So, if you’re a masochist and watched “180” on my last post, you probably saw Ray Comfort’s trademark moralistic ambush. In his usual song and dance, Comfort will ask people if they’ve ever told a lie, if they’ve ever stolen anything, if they’ve ever used the name of his god in vain, and if they’ve ever looked at someone with lust in their heart. If you don’t have the good fortune to cross paths with little ol’ Ray, he’s got an online version available here.
Comfort deals in absolutes in his interviews. Telling a single lie permanently makes you a liar, stealing anything permanently makes you a thief. The other two he likes to use (“lusting in the heart” and using the name of Ray’s god “in vain”) are allegedly also bad, despite hurting nobody.
Straight from the start, the zero-tolerance policy of Comfort’s god undermines its alleged status as “good” or “just.” Certainly, it’s good to advocate honesty and transparency in all things, but it’s not a realistic expectation of humanity. There’s also the matter of the harm done by these lies and thefts. When someone steals a bit of food from my plate or lies about whether or not they loved my latest sonnet, I might be a little miffed, but that’s the extent of the harm done, and such things warrant perhaps a bit of scolding or a chastising remark. The theft of millions of dollars, though, or lying about whether or not you committed war crimes are more serious offenses, and warrant more serious action. Overlooking that Hell is ludicrous as a concept anyway, saying that all lies and thefts are morally equivalent, regardless of their impact, and are all deserving of the same overblown punishment is indicative of a complete lack of understanding of even the most basic concepts of justice.
Then we move on to the latter half of Comfort’s list of crimes, and we leave any semblance of rationality or justice in the dust. There’s a shaky argument that looking at someone “with lust in your heart” can theoretically lead to harassment, molestation, and sexual assault, but that’s not really a problem with the sexual desires in one’s heart, but rather with the way in which one acts upon those desires. The point is, there’s not really anything wrong with “lusting” after someone, provided you don’t violate their boundaries. Who is hurt or what is damaged, though, by using the name of Comfort’s god as an expletive? The first two actions that Ray Comfort lists are to be discouraged, but the second two are more or less benign.
That Ray Comfort says that doing such things as looking at someone “with lust” or using the name of his god “in vain” are worthy of hell demonstrates that his god (or, at least, the mental construct he thinks is a literal god) is not a “just and righteous” god. Since no one is hurt or hindered by lust or blasphemy, any sort of punishment for them isn’t really a matter of justice, and eternal torment without reprieve certainly isn’t a reasonable response to anything, let alone saying “God dammit” or being horny. That’s just ridiculously hyperbolic.
Let’s take a step back, though, and look at Comfort’s follow-up to his assertion that eternal damnation is the perfect “one size fits all” response to everything ranging from genocide to arousal. Jesus, Comfort states, has “paid your fine,” and his god can “legally dismiss your case.” Here’s where Comfort’s god goes from overzealous to just plain nonsensical. The alleged sacrifice of Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus) did not help anyone. It did not heal any wounds (he supposedly did, but not by dying), it did not return any stolen property, it did not erase any trauma, it did bugger-all. None of the ramifications of “sin” were remedied by the supposed sacrifice of Jesus. If Comfort’s god is willing to overlook “sins” that it would otherwise damn you for just because you have kissed Jesus’s foot, it clearly doesn’t care about who you’ve hurt or what you’ve done. It doesn’t care about justice, righteousness, or making ammends. All that matters to it is that you’re willing to surrender.
In fairness, this doesn’t disprove Ray Comfort’s god, or any other god for that matter. I don’t believe in any gods, but this is not why. What this argument is meant to do, though, is to debunk the evangelism tactic of appealing to guilt with “God is a just god, and you’re not good enough for him” and “Jesus paid the price for your sins!” It is nearly impossible to strip someone of their superstitions in a single stroke, because a superstition, by definition, is irrational. What is possible, though, is to strip away the layers of fallacies and tricks that people use to dress their superstitions up as reasonable, logical beliefs.
In case you’re saying, “ah, he’s just arguing against a strawman,” keep in mind that Ray Comfort isn’t jumping up and down on the fringe of Christianity. His “180” film was endorsed by John Piper, the influential pastor of the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota. He’s the guy behind the “Way of the Master” video series, and he’s even put together a “School of Biblical Evangelism,” both of which are training programs (one in the form of videos, the other in the form of an online course) to equip evangelists to ruin your walk in the park or afternoon of fun. My point is, Ray Comfort isn’t an isolated individual. Rather, he is actively encouraging Christians to go out and evangelize by employing his arguments, and plenty are doing so.