Illustration by Stephanie Barahona.
When I was 16, I emailed singer-songwriter Tim Minchin to talk about God. I had just been to his concert, and as a devout Christian I was offended by his comedic takedowns of my religion. My first message started a dialogue that was to last for over a year. Below, I have included excerpts from our emails.
I really enjoyed your show. I think you have an amazing ability to be brutally honest and humorous at the same time.
I apologise in advance for the long email but I respect you and value your opinion and was hoping that you could write to me addressing some specific topics!! Pretty please… I would love to hear your view on why you so firmly believe that evolution is truth and why you say that the only argument against evolution that you have heard is that it is “only a theory”. I love the way you respect the immense beauty in creation and can only hope that you one day come to see the beautiful mind of the creator who created the beauty of the earth…
I encourage you to investigate the claim of Jesus rather than reject it based on the Christians who seem to believe in God through blind faith rather than by researching the claim and evaluating it. The best book that I have read that explains the logic behind God and Jesus is in the book “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis…
Hey Tom!/ Thanks so much for your excellent message. You’re quite clearly an extremely intelligent 16 yr old! You don’t at any point sound arrogant, and I’m really glad you wrote…
You seem to be claiming the following: “Evolution is a theory that has millions of pieces of evidence to support it. It makes predictions (ie that there will be transitional fossils in certain stratum) that constantly, consistently, and frequently come true. However I have found a couple of examples of an animal which doesn’t easily fit into this theory. Therefore, a dark-ages text claiming the existence of a magical man-god must be the better explanation.” Mad! Type Occam’s Razor into Wikipedia.
Even if evolution was not the scientific fact that it is, the idea that the Christian explanation of existence is its worthy replacement is absolutely crazy. Creationism / Intelligent Design does not propose any testible theory for the existence of species. It simply looks for tiny cracks, peers into them, and yells. “Look! Look! I can see God!”.
Please, Tom, look carefully into the information you are being fed… The vast, vast majority of scientists accept evolution as fact… and pretty much the only ones who don’t are Christians and are therefore not thinking scientifically. There are, of course, hotly debated topics within evolutionary science… this is what makes science different from faith: it is constantly challenging and improving itself.
I could go on for much much longer about why Christianity is intellectually problematic, but frankly, i don’t care. I don’t care if people are Christian, Hindu, Jew, Atheist, Confucian or Pastafarian. But when it comes to my shows, I can only write about the things I think about – and belief happens to be at the top of the list.
…Just one note: the notion of sin is nonsense. You’ll have to excuse me for any arrogance here, but dividing behaviour up like that is extremely unhelpful, and if i had any direct advice it would be this: do yourself a favour and forget about the notion of sin. It will ruin your life.
I don’t dismiss Christians nor generalise about their behaviour. My criticisms of Christianity in my show, “Ready For This”, are very clear and very specific:
“1. The Church’s treatment of homosexuals is hypocritical. (“I Love Jesus, I Hate Faggots”)” …
“2. The idea that the Bible is our best source of moral guidance is laughable. (“The Good Book”)…
Came across this book review. The book looks like a good one for you if you’re interested.
Thanks so much for the reply. Sorry that I am the one who takes a long time to reply even when you are probably a thousand times busier than I am
…I feel that it is possible that people may have homosexual inclinations naturally (occurring without any environmental causes in their upbringing) in the same way that people may have the inclination to lie or cheat etc.
I do not think that having an attraction towards the same sex in and of itself is wrong but rather acting upon this inclination becomes sin. This is the same as any other sin. I hope this does not mean that you reject me as a person…
One thing that really confuses me is the way that people who are atheists talk about morals. I would love to talk for longer about this point! I do not understand how people can believe that we were created in some chemical reaction… If we are only these meaningless organisms with no purpose in life than to have the most enjoyment before we die then what stops us from being completely selfish and killing whoever we want and having sex with whoever we want etc. Why would we need to worry about ‘moral’ issues such as the ones you mentioned?…
I didn’t reply to this, Tom, because I found it sad and infuriating. You’re a smart young man and I hope you learn over time how problematic your opinions are, logically and morally.
What other people do with their sex lives has nothing to do with you. Nothing to do with the church. Nothing to do with me. Nothing to do with a book that you seems to concurrently think is both divine and open to interpretation! Nothing to do with any of the fools who preach their prejudice in your church.
How dare you decide what God thinks is a “sin”? How the hell would you know what God thinks? How dare you look at a homosexual person – a smarter, more educated, more giving, more open, more loving person than you or your preachers or your parents and say he or she is committing a “sin”? What the hell is a “sin” anyway? How simplistic and judgmental!
The need to divide things into the false dichotomy of good and evil should remain the intellectual pursuit of pre-enlightenment adults and modern 4 year olds.
Many of the most horrific human acts in history have been justified by ill-educated arseholes waving their personal definition of sin.
Humans created God. Humans created the Bible. Humans created our laws. Humans are the source of war and hatred. Humans are the source of love and giving. Humans are the source of morality. If you need a book to tell you what is right, then I am sad for you. Are you suggesting if God wasn’t there, you would kill and fuck all over the place? What’s wrong with you dude?
Sorry mate. I don’t reject you “as a person”. I don’t even know you. And I’m sure you’re a nice guy, but you’ve been taught bad stuff and it gives me the shits. As you should know from my material.
Keep this email and read it every now and then. Consider it the Book of Timothy’s lost verses.
In the next section, Minchin’s replies are slotted in between my responses:
Sorry if i have made you sad or infuriated though may i ask (not to sound arrogant), if what other people do has nothing to do with you or me, then why does my ‘difference of opinion’ cause you sadness or fury?
You make a lot of well thought-out points, but this isn’t one of them. A person’s sexuality doesn’t hurt you or even affect you, so you don’t need to have a moral opinion on it. That’s what I mean by “nothing to do with you”. The fact that you presume to do so makes me angry in the same way that if someone tried to pass laws saying Christians have limited rights, I would be angry on behalf of Christians.
And if you claim that there is no deity that defines what is right and wrong then how can you claim that specific human acts are “horrific”.
I don’t know. I just can. Weird huh? How do you know what’s right and wrong? Do you always have to refer to what your dark-ages philosophers thought? Or do you just know? Take some pride in your own ability to act morally.
If nature was the result of a chemical reaction and our species has evolved due to natural selection and survival of the fittest then what gives you the right to tell Hitler that what he did was wrong. He may have believed that he was killing off weaker forms of our specie.
What has a crazy Nazi killing people have anything to do with natural selection? That’s a completely empty argument.
A thought on morality for you, and anyone else who think their doctrine is the source of the stuff:
Morality alters over time. You are the type of Christian you are (ie reasonably liberal) because humans have dragged their religions forward with them. Slavery, witch-burning, genocide and a million other terrible human acts have been justified as supported by the bible. (Note I didn’t say religion caused these acts). The reason those things are now seen as immoral is because humankind has advanced. God has nothing to do with it. A prediction: in 50 years, Christians will not accept prejudice against homosexuals and will look back at your generation as misguided and embarrassing. You think all those old Christians were wrong with their prejudices against black people and women and Muslims, but you think your interpretation of God’s word is spot-on? You sure Tom? You sure you haven’t seriously fucked up? I’d hate to be in your shoes – you must be scared shitless of judgement day.
The simple answer to complex moral questions is to invoke God. And if you want simplicity, go for your life – I’ve never once approached a Christian and questioned their right to believe what they want.
I do not claim to have an opinion. I am presenting you with what I believe comes from the authority of God who made you in his image.
I don’t know what you mean by “God”. I don’t know what you mean by God’s “authority”. I can’t believe you think there’s a God who looks like me.
You are correct in saying that the sex lives of others has nothing to do with me or any other human … However if there is a God, then it matters to Him and even He doesn’t force you to have a certain ‘sex life’. He has told us the way we should live our lives and will judge accordingly. Though on that note it is amazing that he does not judge us based on the sins we commit but sends Jesus in our place in order to give us the opportunity to have our sins forgiven.
I don’t think you even know what you mean when you write sentences like this. How did “God” (a word I don’t understand) send “Jesus” (a dead cult leader from dark-ages Palestine) to “give us the opportunity to have our sins forgiven”? I honestly don’t know what that means. And I’m smarter than you. What gives?
If we move away from homosexuality being a sin then what is stopping us from making murder or rape or theft right.
If you said that to me at my dinner table I would ask you to leave. An exercise for you: rather than spending your email time regurgitating standard old church rhetoric, why don’t you answer this for me: why is the above sentence fucked? Honestly, give it a bash. Try to think why I think the above sentence is problematic and reply with your answer. If you do that, I’ll answer again. If you don’t, I’m over and out.
Is there not something inside you that makes you feel angry when injustice is served? I put it to you that this is the work of God in creating us as beings in his image.
Well I put it to you that a Dragon called Grshnid is doing it. You can’t just substitute an assertion of your original premise to try to bolster your argument.
And I know you enjoy having a dig at the church but I would say that I am not against this.
I appreciate that. I imagine it must be very hard believing what you believe and not being outraged by people insulting it.
How can you tell people not to be judgemental when you yourself are judging the church and claiming to know that what they do is wrong.
I don’t know. It’s complicated. I don’t know if I’m right. But I use my brain, I look at history, and I try to be a good person. Part of being a good person for me is being angry at prejudice. Just like part of being a Christian for you is supporting prejudice.
Christians should also not be judgemental. It is not our place to judge. It is our place to let God judge and tell other people that he will judge all of us.
Yeah well, he’s doing a pretty good job of judging millions of innocent African kids. If God exists, he’s a proper cunt. (And he made his followers in his image… which might explain why you compared homosexuality to rape.)
Anyway I am sorry if I sound angry or offended at all. I hope that this conversation can remain intellectual. I hope that you may not disregard my points, even though it is highly likely that you will disregard them as foolishness.
I find it hard to believe you are only 16. You are very smart (assuming you really are writing this stuff yourself). I don’t think you’re a fool – I wouldn’t bother writing if I did. I wish I had time to address all this properly, but I have a 6 week old baby.
But even if I had time to have this conversation properly, I know it would have no impact on you, because you believe that you and your family know something that is unknowable. You have been convinced that one of thousands and thousands of gods created by man over the millennia is the “real” one. And guess what? It happens to be the one you were bought up to worship! Wow! What a huge coincidence!
You believe that morality is governed by a completely unprovable and very unlikely entity. This makes you largely lost to reasonable debate. And it means you are not suited to contribute to the forward movement of human morality. While you sit there with your divine “knowledge” of what is right and wrong, the rest of us will roll up our sleeves and get on with the job of trying to face the challenge of ever-changing human morality in an ever-changing world.
You are so bright that it will be very hard for you to leave your religion. You work so hard at justifying your beliefs that you are probably going to hold them for life.
stoked that you did send it!
hope your baby is getting along well 🙂
just quickly i want you to know that i don’t have a moral opinion on a persons sexuality. people were given free choice. people can be homosexual and heterosexual and shouldn’t be treated differently. thats what jesus did. he hung out with the prostitutes and tax collectors (hated in that time period) rather than the religious leaders. however all i say is that there is a god, he would be a bit angry if he made man and then created women to be with men (and made them compatible for procreation) only for the men to be with other men…
Slavery, witch-burning and genocide are all WRONG. These have no support in the bible… Slavery is not biblical either. In fact, you may know the story of William Wilberforce? …
i have an honest question that i hope you could answer for me on science. i’m not trying to be an arrogant tosser: if science and this world is based on cause and effect (which i don’t disagree with) then what caused the big bang? ie. how did the chemicals and whatever it was, come into existence?
we don’t know what caused the big bang. but the idea that it was god simply begs the question, what caused god?
and you’ll say he exists outside of time. and i’ll say, ‘how do you know?’ and make a whole lot of points which you – whilst dressing your reply in cheery and charming language – will completely ignore, and instead continue to deliberately avoid turning your otherwise well-developed brain to anything that genuinely conflicts with your philosophy.
in a poem i wrote, i say: “science adjusts it’s views based on what’s observed; faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved”.
you have faith.
in my last email i made the point that people have used the bible to justify horrible acts just as you are now justifying your prejudice… and you replied, ‘ yes, but those other people were wrong’. Which shows how completely you managed to avoid thinking about what i said.
and then, like some kind of 5-year-old you said, ‘god made men and women so wouldn’t he be angry with gays?’ to which i actually laughed out loud.
that – as the cool kids say these days – is a fail.
and, as vonnegut says, so it goes.
When we last emailed 6 years ago, I was an opinionated 16 year old Christian… I’m now 22 and no longer a Christian. I’m sure you’ve had many similar conversations over the years, so our exchange probably doesn’t immediately spring to memory. I just thought I would write because toward the end of our exchange all those years ago (after you’d just had a baby), you said “even if I had time to have this conversation properly, I know it would have no impact on you”.
I just thought you might be interested to know that it did have an impact…
You said I “had faith”, but really I think I was just searching for meaning/truth. And you were right, the most convenient ‘truth’ was the one that my extended family had convinced themselves was real…
I really hope you get a chance to read this (even though I still think I sound like a twat when I write) because I guess it shows that debating stuff with seemingly stubborn Christians isn’t always all for nothing.
I hope you are well. I saw you in Californication, that was awesome.