An Ogre, A Cake And A Pistol – How To Explain Morality To A Christian

Posted by Phil Ferguson on April 1st, 2012 – 26 Comments – Posted in religion

As my wife and kids will tell you, I can turn almost any discussion into a talk about religion.  However, I often find that after about 10 minutes the average christian grows weary of this topic.  So, you have a limited time to make your point before their mind snaps shut.  I have tried many different ways to make points and this ogre story is one of my new ones.  The ogre story idea came to me over a year ago and I have been making small changes with each encounter and I would like to share it with you.

Last fall I was helping the Illini Secular Student Alliance with “Quad Day”.  On this one day, just before school starts in the fall, every student group can get a table to hand out flyers and attract new members.  In their wisdom, the University of Illinois the puts the “secular” group right in the middle of all the religious groups.  As we hand out flyers, members of some of the religious groups would walk over and talk to us.  At one point a really nice gentleman comes over and we had conversation.  After about 10 minutes, I could see that he was tired of the religious argument and wanted to leave.

I suggested that he allow me the opportunity to point out that there some basic moral ideas that all humans can agree to.  Some ideas so simple and powerful that he as a christian and me as an atheist can agree.  I explain that the best way to show this is with a story.

THE OGRE STORY!

Imagine that you are in a very big city.  A city that you have never been to before and you find yourself walking down a dark alley, you are lost and a little scared.  It is 3AM and there is no one around.  You are all alone.

From out of the darkness comes an ogre.  The ogre sneaks up behind you and wraps one arm around you.  This ogre is 8 feet 2 inches tall, weighs about 450 LBS and is all muscle. 

You cannot get free.  You can call for help but, no one will hear you.  You are in serious trouble.  With his free hand he lifts up a pistol and places it to your temple.

He leans over and whispers in your ear, “Do you love me?”

You are stunned and not sure what to say so the ogre explains… “If you love me, I will make you a cake!”

and… “If you don’t love me…I will kill you and turn you into a zombie!

At this point in time I will ask the christian if the ogre is moral, have they created a moral situation?  Every time I have done this they say NO.  The ogre is not moral.  I point out that we agree and that there are some moral ideas – virtually, everyone can agree with.  This is one of those ideas.  It is so simple and clear and we, as part of our humanity, share this and so many other things in common.

Often they agree and seem happy that I have finally found some common ground for us to share.

Now, let change things just a little.  I am not going to change the evil situation that the ogre has put you in but let’s just magnify the reward and the penalty.

Again the ogre asks….

“Do you love me?”

Now he tells you that if you do, you can live with him forever in a place of beauty.  Let’s call in paradise.

If you do not love the ogre, he will kill you over and over for all of eternity and put you in a lake of fire!

Often at this point the christian will say something like… “Now you are talking about christianity.”

I will acknowledge that I am and how impressed I am that they recognized the situation and how immoral it is.  Often they will just stammer something like, “well for christianity it’s different.”

I then inform them that and nothing has changed.  I only magnified the reward and the penalty.  The have already agreed that christianiy is evil.

Every time I have done this, they have nothing to say and simply walk away.

  1. Andrew Hall says:

    Very nice way to throw a monkey wrench into the workings of a theist’s mind.

  2. Phil says:

    @ Andrew,
    Thank you

  3. Dazed and Confused says:

    Well done – that’s awesome – will have to remember this.

  4. Phil says:

    @ Dazed,
    Thanks.

  5. Navert says:

    Interesting story. Here’s a slightly modified version.

    Your father takes you to your messy room. He tells you that you have to clean the room. If you do, you can play with your friend. If you don’t, you have to stay in your room for the rest of the day.

    Is your father evil? If not, how is this different from your version?

    • George Humphrey says:

      Are you kidding?

      You are practicing the fallacy of equivocatng. These are not equivalent.

      First of all no one is threatening to torture you for all of eternity if you do not clean your room.

      Second You don’t have to stay in the room for eternity.

      Third, your father didn’t ask you to love him or stay in your room for eternity

  6. James says:

    Ahh~ almost got me there… April Fools! Of course you know the differences Navert, no one is that Naive… Better like next time though. ;D

  7. Dmajor says:

    @Navert: Well, the magnitude of the request / punishment for one thing. I don’t think “death and eternal torture” equates well with “you’re grounded.”

    Grounding your kid because they won’t behave or act appropriately is fine. But to hint, as I think you are, that this is equivalent to what happens in Christianity is laughable at best. “Eternal torture,” by definition, cannot be corrective. It’s eternal. Even if you learn your lesson, it does you no good.

  8. Bob says:

    Navert, that comparison is fundamentally flawed. Firstly, you state that the room is messy. Why is that the case? A messy room implies the child did not clean it. In the above example, the person was simply walking down an alleyway. These are not similar situations. A messy room is generally frowned upon by parents in general hoping to instill habits of cleanliness in their child. This, again, could work for Christianity and a God-worshipper scenario, however why is the “room” messy in the latter? To imply that the room is messy is to suggest that the person has done something wrong. How exactly is a starving African child who has and never in their short life will hear of Christianity had a “messy room?” Why is that child sent to hell, and yet people who have committed horrifying sins, who have repented and accepted Jesus, forgiven and allowed into heaven? Such is not doing unto others as they have done unto you, a central tenet of the Bible and Jesus’ teachings. I simply can’t accept the morality of a God who would punish innocent ignorance and reward conscious disobedience.

  9. Obo says:

    Interesting story. Here’s a slightly modified version.

    Your father takes you to your messy room. He tells you that you have to clean the room. If you do, you can play with your friend. If you don’t, or if you put your socks in the wrong drawer, or if you accidentally put one of your dinosaur toys on your desk, or any number of minute things, he will beat you with his belt until you do. And when you finally do it you will have to thank him for beating you, regardless if it was because he beat you or if you cleaned the room of your own free will.

    Is your father evil? If not, how is this different from your version?

  10. Matt P says:

    Navert, I hope you are trolling. But for the sake of argument, let’s break this down…

    Your father is not being unjust. He is asking you to be accountable for your actions. The reason being is that if we lack accountability, we end up with the bad kind of anarchy. As you grow, you will have to become dependent upon yourself. Not your father. The lesson you should be getting from cleaning is that keeping order in your life will show results that can be reproduced, examined and will evidence the benefits of cleaning up.

    What you father has not done, is tell you that calling him by his first name in anger will end in eternal punishment. Nor is he asking for or threatening blood. Eternally. When we punish people, the end goal is to dissuade them from doing something the next time around, although studies prove that punishing them while still treating them like a human being is much more positive an outcome.

    I see you trying to lessen the punishment and reward, instead of maximizing it, but to be fair, we want to illustrate the punishment associated with religion. How about if your father makes the rule that rooms must be cleaned a certain way. If they are not, you will be punished. However, if you have heard of cleaning your room this way, but still prefer to clean it your own way, you will still be punished, even if it’s clean. Moreover, if you have not heard of cleaning your room, you will still be punished if it’s messy.

    This is the kind of insanity and cruelty and unjust nonsense that is the bible.

  11. Bryan H. says:

    To be fair, Christians assume that this ogre is the one that gave them life/happiness/free will in the first place. Perhaps a more analogous situation would be a father saying this to his child, rather than a random ogre saying this to a random person.

  12. Scott says:

    I’m not trying to troll or anything, but don’t you think 90 some percent of theists will simply dismiss the troll story as a flawed analogy the same way everyone has dismissed Navert’s idea? I mean, to us it sounds so revealing, but if one has trusted in a religion their entire life, a stupid ass story about a troll isn’t going to change their fucking minds. I’m all for atheism, but don’t act so arrogant about it.

  13. Aaron says:

    Sorry… thought this was pretty silly actually. Much better ways to explain how the christian god is a trivial, childish, dick. Why an ogre, gun, and cake? Just restate the shit they believe in simple terms.

  14. William says:

    On the other hand, it’s not like God’s only condition is for him to be loved. He also wants humanity to love itself and for humans to be considerate of others — hence Commandments that forbid stealing from and murdering other people. So it’d be like the ogre saying “you must love me, never steal from anyone else, and always be kind to others, then I’ll take you to paradise”. So the first part of the ogre’s conditions? Admittedly egotistical. The other conditions? He’s just trying to make the world a better place through you. Whether it’s God/ the ogre’s business to do such a thing is something to decide later. I’m not saying that your analogy is completely wrong, it’s just that in my view its missing a few components. The ogre’s not just extorting love for himself, he’s also trying to extort kindness from people (in a vigilante-like fashion). So with that, I wouldn’t think the ogre is evil, just trying to get people to be good while being a bit of a psycho about it.

  15. Navert says:

    @DMajor,

    To a child, a whole day is eternal. But I do agree that “eternal torture” in the sense of never ending is not corrective nor is similar. I do not believe that “eternal torture” is never ending. I believe the “eternal” part is meaning God, so it is God’s torture (or punishment). And just as grounding is “Dad’s torture” and that it will end, same with “God’s torture”

    @Bob
    I like that you noticed the difference between the reasons for the punishment. In the first, it seems rather arbitrary (middle of the night in some random location) while the other is an acceptable consequence for an action you performed. And yes, a God that consigns a person that has never heard of Him to endless torture does some like the first analogy. But that isn’t who God is. Everybody will get the chance to learn of Him, whether in this life or the next. Everyone will get an equal opportunity to accept and reject Him. And those that reject Him are grounded while those that don’t reject Him get to play with their friends.

    @Matt P
    No, I’m not trolling. I’m just trying to see how you differentiate between the two situations since they do have similarities (basically the main parts). You see the father as not being unjust because the rules and consequences make sense to you.

    You bring up the subject of saying God’s name in vain as a stupid rule. When I was growing up, if I rudely spoke to my mother in almost any form, my father would reprimand me. Why? Because I was being rude to the woman that he loves. If I spoke to my father extremely rudely, he would make me sit out for a while till I could communicate in a more respectful manner. How is this any different than God wanting people to not use His name in vain?

    And I do agree that constantly reminding people about a future punishment is wrong. The whole “fire and brimstone” preaching is not all that useful. Incentivizing is far better than punishing. I believe God does more incentivizing than punishing. That you believe the other is interesting to me.

    And as for the “strange rules” for room cleaning, isn’t that exactly how it happens? My mother told me that I had to clean my room. To me, the room was already clean (ignoring the toys and clothes on the ground). So, to “appease” her, I pushed all the stuff under the bed. I still got grounded. I didn’t clean the room in the way she wanted (the items put away) and so I still got punished. Now, she might be lenient with certain things (the toys don’t have to be in their correct places) but that is the same with God. He wants us to try our best, not to be perfect. That you believe God is such a hash task master who doesn’t have charity is also interesting to me.

    To all that responded:
    It seems that there are two main reasons why my analogy is different from the ogre analogy:
    1 – Grounded for the day is not equivalent to being a zombie.
    2 – Being grounded for not cleaning the room is an obvious consequence.

    For #1, as I replied to DMajor, God doesn’t inflict torment that never ends. He inflicts “eternal torment” or “endless torment”. Since God is eternal and endless, those are actually His torments and they will have an end. To a child, one day is eternal (especially if you are really young) but it will end. Same with God’s punishment. It might feel like eternity but it will end.

    For #2, if I had changed the the punisher from your father to a random man on the street, you would have immediately been able to show how this random man was evil. But because it is your father, he is just as long as it is an appropriate rule and consequence. The same thing with why Christians view this differently. To us, God is our loving father. As a small child, the rules give by our parents feel very arbitrary. As an adult, we recognize that they did have valid reasons. As a child compared to God, the rules can seem arbitrary. But because we love Him and believe He loves us, we accept that the rules have a reason (and as a father of three children now, I can see many of the reasons), just like we accept that our mortal parents have a reason. For you that do not accept God, it feels very much arbitrary. Just as it would feel if a random person tried to force you to clean your room. That’s a valid feeling and perfectly acceptable. I do not begrudge you for not accepting Him as your father.

  16. Monado says:

    Actually it’s much more accurate if it’s your father who jumps out with a pistol….

    The analogy about cleaning your room is because it’s about actions and responsibility and who messed up the room in the first place and mild consequences, not emotional abuse, forced statements of love, and over-the-top punishment.

  17. Monado says:

    “The analogy about cleaning your room *does not apply* because…”

  18. Navert says:

    @Monado
    Interesting that you see it that way. For me, when I think about God and how He works, it is much more closely aligned to that of the father analogy. I don’t see any more emotional abuse, forced statements of love, and over-the-top punishment when I compare how God works and any normal father works.

  19. Wagner says:

    Navert,

    “To a child, a whole day is eternal. But I do agree that “eternal torture” in the sense of never ending is not corrective nor is similar. I do not believe that “eternal torture” is never ending. I believe the “eternal” part is meaning God, so it is God’s torture (or punishment). And just as grounding is “Dad’s torture” and that it will end, same with “God’s torture.”
    “For #1, as I replied to DMajor, God doesn’t inflict torment that never ends. He inflicts “eternal torment” or “endless torment”. Since God is eternal and endless, those are actually His torments and they will have an end.”

    I confess, I’m baffled as to how you do not see any flaw in your second quote, besides the brain punch that is the statement that “torment that never ends” is not the same thing as “eternal tormant”. You say that it is God’s torment, and not that of the damned soul, based on how the bible refers to both God and the Torments as “eternal” and “endless”. You use the two words as pure synonyms for God, which glosses over the meaning intended:

    Matthew 25:46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

    Daniel 12:2 “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”

    Let alone other quotes where the damned are thrown into the Lake of Fire and the like. (Such as Mark 9:42-50, Revelation 14:11) You are writing a more palatable interpretation into more objectionable facets of Abrahamic faith because you see how the situation as given is immoral.

    The rest of your arguments rest on that assumption. Without the temporary nature (however long it might seem from our “child’s eyes”) God is not a loving father but an ogre toting a gun.

  20. kagekiri says:

    @Navert:
    It’s not really comparable to any good human father. A father is known by his children in most cases only because he sticks around and interacts with them in their lives. And not just as a silent care-taker, magically sustaining existence with hints of himself in an ancient book of compiled and questionable documents, but one who speaks to them in ways they can actually comprehend.

    Let’s make it easier: pretend God is a human, doing the things claimed in the Bible.

    _____

    Consider if God was a person who created a world for some of his personal creations, some AI beings in a program. But he knows exactly the future of these creations, everything about them, and has full power in that world to change it as he likes (or at least tells others that he has both of these things). He also claims selflessness and love for his creations even though he says he created this world specifically to glorify and please himself.

    This creator makes AI creatures who he considers perfect, and sets down some rules. Yet he neglects to give them the knowledge of what he considers good and evil. When they acquire knowledge of good and evil, disobeying him, who is to blame? They don’t know what they’re doing is wrong until after their wrong act is committed, and the creator should have forseen this. But he blames them for their created shortcomings, and creates suffering to curse his creations with.

    Every generation after is still created by him (so he claims), but he continues to punish them for their ancestor’s sins and cursing them, creating them broken instead of fixing them at birth. Only those who serve him and glorify him survive to become mindless automatons of worship, while he decides to torture the rest for eternity instead of simply deleting them from existence.

    ______

    This person is a irresponsible sadist, isn’t he? A programmer who makes things suffer for his own pleasure like some twisted child enjoying murdering living things. He could make a perfect simulation of happy beings who worship him, but he wants free will in his program so that he gets the chance to make some of them squirm with suffering forever. That’s what his sovereignty and supposed hand in creating and allowing evil means: he wanted this situation. He made kids specifically with tendencies to have a dirty room so that he could punish at least some of the kids.

    All of the Bible is full of an omnipotent and omniscient creator blaming his creations for their faults, as though the creator was not responsible for them. Calling God a father is not giving him enough responsibility: a father has to take responsibility for his children if they misbehave for his failure to teach them, not kill them on the spot (though God does recommend that in the Bible…so maybe he’s being consistent, but only consistently murderous and nuts).

    A creator who claims to be benevolent while creating a world that he knows in advance will contain horrible eternal suffering: well, someone’s lying or refusing to be accountable for his actions. A creator who makes a big deal of how good free will is, when it’s really just a chance to burn in hell, well, someone is not being honest or loving or good in any way.

    You don’t give people horrible choices if you love them, especially if it’s in your power to only give good choices. You don’t give them tools that they will irreparably harm themselves with, especially if you know for sure they will misuse them. Would a parent give their baby a pin to stab himself with (free will), then punish the conscious-less baby for stabbing himself with his innocent flailing? And then give the same punishment to all his future descendents, calling it justice?

    No. God claims to be better than any Earthly father, but a father who tortures his children is not moral or good in any way. He says he’ll give you good things more so than any earthly father, but he’s the one who supposedly damned and cursed us from our conception. Did you ask to be born sinful? Did you ask for suffering? I don’t recall doing so.

    God is a horrible monster, a megalomaniacal tyrant who refuses to take responsibility and expects his slave-creations to suffer for his pleasure if they don’t want eternal torture. He glories in their deaths and pain done in his name, and glories in punishing those who fail to live and die for him.

    There was a period of time when I realized these character traits about God in the Bible, yet still thought he existed. It was not a great time, thinking the universe was in the hand of a sadistic and selfish madman.

    Luckily enough, the logical contradictions extend to lack of any evidence for his existence, so it’s become clear that a horrible God like the one in the Bible is rather unlikely. It seems like if we have gods, they don’t care much about interacting with us, or have vacated the premises.

  21. Scott says:

    Hey fellow atheists,

    We should stop using these arguments to say that God is bad, and instead use them to show that god is not real. I’ve read a lot of comments that show how logically god is a pretty fucked up guy, and it is great to show that god doesn’t always “behave as he should.” But look at what Navert said, about the father analogy. This is the most important idea to use! God is just a bunch of analogies to real world situations/relationships. He is just human ideas and morality projected on a canvas, which is why he cannot be all loving and all powerful, and why there are so many contradictions to his actions. If he really did exist, his ideas would be greater than the ideas of mankind, and the bible shows this is not true. Instead, he appears to be a collection of beliefs, morals, and philosophies of people. I know this is kind of what you were probably already doing, but I thought it should be stated explicitly. Anyways the oven is ringing, I think my baby is finally done.

  22. JIm n says:

    Well, I would go with that but you can’t fully disprove god’s existence–you can come damned close. The onus is to prove he does exist. But even if he is human constructed, theological rationalists can make some pretty strong arguments for god’s qualities in the general–omnitience and omnipotence do make an ontological argument, of existence. In dealing with this argument you have to dis rationality and go with existence preceding essence.

    In any case, the father analogy is bullshit since your father very well could be an abusive alcoholic that has a proclivity for underage girls. That is why I never believed all of the 10 commandments as some universal–eg, honor your mother and father–if dad is a NeoNazi and wants to kill Jews, fuck him, or the above dad. Respect is not accepting everything. It means due consideration but it’s not absolute moral relativity.

    • Scott says:

      I wouldn’t say proving god doesn’t exist so much as showing evidence that suggests that the writings of the bible and the idea of god are man made. But yeah there will never be a definite proof or anything, I just think calling someone’s god man made is more convincing than calling them an evil troll with a gun.

  23. JIm n says:

    LOL. OK, ok I liked the idea of the evil troll with a gun but you’re right that the basis of that remark is that god and his qualities are man made. The idea that the man made god is ridiculous by a description of his absurdity is kind of like showing the emperor has no clothes but it might be more direct to emphasize that any godly attributes are human derived as is god.

    For mystics and kabbalists that might still be problematic as they don’t care what the attributes are. They just worship the idea or whatever of him, her, it. But they aren’t the problem–well, except for Madonna ;-)

    For hermeneutics there is also a problem as theo’s will readily admit that our perception of god is human skewed but will nevertheless accept the premise of existence, while apologizing for all of the horridly attributed qualities. Francis Collins does this readily–he will say oh yes the bible is wrong in word because it is historical, etc, but certainly god exists and a bad story is better than no story at all, considering the context, and how can you explain the visceral experience of godly inspiration, perfection of world, etc.

    The issue of human made versus human interpreted is problematic. Perhaps a multiple approach works as some will prefer to ridicule the attributes of god and others will prefer to decry their origin. But it is true that sophisticated theo’s will dismiss the cartoon as a simplistic pot shot.

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