Saturday, April 23, 2011

Response: An (Atheist) Easter Message from Ricky Gervais: Why I'm An Excellent Christian - Speakeasy - WSJ

Ricky Gervais
I recently came across this essay written by Ricky Gervais. I felt inclined to respond and interact with it. My comments are in red font.

Last Christmas I wrote a little essay entitled: “A Holiday Message from Ricky Gervais: Why I’m an Atheist.”
The Wall Street Journal ran it, and it caused quite a stir. I was even asked to answer some of the comments.
So for Easter I thought I’d do another one. Here it is.
A Holiday Message from Ricky Gervais: Why I’m A Good Christian.

The title of this one is a little misleading, or at least cryptic. I am of course not a good Christian in the sense that I believe that Jesus was half man, half God, but I do believe I am a good Christian compared to a lot of Christians.

 A good Christian doesn't believe that Jesus was half man, half God. This is a mistake often made to misunderstanding what the Bible is saying and confusing it with pagan myths of gods impregnating women and coming up withh demagogues like Hercules or Perseus.

It’s not that I don’t believe that the teachings of Jesus wouldn’t make this a better world if they were followed. It’s just that they are rarely followed.

Gandhi summed it up really. He said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

So what? Should you miss heaven and reject the best gift that has ever been offered to you - relationship with your creator - just because people can't follow Jesus perfectly at best or at worst lie about being one of his followers when you yourself could become one of his followers yourself? Does it really make sense to end up in hell next to the hypocrite that's keeping you away from God? I don't think so. If Gandhi or anyone were to ask me to respond to that inescapable observation - Christians behaving badly - I would tell them "So if you think you can be a better Christian - a more excellent follower of Jesus - then I or any Christian that you know, go ahead and live it better than us."

I have always felt this way, even when I believed in God, and in a weird way I feel I am still a pretty good “Christian” who doesn’t believe in God.

By definition a "Christian" has to believe in God because we believe that God the Father sent God the son to redeem us. You cannot be a "Christian" and deny that God exists

So many Christians think that because they believe in the right God, they are automatically good and have a one-way ticket to everlasting life. Dare I say it but I suspect this is their main reason for believing. I’ve heard so many “believers” say, “Well, since there is no way of being sure whether there is a God or not, it’s better to believe in God than not, because that way, if you’re wrong it doesn’t matter and if you’re right you get everlasting life.” Win:win.

This is of course Pascal’s Wager, which assumes that God if he exists would reward blind faith above logic and living a good life as an atheist.

Believing in the right God does not make you automatically good. And given what I've learned about Pascal - who was a scientist and mathematician - he was not a supporter of  "blind" faith. The Bible does not condone nor asks for blind faith. This is a sure fire way to loose your very soul. What does the Bible say about a head knowledge of God?

 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
   Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
 20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.- James 2:18-22

To the Christians’ God by the way, it’s just as bad to believe in the wrong God as no God at all. The idea of other Gods is of course ridiculous to Christians. Supernatural poppycock. As if there was ever a Zeus; stupid, ancient, unenlightened superstition. And even if there are other Gods (which of course there aren’t) then the Christians’ God is the best. Hardest, smartest… just better. He would laugh at Zeus and call him a Greek bender. (I doubt that God is racist and homophobic but the Bible isn’t clear. Some bits go on about love and equality and others say you shouldn’t trust certain types and that laying down with a man as you would with a woman is punishable by death and is a bit sick and evil.)

Gervais is attempting humor...failing...but attempting nonetheless. I don't think that its just as bad to believe in the wrong god(s) as no god(s) at all.  I think its actually worse to think there is no god at all because that means you have completely missed the point that you are accountable to someone above your ontological being. Many atheist think the standard is themselves. I think that is worse than getting the god wrong. No matter who you are, you, a human being,  makes a pitiful god. Are there other gods? No. There is only one. As a Christian, you can't come to any other conclusion. I think it's easier to ask which God or who that God is than to outright reject that God's existence - like a child denying the existence and authority of his parents.

So remember. If you are gay you are “Bumming for Satan” basically. (That would make quite a good T-shirt.)
Jesus was a man. (And if you forget all that rubbish about being half God, and believe the non-supernatural acts accredited to him, he was a man whose wise words many other men would still follow.) His message was usually one of forgiveness and kindness.

Jesus also said "Go and sin no more." That isn't unforgiving or mean. That's for our own good. No, we ain't supposed to hate anyone because of their sin. We are all just as guilty and deserving of hell - even if you never have a homosexual thought in your entire life. There are no big sins or little sins. They all lead you to the same place. Yes, Jesus was a man but his deity was not "rubbish".The Bible tells us exactly who Jesus is.

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
 9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. - Colossians 2:8-10

These are wonderful virtues but I have seen them discarded by many so-called God-fearers when it suits them. They cherry pick from their “rulebook” basically. I have seen such cruelty and prejudice performed in the name of Christianity (and many other religions for that matter) that it makes me wonder if there has been a bit too much selective reading and reinterpretation of the doctrines.

Agreed. So, does that mean there is no God just because you haven't seen people live up to the promise of Christianity? I don't think so. I think some people are afraid because they know they can't live up to it either and so it is easier to pretend it doesn't matter. It's a process. God works on you  making you better and better. 

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
 9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.- Romans 8:28-29

God or not, if I could change one thing for a better world, it would be for all mankind to adhere to this little gem: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” I assure you, no more stones would ever be thrown.
So maybe we should go back to basics to find out where it all got confused.

Agreed! Gervais quoted John 8:7. But what about all the other things Jesus said?

  58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” - John 8:58


14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,[f] 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”[g]
 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.- John 3:14-21

The Ten Commandments
The 10 Commandments are found in the Bible’s Old Testament; Exodus, Chapter 20. They were given directly by God to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai after He had delivered them from slavery in Egypt:
“And God spoke all these words, saying: ‘I am the LORD your God.’”
So let’s take the test. How many of these have you broken?

Yes, let's see. However, Gervais sets up a false test. Keeping the 10 commandments doesn't make one righteous. That's not saying that they are not important about binding. What about the other more than 600  laws they got from God? If you are a Christian - saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ you don't have to worry about coming up short because God is going to judge us by Christ. As for the law:

9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. - James 2:9-11
Any one want to go back to law? Well let's humor Gervais anyway and see how he stacks up (examine yourself while you are at it). Remember -1 not 0 for missing it because it counts against you.

‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’
I definitely do not. Excellent. I get one point.

Not so fast. If you're an atheist you deny God's existence and you have put whatever reason you have for doing so ahead of God. -1. I hope Gervais doesn't feel badly. Each and every time we choose to disobey God, we put something above God. I get a -1 also.

‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.’
This basically means don’t make or worship a religious statue or bow to it thinking that it’s holy. Tick. Another point to me.

Anything can be an idol. If you put anything you own as more important than God and ascribe more value to it than God, then it is idolatry. For example have you ever wanted to say something but you knew it was wrong and you said it anyway - making your ego higher than God? Yeah, me too.  -1.

‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.’
I never do. But let me explain something. Most people think that The Third Commandment means that they shouldn’t use his name as a swear word, e.g. shouting, “Oh God!” when they stub their toe instead of, “Oh F—!”
This is not the case (although I love the idea that God would rather them shout “F—” than “God”. That makes him cool in my book. But no.)
The commandment could equally be, You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in “vanity” e.g. when your enemy is hurt or defeated saying, “that’s God’s wrath,” or when you win an award saying, “thank God.” This is using his name in vanity. It’s suggesting that you KNOW that God helped you win that award because you deserved it more, or because he was on your side. It’s always tickled me that God would have a favourite actor at The Golden Globes.
Anyway I get another point. I think most non-atheists will lose a point here.

This commandment is about reverencing God and not forgetting who God is. I don't think that God wants us to use curse words. This is not what the commandment is about. An atheist by definition fails to recognize God. There is no way they cannot deny God his reverence. We all don't think of God as highly as we ought. -1.

‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.’
Before we score this we need to discover what it really means when God commands us to keep the Sabbath day holy. In understanding our answer, and the true intent of God’s word, it doesn’t matter what day of the week we celebrate the Sabbath. There were no calendars when God created the heavens and the earth so we don’t know what day he stated and ended. Don’t let the ‘day’ become more important than the ‘intent’.

I wish more people would understand that. Bravo!

If we look at the portion of The Ten Commandments which refers to this, Exodus 20:8-11, it seems to be very specific;

8 “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 “Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 10 “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. 11 “The Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

According to the Bible, God commanded us to keep it holy. But what does that really mean? Work is basically referring to that which we do to earn a living, or in working around the house, or any labour we participate in daily. So, if we never worked at all would that mean every day was holy? No. This absolutely is not being holy. In various places in the Bible we are told of our need to work, for in our work we honor God. So… basically you have to work for the equivalent of six days a week with a day off.
I do this. I get another point.

Oops. Making the Sabbath holy is not the same thing as taking a day off  from doing what you do for a living. It's about what you do on that day. It's about dedicating that day to God. If you are an atheist, how do you do that? You can't. Even if you are a theist, could you do more or better to dedicate a day to the Lord each week? Yup. -1

‘Honour your father and your mother.’
I think I get a point if anyone does with this one.

Have you ever disobeyed one or both of your parents and not done as they asked? Yup, me to. -1

‘You shall not murder.’
Nope. Tick.

Jesus said the following:

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. - Matthew 5:21-22

Oops. Let's be honest. -1.

‘You shall not commit adultery.’
Nope. Tick.

Jesus said:

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. - Matthew 5:27-28

‘You shall not steal.’
Nope. Tick.

Have you ever even thought of taken something that has belonged to you? Why would murder and adultery be any different than stealing? Have you ever taken an idea that belonged to another and pretended that it was yours? Again, be honest. -1. Note: This would apply to lusting after someone of the same sex also.

‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.’
Nope. Tick.

Tell the truth. Have you ever told a lie ever? You know you have. -1

‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.’
Nope. Tick. Another point for me.

Have you ever saw something someone else had and wanted it? Anything? You know you have. Me too. -1

Not bad for an atheist.

Just like what any human being scores: -10.

22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. - Romans 3:22-24

I make that 10 out of 10.
How did you do?

No one gets 10. 

Even if this doesn’t prove I am a good Christian it does prove that the Bible is a bit inconsistent, open to interpretation, and a little intolerant.

I don't think that Gervais has proved that the Bible is inconsistent  or intolerant or open to interpretation.

This is not peculiar to Christianity to be fair. And I like to be fair. Because unlike ALL religions, as an atheist, I treat ALL religions equally.

I don't doubt that Gervais treats all religions the same - but not fairly. Not in the slightest. If you are going to talk about Christianity then please represent it accurately. Had Gervais had been writing about Islam or Mormonism or Buddhism or Judaism or anything else he probably would have gotten many of their core teachings wrong also. I wouldn't brag about that however.

An (Atheist) Easter Message from Ricky Gervais: Why I'm An Excellent Christian - Speakeasy - WSJ
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  1. You really are ignorant of what Ricky is saying. People who are religious don't follow logic, they just blindly do as they were taught and shrug away any and all shred of evidence that puts religion in the nay. Religious people also think of most atheists as bad/evil people in general... which is far from the case. In fact, USC did a study in their religion department that found that kids who were brought up by atheistic parents developed a better and quicker sense of morales than those who were brought up by religious parents. It doesn't really matter though because with the advent of modern communication, religion is slowly but surely dying. Hell (pun intended), the nations with the lowest crime rates and best economies are the ones that have the highest percentage of "atheists/agnostics/non-believers".

  2. I understood what he was saying. He is wrong. The thing is he based most of his arguments on the fact that he's moral without God. The point you seem oblivious to is the fact that he does not demonstrate that he understands what God's standards are in the Bible. Therefore, logically, he has a problem. I also don't see why you shrug away the positive evidence that the Bible is true. The whole point I was raising is that everyone fails to live up to the standard that the Bible tells us that God is holding us to. Have you really taken a look at those secularized nations you are so fond of? They will not be secularized for long. They are going to be Islamic dominated with sharia law in most of them: France, England, Norway - it's just a matter of time because the atheist world view is unable to stand against them. And there seems to be too few people willing to stand against them. As for Christianity, I'm not worried at all because not even the gates of hell are going to be able to prevail against the church.