Phil Robertson and the Swampy Morass of Atheist Morality

Although his initials are ‘PR,’ public relations are not a strength for Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson. At least, one would not think so, given all the negative reactions to recent comments from the celebrity.

The general idea out there is that Phil Robertson is this backward old redneck who proves that Christians are likewise ‘backwater.’ Here are his most recent comments:

I’ll make a bet with you. Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. 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 them and they take his wife and then 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 [sic] 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.’

A disturbing hypothetical, to be sure. But I find much of the commentary on this quote to be even more disturbing.

For example, some have claimed that Robertson is ‘fantasizing’ about rape, murder, and torture, as though he takes pleasure in such activities, real or imagined. Of course, nothing in what Robertson actually said would lead someone to believe that. Nor would a close examination of Robertson’s family and life whether on or off the show lead someone to believe that. In fact, not even the Robertson’s show talks about or depicts rape, murder, and other violence toward human beings as do so many other shows on TV. Are those who write and produce those shows, act in, and watch them ‘fantasizing’ about such heinous acts as though they enjoy thinking about them? Obviously, that does not follow. Robertson’s detractors are just trying to poison the well.

The argument Robertson alludes to is nothing new. Nor is the disturbing nature of his hypothetical. One might point to Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad, for example, who said,  “I’m pretty much agnostic at this point in my life. But I find atheism just as hard to get my head around as I find fundamental Christianity. Because if there is no such thing as cosmic justice, what is the point of being good? That’s the one thing that no one has ever explained to me. Why shouldn’t I go rob a bank, especially if I’m smart enough to get away with it? What’s stopping me?” And so we come to realize what Breaking Bad, with all of its deeply disturbing immorality, is really all about…

Or if you are not into television, consider this passage from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a book that is considered to be one of the greatest works ever written:

“People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel….

I’ve collected a great, great deal about Russian children, Alyosha. There was a little girl of five who was hated by her father and mother…. You see, I must repeat again, it is a peculiar characteristic of many people, this love of torturing children, and children only…. It’s just their defenselessness that tempts the tormentor, just the angelic confidence of the child who has no refuge and no appeal that sets his vile blood on fire….

This poor child of five was subjected to every possible torture by those cultivated parents. They beat her, thrashed her, kicked her for no reason till her body was one bruise. Then, they went to greater refinements of cruelty — shut her up all night in the cold and frost in a privy, and because she didn’t ask to be taken up at night… they smeared her face and filled her mouth with excrement, and it was her mother, her mother did this. And that mother could sleep, hearing the poor child’s groans! Can you understand why a little creature, who can’t even understand what’s done to her, should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark and cold, and weep her meek unresentful tears to dear, kind God to protect her?… Do you understand why this infamy must be and is permitted?… Why, the whole world of knowledge is not worth that child’s prayer to ‘dear, kind God’!…

In the passage quoted above, Dostoyevsky is not (yet) making the argument that Robertson and Gilligan allude to above. Instead, he is focused on the so-called ‘problem of evil.’ However, Dostoyevsky’s hypothetical is just as disturbing as Robertson’s. And yet, Robertson’s comments, Breaking Bad, and the passage from The Brothers Karamazov are only three examples of thousands upon thousands of hypotheticals that depict horrific scenes in order to elicit emotional responses highlighting the intensely serious nature of moral evil in the world. The point of such hypotheticals is not to shut down intellectual discussions about morality, but to emphasize their importance. That is why writers, directors, actors, and philosophers have been using them for centuries. Robertson is an old man who is famous for playing football, making duck calls, and saying funny lines on a reality TV show. And yet, he is not the one who is in this instance coming across as ‘backward,’ historically ignorant, or culturally insensitive at all. His critics are.

Rape, torture, murder, and even castration are real. Robertson did not make them up. Robertson did not endorse them. Robertson was not ‘fantasizing’ about them. Robertson hunts, kills, and butchers animals as a way of life. Atheists tell us we are all godless animals. Very well. Robertson wants to know why it is ‘wrong’ for godless animals to act like godless animals to other godless animals. The response from people has been an attempt to try and silence Robertson through misconstruing what he actually said.

But that does not actually address Robertson’s concerns about atheist morality, now does it?

Here are two related videos. Enjoy:

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