Why Duck Dynasty Patriarch Phil Robertson’s Joke About Atheists Makes No Sense

Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the family featured on the reality show “Duck Dynasty,” was giving a sermon at White’s Ferry Road church in Louisiana last weekend and make a crack at atheists that really makes no sense whatsoever when you give it more than a second of thought:

here comes ten dudes, coming towards you. And they’re all carrying something in their hand. There’s your wife [and your] kids. And you’re thinking, “Oh my goodness, it’s three in the morning. Here comes ten dudes coming toward me. And I’m in a major metropolitan area of the United States of America.” And as they get close enough, and come into the light a little bit, they’re all carrying Bibles. [Late night] Bible study.

Even if you’re an atheist, tell the truth: You would feel better about it. Right? I’m just sayin’.

So I’ve looked at both groups. I’ve looked at the Bible Thumpers, and the ones that carry other things in their hands besides Bibles. Oh, I’ll take the Bible Thumpers every day of the week.

Since the churchgoers in the video all seem to agree that even atheists would be relieved to see the strangers carrying Bibles, and that Christians with Bibles are automatically good people you wouldn’t mind running into late at night, let’s pop their bubble. It’s not that hard to do.

If I were walking down a city street at night and a bunch of dudes were coming toward me… and I found out they were carrying books — any books — I would be relieved.

It has nothing to do with the Bible. They could be carrying the Koran, or Dr. Seuss books, or the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, or even a Kindle — at 3:00a, I’m not about to discriminate.

Any of those would be better than whatever I *think* they have in their hands.

And you know what? If Phil Robertson were walking down the street at night, and a group of guys walked towards him, and they were all carrying The God Delusion, he’d be pretty damn relieved, too.

Incidentally, in God Is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens brings up a very similar scenario. He recalls a panel where he was asked to imagine himself in a strange city late one night:

Now — would I feel safer, or less safe, if I was to learn that they were just coming from a prayer meeting?… I was able to answer it as if it were not hypothetical. “Just to stay within the letter ‘B,’ I have actually had that experience in Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem, and Baghdad. In each case I can say absolutely, and can give my reasons, why I would feel immediately threatened if I thought that the group of men approaching me in the dusk were coming from a religious observance.”

(via The Blaze)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Michael Harrison

    “Oh, look. There are a bunch of people heading this way carrying Bibles. Do you think they’ll take exception to my nonstandard appearance and attack me for it?”

    • Michael Harrison

      Also: from what I’ve heard on MSNBC prison shows, some of the most hardcore gangs are Catholic.

  • C Peterson

    The sort of people who carry around bibles at three in the morning in inner cities are precisely the sort of kooks I worry about having negative encounters with.

    • 3lemenope

      If I’m out at 3 AM, it’s likely I have somewhere to be; I don’t usually wander aimlessly or explore the neighborhood after Midnight. Getting witnessed at in transit would be a real annoyance.

  • 3lemenope

    Now imagine you’re gay and with your partner and it’s 3 AM and there’s a minyan of Bible-toting yutes coming your way….

    • Persephone

      I don’t have to imagine.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      “What is a yute?”

      • Tainda

        “Excuse me, the two youtttthhhsss” lol

        • Matt D

          Hah, amusing. I’m glad I’m not the only one that saw (and was amused by) that movie!

      • Guest

        Hahahahahha

  • Art_Vandelay

    I’d still be afraid that they’d start reading that shit to my kid.

  • closetatheist

    Seeing as a large group of Bible carrying, post-prayer meeting, American Christians are highly likely to be in the proselytizing mood, I would most definitely feel as though my personal space and privacy was about to be invaded.

  • islandbrewer

    What if they’re all carrying Twilight books?

    • Tainda

      I would laugh and point

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Fine, fine I will open myself up to deserved slaps for the sake of the retort, this one time:

      Then they wouldn’t be dudes.

      • TCC

        A junior high language arts teacher I once worked with was a big fan of that series, and he was the captain (edit: er, coach) of the high school wrestling team, with a physique to match. I can’t explain it, but there it is.

        • Lurker111

          I really liked the _A Series of Unfortunate Events_ series, and I read them when I was about 60. So there’s no telling what can strike someone’s fancy. On the other hand, I could never get into Hemingway.

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          Heehee!

          I am right this second wearing a shirt that reads “PONIES FOREVER” and a pair of yoga pants (they’re damn comfy, everyone should wear them.) I’ll never seriously make fun of someone for liking Twilight because it’s “girly” or something like that. I WILL facepalm because the writing is so, so, so terrible and they could do miles better with their teen urban fantasy and supernatural erotica. :P

          • monyNH

            My husband has that shirt! :)

          • Tainda

            That’s my problem with it, HORRIBLE writing.

            You want some good supernatural erotica? Read the Black Dagger Brotherhood. They would beat the shit out of Edward lol

          • Whirlwitch

            Ha! Reading your Twilight/no dudes retort, I was actually thinking, “No, if they were dudes they’d be carrying ponies!”

    • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

      I would be worried that somehow stupidity and poor taste had all of a sudden become contagious.

    • Matt D

      Well, that would suck.

  • MartinRC

    So since I am sure they would also feel comfortable if they realized the group were all carrying Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth, they know that god really doesn’t exist and evolution is fact.

  • http://lady-die.deviantart.com/ LizzyJessie

    I might join them. There’s a good chance that at 3am, they know where the nearest Denny’s is located.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    You’re standing with your spouse and kids amidst the rubble of your home that has been devastated by an earthquake, or a hurricane, or a tornado. Ten dudes come toward you, each carrying something in their hands. Is it water, food, first aid supplies, blankets, tents, tarps, tools, and cell phones for calling your loved ones? No, they’re carrying Bibles.

    Not every person who carries something other than a Bible is useless or dangerous.

    • Art_Vandelay

      • kaydenpat

        I shouldn’t be laughing but the caption on that photo is hilarious.

      • allein

        That looks like the worst graduation ceremony ever.

    • Carpinions

      An excellent reminder in the wake of the awful electronic Bibles for Haitian refugee children scandal from a couple years ago.

    • closetatheist

      But the people who carry Bibles are often useless and dangerous.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        Not entirely useless, but yes… dangerous. Mostly to sanity. But dangerous nonetheless.

        • closetatheist

          you’re right, they’re useful to con artists and scammers.

          • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

            And cannon fodder.

  • Tainda

    Wait…

    Fifty Shades of Grey is a trilogy?! Ugh

    • Edmond

      And now it’s a movie, too, so THAT’LL probably be a stinking trilogy…

      • Tainda

        Don’t remind me. I’m very disappointed in Charlie Hunnam for taking that role. Damn him and his sexiness!

        I won’t watch it so he will always be Jax to me

        • Edmond

          I’ve been meaning to watch that show, big Futurama fan so I love Katey Sagal.

          • Tainda

            It is SO good. She is brilliant in it.

    • allein

      There’s also a cookbook. ;)

      Dripping Thighs, Sticky Chicken Fingers, Vanilla Chicken, Chicken with a Lardon, Bacon-Bound Wings, Spatchcock Chicken, Learning-to-Truss-You Chicken, Holy Hell Wings, Mustard-Spanked Chicken, and more, more, more!

      http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fifty-shades-of-chicken-fl-fowler/1112252163?ean=9780385345224

    • Nancy Shrew

      Right? You never hear people talk about the other two books, which is fine, it’s just kind of weird.

  • Mickey Bitsko

    If it’s three in the morning and I see a group of people carrying copies of “Ulysses” I’m definitely following them, since the odds are good they’re heading for a pub that’s open after hours.

    • randomfactor

      I’d feel better if they were carrying anvils. Because, hey, I could certainly outrun some guy with an ANVIL.

  • Joe G.

    As a gay man, if I saw ten guys walking towards me carrying Bibles late at night, I’d have second thoughts about passing by them. Yes, I have plenty of friends that are Christians who I completely trust. I just don’t know which kind of a Christian I might encounter on the street. Will they ignore me? Preach at me about my “lifestyle”? Curse me? Push and even attack me? Plenty of Christians have done some or all of the above. And I’m just talking about my own experiences as a gay man. Imagine if they knew I wasn’t a believer like them. Oye.

    • Joe G.

      OOPS. I just voted for myself. How the hell do I know what this thingy works.

      • Marisa Totten

        That’s okay. It was a great comment and well worth self-appreciation!

        • Joe G.

          Thank you.

      • Lurker111

        Actually, you can unvote an upvote or downvote by hitting the arrow a second time. FYI.

        • Joe G.

          And thank you.

      • Paula M Smolik

        And are you the one who just voted “down” to cancel it out?!! haha

        • Joe G.

          Ha! No, not me. It did pass my mind, however. :)

      • Kevin_Of_Bangor

        Don’t worry, you cannot vote for yourself. It may appear to change the up vote, but it doesn’t count.

        • Joe G.

          Good to now know. Thanks.

    • Matt D

      I can’t say I’d feel threatened by a group of late night Bible carriers, anymore than a group of people carrying “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” makes me sweat, as I don’t see anything threatening about their choice of literature, only their actions/intent.

      • Jeff See

        The big difference, lies in the fact that no where in the Harry Potter series, does anyone give an order to kill homosexuals with rocks. And if there were, no one would listen to them, because it’s just a story, and people know that.

        The Bible’s main character orders everyone to kill gays, and people don’t realize that it’s only a story. So yeah, I think the Bible toters have more potential to do harm to a gay man on the street in the middle of the night, than some geek with a Harry Potter book.

    • SeekerLancer

      My first thought was along these lines as well. If I saw people walking around at 3 am that they were out to harass or possibly even abuse someone because I can’t think of any other plausible reason for people wandering around in groups of 10 at 3 am with bibles.

  • Tainda

    If I see 10 men walking towards me in downtown KC at 3 AM, I’m not waiting around long enough to find out if they are carrying anything.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      This. Location is irrelevant. NOT staying around to find out.

  • Matt Potter

    As a Pastafarian I would feel much better if in their hands were bowls of spaghetti, meat balls, and something to wash it down. Even if you’re a Christian, tell the truth: You would feel better about it. Right?

    • storm

      Not a Christian, but I know I would. I love spaghetti.

    • Alan Bloor

      Ramen to that brother =)

  • Sweetredtele
  • Carpinions

    Thank you for adding the Hitchens part, because as with many of his takedowns, he was worldly enough to have lived through some hypotheticals that some people only talk about that they think gives them license to cast aspersions from.

    But even without Hitchens, it’s a very thin thought experiment because our culture inculcates lots of different fears, whether they are of a particular minority a particular sex, a sexual orientation, you name it. Add onto this gun culture and its takeaways from rabid individualism, where such a late night scenario in the dark doesn’t even have to imply religion or irreligion; it can merely imply one or more people coming at you with the potential to apply force enough to kill you.

    This thought experiment is a red herring because nobody who has been raped, mugged, etc. was worried about the religion of those who attacked them, and especially not after the crime took place. They would have been – and should be – focused on getting help and calling the police.

  • ORAXX

    Does anything make less sense than “Duck Dynasty”?

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      Honey Boo-Boo

      • Nancy Shrew

        At least Honey Boo-Boo seems to be pretty cool.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      NASCAR.

  • Gordon Sauvé

    Well I sure wouldn’t ask the bible toting crew any Science or Math questions.

  • Taz

    You know what I’d least like to see in their hands? Guns. You know, like the kind people use to hunt ducks. I guess that makes duck hunters evil.

  • Bitter Lizard

    I guess every group needs its “big thinkers”. We’ve got the scientists and the philosophers, and they’ve got Duck Dynasty and Tim Tebow.

    • Atwatersedge

      I know at least 2 Doctors of Philosophy who are devout Christians. It’s not either/or. I’ve got engineers, and physics teachers and medical doctors in the family too – all religious, all very smart.

      • Bitter Lizard

        That’s nice.

        • Atwatersedge

          Yes. It is.

      • Matt D

        Good. That means they are smart enough to realize their religion is no more factual than the other thousands of religions in this world, and pretending otherwise is dishonest.

        • Atwatersedge

          Not everyone wants to chuck their religion, their community, and the culture they were raised in the dumpster for “reason.”

          • Matt D

            I’m not surprised, it takes a lot of courage to let go of things that define you, even when it’s clear you’ve outgrown them.

  • eric

    Its not just books. The same logic applies to a lot of other things. Saxophones. Laundry hampers. A box of donuts.
    It also applies to different spaces. So it’s three in the morning and ten guys are walking towards me. Is there a theater that just let out a late night showing? Is there some discoteque behind them? Are they hanging out by a bus stop?
    Basically, any object or contextual clue that takes me from having no understanding at all of the walkers’ motives, to having some reasonable expectation of a nonviolent motive, will relieve some tension. Yeah, bibles might do that. So would a box of clown noses.

    • Mitch

      If I’m walking around at 3am, chances are good it has something to do with alcohol. In that case, the box of donuts would be most appreciated.

  • JMM

    Because he’s a backwoods moron?

  • Debbi

    I am a transsexual, if I saw 10 men with Bibles I would scoot toot-suite!

    • Whirlwitch

      As a queer Pagan, I’d be a bit wary of ten guys with Bibles.

      But as a woman of any description – ten men walking toward me late at night? Time to leave.

  • Marisa Totten

    No. I see 10 bible thumpers comin’ at me, I’m outta there.

  • mikmik

    Only a moran takes his wife and kids out for a walk, or anything, at three in the morning. These imaginary situations are so often completely unreal that they virtually never, ever, happen. It’s like the terrist that has planted a nuclear, or dirty, bomb and it will go off in an hour if he/she doesn’t tell you how to find it and maybe disarm it.

    Yeah, that happens so often it is becoming a major concern. Maybe we should legalize torture in case that ever happens. Yeeesh.

    Another group famous for this type of ‘what if scenario’ crap are anti-gun control folks. One that was printed in the letters section in The Sun, here, was a woman out at ~ 2:00 am walking alone and some lone individual is approaching her from behind, so she pulls her jacket back slightly so that the guy, of course, can see she’s packing a Pearl Handle revolver. So, shes safe because she’s packing – whatever, that’s the incorrect assumption implied. Anyways, not only does the guy respect her, he notices her collector’s edition S&W and they strike up a conversation about their shared gun fetish hobby and she invites him back to her place! (Now that I’m recalling this, there’s a good chance this was satire, but I seem to remember deciding it wasn’t due to the rest of the letter.)

    LOL, thanks for the video, Hemant Mehta, it reminds me how feeble these ‘imagine if’ scenarios generally are. I don’t think most zealots understand the ‘thought experiment’ concept very well ;)

  • GubbaBumpkin

    I have actually had that experience in Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem, and Baghdad.

    Today’s lesson: Avoid cities which start with the letter ‘B’.

    • randomfactor

      As a current resident of Bakersfield, you bet your sweet ass.

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    Would I feel safer? Not necessary..

  • Tobias2772

    I swear to god, you just cannot get the best of Hitchens. What a great retort.

  • Jasper

    I don’t get it… what does a stereotype about the violence of a group have to do with whether or not their fantasy is real?

  • Mick

    Set that scene back a few hundred years when the Inquisition was in full swing. How safe then, would you feel, as ten men carrying bibles came towards you at 3AM?

  • Nikita

    Apparently they didn’t see the “Clinging to our God and Guns” poster from the Caldwell County Republican Party Liberty Gala.

  • Gerry Mooney

    But what if they have Bibles AND guns? And what kind of all-male prayer meeting lets out at 3AM anyway?

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      The SEXY kind.

  • anniewhoo

    Christian women: if your husbands or sons are going to a “late night bible study” that lasts until 3 am, I’m pretty sure they’re not actually studying the bible. This whole scenario is just stupid, but I guess that’s what you get for letting a reality TV star deliver your Sunday sermon.

    • 3lemenope

      Very. Good. Point.

      “Yeah, honey, I’m…uh…I’m going to, um, oh! I’m going to Bible Study! Yeah, that’s it. I’m going to get my Genesis on with all my Genesis loving friends! We’re gonna take turns reading, they’ll be beerI– I– I– mean refreshments, and we will totally not be having any fun whatsoever.”

  • Frank Key

    Nice try with the home spun wisdom but Mark Twain he ain’t.

  • Kingasaurus

    I agree with many of the responses here.

    One thing I would add: If you were to agree – for the sake of argument -that a group of devout Christians are less likely to cause you physical harm on a dark city street than any random group of others, that doesn’t make the point they want it to make.

    It foolishly presumes that physical harm to your person is the only type of undesirable or destructive behavior that we would like to avoid as a society. Let’s say this group of guys is leaving a religious meeting, and they are all devout followers of a pacifist religion, but that religion also wants to lobby the government to force everyone to learn the false idea of Young Earth Creationism as fact.

    Are these guys really not dangerous, just because they probably won’t physically assault you? What else would they like to do to you that doesn’t involve physical violence?

  • Monala

    Exactly. I had that exact experience – to wit, getting lost in a foreign city with a very high crime rate late at night, and being obviously American. So I decided that if I wanted to make it back to the place I was staying alive, I needed some help. I sought and found that help when a group of young men carrying backpacks and books approached me. I correctly assessed that they were college students and therefore unlikely to harm me. They were very kind, and helped me find my way back home.

    • Divizna

      Sorry, can’t help but wonder – where in the world is crime rate at night higher than in the USA?

      • MD

        Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, for one. And I’m from South America. My family and I were sightseeing in the early evening, took a wrong turn and a local came running to warn us and steer us back to the safer streets.

        Do you want to see what extreme income inequality does to a metropolitan area? Go to most cities in the developing world.

  • Libby

    RE: “If Phil Robertson were walking down the street at night, and a group of guys walked towards him, and they were all carrying The God Delusion, he’d be pretty damn relieved, too.”

    YES!!

  • glayish

    This scenario would make a great opening to a Tarantino film

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Ha, you’re right. When I saw, “Here comes ten dudes coming toward me. And I’m in a major metropolitan area of the United States of America. And as they get close enough, and come into the light a little bit, they’re all carrying Bibles,” you know what I pictured?

      Reservoir Dogs.

  • UWIR

    “So I’ve looked at both groups. I’ve looked at the Bible Thumpers, and the ones that carry other things in their hands besides Bibles.”

    This is the core of the sermon. There are “two groups”. There’s us, and there’s them. “Bible Thumpers” are one group, and everyone else in the world is the other group.

    Then there’s also the term “major metropolitan area”, which sounds like a code term for “inner city”, which is of course a code term for “black”. Maybe Trayvon Martin should have taken a Bible with him?

    • kaydenpat

      That’s what I was thinking too. What did he mean by a “major metropolitan area”? If he saw a crowd of men in a country setting, he’d feel safer?

    • 3lemenope

      That makes it the wicked racist version of “Please God let this bear be a Christian bear”.

  • Jim Valentine

    This is what I see.

  • Bob Becker

    I saw Robertson coming at me on a city street at night, I’d be looking around for a cop, no matter what he was carrying ( with the possible exception of a cello.)

  • AtoZ

    If I were leaving a Planned Parenthood center, I don’t know so much about meeting a group of men carrying bibles.

  • bickle2

    Maybe we should stop paying attention to a hillbilly who murders small animals on TV,

  • jtperkin

    As a gay man, I find a mob armed with bibles to be particularly worrisome, both physically and emotionally.

  • Robster

    I suppose dusty old bibles are less threatening than one of those swords the baby jesus loved to swing or a terrorist’s bomb. There are so many unused and unloved bibles out there just waiting to be useful. The churches hand them out with gay abandon (or some other sort of abandon) and claim they’ve been sold and it thence becomes the “worlds best selling book”. Has anyone ever actually purchased a bible? Calling them sold is another in the great christian collection of lies.

    • allein

      I used to work in bookstores. I’ve seen people buy them. Mostly for gifts, probably…to give to other people who’ll never read them.
      .
      Supposedly, it’s also the world’s most stolen book.

  • GirlfromGallifrey

    I dunno … the bible’s a pretty thick book. They could do a lot of damage if they started beating me with those things!

    • Itarion

      BEAT you with them? Nonononono. That would desecrate the Holy Book with your foul, apostatic blood.

      The numbers would probably be enough, anyhow. The force of numbers, or else just Numbers.

  • JustinL

    If my car broke down on a rural highway in the middle of Cornfield, Indiana at 3 in the morning and TEN GUYS SUDDENLY EMERGED FROM THE DARKNESS and were approaching me, I don’t care WHAT’S in their hands, that’s creepy as shit.

  • Guest

    That guy just plays Duck on TeeVee.

  • painperdu

    What if ten guys with outrageously long beards were walking towards you carrying guns? How about you were in the 1930′s rural Louisiana and ten such guys were walking toward you and you were Black?

    This can go on and on . . .

  • Glenn A Blackwood

    You can take it out of context and twist it as much as you want. He asked a simple question, and your immediate answer is unanimously “yes.” But if you insist on changing the question, than I will as well. You are an African American walking down the street at night in rural Mississippi, and 10 bald men approach you carrying Neo-Nazi literature. Would you have the same immediate reaction you would if they were carrying Bibles? What if you were a young woman walking down a dark alley and 10 men approached you carrying Hustler magazines?

    And if I’m (God forbid) standing in the rubble of my home devastated by an earthquake, I’d rather see 10 members of the Salvation Army, LDS or any of the 100s of religious disaster relief organizations than 10 atheists carrying cell phones to call someone who cares.

  • Grenherb

    lol these guys are so funny to watch coz there so wrong, they hate pretty much anyone whos smarter then them and don’t give them the slightest chance. coming from people who live by the bible its very stupid. but entertainment today is this, so ima keep watching for there dumbness

  • MisterTwo

    Resurrecting an old thread here: I’ve watched Tim Allen’s show “Last Man Standing” for a couple of seasons now, and the new season started last week. Two of the Duck Dynasty guys were on it. I’ve normally liked the show (Allen’s show, that is) because he’s a wacky conservative and usually shown to be over the top, but in the end he agrees to a more middle-of-the-road position. This episode, though, was overtly religious. While not talking about atheism, it used philosophy as the “enemy”, suggesting that with philosophy automatically comes nihilism. Allen’s character’s daughter is in college and studying philosophy and talking to her boyfriend, an employee at the sporting goods store, and he begins to feel like life is meaningless. The Duck Dynasty guy sits down and asks him what made him feel like he had a purpose in life before the daughter started talking to him, and he said “well, I always felt good about the stuff I learned in Sunday School”. From there, a couple of scriptures get quoted and the guy is happy and productive again.

    The show ends with the DD guys having dinner with the family and saying a prayer before the meal.

    My wife loved it, and I was just getting more and more annoyed as it went on. I guess it’s typical Christian teaching, though: People without Jesus might as well just go ahead and die because they don’t have any meaning in their lives.


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