October 8, 2015 by Devin
I recently watched Ray Comfort’s latest film, Audacity. For those who do not know, he is a Creationist debater and conservative Christian who once tried to argue that bananas are proof of God because they are so well-designed for humans. He is a confrontational type of Christian who likes to go up to people and attempt to use logic and debate skills to get them to convert to Christianity.
(please don’t watch this)
His latest film is just that. In the film, our main character, generic white male Christian (or GWMC, for short) struggles with how to share the Gospel and convert homosexuals to not want to be homosexuals anymore all while holding down a delivery job, supporting/debating his girlfriend, and starting a standup career with his successful Christian clean comedian friend, generic white male Christian with a foreign accent (there are a surprisingly large amount of these in Christian culture).
Unsurprisingly, the movie is terrible, and I could go how none of the characters or dialogue make any sense, how the plot is both contrived and simplistic, and how the movie is so bland that it makes white out look exciting, but I am not going to. In all honesty, I am not interested in picking it apart.
This movie is not a story; it’s an argument.
I know many times that there is a blurred line between those two approaches, but even something like 1984 has, at its core, a tragic love story. This one is a series of clumsily put together metaphors for preaching to gay people made even more apparent with actual YouTube videos of Ray Comfort preaching to gay people.
Comfort’s argument is essentially, “I think you’re going to hell because you’re gay. I think all sinners go to hell, though, so I am not trying to discriminate. Because I love you and want you to go to heaven, I am trying to convince you to not be gay because I think this is a destructive lifestyle that will lead you to hell. I know it may seem like I am scary or intolerant, but I am not like those people who hold up signs. I am really just worried about your safety and am trying to do all I can to save you, which includes but is not limited to handing you tracts in an elevator and at a restaurant.”
I will say that the way Comfort frames this is a pleasant way to look at his rhetoric, and I believe he is honest about it. He wants these people to go to heaven and he believes God is calling him to preach to them and help them escape the eternal hellfire. That sounds like a loving thing to do.
The problem, though, is relative morality.
Now, relative morality is a term I heard a lot as a high schooler in youth group, and it was always pointed toward secular lifestyles and beliefs. Relative morality is a term used to describe a slippery form of morality where nothing is set in stone and anything can be justified. In other words, if you do not believe in a god-declared system of morality, why do you not just go out and kill people you do not like or steal things you want? Why even have morals if there is no punishment or reward? How can you even define morality based on your limited view of the world?
The Christian argument was, you don’t. And furthermore, those who subscribe to a secular system of beliefs open up the possibility of excusing awful atrocities like genocide because, ultimately, you do not have a consistent framework that you can point to and say, “That’s wrong.” Christians have the Ten Commandments. Atheists have… well… The God Delusion?
The rub of this argument, though, is that it does not work at all against secularism but works wonderfully against religion.
Here is the thing: when I look at horrible atrocities committed by secularists, like what Stalin did with communist Russia or what Richard Dawkins is doing on Twitter, I can honestly say, “That’s terrible” without compromising my own moral beliefs. Nothing about my beliefs relies on Stalin or Dawkins being right. And I can say he was/is an awful person based on simple logic.
Humans are, after all, a social species. We evolved to care about each other, and we realized that we work better in groups. I can argue against murder and theft in purely selfish terms: when the group does well, I do well. We all do well, and when we try to work individually and turn on each other, everyone hurts. I feel like this should not be that complicated. I do not murder because I do not want to live in a world with murder in it and I try to do everything in my power to make that world exist.
So in my view, genocide is always wrong. But can a Christian truly say that? I want to venture that no, a Christian cannot honestly say that.
God commands genocide.
In the Old Testament, God commands the mass slaughter of women, children, and men of Canaan, no exceptions. If you think I am making this up or taking this out of context, here is William Lane Craig, another noted Christian apologetic, talking about why this was a good thing.
Craig subscribes to the Divine Command Theory, which says that if God commands us to do something, then that something is good. His ways are above our ways, so even if something looks awful or terrible to us, if we could see the full picture, we would know that this is not the case. Not too crazy of a theory if you are a Christian, but it becomes more problematic the more you think about it.
If you try to talk to someone about something controversial like abortion and whether a fetus is considered a person, if you are both secular, you may talk about things like cognitive development, the definition of personhood, out of womb viability, etc. Or if you are talking about the death penalty, one person may talk how killing our own people works against the stated goals of society while the other may argue about how capital punishment makes a more ordered and safe society.
All of this discussion would be with the understanding that there is a moral framework we can judge these actions to, and we accept that if these actions do not match up on that moral framework, one built on logic and empathy, then those actions are immoral. If you believe that a fetus is a person, then obviously you are going to argue that we should not kill them. If you do not believe that a fetus is a person, you are going to argue that abortion is not murder and can be a social good. This conversation can happen (though I do have problems with how it is handled now), and both parties can debate where this action lies on the moral framework.
But under the Divine Command Theory, anything can be justified, and nearly everything has.
Under the Divine Command Theory, you can even justify abortion under the assumption that fetuses are people, essentially arguing that killing babies is not bad. In fact, Craig does so in the piece linked above!
Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.
Under Craig’s logic, being pro-life is silly because you are not actually doing those babies any harm.
In regards to the slaughter of Canaanites, Craig’s points almost make sense rhetorically, but at the end of the day, he is still trying to justify genocide. In other words, if you were to ask Craig is genocide was wrong, he’d have to say, “Most of the time.”
You can argue that God would not say rape or torture or mutilation is good, but as so many Christians have said, His ways are above your ways. You cannot know the will of God, so you cannot know if He will command someone to do those awful things, and His track record isn’t great.
I mean, if someone told you, “Well, yeah, genocide is bad, but the Holocaust was good for its time,” would you look to them for your sense of morality?
This is the ultimate relative morality. That moral framework I mentioned earlier has been thrown out. No action, no matter how heinous or terrible, cannot be considered evil unless God has decried it such, and even then not all the time. The consequences and results of those actions are completely disconnected from the “morality” of those actions.
Actions that help people live better lives may be moral under this command, or they may not be. Conversely, actions that drive people to depression and suicide are often considered good because it follows a set of morality “above” our own.
Which brings me back to Ray Comfort.
During this film, Comfort tries to distance himself from people like the Westboro Baptist Church. He tries to argue that what he is doing is not born from hate, but love.
I am going to take a moment and argue from his perspective.
At the end of the film, in a somewhat convoluted metaphor, a woman is in a stopped car when a man speaking Spanish bangs on her window. She screams and locks her doors, afraid she is being assaulted. The man breaks the window and drags her out, and at this point we find out her stopped car was on train tracks, and the train was coming. In other words, what she took as a frightening gesture was actually trying to save her.
And that is Comfort’s attitude toward homosexuals. He loves homosexuals and wants to see them live and prosper in heaven, which is why he does what he does. While it may seem like he is being scary or threatening, he is, at his core, acting out of love. I think this quote sums up his thinking nicely:
If we hated you, we would care less about where you’re headed with your soul. The supreme act of love is to stand and warn you that your conduct is leading you toward eternal hell.
The problem, though, is that that quote does not come from Comfort. Rather, this quote comes from the people he was trying to distance himself from, the Westboro Baptist Church.
What I am trying to say here is that even though he is nicer about it, Comfort’s logic and the WBC’s logic are exactly the same. Whatever the consequences of their actions are, they are justified because they follow this divine logic that does not actually relate to the real consequences they take for people on earth. WBC argues that their actions are loving, and so does Comfort.
(For the record, at no point in the film does Comfort argue that homosexuality is bad for anything but it leads to hell, meaning he does not even attempt to make a logical argument for why it is bad besides God hates it)
Make no mistake: there are real consequences. Anti-gay rhetoric is not healthy to people who are gay. Psychologists across the world have rejected gay conversion therapy, the therapy that says homosexuality is an illness that should be cured or fought against. This therapy is harmful to people and ultimately unsuccessful, more likely to result in depression, drug use, and suicide than any sense of a better life.
So here we have Comfort arguing that homosexuality is a sin, a tactic that, by all accounts, leads to terrible results, and Comfort justifies it by putting it on a morality scale that is completely disconnected from reality and arguing that he believes that scale sincerely. In other words, the real harm his actions do is ignored because of his own personal beliefs.
I want to compare Ray Comfort to another prominent evangelical: Alan Chambers. Chambers used to be the president of Exodus International, a program designed to help LGB people follow Christ and lose their sinful attractions. In other words, it was a center for gay conversion therapy. The difference between Chambers and Comfort, though, is that Chambers, ultimately, recognized the consequences of his actions and understood that his good intentions were simply not good enough. In a letter that he released when he shut down Exodus International, he said:
In 1993 I caused a four-car pileup. In a hurry to get to a friend’s house, I was driving when a bee started buzzing around the inside of my windshield.
Going 40 miles an hour I slammed into the car in front of me causing a chain reaction. I was injured and so were several others. I never intended for the accident to happen. I would never have knowingly hurt anyone. But I did. And it was my fault. In my rush to get to my destination, fear of being stung by a silly bee, and selfish distraction, I injured others.
I have no idea if any of the people injured in that accident have suffered long term effects. While I did not mean to hurt them, I did. The fact that my heart wasn’t malicious did not lessen their pain or their suffering.
Never in a million years would I intentionally hurt another person. Yet, here I sit having hurt so many by failing to acknowledge the pain some affiliated with Exodus International caused, and by failing to share the whole truth about my own story. My good intentions matter very little and fail to diminish the pain and hurt others have experienced on my watch.
This line of logic is very different from the WBC’s. Chambers was able to recognize the consequences of his actions and did not let those consequences go unnoticed in his evaluation of his work and his ministry.
I hope by ending with an example of a good religious person, you understand that I do not think all religions are terrible and immoral. I am not an anti-theist, and I understand that religions have done a lot of good in the world.
Yet logic like this makes me nervous. I have seen incredibly loving people who I honestly think are trying to do the best for everyone adopt harmful ideologies that psychologically damage people for the sake of pleasing their god. I understand that there will always be awful people no matter what religions do or do not exist, but I am genuinely scared of the awful things that good people will do because of this relativistic morality based not on what is good and beneficial, but what fits best with their interpretation of a text.
So many times, I heard in church about how the world just cares about what feels good or what base pleasures they can gather from what they do, which is what drives their actions and morality. Now I realize that “what feels good” is so often a euphemism for, “doesn’t leave me psychologically broken” or, “helps me live a better and more successful life,” things I had hoped we would all agree are goals we should strive for.
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 Which is true, but only because they were actually designed by humans.
 Who, in true Christian film fashion, does not even so much as touch him on the shoulder.
 Well, except for one scene. Spoilers, I guess. At the end, the characters that GWMC saved by being an idiot take him out to dinner at a restaurant, and there they took forever to order, got a special dessert made with a personalized message, and even gave her a tract. The movie made it seem like she was all happy about it, even bringing her coworker over to learn about Jesus, but if this were real life, she would immediately go to the back and start cussing him out. No way she would be wanting to learn about Jesus from a million dollar bill.
 By the way, this is almost the exact same logic as a certain Batman villain.
 Going into all the problems with, “His ways are above my ways” would take another blog post entirely, maybe even a book. Suffice to say right now, this phrase is a rhetorical cop out and could be literally used to argue for anything. More importantly, though, it stops the conversation and stops critical thinking, making it, rhetorically, useless.
 For the quote, go to this website, under Hatemongers tab, part 12/12, about 3 min in.