Gault's Gulch

March 4, 2010

Hamilton James–Run! The Christians Are After You!

Every atheist who has ever debated the subject of religion with a person of faith has, at one time or another, come against the following question:

“Even if you’re right, and there really is no God, what’s the harm in people believing in him?  God teaches people to live a good life and surely there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?”

Atheists will often come back with a list of many religiously fuelled conflicts which have bloodied the world throughout the ages–the Crusades, The Salem Witch Trials, Northern Ireland, etc.  Sometimes they will cite the tendency of religion to hold back process in areas of science and to stagnate human knowledge about the universe.  The ambitious atheist may even try to convince the person of faith that the only difference between a cult and a religion is the size of its member’s list–and we all know how destructive cults can be (Now’s the time when we throw in the obligatory Jonestown reference).  Recently, however, a more subtle–but I believe telling–example of the harm that religion can do has come to light.  The American Family Organization, a fundamentalist Christian organization, is calling for the stoning (yes, stoning) of Tillikum, the orca whale that recently killed a trainer at Sea World. 

The AFO cites Old Testament law as the basis for their outrage.  Apparently, hiding among the talking snake, the man who lived inside a whale, and the human beings that lived hundreds of years with nary a hitch in their giddy-up, is a law that spells out–quite clearly–what the consequences should be if a person’s animal should kill another person.  Exodus 21:28 states:  “When an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner shall not be liable.”  So, even though we, as human beings, chose to pin a dangerous (they are called KILLER whales, after all)  animal into a confined space and coerce it into performing tricks for gawking tourists, no human being should bear liability for the dead trainer.  Instead, the AFO is calling for Tillikum to be STONED TO DEATH!  That one still gets me…Stoned to death.  Not euthanized.  Not even shot.  Stoned to death.  You gotta love Christianity.  Anyway…The issue doesn’t end there, however.  The problem is that the pesky bible doesn’t just anticipate the one-time offender.  No, this far-seeing work of legal excellence also outlines what we should do if the owner of the offending animal should neglect his duty to stone the murdering whale and it should kill again (remember, this was the third person that Tillikum has killed over the years).  Exodus 21:29 (the very next verse) states that if a man’s ox should kill a second time, ““the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death.”  Uh-oh. 

Well, Sea World owns Tillikuk.  You can’t put an amusement park to death…Sea World is, in turn, owned by Sea World Parks and Entertainment.  Well, you can’t really put a corporate entity to death either (the stoning would be very unsatisfying).  Sea World P&E is owned by The Blackstone Group, a publicly traded equity firm.  So, no ONE PERSON owns Blackstone either.  But, surely, when the bible talks about an ox’s “owner” we can assume that it means a person responsible for said ox, can’t we?  After all, technically Tillikum is owned by every person who owns a share of Blackstone stock and that’s a lot of people to put to death, even for a Christian.  So, who’s responsible for The Blackstone Group?  Firm President Hamilton James, that’s who.  Since Tillikum is the whale world’s answer to Son of Sam, the AFO’s logic will allow nothing short of Hamilton James’s death to vindicate the actions of that murdering mammal.  Run, Hamilton James, run for your life!

O.K…That was fun.  But the inevitable response will be, “John, you’re just using a fringe religious movement to represent all the reasonable people of faith in the world.  You’re not being fair.”  Sure I am.  I’m also being kind.  The AFO is only calling for the stoning of a whale–and maybe Hamilton James.  Still, that’s nothing in comparison to the heinous crimes that have been perpetrated against the world in the name of one fictitious God or another.  Even when you take the deaths out of the picture, you still have to face the utter lunacy of the whole thing.  To most “reasonable” Christians, the AFO is a group of extremists.  But what about those who claim the Earth is 6000 years old and that Adam and Eve pranced about with T-Rex in the Garden of Eden?  What about the Creationists?  Aren’t they extremists?  What about a President who goes to war under the credo that “God is on OUR side”.  Isn’t he an extremist?  You swap one flavor of God for another and you get a plane load of terrorists crashing into a skyscraper.  The fact is that the same blind faith, the same aversion to logic and reason, the same willingness to accept the unacceptable, is at the base of all these things–Tillikum the whale is just the most recent–and LEAST crazy example.



  1. Great read, even though you must remember that the verse you quoted is from Exodus, which is the Old Testament, and the old covenant. Christians that you talk about live under what we call the new covenant. We are no longer under the law of the old covenant, but under grace of the new covenant. So honestly for a Christian organization to call for the stoning of an animal because of an old testament verse and law is a bit surprising. Who can understand that reasoning? If you had said they were a Jewish organization it would make more sense to me.
    Also, yes, I am a Christian.

    Comment by Ryan Gonzales — March 4, 2010 @ 2:08 pm | Reply

  2. “Even if you’re right, and there really is no God, what’s the harm in people believing in him? God teaches people to live a good life and surely there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?”

    I’ve never used this argument and don’t think I ever will.

    Why not grapple with something more substantive instead of going after easy targets? Like this for example:

    If I ever want to formally critque atheism, hopefully I will look to the best defenders of the theory and not those who, with questionable motives, try to grab the limelight. I have no argument with you mocking dumb, thoughtless Christians – there are certainly lots of easy targets – but I do object to you generalizing and claiming that Christianity must be false because of the acts and claims of dumb, thoughtless Christians. You should be able to expect the same from me if I mock a dumb atheist.

    I think I’m safe in saying that Tim Keller is well regarded within evangelical circles. His book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism rose as high as #7 on the NY Times best seller list, so I suspect he is being read by non-Christians as well.

    Comment by Warren — March 6, 2010 @ 4:40 pm | Reply

  3. Warren,

    Obviously, I’ve spoken with you before and, as an intelligent person capable of reasonable discourse, I would expect YOU to put forth arguments that are far more substanitive than the old “What’s the harm in God” refrain. You must realize, however, that you are a minority. Talk to some atheists about their “typical” conversations with people of faith and you will see that they are a far cry from the respectful back-and-forth that you and I have had in the past. In fact, the “Why not?” argument is usually one of the more palatable defenses of God that an atheist can expect to encounter.

    Of course I was mocking some of the dumbest and most thoughtless among the Christian community. My post was meant to shine a humorous light on those who use their faith in God to defend indefensible behavior. I did want to point out, however, that there is an undercurrent of this kind of thinking in all religion. In order to have “faith” in anything, you have to be willing to commit the highest level of confidence in something which has the lowest level of evidence–that’s what faith is. That is a suspension of reason. It may manifest in something as silly as this whale issue, but it may also manifest in something as destructive as a suicide bomb or a sniper attack at an abortion clinic. Many people have made the argument that atheists are “mean” or “hate-filled” because they try to convince people of faith to abandon their God-myth. Despite your unfamiliarity with the argument, “What’s the harm in God” comes up a lot in those conversations. I’m simply trying to illustrate that once you have agreed to suspend rationality in favor of faith, any loony behavior becomes possible.

    Finally, my argument makes absolutely no case whatsoever for the FALSEHOOD of Christianity–only the harm that it can cause. I’d be happy to debate THAT topic with you at another time, though. 🙂

    Comment by John Gault — March 6, 2010 @ 5:31 pm | Reply

    • The ultimacy and decisiveness of reason is itself just as vulnerable. That one ought to “justify” one’s thought is to me just another religious-like commandment. If someone does not buy into the god-level authority of reason, especially pertaining to universal and ultimate domains of predication themselves, there is literally nothing that can be said in terms of inferential warrant. There is nothing possibly logically prior, in the sense of more basic, if logic itself is questioned. One can end up *appealling* to some kind of pragmatics of intellectuality, but that’s not a logical appeal unless it is simply begging the question all over again: namely, whether logic or general reason have any god-like authority over one’s thinking, and this is just as questionable in any other proposed authority, hardly limited to the God belief, notwithstanding the fact that these points themselves are subject to the same problems, since they too depend on a wholesale acceptance of some core of a logical/rational ideal, nonlocal obligation relations between rational standards and each mind, the preferential value of inquiry, reason, etc.

      Comment by machinephilosophy — June 15, 2010 @ 8:20 pm | Reply

  4. John

    Nice name by the way. 😉

    I suspect you have a beef with religion. That doesnt mean there is no possibility of an intelligent creative force behind our existence, does it? You are bang on with your critique of religion but if someone were to suppose the possibility of creator behind their existence, what term could be ascribed to it that would be acceptable to you?

    Comment by Titfortat — April 3, 2010 @ 5:27 pm | Reply

  5. It’s not that I have a “beef” with religion–not exactly, anyway. It’s more like a sense of extreme befuddlement at the idea that we, as modern, rational, human beings even need to debate the topic of religion anymore. For an atheist–or at least THIS atheist–your comment makes exactly as much sense as the following would:

    “The theory of gravity doesn’t mean that there is no possibility of an intelligent creative force behind our tendency to fall toward the earth, does it? If someone were to suppose the possiblity of Intelligent Falling instead of traditional Newtonian and Einsteinian physics, what term could be ascribed to it that would be acceptable to you?”

    Understand that I’m not trying to be glib or sarcastic here, it’s just that when I’m asked questions like yours, I don’t exactly know how to respond. Essentially, you’re asking me–“Despite the fact that every shred of empirical evidence points in one direction, you can’t deny the fact that the other direction COULD be true, can you? What mincing of words would be satisfactory for you to accept that there are those who choose to deny everything we know about the universe in favor of a 2000 year old book?”

    I guess that there is no terminology that will make the existence of an intelligent creator “acceptable” to me because to suppose that the universe was created and governed by such a being is to deliberately deny the facts–and that kind of intellectual dishonesty is never acceptable. Keep in mind, though, that this doesn’t indicate any “hostility” on my part toward religion. Strangely enough, my best friend on Earth is not only a Christian but a “Young Earth” creationist–and we get along swimmingly despite the fact that I think he lives in willful ignorance and he thinks I’m going to Hell. I’m just not willing to agree that science and religion are both equally likely to have the correct answer about the nature of our universe any more than I’m willing to say that chemistry and alchemy are both equally likely to be correct about the molecular nature of gold.

    Comment by John Gault — April 5, 2010 @ 9:08 am | Reply

  6. Hey John,

    Y’know that post of mine we discussed the other day, called “I’m Not One of ‘Em”? Well, this AFO group would be one of my examples — not the dangerous type (except for man-killing killer whales), but the groan!-I-wish-theyd-shut-up-and-go-home type.

    The principle of putting down a dangerous animal still applies, but their specific application — i.e., stoning — is rather out of place. I think I understand why they think that’s required, but I also think they are misguided. Plus, as Warren indicated, most of the Levitical law applied only to the nation of Israel under the Mosaic covenant. (Someday, maybe I’ll blog on Old Testament justice. I’d probably get a few comments, dontchathink?)

    If you haven’t already read it, please check out my last comment on Pastor Jeff’s “A Curiosity” post (from after you bowed out of the conversation). Actually, I left 2 or 3, but the one relevant here is my clarification on the “faith” issue.

    There is a lot more in this post & comments that I could address, but I’ll leave those for future discussions. Just for the record, though, I am an Old-Earth Creationist — not the equivalent of ID, but compatible with it.


    Comment by sirrahc — April 12, 2010 @ 8:18 pm | Reply

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