Saturday, 4 February 2012

The Ellen Effect

Ellen Degeneres has a weird effect on Christians.  By now you've likely heard, in the news, about the latest "One Million Moms" campaign.  If not, the long and the short of it is that this "family" organization is trying to have Ellen fired, as a J.C. Penney spokesperson, simply because she's gay.  Whoops, sorry about that, it's actually because J.C. Penney needs to "remain neutral in the culture war". It's a lost cause, of course, since J.C. would literally have to be bat-shit crazy to fire someone as wildly popular as Ellen Degeneres.  Besides, they've already told "One Million Moms" to "suck it" (J.C. Penney didn't actually use those words; but I have to admit it would have been pretty funny if they had).

Now, despite the exaggerated numbers ("One Million Moms", yeah right) the truth is, more than likely, that the majority of Christians probably don't want to see Ellen fired.

But hearing this story got me to thinking about how more moderate Christians internally "process" the existence of people like Ellen.  For example, I recently overheard a conversation (on Ellen) between a couple of Christian friends of mine.  It was a perfectly routine interaction, for within Christian circles, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about the implications of it over these past few weeks.  Basically, the discussion went (roughly) a little something like this...

Friend 1..."Did you hear about that thing Ellen did yesterday?"

Friend 2..."Yes!  Wow!  She gives away the best prizes of anyone on television!"

Friend 1..."I think even non-Christians can sometimes do good things.  She does do a lot of good, for people who really need it, on her show...".  (Pregnant pause, to see if friend 2 will agree to the premise...)

Friend 2..."Yeah, you're right, she does help a lot of people."

At this point, the conversation on Ellen pretty much died.  I mean, there was really nothing left for them to say.  I think it's because the next logical step, in that stream of thought, is to wonder why Ellen does so many "good things" "even though" she's not a Christian (and she's gay).  Truth be told, most Christians haven't the faintest idea whatsoever.

This innocent discussion, between my two friends, demonstrates something I'm going to call "The Ellen Effect".  Let's define "The Ellen Effect" this way; "cognitive dissonance, created in religious believers, by non-believers who are well known for their good deeds and/or strong character".

There are a few others, who spring immediately to mind, as also creating "The Ellen Effect" in Christians.  Three quick examples would be Pat Tillman, Angelina Jolie, and Warren Buffett.  The first is a guy who voluntarily stepped down, from a prestigious professional football career, so he could serve his country in the army.  (Sadly, he also died for his country.)  The second is a woman who has chosen to use her considerable fame to promote humanitarian causes (and she takes those causes seriously).  The third is a noted philanthropist, having pledged to give away 99% of his fortune to charity. Despite their considerable "good works", none of these people seems to have the slightest interest in Christianity (or religious belief of any kind).  Two of them, in fact, are (or were) avowed atheists.

But all of this should lead the thinking believer, very naturally, to the doorstep of two obvious questions; a) what motivates these people?, and b) why do they deserve eternal punishment, after living this sort of life?  Christians will sometimes attempt to give a reasonable (but not plausible) answer to the first question, but I have never once heard anything even approaching a reasonable answer to the second.

So, based on "The Ellen Effect", here's my suggestion...not only should us unbelievers avoid being dicks, we should look for ways to increase (and point out) "The Ellen Effect" wherever we see it.  We need to give more money to charity.  We need to dedicate (or even lay down) our lives for the betterment of our fellow man and woman.  We need to make "The Ellen Effect" so huge that it reaches a tipping point; where believers begin to see their own beliefs as unpalatable.  And we need to stop accepting it when they say "I don't know because I'm not God", in answer to whether or not a specific person is (or will be) in Hell.  I'm not talking here about Universalist Christians, I'm talking about the lion's share of Evangelicals (who reject Universalism in the strongest possible terms).  We need to get these sorts of believers to actually admit, as this guy did, that those who don't believe as they do will be punished in Hell forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever.  And then we need to ask them why such and such a person deserves this fate.  Is it justice?  Is it fair?  Is it even "moral", according to literally any sensible definition of the word, for God to treat people in this manner?  What is it exactly?  Quoting the Bible won't do. We're not asking what you believe, we're asking why you think what you believe is actually true. Believer, if you can't answer these questions, without strain, than your faith is not a reasonable one and you should give it a very hard second look.

I think the Christians over at "One Million Moms" are the truly honest ones.  They believe that Ellen is wallowing in the muck and the mire of her own filthy sin.  This unimaginable sin is horribly disgusting to God.  (And, according to Christian theology, all the other sins are too.)  Maybe getting fired from J.C. Penney would be the wake up call that Ellen needs, y'know, to save her eternal soul from damnation?

"The Ellen Effect" played a big role in my own loss of faith.  Sure, there is an abundance of evidence against Christianity and I've talked, and will continue to talk, about some of those individual pieces of evidence here on the "Respectful Atheist" blog.  At the end of the day though, Christianity starts to seem a little crazy too.  The problem is you can't see the crazy, while you're still a Christian, because you're in too deep to think straight.  Christians hypothesize a God who gives humans no eternal credit whatsoever for what they DO in this life.  But if you reject the historicity of some really fantastic supernatural things, that supposedly happened 2, 000 years ago, you're mega screwed.  But, hey, it must all be true.  It says so right there in the Bible.


  1. Great piece!

    I especially like the definition:

    "cognitive dissonance, created in religious believers, by non-believers who are well known for their good deeds and/or strong character"

    However (even as a former christian), I am not sure I feel comfortable with the idea that we should be challenged to do good to others as a motivation to make christians question their belief system.

    I think that would defeat the purpose of the kind/altruistic act itself. If a side effect of a good deed is that it challenges people to re-examine their presuppositions then that is a bonus.

    I also think atheists pointing out the "ellen effect" is just as bad as christians who make a big show of their own "do gooders" as proof that their particular version of god is the right one.

    I think people of strong character or those that choose do do good (when doing something less than helpful would be easier) have a much more contagious impact on others when nothing is said of it.....instead they just let the action flow from them without any expectation of reward or acknowledgement.

  2. These are some good thoughts Jason.

    I agree totally with your point that we should do good, for good's sake, and that it's really just a "bonus" if it challenges people to re-examine their beliefs. I probably should have made that distinction more clear in the post.

    In terms of pointing out "The Ellen Effect" though...I do think there are ways to do this, in the context of conversation & relationship, that don't come off at all as bragging or pumping up our "in group". I know that when I was going through my own de-conversion it really helped when unbelievers would say, in effect, "hey, have you noticed this thing over does that fit in with your belief system?". Often, these were dynamics that I hadn't noticed before, so in that sense I needed them to be pointed out (but in a sensitive way). So that's really all I'm suggesting.

    I notice that you've just started your own blog, as well, I look forward to checking it out. Hope you'll stick around here too.

  3. R.A.,

    Sure, that is a fair comment in response. I'm just a bit sensitive to making the same sort of errors that christians make when trying to equate their particular beliefs with good/kind behaviour.

    I do agree that we ought to point it out especially when we are being hit over the head with the argument that "the world is soooo evil, these people over here are doing such nice, wonderful selfless things and hey wouldn't you know it they're believers - therefore biblegod is true"

    As far as my "blog" goes, it is just sitting there and I have not done a dang thing with it...but your comment has made me think its time to start reflecting and posting and not just lurking!

    Thanks for the encouragement! Have a great day!


  4. Here is a comment from a God-loving Christian. I'm not delusional and I don't push away thoughts about why non-Christians are nice, kind, and caring.
    I'm perfectly aware and support the fact that atheists or non-believers can be helpful and have morals.
    There was a time when I was atheist myself, and let me share this, knowing God and His love isn't about making yourself a better/generous person. It's about knowing God and His son Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. It's about trusting in God and loving others because you can't help but love when you've been given so much love from God. Good deeds are great but they aren't equivalent to the love of the Lord.

    I get that you think I don't understand, but I do understand your point. I only pray that you will seek out God despite your inquisition that you are smarter than the Christians you've met.

    1. I get where you're coming from, and I used to agree with you, but I also can't help but notice that you didn't even attempt to address the main thrust of my post (so there's really nothing for me to respond to). Are you sure it's me who has the closed mind? Please think about it.

  5. Jesus is the way the truth and Life. No one goes to the Father unless through the faith that Jesus Christ is Gods gift to the world. God loves His children, even the disrespectful ones like this blogger. I pray in the name of Jesus that you will live to tell your testimony, God is absolute love, it is not by works that we are saved but by the sacrifice on the cross by the Blood of Jesus if you have no faith in Jesus why you still believe. I pray an abundant of blessings in your life. That the Holy Spirit whisper Gods grand love and forgiveness to everyone through Jesus. Amen