Phil Robertson of the “reality” television show Duck Dynasty once more has his foot firmly planted between his teeth. In a recent interview he offered a thought experiment (of a sort) to display his understanding of atheists and morality:
“Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot ’em and they take his wife and decapitate her head off in front of him.
“And then they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’”
“Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun,'”
“‘We’re sick in the head, have a nice day.’ If it happened to them, they probably would say, ‘Something about this just ain’t right.'”
Not right and horrific, indeed, but what you are reading in this quote is not “The Atheist Position on Morality” but Phil Robertson’s perception of what atheist morality (sic) is. His parable is a giant straw man filled with misunderstanding and misappropriation. But one can forgive him for being ignorant of the very long and storied history of atheist philosophy and debate regarding morality and ethics. After all, I doubt he is familiar with Hume and Spinoza, much less any of the writings of atheist thinkers since he graduated from Louisiana Tech with a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education. His master’s degree in Education might have incidentally exposed him to some atheist philosophy but I doubt it was extensive enough to have been very enlightening. His chronically obtuse remarks indicate such. So, we can forgive his ignorance of atheism. Ignorance has a cure and it is up to Mr. Robertson to take the medicine, but I digress…
The real problem with Phil Robertson’s story is not that it shows atheism to be morally vacuous, as he thought he was doing, but that it shows Robertson himself to be morally vacuous.
Robertson implies that, absent a belief in God, all things are morally neutral. The murder, rape and torture he described in his story are presented as being without moral significance because the fictional victims are atheists. And in the myopic world of Robertson and his ilk, atheists are amoral and have no right to protest at the invasive and harmful actions of others. Perhaps the chronic alcoholism in his youth damaged his brain to such a degree that he is incapable of seeing the obvious problems with such a view, and for that he has my sympathy. But he is still, nevertheless, wrong.
Morals describe the interactions between agents, and are designated as “right” and “wrong” according to several criteria. But the key point is that morality is internally derived. How we treat one another depends on how we view one another.
Robertson shows his hand when he describes atheists in such a crude manner. He also shows his own conflicted sense of morality by what he didn’t say in this particular interview but has spoken of elsewhere in detail and at length: Moral behavior comes from the Bible.
Robertson seems to see humans as amoral wantons without the directives enumerated in the Bible to guide us. So, let’s take him at his word and see what kind of morality the Bible condones or condemns regarding the scenario that Robertson himself described.
Regarding the rape of virgin daughters, let’s turn to Judges 21 where, at Jabesh-gilead, everyone was slain except for 400 virgins who were divvied up among the Israelite victors and passed around as war trophies. After the glorious victors had finished their carousing , the poor girls were found to be insufficient “restocking” for the tribe of Benjamin. So they went to Shiloh and kidnapped and forced into “marriage” the daughters of that town.
Or go to Numbers 31, where the Midianites who were not slain included only the young virgin females to be taken as wives.
The point is Phil Robertson’s God shows a history condoning and encouraging the rape of the daughters of non-believers. His Bible describes it as NOT immoral (when God’s people do it to non-believers) and as a commandment from God to be carried out. God said, ”Go rape those young virgins, or else.”
Now, for murder.
The Bible is what one can call a “target rich environment” when it comes to instances of God-sanctioned murder of non-believers. So, the short list:
Numbers 31:17, “…kill the boys and non-virgins…”
1 Samuel 15:3: “This is what the Lord Almighty says … ‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”
Hosea 13:16, “The people of Samaria…rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open.”
Psalms 137:8-9, “God repays your enemies by destroying their babies. Happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us. He who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.”
Murder is a moral imperative commanded by the Most High God. Not only does God command the wholesale slaughter of adult non-believers, he demands the death of every living thing with regularity. Except, of course, the young virgins because, well… you know.
So what about the torture of a man who has to sit through all of this macabre insanity only to have his penis cut off in Robertson’s ghoulish tale? Certainly he gets some respite, some relief from the horror.
Sadly, no. God doesn’t allow it.
Deuteronomy 23:1 says, “No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter into the assembly of the Lord.”
Sorry, but rules are rules and the Most Moral God has declared that you don’t even get to go to church after all of this madness even if you have the religious conversion that Phil Robertson hopes you would have had, having lived through his fictional, bloody morality tale.
So lets sum up…
Phil Robertson has no idea what atheism is, nor a clear understanding of what morality is, but feels competent to suggest that if only people would follow the Bible they would all become moral people.
Phil Robertson says that morality is derived from the Bible. Yet, Phil Robertson cannot, on those grounds, be a moral person because the Bible clearly shows that the scenario he described is condoned, encouraged and even commanded by God on numerous occasions. Robertson’s suggestion that the rape, torture and murder of non-believers is immoral flies in the face of what his Bible says IS moral. The Bible shows that raping and murdering non-believers is moral. Phil Robertson says it isn’t. One of these claims is true.
Either the Bible condones the murder and rape of non-believers, or it doesn’t. Clearly, it does. But Phil Robertson doesn’t seem to be capable of living up to the standards set forth in the Bible by placing himself in the room with the perpetrators doing the Lord’s work of murder and rape. He isn’t even there in his ghoulish, bloody parable.
Or is he?
Author: Tim Propst is a man with too many hobbies including chasing solitude and gathering morels. He avoids small talk and pop culture inanities and would prefer watching grass grow over any conversation about popular culture or other peoples personal lives. If he isn’t getting stung by honeybees, making videos with his creative friends, practicing bushcraft, making mead, or throwing heavy things in a kilt you might be able to find him writing about whatever strikes a nerve… if he hasn’t gone fishing.