Who Needs Jesus to Tell Them Not to Rape and Murder?
Updated: Dec 21, 2019
Penn's radio show: https://youtu.be/AwebTX3rk3E
Penn giving a lecture: https://youtu.be/fglEqOfxkLM
In these clips, the vociferous Penn Jillette recounts a common argument he hears from Christians, which he summarizes as, “If [the Christian God] does not exist, then what’s to prevent you from raping and murdering everyone you want?” His impassioned and indignant response is that even without God, he has somehow managed not to rape or murder anyone! He then suggests that anyone who uses such an argument must have a list somewhere of all the people they would like to rape and murder, and that law enforcement should be informed.
While a rather clever bit of rhetoric, Penn’s response appears astoundingly shallow and dishonest for such an intelligent and well-educated individual as himself. I am uncertain whether he is purposefully misrepresenting the Christian beliefs or if he legitimately does not understand the point.
If he does understand, and is purposefully twisting words, it is revolting to see someone use their intelligence and charisma in such a Mephistophelean manner.
If he does NOT understand, then he is tilting at windmills and attacking straw men---quite a spectacle but ultimately meaningless.
If Penn is implying that he is incapable of evil, he is full of shit. Throughout history, people have managed to commit great acts of wickedness despite how intelligent, enlightened, educated, or otherwise virtuous they were. Sometimes they rationalized their way into it; sometimes they were driven into it by their emotions or their hormones; and sometimes they did it without realizing it was wrong because it was socially acceptable. Because of this, Christians have no great faith in their own personal righteousness, nor in anyone else’s. Christians understand that even saints can fall into sin, so maintaining an external moral code is necessary. King David, for example, was a righteous and virtuous man right up to the day he wasn’t, and without the voice of God in his ear, he would have remained unrepentant of his adultery and murder.
Ask yourself, can you assert with 100% certainty that there is no scenario where you (or someone like you) might be tempted to commit a great act of wickedness? If a saint can fall, can you?
If you think you are immune to great evil, then you do not understand human nature. Evil springs out of the human heart. Mankind has a natural tendency to turn to evil. And evil has a tendency to grow, just like lies.
Unlike what Penn is snidely impugning, the Christian does not believe that only an external, imposed moral code prevents people from raping and murdering each other. On the contrary, Christians believe that everyone knows right from wrong on some level of their psyche.
Penns’ argument is that if you need God to tell you not to commit rape and murder, then you must be an exceptionally wicked person---unlike himself and other atheists, whom we must suppose are just inherently virtuous. The flaw with Penn’s argument is although the knowledge of good and evil may be inherent, virtue is not. Virtue is a learned characteristic, and he learned it from Christianity. No other worldview vilifies rape and murder to the extent Christianity does. Some worldviews and cultures even justify or excuse these behaviours.
Through an accident of birth, Penn was born into a Christian society that taught him that rape and murder are some of the most heinous acts it is possible to commit, but if he had been born in a Medieval Viking village, he might have had a very different attitude. It was only when the Vikings found Jesus that they started having a change of heart.
If you lived in Medieval Europe, you would not be contemptuous when you heard that the Vikings had “found Jesus”. You would not be saying “Who needs Jesus to tell them not to rape and murder?”
The historical illiteracy of atheists is mind-boggling.
Although Penn’s outrage and indignation are quite powerful to behold, the utter thoughtlessness of his position is revealed when you consider that there are always going to be people who are held back from raping and murdering solely by the fear of God. Does Penn think it’s a good idea to tear down the last restraint holding these people back?
Penn can go straight to hell.
Near the end of the second clip, Penn rages that the phrase “God is good” demonstrates that morality transcends God and therefore Christians who use this phrase are actually inadvertently demonstrating that you don’t need God to tell you what is good.
This argument makes perfect sense to a secular humanist, of course, because they define morality as something that can be determined through human reason. But Christians are not Secular Humanists, and do not define morality this way. Penn’s response demonstrates that he is trapped in his own head, unable to approach the issue except from his own perspective. His rage is therefore impotent and meaningless. He is like the homeless man you see on the street corner shouting and fighting the air.
To the Christian, God is literally the definition of good. He is the source of morality. Whatever God is or does, it is good. Goodness is defined by God in the same way that the colour ‘candy apple red’ is defined by candy apples. “Candy apple red” would be meaningless if candy apples did not exist; and in the same way “goodness” would be meaningless without God. Anyone who has determined “goodness” through reason is merely thinking God’s thoughts after Him.
I am continuously astounded by anyone who thinks that atheism presents a true intellectual challenge to Christianity. Atheism is all smoke and mirrors, disambulation, self-delusion, self-aggrandizement, rhetorical discombobulation, narcissism, and navel-gazing.