Billy Graham’s anthropology

I was recently reading a book of quotations from Christian evangelist Billy Graham called “Ask Billy Graham“. In one passage, Graham relates a conversation he had with an anthropologist from Siberia who told him he was an atheist. As quoted in the New York Times, October 13, 1985, Graham remarked:

“I said to him: ‘Why is it that all over the world, we have never found a tribe, a people that didn’t worship someone? It may be a spirit in a tree. It may be something we call God. But they worship someone.’ The anthropologist agreed that it was a worldwide phenomenon that they hadn’t yet figured out.”

I found this passage interesting for a few reasons:

  1. Graham is interested in using anthropological data to support the existence of God.
  2. Graham thinks that the data he cites, that all cultures worship something, are evidence for his ideas about Christianity and not against them.

The fact that all cultures have religion could be considered evidence to support a few different ideas about God.

1) One is that all humans have a desire to explain the world, and that supernatural explanations are often easier to accept than natural ones, especially in cases where the humans have a limited understanding of science.  Religion is therefore a product of the human mind.  That is basically what every atheist believes to be the source of religion.

 2) The other possibility is that supernaturalism is accepted by all cultures because it’s a part of the real world that they perceive, in the same way that they all see the moon or feel the rain. In short, all supernatural beliefs are based on phenomena which do indeed exist.  I doubt very much that there are many Christians willing to accept that stories of ghosts and witches are every bit as true as their ideas about the divinity of Christ.

Interestingly, what the evidence does not support is the idea that Christianity is correct and the other religions are false. That may be true, but the evidence doesn’t suggest that. If Graham were going to use anthropological data to demonstrate Christianity’s veracity while at the same time demonstrating the other religions’ falsehood, he would show how Christianity differs from the other religions of the world, and not how it is similar to them.   

Of course, this simple piece of data in no way proves atheism is correct nor does it prove Graham’s beliefs about Christianity are wrong.  But it does call into question Graham’s ability to distinguish evidence that supports his beliefs from evidence that contradicts them.

P.S.  Billy Graham obtained a degree in anthropology in 1943 from Wheaten College in Illinois.

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12 Responses to “Billy Graham’s anthropology”

  1. Bob Says:

    It seems like the problem with his logic is the same problem with Pascal’s Wager — there are so many supernatural entities, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to know which one to worship and be correct and/or go to its version of “heaven.”

    On a related note, you said this “in no way proves atheism is correct.” While I agree it doesn’t “prove” atheism correct, does not the worldwide diversity of opinions imply a certain subjective nature on religion? and wouldn’t that, therefore, give *evidence* for atheism, even if not “proving” it as correct?

  2. Andy Hallman Says:

    While I agree it doesn’t “prove” atheism correct, does not the worldwide diversity of opinions imply a certain subjective nature on religion? and wouldn’t that, therefore, give *evidence* for atheism, even if not “proving” it as correct?

    Yes, the evidence Graham cites is consistent with what most atheists believe about religion, which is that it is so pervasive because the need to explain the world is so pervasive, and explaining that world is easier with supernaturalism than materialism. It’s easier for humans to think that events happen for a reason; that they are caused by someone acting with a purpose similar to ours.

    From the link I posted earlier:

    “It’s not surprising that religious beliefs engage mainly the theory-of-mind areas [of the brain], as they are about virtual beings who are treated as having essentially human mental traits, just as characters in a novel or play are,” comments Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist at the University of Oxford.

  3. Adam Lee Says:

    Interesting article, I think you should look into the Medicine Wheel used by Native Americans, it explains that emotions counteract logic while spirituality counteracts physicality — It is important to come to a good balance between the four.

  4. Mark Turner Says:

    I thought the article about Billy Graham and Hitchens was interesting. Hitchens is lthe Rush Limbaugh of the athiests. I say that with pure and unadulterated disrespect. The guy may be a liberal as far as that goes, but his approach to attack is nearly identical to Limbaugh.

    I think the article brings out probably Billy Graham’s major failing and that is he was totally out of touch when it comes to the politics of power. He had no idea where his head was coming from and going to in that area. I think one in the religious realm should never cater to politicians. You can be friends with them as long as it is on your terms or one might say God’s terms and not theirs. As religious people we try to keep it on God’s terms as much as we possibly can but realize at the same time the impossibility of that.

  5. Andy Hallman Says:

    Hi Adam, thank you for posting that information about the Medicine Wheel. Can you explain what you mean by “coming to a good balance” between these four concepts of logic, emotion, spirituality and physicality. Is spirituality really necessary?

    I was unaware that I could play youtube videos from this site. I read on the “Facts and Questions” page that I would need to pay an annual fee to have that right.

  6. Andy Hallman Says:

    Hello Mark, thanks for the comment. For everyone’s knowledge, I did not post the link to the Time Magazine article about Hitchens versus Graham. WordPress generates those links automatically by searching for key words or names in my blog posts.

    In the Time piece, the authors Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy are trying to portray Graham in a mostly positive light. Contrasting Graham’s biblical literalism with the more liberal interpretation offered by his associate Charles Templeton, the authors write:

    He didn’t understand everything in the Bible. But he decided to accept it, and preach it, without apology.

    Is the fact that he pretended to be certain about things he wasn’t a positive or negative reflection on Graham’s character? It strikes me as negative, but it seems the authors disagree.

    Mark: You can be friends with them as long as it is on your terms or one might say God’s terms and not theirs.

    I don’t know what you mean here.

  7. Mark Turner Says:

    I think we all fall into that at some point, being positive about things we are not certain of. I don’t think the author’s were really making a value judgment there however I think they thought Hitchens had been unjust to Graham. I personally think Hitchens is like Limbaugh, he has his following and they will agree with anything he comes up with because they like his audacity and his self-certainty. He comes off as even more sure of the truth than Billy Graham. I think that is why his books sell, not because they are good. I bought and tried to read one you know. That was a big mistake.

    I think the article did bring out some negative things about Graham which I agree with. Graham tries to act like that was a one time situation with Nixon, but it was that pattern of his life. What I am saying is that while Graham resisted the temptation to make money off his high profile status, he couldn’t resist the status and he also made value judgments about politicians that sought him out. I would be extremely leery in that position about being involved with politicians at all because you know they are trying to use you. Therefore allowing them to do that is already doing them a huge favor. Imagine all people that hear about the meeting and then link Billy Graham with Richard Nixon. It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out.

  8. Andy Hallman Says:

    I personally think Hitchens is like Limbaugh, he has his following and they will agree with anything he comes up with because they like his audacity and his self-certainty.

    I really don’t think that’s the case with Hitchens. I know of few people who agree with Hitchens on every issue (He thinks Henry Kissinger is a war criminal, is critical of Zionism, and is a strong supporter of the Iraq War).

    Reading through Hitchens’s articles on the internet leaves one with the impression he is well-read and (mostly) thoughtful. I don’t think the comparison to Limbaugh is accurate.

    He comes off as even more sure of the truth than Billy Graham. I think that is why his books sell, not because they are good.

    I doubt very much that people read Hitchens to reinforce their beliefs. His political philosophy has become far too eclectic for that.

  9. Mark Turner Says:

    Andy, his best-selling book was about religion. When he spoke of politics it was to support the axe which he had to grind which was religion. Most people don’t read Hitchens for political philosophy. It is because of his anti-religion diatribes. Consider what he has done that sells. His new book is “Is Christianity Good for the World”. Do you think if he wrote a book that didn’t argue about religion, that it would sell? His readers would be extremely disappointed. They want something that supports their viewpoint just like Rush Limbaugh’s readership.

  10. Andy Hallman Says:

    Most people don’t read Hitchens for political philosophy. It is because of his anti-religion diatribes.

    Someone, probably not Hitchens himself, has compiled a list of Hitchens’s books at this webpage. It looks like the list is from 2002 (see below). I see quite a few books, but none about religion.

    They want something that supports their viewpoint just like Rush Limbaugh’s readership.

    I know a lot of people who agree with Rush Limbaugh on every issue. I don’t know anyone who agrees with Christopher Hitchens on every issue. Atheists may read him to reinforce their atheism, but I’d guess that most atheists are anti-war and would therefore disapprove of Hitchens’s recent turn toward a neoconservative foreign policy.

    I’d wager that the people who regularly read Hitchens’s columns do so because they like the way he writes and not because he tells them what they want to hear.

    Orwell’s Victory
    (Allen Lane, 2002)
    Why Orwell Matters
    (Basic Books, August 2002)

    Letters to a Young Contrarian
    (Basic Books, May 2001)

    The Trial of Henry Kissinger
    (Verso, May 2001; paperback with updated intro June 2002)

    Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question edited with Edward Said
    (with new intro by Said and Hitchens, Verso, April 2001)
    First edition published by Verso, 1988

    Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere
    (Verso, November 2000)

    No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family
    (Verso, July 2000)

    No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton
    (Verso, 1999)

    The Elgin Marbles: Should they be returned to Greece?
    (with essays by Robert Browning and Graham Binns) (Verso, March 1998)

    Hostage to History: Cyprus from the Ottomans to Kissinger with new Afterword (Verso, 1997)
    First edition published as Cyprus by Quartet Books Limited 1984
    Second edition published as Hostage to History: Cyprus from the Ottomans to Kissinger by Noonday Press (USA) and Collins Publishers (Canada) 1989

    The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (Verso, 1995)

    When the Borders Bleed: The Struggle of the Kurds with Ed Kashi (Pantheon Books, 1994)

    International Territory: the United Nations, 1945-95 with Adam Bartos (Verso, 1994)

    For the Sake of Argument: Essays & Minority Reports (Verso, 1993)

    Blood, Class and Nostalgia: Anglo-American Ironies (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990)

    Prepared for the Worst (Hill and Wang, 1989)

    Imperial Spoils: The Curious Case of the Elgin Marbles (Hill and Wang, 1989)

    Callaghan: The Road to Number Ten (Cassell, 1976)

    Karl Marx and the Paris Commune
    (Sidgwick and Jackson and Christopher Hitchens, 1971)

    Monarchy (Counterblasts, No 10)(Chatto & Windus, 1990)

    Inequalities in Zimbabwe (Minority Rights Group, 19??)

  11. Mark Turner Says:

    http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB118247644823044329.html

    This is the impression that I got from his book of his style of argument.
    I will be the first to admit that many Christians come off just as badly defending Christianity. However his book which is by far his bestseller, comes off to me as written in the Rush Limbaugh manner which obviously is similar to Jerry Springer. I really have little respect for that approach and I put down the book unable to stomach the style. I would have no problem reading arguments that were thought out attacking religion. However when rhetoric gets so heated and inflammatory I can’t take it. I was just in a Christian Theology class that spoke of atheism and this guy was conciliatory and pleasant. In fact he spoke of how similar Christianity was to atheism. That is an approach that I can deal with. I am not saying that he hasn’t done good things that have had nothing to do with religion. I am just saying that he has found a niche which is making him money currently. And he is milking the cow just like Rush Limbaugh does.

    An estimated 1,000 turned out in Miami to listen to Mr. Hitchens challenge a panel that included an Orthodox Jew and a Buddhist nun. “I now wish I hadn’t participated,” says Nathan Katz, a professor of religious studies at Florida International University. “He was utterly abusive. It had the intellectual level of the Jerry Springer Show.”

  12. Ytldb;bvjcnm Says:

    Ytldb;bvjcnm…

    […]Billy Graham’s anthropology « Andy Hallman's Blog[…]…

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