Phil Robertson of the breakout hit, “Duck Dynasty”, spoke at a prayer breakfast in my state recently, and during his presentation made the following statement about atheists:
“I’ll make a bet with you. “Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?”
These are the words I wish I could say to him.
Dear Mr. Robertson:
I am an atheist. You don’t know me, but because your family’s television series fills half my DVR, I feel like to some extent, I know you. My son, a funny, caring, smart 12-year-old identifies himself as a huge Duck Dynasty fan. He currently also identifies himself as someone who doesn’t believe that there’s a deity out there controlling our lives. And while he’s not old enough yet to have a fully developed belief structure, he does not believe in heaven or hell.
When you used your platform of fame last year to make your ideas about homeosexuality known, my son and I had a discussion about understanding, tolerating, and being cognizant of the beliefs of others that are different from ours; about protecting our friends (many of whom are gay) from beliefs that are dangerous or hurtful; and about the idea that there is no room in any civil discourse for hate speech. He continued to watch Duck Dynasty because the ideas you had communicated were not portrayed in the show, and because I feel it’s my job to guide him in life toward his own identity, not force my ideals and beliefs on him.
Today, as I read your words about atheists, my heart breaks. I know there will be another discussion about and a removal from our viewing lineup of Duck Dynasty. I know that I will have to explain to my son that while we can be tolerant of beliefs, we cannot be tolerant of attacks and we cannot support hate or give it such a resounding voice. I know that this is a discussion I shouldn’t have to have with a kid who just really thinks your sons are funny guys, your grandkids are “pretty cool”, and your wife is a grandma extraordinaire.
Why do I, an atheist, care that we’re eliminating your family from ours, Mr. Robertson? Despite your conviction that my belief makes me deserving/capable of rape and murder, I found your brood a beautiful example of care and strength whose source was your faith. I never wished you harm or looked down on you because you chose a different ideal than mine, and in fact talked with my child about the fact that choosing Christianity as a construct of kindness and love is just as respectable as choosing any other system of belief to guide you to being better people. As the product of a family separated by more than distance, I was glad that Duck Dynasty depicted you and your relatives working through life’s trials in the context of the peace and joy you derive from Christianity. As a human being, I enjoyed the big and little victories the Robertsons shared once a week through a show.
I wish you and your family the best, Mr. Robertson, because while I disagree with what you promote, I understand that your beliefs are not the whole of you and that despising you for what you’ve said only furthers ideas of inequality and intolerance that I and my generation have every opportunity to erase. I hope we can change your mind one day, and that you can see that every person, “even” an atheist, is a person worth more than the story you’ve told. Until then, I hope I am not the only one who makes the choice to tell you, through any means possible, that there’s no room for your hate in our homes.