The Oatmeal and Religion

I’m a fan of The Oatmeal, with the odd reservation. But one cartoon in particular gets pointed out to me a lot – “How to suck at your religion“.

The trouble with arguing with him is that he’s a popular cartoonist, and I’m not. Cartoons suffer from the Twitter/Facebook effect – a humourous pithy short attack or condemnation of something is far more interesting and retweetable than any nuanced response to it. And then, of course, you get accused of having no sense of humour. And if he ever reads this post and takes offence, there’ll be cartoons lampooning me. Still, Jesus had to endure being mocked, so that’s an OK risk to take.

So, then, a few thoughts in response:

So is judging people wrong, then? Because there seems to be plenty of judgement in this comic. If it is wrong, then who says so, and who died and made them king? It’s easy to mock the moral stance of others, but rather difficult (if your understanding of the world doesn’t include an omnipotent moral lawgiver) to figure out why the morality you are in favour of should apply to other people. Should I not judge because a “silly web cartoonist” (his words) tells me not to? Morality can’t be hung from skyhooks.

This is before we even talk about what Jesus actually meant, in context, by “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”.

The Galileo affair was not the best moment in the life of the church. But the second comic makes the error that so many bits of reporting on stem cells make that one would almost think people are trying to hide the truth. There are two main types of stem cells – adult, and embryonic. Adult stem cells come from, well, adults, and I’ve never heard of anyone who has any theological problem with them. Embryonic stem cells are harvested from embroyos, tiny people who are killed by the process. And that is a problem.

Thing is, which type of cells have been producing all the amazing treatments and treatment possibilities? Adult stem cells. A guy recently became able to walk again after they injected stem cells from his nose into his spine. That’s so awesome. By contrast, despite lots of positive talk, they can’t figure out how to stop the embryonic ones giving you cancer. And yet, every time there’s a “stem cell success” story, the church is castigated for “its opposition to stem cell research”, and people vow to continue the murder of microscopic human beings.

In the last panel, is he really asserting that anyone can make any old thing up, and the universe will bend to accommodate the wishes of the person concerned? Or just that it’s cool and righteous to affirm people in whatever rubbish they make up in their own minds? Also, no matter how politely phrased, “No-one really knows for sure” is dogma, plain and simple. All education is indoctrination – the question is simply “whose doctrine?”. What he is really saying is “don’t use your doctrine, use mine”.

I wonder if the Oatmeal had a kid, who was told “no-one really knows”, and who replied “well, I think God then decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell, and I’m worried about your eternal soul”, he’d say “sure, sweetie”, or “NO. NO-ONE REALLY KNOWS FOR SURE AND THAT’S FINAL.” Given the rest of the comic’s antipathy towards Christianity…

My religion gives me no anxieties about my sexuality at all. However, what the Oatmeal is really saying is “any parameters religion puts around the correct use of sex are evil”. So is he in favour of no parameters at all (permitting every vile act one could imagine – you know I could list all the usual things which every country makes illegal) or does he just want to impose different parameters to the ones Christianity does? And if so, apart from the detail of what’s in and what’s out (ahem), how is his principle of imposing laws regarding the expression of sexuality any different from the principle that he mocks?

Christians who try and convince others that what they believe is true are not trying to “validate their beliefs”. There are no points from God for making more Christians. In fact, Christians can’t make more Christians – only God can do that. We don’t get any credit when it happens. Also, Christians are (or should be) specifically encouraged to avoid groupthink – the idea that if lots of people believe something, it must be true. (Incidentally, if you think Buddhists all leave people alone, read this and this.)

Fortunately, the real and true “awesome shit” is available to everyone. Including the Oatmeal.

Calling something ‘crazy’ is not an argument. It’s hard to refute a sneer. And, of course, his summary of what Christians believe is wrong in several places. If it’s such crazy nonsense, why not illustrate using the version Christianity teaches, rather than a straw man? Or is the real view not so crazy after all?

Amen to the general point here. Although the idea (which, I agree, is not his main point) that one should vote based on which policies are better for you personally is a sad, divisive and dangerous one. One should vote based on which policies are best for society as a whole. (For me, those are generally policies which make the law conform more closely to God’s law. YMMV.)

Yes, indeed. Je suis….

Yes, I would die for Jesus. Adam4d puts it well:

No, I would not kill for Jesus. However, the point of Christianity is not to “inspire people to help people” (although it does) or to make you happier (although it might) or to help you cope with the atheistic feeling of cosmic helplessness (although it does deal with it very effectively). Christianity is not utilitarian. The point is to have a real relationship with your Creator – to know Christ. Which is the most awesome thing in the world. Having experienced it, who would ever want to keep it to themselves?

18 thoughts on “The Oatmeal and Religion

  1. There are so many points in this comic you don’t want to get or deliberately misunderstand.

    Read the asterisk sign that says “Just keep it to your fucking self”. Your god is not nearly as great as you think it is.

    I am tired of pointing out your misunderstandings…The list would for sure be longer than the 10 commandments. haha.

    • I am tired of pointing out your misunderstandings…

      That’s OK… but then I’m sure you won’t mind me being tired of pointing out yours, and not replying substantively to any further comments from you on the subject.

        • Oh, and, you are not able to reply substantially to anyone. When you fear that I (or other people opposing you) have a point, you rather ignore it. Way to go, Christian troll!

      • Okay, let’s try it, even though I know it’s pointless, but you asked for it:

        1) Regarding Judging
        The point isn’t that judging is wrong. The point is double standards that are put forward by religions.

        Anyway: Judging can alienate you from other people. And judging about other people’s religions in the Mozilla community is wrong.

        You may judge if you have a neutral standpoint. And since that doesn’t exist, it is wrong to judge.

        2) Regarding embryonic stem cells. It is possible to harvest stem cells from unfertilized ovocytes according to the German wikipedia article about stem cell research.

        Stem cell research is called research for a reason. I believe in the end we will all benefit from it.

        Besides: How do you define life? And I don’t want to hear a quote from a book. Is a fertilized ovocyte life? Can something which does not have any senses be considered alive?

        What happens if you accidentally step on a bug? Do you wait for god’s revenge? Or is a bug’s life of less value than a microscopic ovocyte?

        3) Regarding dogma and “No one knows for sure”
        This is not how he meant it. What he meant (and I believe this is clear to anyone but you) is that everyone has to find their own truth and be happy with that. You could as well not say anything at all. The point is: Every belief has a right to co-exist and no belief is false or inferior to another one.

        The universe does not bend to another person’s wishes at all. But neither does the person have to bend to the religion. Saying “Believe what you want to believe” is not doctrine.

        4) “Sexuality”
        Do you really think that if Cheese-us and Christianity didn’t put any guidelines up about sexuality, people would automatically become pedophiles, zoophiles or, to name an even extremer example, gay?

        Do you believe people actively decide on their sexual orientation depending on what religion they belong to? Or refrain from certain practices based on that? I just don’t think so.

        Just let people make up their own goddamn mind. Religious rules about sexuality are pointless.

        5) Convincing others to join your religion.
        If it’s pointless to convince others to join your religion, WHY THE HELL DO YOU CONTINUE TO DO IT? Since it’s only god who has the last word here, what you’re doing is pointless. Just keep your mouth shut, for Christ’s sake.

        6) *rolling eyes* Again, that is NOT his point. His point is that you should not judge other religions based on what they believe. At least not openly. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. One should not judge other religions. Every belief is equally crazy.

        7) You only said that you wouldn’t kill for your religion. What about “hurt or hinder” which he also uses? If you would, you suck at your religion, you know that.

        Why do you keep abusing your blog if that is not even part of the point of your religion. Another thing I don’t get.

        Anyway, happy now?

        • The point isn’t that judging is wrong. The point is double standards that are put forward by religions.

          Well, it seems to be about judging… but OK. Let’s say this panel is illustrating a wider point with a bad example, and move on. By “double standards”, do you mean that some people say one thing and do another? Or that people are sometimes not following what their religion actually teaches? Given the sinfulness of man, neither of these things is a particular surprise to someone with a Christian worldview. This is hardly a criticism. Where does Christianity say “all Christians will behave perfectly here on earth”? The entire point is we can’t and won’t; the only person who did was the Lord Jesus.

          Anyway: Judging can alienate you from other people. And judging about other people’s religions in the Mozilla community is wrong.

          That sounds very like you are judging me – the word “wrong” is pretty judgemental. Is that what you are doing? If so, how does that fit with your flat statement: “it is wrong to judge”? Is this you giving an example of the double standards you were talking about?

          Stem cell research is called research for a reason. I believe in the end we will all benefit from it.

          So any research at all is fine as long as we gain knowledge? _Any_? You can’t take that moral high ground; I guarantee you have your own ways of deciding what science experiments are great and what would be abhorrent to you.

          Besides: How do you define life? And I don’t want to hear a quote from a book. Is a fertilized ovocyte life? Can something which does not have any senses be considered alive?

          If you are knocked out or anaesthetised, is it OK for me to then kill you, as you can’t feel or sense anything? A fertilized egg is clearly alive by any sane definition of the word; the real question is whether it’s a person or not. I take it you think you are a person now; at what point did you become one?

          What happens if you accidentally step on a bug? Do you wait for god’s revenge? Or is a bug’s life of less value than a microscopic ovocyte?

          Yes, it is. Humans are created in God’s image, and so are much more valuable than a bug.

          On what basis do you decide that human life is more valuable than a bug’s? Don’t say “because I’m a human” – that’s a clear selfish conflict of interest. I’m sure the bug would say the same.

          3) Regarding dogma and “No one knows for sure”
          This is not how he meant it. What he meant (and I believe this is clear to anyone but you) is that everyone has to find their own truth and be happy with that. You could as well not say anything at all. The point is: Every belief has a right to co-exist and no belief is false or inferior to another one.

          You spend a lot of time telling me I’m wrong for someone who thinks that “no belief is false”. Or do you mean “no belief is false, except the belief that some beliefs are false”?

          The universe does not bend to another person’s wishes at all. But neither does the person have to bend to the religion. Saying “Believe what you want to believe” is not doctrine.

          Actually, that’s “It’s OK to believe what you want to believe; nothing bad will happen if you do.” And that’s clearly doctrine.

          4) “Sexuality”
          Do you really think that if Cheese-us and Christianity didn’t put any guidelines up about sexuality, people would automatically become pedophiles, zoophiles or, to name an even extremer example, gay?

          Do you believe people actively decide on their sexual orientation depending on what religion they belong to?

          Look! Straw men, straw men everywhere!

          Or refrain from certain practices based on that? I just don’t think so.

          Let me introduce you to some friends of mine. They are doing precisely what you say no-one does.

          5) Convincing others to join your religion.
          If it’s pointless to convince others to join your religion,

          No, that’s not what I said.

          7) You only said that you wouldn’t kill for your religion. What about “hurt or hinder” which he also uses? If you would, you suck at your religion, you know that.

          Because The Oatmeal is now the authority on who is doing their religion right? I didn’t cover this in my initial analysis, but it’s worth covering it now: who the heck is he to look at all the world’s religions and say that he knows what they should be doing better than the people who actually believe those things? Either he’s spectacularly arrogant, or (more likely) what he actually means by “you suck at your religion” is “you suck at _my_ religion, defined my way, on my terms”. Well, yes. I may well suck at your religion. Question is, who made you God?

          • Sigh, It’s pointless arguing with you. Now I get why everyone is so frustrated.

            1) “Judging”
            Re-reading the comic, I believe what he means is “Religion can make you judge people (in a bad way) you would otherwise not judge that way”. You might judge members of other religions for being a member of these religions (since you attempt to get people to convert to Christianity, it’s likely). Now, people with a more liberal mindset would simply not do that but accept the fact that people are happy with their religion.

            But he also means double standards. Extreme example: I assume something about child abuse being sinful can be found in the bible, right? (you can tell me where if you want). However, there have been numerous examples of child abuse happening in the Catholic church. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_sexual_abuse_cases

            2) Regarding judging
            World, and the Mozilla community, should be a liberal place. I think it’s necessary to judge people when it helps better the coexistence of multiple religions, cultures etc.

            So, if you want: I judge your religious extremism as wrong because it actively hurts the goal that is the friendly coexistence of people from different cultures. In my opinion (and I believe a lot more people think that way) that goal is much more worth than the need of one particularly extremist person to spread his rather extreme views. You can consider it a control mechanism. Believe me, if we were to ask every person in the Mozilla community, I assume people would tend to agree with me that they want to have their cultural space (even here at Mozilla) and don’t want anyone to invade it. In a manner of speaking you claim more religious space than you’re granted (and you might ask me “who granted me this space?”…it’s simple: Just take all religions in the Mozilla community, your space equals exactly 1 divided by the number of religions in the community.

            3) Stem cell research
            If the benefits outweigh the risks, I am okay with stem cell research. This needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis. I think we should strive for more sophisticated research in order to gather information. But if stem cell research is the only thing possible, we should use that. The number of people that potentially benefit from that is much higher than the number of people that suffer.

            When I am anesthetized, it’s not okay to take my life, since at some point before, I have been aware. But for a fertilized egg that never experienced anything, or at least not the world around it (as it’s not aware at all), what is there to lose?

            I think a person starts being a person when he / she begins to gather a sense of identity. There are 5 levels of awareness, according to http://www.psychology.emory.edu/cognition/rochat/Rochat5levels.pdf

            I’d say it’s at the time of birth when a person can be considered a person.

            Humans are more valuable than bugs because of the amount of intelligence mixed with the fact that we are potentially capable of a lot of things. That sets us apart from animals (even from those who have a higher intelligence than we do).

            4) I am telling you, that *you* are wrong. I am not saying that your (religious!) belief is wrong. I think you should have the right to pursue your religion in your private space as long as you’d like. But as I explained earlier, you claim too much “public” space (space that belongs to all religions) for your belief. Let’s just say that there are certain control mechanisms in place in societies. I think it’s everyone’s duty to make sure society’s welfare (and freedom) is accounted for.

            5) “Doctrine”.
            I should’ve said “People should respect society as a whole, and find their favorite place there”. And that means respecting all religions. That’s more along the lines of what I think. And also, that’s not doctrine.

            6) “Sexuality”
            Okay, perhaps there are some people who think their religion is more important than their sexuality. I kind of admire them. Their life might must be hard. And they have to live their life knowing they will never be allowed to live out their sexual dreams.

            These people didn’t choose their orientation based on their belief. No matter how often they heard “Homosexuality is a sin”, they still are homosexual.

            7) Getting others to join your religion
            Okay, so in your opinion, it is not pointless. Why do you continue to do it, when a representative subset of society (and the Mozilla community would count as such) tells you (either directly or indirectly by ignoring your various posts regarding this topic) that they are not interested? The only reason I could think of (if you’re a genuine Christian) is to make them happy. But who are you to tell them what makes them happy, huh? Are *you* telling them they don’t have the means to find it out themselves? That’d be quite mean, wouldn’t it?

            7) You haven’t answered my question.
            Would you hurt or hinder in the names of religion?

            His thoughts are based on philosophical principles (some of which I outlined before) , like “equal rights for everyone”. I agree with him.

            Who the heck are you to tell that Christianity is the best religion, one could ask?

            • Re-reading the comic, I believe what he means is “Religion can make you judge people (in a bad way) you would otherwise not judge that way”.

              In which case, I’d simply say, where Christianity is concerned: “He’s wrong.” Christianity teaches that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – there is no room for being superior to others. I know I have the truth, but I don’t have it because I’m awesome in some way, I have it because God graciously allowed me to believe it.

              But he also means double standards. Extreme example: I assume something about child abuse being sinful can be found in the bible, right? (you can tell me where if you want). However, there have been numerous examples of child abuse happening in the Catholic church.

              I covered this above. The church is not a collection of “good people”, it’s a collection of badly broken people; the difference is that they know they are broken and need God’s forgiveness. Child abusers need to repent, and then turn themselves in.

              But when someone who claims to be a Christian abuses a child, one can look at the Bible and say “this is clearly wrong based on what you claim to believe.” But if someone who claims to be an atheist abuses a child, and when challenged, says “There is no God. People are just complicated chemical reactions and have no intrinsic value. So I just look out for myself and do what I like.” That seems entirely consistent with his beliefs.

              (Note for the hard of thinking: I am not claiming that all atheists are child abusers.)

              2) Regarding judging
              World, and the Mozilla community, should be a liberal place. I think it’s necessary to judge people when it helps better the coexistence of multiple religions, cultures etc.

              So it’s OK to judge people when you are doing it for reasons you think good, but not OK for others for their own reasons?

              You can’t avoid it, Tobbi – you do the very things you criticize me for. You just don’t see it because when you do it, you’re doing it for the “right reasons”.

              3) Stem cell research
              If the benefits outweigh the risks, I am okay with stem cell research.

              Thing is, you get the benefits, and someone else (the embroyo) carries the risks. If you were carrying the risk, I could see this argument. But otherwise it’s just “my life is more important than the lives of others, which I am going to discount as unimportant to me”. That’s a dangerous road to be on.

              The number of people that potentially benefit from that is much higher than the number of people that suffer.

              Christianity is not utilitarian. Nevertheless, embroyos killed by embryonic stem cell research: thousands, or tens of thousands. People helped: 0.

              I’d say it’s at the time of birth when a person can be considered a person.

              OK. So translating someone in 3D space (from inside a womb to outside it) makes them a person? How does that work? How does moving someone from point A to point B make them a person?

              The US decided that translating people in 3D space from Afghanistan to Guantanano Bay made them not people (with no rights). How is that different?

              Humans are more valuable than bugs because of the amount of intelligence mixed with the fact that we are potentially capable of a lot of things. That sets us apart from animals (even from those who have a higher intelligence than we do).

              So if someone is born severely mentally and physically disabled, then their life could in principle be worth less than an animal’s, because they have less intelligence and less potential? And it would be OK to kill them?

              Unless you want to reach some rather nasty conclusions (well, I think they are nasty; you might be cool with them), you need to rethink your position on this. Basing human worth on intelligence and capability leads to a lot of ugly scenarios.

              5) “Doctrine”.
              I should’ve said “People should respect society as a whole, and find their favorite place there”. And that means respecting all religions. That’s more along the lines of what I think. And also, that’s not doctrine.

              Any sentence which uses the word “should” about something that other people should do is doctrine. “People should respect all religions” is clearly doctrine – it’s even got a name. It’s called “pluralism”.

              The only reason I could think of (if you’re a genuine Christian) is to make them happy. But who are you to tell them what makes them happy, huh? Are *you* telling them they don’t have the means to find it out themselves? That’d be quite mean, wouldn’t it?

              The Bible teaches that all efforts to save ourselves, to generate our own meaning and happiness, will ultimately fail. Everything but the true God is an idol, a false god which will fail you. God has called Christians to be a light in the world, proclaiming the truth so that people might be brought out of darkness into His wonderful light.

              Who the heck are you to tell that Christianity is the best religion, one could ask?

              It’s not my idea. It’s God’s. :-) I agree that if it were my own idea, it would be the height of arrogance. We are all speculating without evidence about what lies beyond this world… unless God has broken through and told us about it. Which he has, in the person of Jesus Christ.

              • 1) Judging other people
                Okay, if Christians aren’t superior to others, that would mean “Other religions might be superior to Christianity”. I can live with that. :-)

                You claim to have “the truth”, okay, whatever you say. a) How do you know it’s the truth? b) After what you said, humans are inferior beings. How do you know you didn’t misunderstand God? It’s your god that told people the earth is flat after all (or people understood it that way).

                Also, you can’t have the truth, because I already have it!!!

                Now that we got this settled, get on par with me, will you? You can’t even see me from where you are looking down at me :-)

                2) Christianity as a collection of broken people.
                I get it, by inviting other people to your religion, you tell them “YOU ARE BROKEN!”. Nice thing to tell other people after all.

                3) Religions and bad things
                There are people who avoid doing bad things on basis of their conscience or moral alone. So, don’t tell me people who are not Christians don’t know they are broken. They just might not need someone else to tell them that, but are intelligent enough to figure it out on their own or have their own belief but come to the same conclusion.

                4) Judging
                Perhaps I judge, too, but you “judge for the right reasons” as well, don’t you? My reasons are that I think “religious freedom” is more important than “an individual’s personal religious views that he thinks are the best and everyone should follow them”. In order to determine that, we should probably have a poll, if you want.

                5) “Stem cell research”
                Doing research on unfertilized ova is not a problem. These have never been “alive”, as in no newborn would’ve been the result of them.

                Do you have a source that stem cell research did not help anyone so far? I think we can assume by the insights that we gained through the research, it will definitely help in the future. If it was pointless, people would not be doing it, right?

                It’s difficult to say when a person can be considered aware of its surroundings. But I would assume that a stem cell is not aware of its surroundings (after all, a stem cell has no way of knowing what’s around it).

                So, at which point do we start being a person as opposed to being just a bunch of cells without an identity? Anyways, interesting discussion.

                6) “Worth defined by intelligence and productivity”
                Very interesting. Okay, re-thinking this I find that higher intelligence gives us the duty to care for the less intelligent and the disabled. So, people who have a higher intelligence are supposed to care for the welfare of those with lower capabilities (and such lower responsibility).

                So, from a productive stand point, those people have more value as they care for more people. That, however, means caring, not killing.

                So, some people are worth more for society than others but in idealistic ways everyone’s happy.

                Also, don’t imply I would be okay with the nasty results you mentioned. I am not okay with them, definitely not.

                7) What about “It is our duty as parts of society to protect the rights of all individuals and make sure they find their place in society”. That’s not doctrine.

                8) And proclaiming the light of the world includes Crusades and all the other cruelties that were committed by Christians during the centuries? Again, how do you know you’re not misunderstanding that guy above, or that he’s laughing his ass off at your stupidity.

                It all comes down to your belief. And since you cannot tell me that the intentions of your god are the most positive of the world (after all these many difficulties), it would be best to refrain from religious extremism at all.

    • Of course, their analysis is terrible. But what do you expect from Buzzfeed? If that’s where you go to learn about the Bible, no wonder you are so angry.

      As for “you won’t hear in church”, I’ve heard sermons preached or done bible studies on 1, 2, 4, 5 and 7.

      And I know a great song about 6. :-)