Well, I’ve been wrong all this time. It’s always been my opinion that if someone says they’re a Christian, they’re a Christian — I’m not going to nit-pick fine theological distinctions with someone, and if they want to claim the soiled and tattered title of Christianity, they’re welcome to it. An important figure in American religion and politics, James Dobson, has shown me to be wrong. He has his own special definition of “Christian”.

“Everyone knows he’s conservative and has come out strongly for the things that the pro-family movement stands for,” Dobson said of Thompson. “[But] I don’t think he’s a Christian; at least that’s my impression,” Dobson added, saying that such an impression would make it difficult for Thompson to connect with the Republican Party’s conservative Christian base and win the GOP nomination.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Thompson, took issue with Dobson’s characterization of the former Tennessee senator. “Thompson is indeed a Christian,” he said. “He was baptized into the Church of Christ.”

In a follow-up phone conversation, Focus on the Family spokesman Gary Schneeberger stood by Dobson’s claim. He said that, while Dobson didn’t believe Thompson to be a member of a non-Christian faith, Dobson nevertheless “has never known Thompson to be a committed Christian—someone who talks openly about his faith.”

“We use that word—Christian—to refer to people who are evangelical Christians,” Schneeberger added. “Dr. Dobson wasn’t expressing a personal opinion about his reaction to a Thompson candidacy; he was trying to ‘read the tea leaves’ about such a possibility.”

Thompson has said he is leaving the door open for a presidential run and has won plaudits from conservatives who are unenthusiastic about the Republican front-runners. A Gallup-USA Today poll, released Tuesday, showed Thompson in third place among Republican and Republican-leaning voters, behind former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain.

I have to marvel at that. Suddenly, the ranks of the un-Christians have swollen immeasurably; a lot of the people I honestly like who go to church but aren’t jerks about their religion, i.e., they don’t proselytize, have been excommunicated by Pope Dobson, and are on my side in the War Against Religion. I have suddenly learned that none of the members of my family are Christians anymore — they may be a bit shocked to hear that, since they still go to church, but heck, High Authority, the Word of God’s Holiest Representative in North America, is not to be gainsaid.

Any of you readers who are not true Christians in the eyes of Dobson might as well give it up now and join me in total godlessness. When the Republic of Gilead is established and the Dobsonites run the country, you’re going to be up against the wall with the rest of us heretics, anyway.


  1. #1 Elliott Grasett
    March 29, 2007

    PZ, can you say, “No true Scotsman . . .”?

  2. #2 PZ Myers
    March 29, 2007

    Obviously, Hatfield and those other eleven people are not Christians.

    Hey, how about if we simplify further: if you aren’t evil, you aren’t a true Christian. Works for me.

  3. #3 Silmarillion
    March 29, 2007

    I think he should lay off the tea leaves.

  4. #4 Kristine
    March 29, 2007

    Well, I just had my mind expanded about the definition of “Christian” at my blog, and you’re not gonna like it, because it includes atheists! (News to me, too.)

    I hate getting into defining “Christian” because of the quibbling. Basically I take people at their word; basically, to me it means that people believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But according to another caged bat, Glenn Beck of CNN, attendance at church is collapsing like civilization itself, and the ranks of the godless are swelling! Swelling! Like the oceans with global warming except that it doesn’t exist.

  5. #5 Epistaxis
    March 29, 2007

    “Born Again” vs. “nominal” Christian

    Maybe just “Born-Again Christian” vs. “Born Christian.”

  6. #6 speedwell
    March 29, 2007

    There are those who’d like to give him a chance in Hell. What he would do when he gets there, is the interesting question.

  7. #7 Scott Hatfield
    March 29, 2007

    (gentle joshing tone) Wow! There are eleven others out there like me? I am, like, totally excited! I thought I was the Last of the Mohicans, or sump’n.

    (more soberly) Actually, there’s a lot of us non-Christian Christians. The problem with these folk, as I see it, is that in the face of guys like Jim Dobson we tend to act as if there were only eleven of us. In other words, we tend to enable the Christian Right when we should be confronting them.

    Anyway, PZ, I’m already as godless as you when it comes to the practice of science—since it’s godless by definition. Should there ever be a ‘Rushdoony Revolution’, I’m afraid both of us would be up against the same wall, facing the same set of rifles. I’m uncertain about some things, but (happily) this is not one of them.

  8. #8 Kseniya
    March 29, 2007

    Here’s a little anecdote for you. Some months ago I was hanging out with a few friends in the caff, chatting about this and that, and I went off on some annoying thing Dobson had said. As I was saying some unflattering thing about him, one of the math professors happened to walk by. She stopped and turned to me and said something like, “You liberals! I like Dobson. You must have misrepresented what he said!”

    Got that? She didn’t know what it was that Dobson had said that I was objecting to, nor even what I had specifically said in objection to it – but if I was criticizing him at all, then I must have misrepresented what he’d said. As if no other conclusion were even possible!

    She didn’t care to know that I was criticizing Dobson for coming out against the use of an HPV vaccine that could help prevent cervical cancer. She knows that I lost my mother to ovarian cancer three years ago, so I have to wonder what she’d have said if she’d had a clue about what we were discussing. But the point is, she didn’t want or need to know. She was utterly certain that her assessment of my failure to be fair-minded was accurate. Incredible.

    It boggles the mind, no?

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that says a lot about the mindset of people like Dobson and those who admire him. Minds as open and flexible as a brick wall.

    Dobson. Yeccch. Must his brand of Christianity be borne again and again?

  9. #9 Rey Fox
    March 29, 2007

    Still irritates me that every time these gas bags let loose a cloud of holy flatulence, some major news outlet is there to catch it in a perfume bottle.

  10. #10 mark
    March 29, 2007

    Where are the Gumbies? Dobson is talking.

  11. #11 rmp
    March 29, 2007

    Scott, thanks again for your comments. Since I’m in a ‘theist’ mode today, I have echo your point about us standing up to the Dobson types. If we did a better job of that, I think we wouldn’t have this rift between the ‘militant atheists’ and those of us who are pro-science but open to the possibility of ….

  12. #12 tacitus
    March 29, 2007

    Christian message boards, like the one at enforce a strict policy against accusing others of not being a true Christian. Do it more than once and you’re out.

    They have to do this since the board is frequented by a large number of fundamentalists who have the same narrow view as Dobson as to who is a Christian. More specifically, anyone who indulges in, or even merely supports “sinful behavior” (i.e. is pro-choice, gay friendly, is “tolerant” etc.) cannot be a real Christian. Of course, that eliminates just about everyone to the left of the religious right.

    It has been fun watching them squirm when discussing the latest crop of Republican candidates with their bumper crop of ex-wives, sordid personal pasts, and closet liberal views. Their moral absolutism suddenly collapses under the pragmatism required to find a candidate who will defeat the detested liberals.

  13. #13 Carlie
    March 29, 2007

    Isn’t next Friday Good Friday, or is this week some other Easter (Orthodox, maybe?) Hey, wait, some so-called ‘Christians’ made a war on Easter by declaring another one! Off with their heads!

  14. #14 BlueIndependent
    March 29, 2007

    This is Dobson throwing around his ill-gotten and undeserved weight in public. People have built this fool up to be some sort of co-prophet alongside Falwell and other Religious Right charlatans. Dobson thinks he can control the republican party, so he’s going to do whatever he can to get that to happen. He’s basically a mafioso sort of leader. He doesn’t do any actual work, and simply makes proclamations that the followers are then expected to carry out. A comment he makes does not seem to be a command to those who do not know, but to those who consider themselves on the inside, it’s an order to get to work.

    I predict at some point after the 2008 election the republican party will understand they’ve got a bunch of Napoleans vying for control of the same ship, and the internal struggle will grow, and eventually instill further ineffectiveness among their ranks. One could only hope anyways. Thankfully that party has a trend toward bad decisions, markedly so in the last 50 years.

  15. #15 Thony C.
    March 29, 2007

    My family name is Christie, which is a lowland Scots word for Christian does this mean, because I think that James Dobson is a bigoted windbag, that I will have to change my name?

  16. #16 David Marjanovi?
    March 29, 2007

    Such feckless comments on Good Friday.

    That’s next week (both Catholic and Orthodox this year).

    Why it’s called “Good” in English I’m not sure (probably because it’s the prerequisite for Easter). In German it does include an otherwise extinct word for “grief”.

    This is as bad as Dobson. There is nothing- not a thing – unbiblical about it. It is very possible Dobson and his crowd are good Christians whatever that means. They actually try to adhere to what they read.

    In which of the American Bible editions?

    Which is to say, I’m not aware of anything that could be interpreted in this way, and the whole idea of “rapture” (including the word) does not exist outside the USA except presumably where recently introduced from there. (OK, the idea came up in England, but I doubt any followers of that are left there.)

  17. #17 B
    March 29, 2007

    Interesting how they’re not true Christians (TM) until it’s time to tally and tout the hundreds of millions of good, believing adherents in the US and around the world. They’re certainly good enough then!

  18. #18 Joshua
    March 29, 2007

    Uber: I dare you to find where the Bible actually describes the Rapture. You won’t. The PMDs created it like they usually do, by selective quoting and tortured manipulations of language. The Rapture, as they believe it, is not in the Bible, hence unbiblical.

  19. #19 Uber
    March 29, 2007

    Baloney Josh,

    Revelation speaks to Jesus’s return and all that goes with it. Their take is as valid as any other. There are many versions of the rapture as in the order or certain events but they are not torturing anything.

  20. #20 Peter McGrath
    March 29, 2007

    “Focus on Family Founder Snubs Thompson, Praises Gingrich”
    Would that be the Gingrich who recently admitted bending one into some other than his wife?

  21. #21 BlueIndependent
    March 29, 2007

    B raises the best observation yet in this post. Why does the term matter when it’s not November of an even-numbered year?

  22. #22 Cogito
    March 29, 2007


    I think perhaps you are conflating “Rapture” with “Armageddon” or “Apocalypse.” The Rapture is the miraculous transportation to heaven of certain elect believers, without the messy inconvenience of dying. From Fred Clark’s writings, I gather it has been cobbled together from Old Testament prophecies, Paul’s mention of “meeting in the air,” or some such, and other bits and pieces in addition to the Revelation. He really hates the tortured hermeneutics of it all.

    Really, anyone who enjoys this blog should check out Fred’s Left Behind stuff. He’s smart, inquisitive, funny, and well read, and he happens to follow the more ethical of Jesus’s teachings, unlike Dobson and his ilk.

    To address a completely different point, I’ve always thought that the whole “Judeo-Christian” morality movement was destined to crash and burn. Once they defeat the Muslims, atheists, etc., I figured the -Christian faction would make short work of the Judeo, as history illustrates. Nice to see the implosion is already occurring between the Christian sects themselves.

  23. #23 Bryson Brown
    March 29, 2007

    I love the dividing line Dobson presents. Loud-mouth Tartuffes are definitely Christian; modest, quiet believers are not.

  24. #24 Kristine
    March 29, 2007

    Would that be the Gingrich who recently admitted bending one into some other than his wife?

    The one he bent into is his current wife now, so I guess that’s okay. He’s on number three, like Rush. Maybe they traded.

    And quite frankly, that’s okay with me, too. I don’t care what they do. I don’t care that they don’t care what they do, and they obviously don’t. But inexplicably they still care what other people do. Probably because they’re as bored as they are boring.

    If they didn’t make a big to-do about what other people do, we wouldn’t care about the doo-doo on them – so that’s probably why they do that voodoo that they do, whoo-hoo, oh well. ;-)

  25. #25 BC
    March 29, 2007

    I’m not surprised at all. I’ve seen the UD crowd say that they don’t think Ken Miller is a Christian, too. It’s basically a way to punish people for not following their individual worldview.

  26. #26 Pierce R. Butler
    March 29, 2007

    This is hardly a new phenomenon.

    I’ve been told – but never bothered to re-read the whole “New” (Christian) Testament to confirm it – that there is no book(let) in the christian canon that does not contain a warning against “false teachers” within the community of believers.

    In my experience, saying that “X is not a real christian” is a defining characteristic of that group, from the howling fasco-fundies to the fuzzy feel-gooders: anyone who doesn’t draw that distinction is, therefore, not a real christian.

    Uh-oh – have I just made myself into one?

  27. #27 Ed Darrell
    March 29, 2007

    Who died and appointed Dobson the Grand Inquisitor of the Diocese of North America?

    A fine man once suggested to me that the test for “who is a Christian” would be something like this: Would you like to have the person over to dinner, have them help out in the kitchen, trust them not to check your medicine cabinet when you weren’t looking, trust them to watch your kid, trust them in the house with your spouse while you are out of town?

    Dobson meets none of those criteria for me (I’ve met him, by the way). Thompson? He’d have lots of great stories to tell.

    The reality is this: Dobson still can’t get over the fact that Thompson played a role in bringing down Nixon. Dobson defends all manner of immorality, so long as it’s immorality he favors.

    Would it be possible for Thompson to do a worse job than the Cheney/Bush tag team? No, and that’s what scares the bejeebers out of Dobson.

    If James Dobson were accused of being Christian, is there an iota of evidence to convict him? Where? His rants against Thompson are just further evidence to the contrary.

  28. #28 PZ Myers
    March 29, 2007

    So, um, this “fine man” wouldn’t invite an atheist over for dinner? And wouldn’t trust him with any of those other things?

  29. #29 arensb
    March 29, 2007

    Since the Christian population of the US just fell precipitously, does that mean that the right-wingers will drop their claim that this is a Christian nation?

  30. #30 su
    March 29, 2007

    the louder one claims to be a christian the faster i hide the silver and virgin children.

  31. #31 Crudely Wrott
    March 29, 2007

    Now that Dobson mentions it I understand a strange phenomenon that I had observed repeatedly but never fully appreciated. That is, I must drive past at least 50 or more churches every day. I have been doing this consistently for some years now. At no time, at no church, have I ever, ever observed Thompson either coming or going. Therefore he doesn’t go there.

  32. #32 Scott Hatfield
    March 30, 2007

    What is a true Christian (TM)? Who knows? As for me, this isn’t a dogmatic declaration, but just a sentiment, courtesy of Leigh Hunt:

    “Abou Ben Adhem”

    Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
    Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
    And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
    Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
    An Angel writing in a book of gold:

    Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
    And to the Presence in the room he said,
    “What writest thou?” The Vision raised its head,
    And with a look made of all sweet accord
    Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”

    “And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
    Replied the Angel. Abou spoke more low,
    But cheerily still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
    Write me as one who loves his fellow men.”

    The Angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
    It came again with a great wakening light,
    And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
    And, lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest!

  33. #33 Chinchillazilla
    March 30, 2007

    If they don’t proselytize, they aren’t Christians. So, don’t they need us? I mean, when they’ve converted or driven away all the non-Christians, who will they proselytize to? Then NO one will be Christian!

  34. #34 Ed Darrell
    March 30, 2007

    So, um, this “fine man” wouldn’t invite an atheist over for dinner? And wouldn’t trust him with any of those other things?

    Well, we haven’t seen you eat, but you’d be on my dinner invite list, and probably on the other guy’s list as well.

    It’s a bit over-broad in some cases, no doubt, but it’s a better filter than whatever Dobson is using.

    And, of course, there is always this: In your skepticism, P.Z., you come closer to Christian behavior, often, than those who profess openly and loudly to be Christian. It’s a delicious little irony. Jesus preferred to eat with the sinners, too. According to Billy Joel (whose philosophy Jesus probably shares, don’t you thin?), “Sinners are much more fun.”

    I have to reconcile the fact that just being athiest isn’t a sin in order to make that philosophy work, but as a Christian, that’s one of the smaller reconciliations to make.

    The biggest, and most difficult of the reconciliations, is tolerating boors like Dobson, especially when he advocates policies that kill children (HPV vaccine, condoms). I can’t imagine a Jesus stupid enough to endorse such stuff. Maybe Dobson is smoking something he shouldn’t be smoking.

  35. #35 opisthokont
    April 1, 2007

    I have wondered about that Judas thing as well. Perhaps that explains why it is called “Good” Friday?

    In any event, though, that is a different type of martyrdom than the type that the Real True Christians are so enamoured with. The Christ-story martyrdom is about sacrifice and repentance and forgiveness; the Real True Christian sort of martyrdom is about finding something scary to help unite the believers and make them do what the Dobsons of the day want.