Even though I'm an atheist, I have a certain amount of admiration for the Rev. Billy Graham. He has spent his entire adult life (until infirmities of age made it impossible) working to share what he perceives as wonderful news, in his belief that it would make the lives of people everywhere better. It's hard to argue with that, though of course I do argue with the content of the news itself.

It's not at all easy to explain how he could be father to someone like Franklin Graham.

I have never, as far as I can recall, read or heard any statement by Franklin Graham reported in the news media that wasn't bigoted, intolerant, and hateful. Most famously he described Islam as a "very wicked and evil religion," in a tirade so packed with misrepresentations of the teachings of Islam that one has to think he would have been very successful as a used car salesman. On his Facebook page, responding to the National Cathedral of the Episcopal Church in D.C. allowing a Muslim prayer service, Graham included the odd comment that "It's sad to see a church open its doors to the worship of anything other than the One True God of the Bible...", ignoring the fact that the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, is exactly the God that Muslims are worshipping. (The fact that the Quran includes many of the same characters that the Bible does, with many of the same stories about them, would surprise most Christians, including, apparently, Franklin Graham.) In a similar vein, he recently led the successful campaign to prevent Duke University from sounding a Friday "call to prayer" for Muslims using the bells of the on-campus chapel. His hatred of Islam gives him plenty of energy for such efforts.

Graham's latest crusade (unlike any "Crusade" his father ever essayed) is a battle with Wells Fargo Bank, which recently made a commercial that included a lesbian couple. Graham has pulled all of the funds of his organization out of Wells Fargo, and has called for all Christians to join him in a boycott of the offending bank, and any other company that "promotes sin."

Graham is taking intolerance to the next level. He is not just intolerant of any departure from his own personal values; he is intolerant of tolerance itself. Serving as an unelected spokesman for all Christians, he has declared the boundaries of what all Christians should stand for, unwilling to consider letting them make up their own minds about that.

I am not a psychologist, so I can feel free to speculate on the state of mind of someone I've never met without worrying that I'm violating professional ethics. To me it would not be at all surprising if Franklin Graham has some very heavy anger issues and abandonment issues, in response to a childhood in which his father regularly absented himself from the family for months at a time. The anger is on display with every bigoted remark Franklin makes, the remarks themselves showing a fear that America is abandoning the "one true faith" of its heritage.

Now, Franklin's father not only didn't do the greatest job of parenting, but has been an imperfect person in other ways, including some that overlap with Franklin's character. Billy Graham was caught on a Richard Nixon tape expressing very intolerant and somewhat paranoid views about Jews and their "domination of the news media." I don't intend to defend anything Billy Graham said on that issue, but I do see a distinction between Billy's prejudices and Franklin's. Billy's anti-Semitism was hidden away, expressed only in private, consisting of thoughts that he knew he couldn't reveal in public. (And he has also profusely apologized.) Franklin wears his bigotry on his sleeve, as something of a badge of honor.

Billy Graham addressed himself, all through his public career, to non-Christians, hoping he could give them something he thought their lives were missing, to their benefit. Franklin Graham addresses himself to Christians, hoping to enlist them in helping him destroy any opposition to his personal beliefs.

If there have to be Christians in the world, I wish more of them could be like Billy Graham, a man who, in public, has always simply worked towards what he thought would help others be happier and more fulfilled. He never really forced himself or his religion on other people; it was always anyone's choice whether they wanted to go to the stadium and hear what Billy had to say. And I wish there were way, way fewer Christians like Franklin Graham. Preferably none.