power. Similar could be said of the FFRF billboards. The books of Dawkins, Dennet, Hitchens, and Harris gathered a great deal of notoriety, and while they don’t represent much media power, they were and are very effective. (As and aside – it’s unfortunate that other equally good books by Hecht, Jacoby, Smith, Avalos, and Stenger didn’t gain comparable notoriety.)

    Christians win the media battle hands down.

    The balance of power is grossly in their favor. That’s doesn’t mean they ‘win’.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    I guess I just often wonder how the “evangelistic” approach of telling people there is no god is any better than the fundamentalist telling people there is.

    Well, I’m not sure what’s wrong with either fundamentalist Christians or atheists telling people about their beliefs. I have no problem with anyone talking about their beliefs. I have specific problems with religious fundamentalists who have nonsensical beliefs that can be factually demonstrated to be false, and yet manage to wield destructive influence over government policies in health, education, and science, or support government-sponsored discrimination. But those are specific problem with a specific group. I have no general belief that no one should talk about their beliefs, and I’m not sure why you’d think that I or other atheists would.

    Of the twelve major world religions, it seems only two or three get major criticism, which I find hypocritical.

    You seem to be using a definition of “hypocrisy” that I’m unfamiliar with. Do you spend equal time discussing all the things you think are incorrect? i.e. devote equal time to explaining why the war in Iraq was a good/bad idea, and to why the sum does not go around the Earth? As others have pointed out above, atheists in America are responding to problems from religion that they see in the actual environment around them. They’re not attempting to write general arguments for atheism that can be read equally well by anyone in any culture and place, and there’s no reason to expect them to.

  • Richard Wade

    We need a syndicated atheist advice columnist. I nominate Richard Wade.

    Due to the overwhelming popular demand, consisting of nothing more than Hemant’s nomination and Jeff’s immediate seconding,

    I ACCEPT! (cue cheering crowd and trumpet fanfare)

    The column will be tentatively called “Dear Richard: Ask an atheist’s Advice.” I’ll respond to all genuine questions from anyone, atheists or not. Since I refuse to ever make up any phony questions, (as I suspect some “agony aunts” do, including Mr. Graham) I’ll need some requests for advice for the first installment.

    Email them to: askrichard (at) ca.rr.com If you wish to remain anonymous so that even your blog username is not recognized, sign your question with a pseudonym that you will recognize like those in advice columns, such as “Frustrated Freethinker,” or ” Protestant in a Predicament” or whatever, and if I publish it here, I’ll use only that pseudonym in my response.

    It will be nice to have the readers’ comments to agree, disagree, to say “Oh that is wise advice,” or “What the hell is wrong with you Richard,” or offer other points of view. We can all practice giving and receiving good advice, and we can pool our best wisdom.

  • bernerbits

    What the hell is wrong with you, Richard?

    … Just trying to keep the discussion alive :D

  • TXatheist

    Hemant, you wanna see aggresive osctracization…seriously read the Texas platform presentation.

  • TXatheist
  • http://anti-mattr.blogspot.com/ mathyoo

    Graham also fails to point out that there are no new arguments for Christianity, or any other religion for that matter. Just the same old tired arguments created by goat herders and fishermen thousands of years ago.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    The following is a “cut and paste” from the mentioned Texas (Republican) platform presentation.

    I thought some might want to know.

    Homosexuality – We believe that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable “alternative” lifestyle in our public education and policy, nor should “family” be redefined to include homosexual “couples.” We are opposed to any granting of special legal entitlements, refuse to recognize, or grant special privileges including, but not limited to: marriage between persons of the same sex (regardless of state of origin), custody of children by homosexuals, homosexual partner insurance or retirement benefits. We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Hemant,

    You should plug Richard’s advice column in a permanent dedicated page outside the blog traffic on this site. I think it’s a great idea. Richard would then post his advice as blog entries.

    Jeff

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    Hemant,

    You should plug Richard’s advice column in a permanent dedicated page outside the blog traffic on this site. I think it’s a great idea. Richard would then post his advice as blog entries.

    Jeff

    I’ll talk to him :)

  • Jason

    Hey guys, great responses. And to the one individual who thinks I have a “hidden agenda”…well, that gave me a good laugh over my morning coffee. I like how my statements have to have a “hidden agenda”. How about just trying to have a discussion?
    All interesting points you raised. It’s sad, because I do believe that every religion has good and bad in it.
    I think the bottom line is this: fundamentalism of any kind (even atheistic fundamentalism) is dangerous, and anyone of any persuasion (except, of course, fundamentalists) knows that.
    In the States, it’s obviously far worse than up here in Canada.

  • http://skeptigator.com skeptigator

    slap bracelets are a fad???!!!

    you take it back right now or i’m never reading your blog again

  • TXatheist

    Jeff, sadly I’m not surprised.

  • Neon Genesis

    As already pointed out, Christopher Hitchens devoted an entire chapter in God Is Not Great to eastern religions and I believe he has debated with Jews on the morality of male circumcision. Dawkins himself points out in The God Delusion that the reason why he focuses more on Christianity than on other religions is because he has more familiarity with it than other religions, which I think is true for most atheists in general. Asking atheists to criticize all religions equally is about as unrealistic as asking all Democrats to criticize all other political beliefs equally. By the way, atheistic fundamentalism is an oxymoron. You can’t have such a thing as a fundamental belief in non-belief. It’s like saying people who don’t believe in the unluckiness of black cats can be fundamentalists disbelievers in black cat unluckiness.

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    Seems like Billy wasn’t getting enough media attention. Either that or he took a page from the Robertson/Roberts book of “how to inject yourself back into the public vernacular on a regular basis”

  • http://mylongapostasy.blogspot.com ATL-Apostate

    Speaking of fads, don’t forget the WWJD (what would jeebus do?) bracelets.
    ugh.

  • Cafeeine

    Jason, all that’s well and good, but by offering a platitude, you haven’t addressed the fact that you haven’t offered any evidence of atheist fundamentalism.

    Atheists are almost always sceptics, and a sceptic is the polar opposite of a fundamentalist. While people can be sceptical in general and dogmatic in particulars, you still need to show evidence before you lob these accusations. So far, all you’ve shown is that you are frustrated that atheists don’t attack other religions, but that is mainly due to the fact you haven’t looked for these criticisms.

  • ash

    Jason, I totally agree with Neon that ‘atheistic fundamentalist’ is an oxymoron. I fully accept that you get nutters who happen to be atheist, but the difference is that theistic nutters are able to justify their insanity through their religion; an act or verbalization of aggression, bigotry or plain idiocy will be justified by theist fundies by ‘the bible says…God told me…my priest thinks…’ etc. Like I said, an atheist may also be doolally, but they cannot hide it behind atheism. ‘I am racist/sexist/homophobic’ etc. cannot be explained by a lack of belief in god/s, however hard some theists may wish it.

  • ckitching

    Jason, you should read Hitchen’s book, God is not Great. He dedicates a chapter to the false belief that the eastern religions are somehow noble and immune to the corruption plaguing western ones.

    In regards to the Dalai Lama, he wrote:

    [The Dalai Lama] makes the claim not just that Tibet should be independent of Chinese hegemony—a perfectly good demand, if I may render it into everyday English—but that he himself is a hereditary king appointed by heaven itself. How convenient! Dissenting sects within his faith are persecuted; his one-man rule in an Indian enclave is absolute; he makes absurd pronouncements about sex and diet [...]

    The reason you perceive so many atheists going after Christianity in particular, and Abrahamic religions in general, is that it’s near to us, and familiar. Most of the nutty religious behaviour that is going to frustrate us will come from those groups. These other religious groups may deserve just as much criticism, but they do not have the power of majority over us, so their brand of nuttiness is less of a direct threat.

    To put this another way: Someone who proposes a law that says all school children should start their day with chanting and meditation would find that law almost immediately struck down. Someone who proposes a law that says all school children should start their day reciting “The Lord’s Prayer” and bible readings is not as easily discarded.

  • Rest

    I’ve never seen the appeal of America’s Greatest Evangelist. His sermons, and one of his books I read, made me feel like he was trying to talk to a second grader. Actually, that’s an insult to the intelligence of a second grader.

    As for slap on bracelets:

    http://img35.imageshack.us/img35/4087/slapbracelets.gif

  • Citizen Z

    I have yet to see atheists laugh at Buddhist monks, or burn a copy of the Tao Te Ching, or fiercely debate with a Jainist.

    That’s funny, because I have yet to see atheists laugh at Catholic nuns*, or burn a copy of the Bible, or fail to poke holes in any religion’s arguments for god.

    *Criticize their belief system, or even the nuns themselves, sure. But never “laugh at” them like they were in a schoolyard, as you seem to imply.

  • Just Some Guy

    Having arrived at atheism via having given other belief systems (BS) a see-looks, I’ve noted that some Xtians really have no idea about Buddhism. They seem to Xtian-ify other BS to the point where they are under the delusion that, for example, Buddha is a drop-in replacement for Jeebus.

    In my opinion, these Xtians need to pull their heads out of their Jeebus-centered mindset and stop trying to assume that every BS is a Xtianity-clone.

    To clarify: I am not a Buddhist, in much the same way that I dislike canned tuna. It just p*sses me off if someone would be so clueless as to not understand that Buddhism is not Xtianity with a fat Jeebus, or if someone tries to tell me that canned tuna is a vegetable.

  • articulett

    I want to assure Jason that I disbelieve in all immaterial consciousness equally– demons, gods, souls, Thetans, ghosts, sprites, etc. I’m against magical thinking of all kinds and I consider all religions myths and superstitions. People tend to notice when their own sacred cow is being skewered and, in the past, some religions have been shielded from such scrutiny. But this has slowed civilization, and it’s time for believers to grow up and face facts: faith is not a means of knowledge, and we atheists want the right to treat your religion the same way you treat all the religions you find wacky, harmful,”woo-ish”, or in conflict with yours –and for the same reasons.

    We want the same freedom of speech you’ve taken for granted. We are tired of being bullied into respecting your inane opinions which you label “free speech” while denigrate us and label our responses “hate speech”. It’s hypocritical, and an all-too-common characteristic of the faithful– including those of faiths you find wacky (Scientology, perhaps?). Why can’t all theists be as private with their faith as they want Scientologists to be? When will they stop demanding rights that they wouldn’t want Scientologists to have? Do unto others. No one is forcing you to not believe whatever wacky thing it is you’ve been indoctrinated and feel saved for “believing in”.

    To me, all religions are akin to Scientology– though the ones that have been around longer are responsible for much more suffering and many more deaths, of course.

    To exorcise the demons that inhabit peoples’ minds you may also have to exorcise their gods. There’s nothing to differentiate one from the other, after all. They are all cut from the same imaginary fabric as the emperor’s new clothes. If we don’t want a society where people imagine children possessed by demons, then we may just have to put their other imaginary friends on the chopping block too. When you encourage faith as a means of knowledge you are indirectly encouraging whatever actions people believe that god is asking of them– sometimes god apparently tells people to drive planes into buildings,or pray for their kids rather than giving them prayer, or beat them to exorcise demons, start wars, or kill abortion doctors. I want no part of this insane ideology where people hear voices in their head and imagine them as messages from god since there is no way to distinguish any god from a schizophrenic delusion.

  • Grado

    Atheists comment mostly on Christians, Muslims, Jews because they make up the vast majority of religious folks in western societies…we dont comment much on other religions like hindus, buddists,shammanism, paganism, dead religions like greek, egyptian, roman gods because they dont really affect politics and have basically very little if any effect on modern society.

  • skepticalsinner

    Personally, I’d consider it a pyrrhic victory if all the muslims and Xtians switched to Buddhism and Jainism.

    Aside from the occasionally flower at the airport, they’re a whole lot less offensive as a group.

    However, in the long run, Mankind needs to kick away the crutch of religion in order to advance. When we realize that we are on each on a finite timeline, and all is not going to be magically fixed by the sky fairy we might start getting serious about some of this world’s ills.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X