The evening before the 2016 Reason Rally, I attended a Christian event at which several Christian apologists coached about a hundred Christian evangelists to spread the gospel to atheists (supposedly) hungry for the Word®. Attendees were given a copy of Ray Comfort’s new book, Fat Chance: Why Pigs Will Fly Before America Has an Atheist President. I stood in line to have Ray sign mine—a highlight of my life.
At about 15,000 words, it’s a modest little book with much to be modest about. Since it’s positioned as an “evangelistic” book, let’s take a look to see if it provides convincing arguments. Fasten your seat belts, atheists.
Surveys show atheists are unelectable
(Ray quotes a number of sources to make his argument. I’ll be careful to identify which quotes are Ray and which come from articles.)
He leads off with studies that show many Americans won’t vote for atheists.
A Pew Research survey conducted in May  found that Americans consider atheism the least attractive trait for a candidate to possess, with voters more likely to back a candidate who smokes marijuana, has never held office, or has had an extramarital affair than a self-professed atheist. (Source)
So Americans rank the adulterer higher than the atheist, concerned that atheists might be “untrustworthy, insensitive and morally rootless” (source), despite the fact that the adulterer has proven that they have poor morals? Clearly just because a voter has an opinion doesn’t make it logical.
Thankfully, we have Ray to unpack things for us. Here’s the Christian’s logic: “While the words ‘God-fearing’ are often maligned, we know that if a man truly fears God he won’t lie to you, steal from you, or kill you.”
Suppose you offered the counterexample of a bad Christian—a Christian murderer, for example. Ray would doubtless respond with the No True Scotsman fallacy: Ah, but that murderer wasn’t a true Christian! That might be, but then of course you have no way to evaluate a claim that someone is a good Christian.
Different Christians define “God fearing” differently. In the happy world where Ray was king, he could impose his Christian beliefs worldwide, and we’d have a single Christianity. Unfortunately, Christianity now has 45,000 denominations, a number expected to grow to 70,000 by 2050, and a single Christian definition of “moral” isn’t possible.
And Ray’s argument is simply that Christianity is useful, not that it’s true. Let’s figure out the truth claim first.
Ray undercuts his argument
He gives evidence (that we’re all familiar with) that atheists are scorned, but is this phobia based on anything? Ray gives this quote:
Surveys find that most Americans refuse or are reluctant to marry or vote for nontheists; in other words, nonbelievers are one minority still commonly denied in practical terms the right to assume office despite the constitutional ban on religious tests.
But who does this make look bad? That’s right, Ray: the only statement in the original U.S. Constitution about religion is to limit it. There can be no official religious test for public office. Christians can vote however they want—they can flip a coin to decide—but Christians reluctance to vote for atheists seems like nothing more than xenophobia, fear of the Other.
Ray then paraphrases sociologist Phil Zuckerman: “[Zuckerman] surmises that atheists are disliked by so many Americans because of prejudice—since we equate atheism with ‘being un-American and/or unpatriotic’—and because believers are basically insecure and nonbelief threatens their ‘shaky’ faith.”
Right again, Ray. Christians’ snubbing of atheists certainly sounds like simple bigotry. I’m surprised that he’s pointing out how Christians treat atheists unfairly, but I agree.
Atheists slap Christians’ hands when they cross the line—must we apologize for that?
Ray moves on to argue that atheists like to rain on the Christian parade. He lists sixty lawsuits filed by atheist groups. Most sound like important corrections to Christian excesses—no God in the presidential inauguration, encouraging the IRS to sanction churches who flout nonprofit rules, Christian symbols on government property, and so on. These Christian excesses outrage me, so I’m not sure why Ray listed them. If his audience is atheists, does he not know that they will also want them corrected?
Admittedly, a few of the lawsuits make the atheists sound like spoilsports. For example, “School cancels toy drive for the poor after atheists threaten to sue.” A public school had an annual project to encourage students to provide shoe boxes with toys for poor children.
The facts behind the project are a little darker. The parent organization is Samaritan’s Purse, Franklin Graham’s evangelical Christian organization. From the AHA, the organization that threatened the lawsuit:
Because the purpose and effect of Operation Christmas Child is to induce impoverished children to convert to Christianity, the school’s promotion of this program violates the Constitution. . . .
It is a clear constitutional violation for administrators of a public school to push students to participate in a proselytizing religious program. . . .
The boxes of toys are essentially a bribe, expressly used to pressure desperately poor children living in developing countries to convert to Christianity and are delivered with prayers, sermons, evangelical tracts and pressure to convert.
Here’s another: “Atheists sue every retail store in mall over ‘Happy Holidays.’” This time, Ray got fooled by a fake article. The bad guy here is the Foundation for Equality, Atheism & Resistance (FEAR), a nonexistent organization whose spokesperson is Merda di Pollo (Italian for “chicken shit”). The article says that atheists are furious over the use of the greeting “Happy Holidays.” According to the spokesperson, “Hearing ‘Happy Holidays’ is painful for us since we don’t have any holidays coming up, no parties to look forward to, nothing to celebrate. It’s discriminatory.”
Be a bit more skeptical next time, Ray. I haven’t looked in detail at all of them, but it sure looks like this is in general an excellent list of atheist good works (or a rogues’ gallery of Christian privilege).
Ray summarizes the big picture problem: “Atheists are suing their fellow Americans for things they hold dear, and it’s all done under the guise of loving the Constitution.”
Atheists’ legal actions are done under the guise of loving the Constitution? What a dick. What does he suppose the real reason is—that our hearts are two sizes too small? Yes, Ray, we really do it to protect the Constitution, predominantly the First Amendment. God knows you won’t.
Taking a broader look at the legal landscape, remember also that the ACLU’s religious lawsuits are predominantly in defense of Christians (more), despite what many Christians want to believe.
Here’s a helpful way to evaluate these lawsuits. Change the Christianity in each of these to Islam. Now the lawsuits are focused on removing Allah from the presidential inauguration, removing Muslim symbols from government property, stopping public schools from supporting Muslim evangelistic charities, and so on. Are these still a problem, Ray? Or do you have a little more appreciation for the principle of the separation of church and state now?
Continue to part 2.
and Thracians that theirs are blue-eyed and red-haired.
If oxen and horses and lions had hands …
each would make the gods’ bodies
the same shape as they themselves had.
— attributed to Xenophanes
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 6/21/16.)