Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

Billy Graham: America's Favorite Bigot

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.”

Fuck. You.

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?

About the Author: Mike Gillis

Mike Gillis is co-creator, and co-host of Ask an Atheist. He hosts the Radio vs. the Martians! and Mike and Pól Save the Universe! podcasts. He also enjoys comic books, the Planet of the Apes, and the band Queen.

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33 Comments on "Billy Graham: America's Favorite Bigot"

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Phlebas
Guest

Fantastic rant Mike, and I agree 100%.

Billy Graham, FUCK YOU!

Arguendo
Guest

Why isn’t he dead yet?

When he came to Portland, OR, there were bumper-stickers that read, “Billy Graham, Praying for greater Portland”. I saw the flaw immediately and corrected it by taking two bumper-stickers and combining them to say, “Billy Graham, Preying on greater Portland”. Even back then (1990ish) I had people commenting positively about the sticker.

If I had the same opportunity today, I’d make one that said, “Billy Graham, die Please”. I’m sure Christians could get behind that, since he’d go to meet his maker.

The Celestial
Guest
I saw this idiot in Calgary, Alberta way back in the early 1980’s… and it was the funniest and scariest thing I have ever witnessed. Graham is on the floor of McMahon Stadium ranting and raving, and while that was going on… people were passing around ice cream pails FULL of fricking money!!! I couldn’t believe that people were swallowing this bullshit like it was ice cream, and tossing their hard earned money into those buckets. It was truly insane… and I left after watching this for 5 minutes with a very queasy stomach. Later, it made me think of… Read more »
DrJackass
Guest

A richly deserved ‘bravo’ to you King Mike.

Pat
Guest
I have the satisfaction of knowing that not one word of this will prevent Billy Graham from going down in history is one of the most universally loved people in the past 100 years. Long after the writer is dead and gone and the critics fade all this will be pointless. I’m sure they said things like this about Jesus too. BTW I was an atheist for 30 years and today am a Christian. Not because of Billy but I need not here him live to know the truths he spoke. to selectively take comments out of his life and… Read more »
beth
Guest

“I have the satisfaction of knowing that not one word of this will prevent Billy Graham from going down in history is one of the most universally loved people in the past 100 years.”

Is this the same “history” they’re trying to push in Texas where Ben Franklin was a church going Christian, McCarthyism was a good thing and multiculturalism was an evil liberal plot to keep the poor oppressed white man down? You know – made up conservative Christian history – is that what you’re referencing, Pat?

ProfesoraBecky
Guest

Pat, you should call in sometime on Sunday! 3-4 pm Pacific 253-584-1480

John Triplett
Guest

Don’t be too hard on Pat. She (or He?) was an atheist for 30 years. Maybe the realization of inevitable demise caused the spontaneous conversion to god. Not the first time I have seen someone lose the courage of their convictions. I’m sure Pat will come back around. One can only suspend their belief reality for so long. I mean could anyone suddenly start believing in Santa Clause after knowing for 30 years that he really didn’t exist? Its all good.

James Smith João Pessoa, Brazil
Guest
So what do we see here? Even a “moderate christian” is as bigoted and hypocritical as a Fred Phelps or the late Osama Bin Laden. This isn’t really news. Theists have never permitted little things like the law, truth, common sense, or even simple human decency to stand in the way of promoting their sick, twisted beliefs. Graham is just one more lying hypocrite in a long line of them. Most of the problems of the world are, and always have been, caused by religion. For example, Northern Ireland, the Middle East, 9/11, and family planning clinic bombing in the… Read more »
rofl@this
Guest

Excellent piece. I lol’d at the amount of holes in his thoughts. 😛

david owens
Guest
Bravo Mike; I concur on all points. Lately (the past few years) I’ve been speaking out more about my non-belief. It makes Christians/Jews/Muslims, et al, visibly uncomfortable. Why is this so? Their beliefs threaten me for reasons I can cite by the fist full. Whereas, in my case, I have no organized institution to fall back on…just my own immutable logic and critical thinking capacity, and the comforting knowledge that I’m not alone these days. There are a great many of us out there, some hiding in the closet, others more open. But at least I know they’re there. I… Read more »
BILL ELLIS
Guest

PRAISE GOD ALLMIGHTY CONTINUE YOUR WORK BILL GRAHAM!! I HAVE HOPE BECAUSE OF GOD. WE AS CHRISTIANS NEED TO BE GOOD AT PASSING THE WORD.

Sandra Campbell
Guest

Thank you Bill Ellis. We need to keep
on sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ to all who want to listen. For their sakes I hope & pray they will listen. John 3:16

Mark Elsby
Guest
The pretend atheists are just people who just have not thought about their indoctrination for a long time. They class an atheist and someone who has not been active. When you can believe talking animals and the nonsense stories in the book of myths and monsters you can believe anything. Fancy believing someone gets their strength from their hair, that donkeys talk, a firmanent is above the earth and the earth is held up on pillars. I thought we had moved on from these fairy stories. This man is the one that tried to link atheism with communism and got… Read more »
Fern
Guest

Yes, there is.

Sandra Campbell
Guest
What if you are wrong & you come to the end of your life & take your last breathe on this earth & then find out as I know you will that you were wrong & God is alive & real & judgment comes on you of Hell with Satan for eternity. At that time you cannot trust Jesus for salvation because it will be too late for you. We are all sinners against God who made us & the only way to be saved from our sins is to trust Jesus God’s Son who took our punishment for us… Read more »
Nicolas Croucher
Guest

Beautiful argument good sir.

glen smith
Guest

I agree with Beth. He who is without sin let him cast the first stone. I think the world would be a better place if we had more people like him to represent a force for good.

Sam Mulvey
Admin

If Billy Graham followed your advice, we might not be in a position to be able to say such things about him.

Mike Gillis
Guest

Seriously. Billy Graham is a professional stone caster.

J E Smith
Guest

All religions and all blogs about it are still (after 10,000 years) nothing but bullshit.

When I was 10 years old, I had a dream one night that my head was inside my ass. I woke up from that terrible event only to discover that I had fallen asleep in church.

marvin
Guest

is this carnival barker dead yet

C morris
Guest

It’s amazing that atheist dedicate themselves to fighting something they swear doesn’t exist. Pathetic.

Leslie Frye
Guest

If there were no God, there would be no aethiests …What would you talk about than? Thou protests to much.

Jodi
Guest
No reason to argue with an atheist. No judgement from me! I know Jesus is real because of how he worked in my life. He loves you and can do the same for you, too. Just one encounter with the Holy Spirit will completely change your mind! If there is ever a time you need someone, I challenge you to call on him. Just say his name! So thankful for the cross! He died for me and for you, also. I believe anyone can have high morals and not be Christians. Guess what? I still love. As do most Christians… Read more »
Sandra Campbell
Guest

Thank you Jodi

Eric
Guest

Why do you even waste your time writing things like this? Use your time to bolster your fellow atheists. Just like Christians build each other up, atheists should do the same. You’re grounded in your belief, leave others alone. When people ask me what I believe I tell them. I can’t change their mind or heart or whatever their clinging to so I move on. I don’t slander them.
I do enjoy reading articles like this but once you’re entrenched in what you believe? There’s no point going any further.
Bye

Sandra Campbell
Guest
Please I ask in love that everyone of you who have said disrespectful things about this precious man of God who has given his life to work for his Savior Jesus Christ to please change what you are saying about him. He has preached the Gospel so that everyone could hear about the only way that anyone can go to Heaven when they die by trusting Jesus to forgive us of our sins. We have all sinned & sin cannot enter Heaven so Jesus is the only way to be saved. I am only a sinner saved by grace by… Read more »
Sam Mulvey
Admin

Do you mind telling me about how you heard about this article? It was written five years ago by someone who isn’t on the show anymore. I mean, the article is true, but I just wonder why you care so hard.

Sandra Campbell
Guest

I honestly do not know how I got this. Something about Billy Graham a man of God poped up & someone said something bad about him & I knew the truth about him that he is not perfect but that he loves God & just wants others to know the Good News about Jesus Christ & that Jesus is the only way to Salvation. I love to share Jesus with anyone who wants to listen . Jesus means everything to me & I want to give others a chance to know about Him too.

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