Archbishop James Ussher—blundered or brilliant?
Published: 19 March 2004(GMT+10)
The December 2003 Creation 26(1) article, Archbishop’s Achievement: James Ussher’s great work Annals of the World is now available in English, featured a sidebar/addendum that highlighted the negative way in which Hugh Ross’s ministry (Reasons to Believe—RTB) had depicted a man who believed the Bible’s chronology literally—the man was comically depicted as a fool, despite the fact that he was a giant among scholars. The following feedback shows the correspondence between Rick Bundschuh, the creator of those comics, and leading creationist cartoonist/illustrator Dan Lietha. Dr Carl Wieland, Creation magazine founding editor, responds as well.
I stumbled upon your website and noticed that you take Hugh Ross to task for the way I chose to illustrate Bishop Ussher in the comic book I created with Hugh. Please note that I am entirely responsible for the satrical [sic] look and feel of that comic. (FYI Reasons To Believe actually asked me to pull back a bit on some of my satire, which I did) I intentionally wanted to have the art be silly, goofy and lampooning. As you may note, I didn’t spare Hugh from the same treatment either. Also, Ussher’s cap was NOT suppose [sic] to resemble a dunce cap … and my limitations as an cartoonist must have confused you. I know that you guys have differences with Hugh on creation issues … but play nice! I have known Hugh for years and know him to be humble, teachable, honest and with a huge heart to see people know Christ. Also you guys need to put away the science journals once in awhile and read some comics or take a course on satire. It might help you lighten up a bit. Sheesh!
In His Grip
Thanks for your communication. If you care to look at our website, you will see that cartooning is not the issue, and never has been. We make good use of cartooning. But there is fair and reasonable use, and unfair and derogatory use.
Art, particularly cartooning, is very powerful. It has been used for propaganda in wartime, and can engender powerfully prejudicial images in people’s minds.
The fact that you were intending it to be lampooning, as you say, is clear, and is the heart of the problem. Bottom line—it is an RTB publication, and as head of RTB, Dr Ross is responsible for things published in its name, and capable of instantly withdrawing them if he thinks they are not reflecting his own position.
If a cartoon in an AiG publication were to be lampooning someone who held Hugh Ross’s position as an idiot/goof, and who was in fact a great scholar (whether or not we agreed with their position) we would be very unlikely to have approved it in the first place. If it slipped under our radar screen, I would hope we would be very keen to publicly dissociate ourselves from that lampooning and withdraw the publication.
I don’t think it would be reasonable to suggest that the treatment of Dr Ross in that comic book depicts him as an idiot, despite your comment. Perhaps the prejudice is unconscious on your part, because there is a strong social convention that sees Ussher as a fool.
Regarding your comments about Dr Ross’s teachable heart, etc—that is very encouraging to us. [Our] newly-released book Refuting Compromise by Dr Jonathan Sarfati (destined to become a classic) makes it crystal clear that anyone with a heart for Christ and teachable will have no rational choice but to repent of (i.e. change their mind about) Rossist teaching.
So your comments raise hope that Dr Ross might himself face up to honest exegesis and turn from his current (inadvertent, I’m sure) serious liberties with/distortion of the Word of God, including opposing the very beliefs of Christ Himself. What a powerful thing that would be for the cause of Christ, if we could publicly join hands on the question of the absolute authority of the Word of God! We could work on fine-tuning the details, but the big picture is clear from Scripture—six solar days, world Flood, recent creation.
Please feel free to let me know what you think of the Refuting Compromise book in due course. It is not intended to deny your judgment of Dr Ross as a person, but ultimately there are issues here that transcend personalities and individuals.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Dr Carl Wieland
Managing Director, CMI-Australia
As a cartoonist myself, I wanted to weigh in on the issue of the presentation of Archbishop Ussher in the comic book you produced for RTB.
It is true that you draw wacky versions of both Archbishop Ussher and Hugh Ross in your comic book, however, there is an important difference in how you present them. The wackiness aspects of the Hugh Ross character are all clearly fun visual puns, but it is never in doubt that Hugh is nothing short of brilliant and a sheer genius. You show Hugh Ross at age seventeen looking the wrong way into his home-made telescope, but then in the very next panel Hugh is wearing a crown that says ‘Royal Astronomical Society’ and we learn he has become the director of Observations for the Vancouver chapter of Canada’s Royal Astronomical Society. The telescope gag obviously was not a swipe at Hugh’s brain power. (Why not have Hugh’s crown say ‘Ask me about Amway’ as you do Ussher’s cap?)
Later you show Hugh tripping over a Bible. Again this visual pun has nothing to do with a lack of intelligence. Just a few panels later he is shown with his graduate’s cap on and a diploma for his degree in physics and a Ph.D. in astronomy. (Why not show Hugh counting his toes here, as you did Ussher?)
And finally Hugh gets hit in the head by a rake as it is explained that he really doesn’t wear big thick glasses. A funny visual gag. Again this is not a jab at any intellectual shortcoming because in the panels leading up to the rake gag, Hugh grows to be a Christian leader who speaks on science and faith to the world. Hugh is the hero.
On the other hand the visual puns used on Archbishop Ussher are aimed squarely at his intelligence. He is the bad and dumb guy. The context is that Ussher is responsible for misleading many in the church to wrongly believe that the earth was created around 6000 years ago. He is shown busily counting his toes! Ussher is an idiot and fool in comparison to the hero of Hugh Ross who corrects Ussher’s blunder and leads us to the truth.
Your style of cartooning does have a very wacky quality about it and it is very effective and funny. However, there is a difference between ‘laughing with’ and ‘laughing at’ someone. In my opinion, your comic version of Ussher is a cheap shot and little more than visual name-calling. With no other information about Ussher, the kids (and adults) that read your comic will disregard Ussher as just an idiot from the past that should be ignored.
Below you will find a selection of text taken from a Creation magazine article, The forgotten archbishop, on Archbishop Ussher. In it you will find a listing of his remarkable achievements. This may help you to see our sensitivity and concern for how he is portrayed and perceived by people, especially in the church.
A scholar of honour and repute
James Ussher was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1581. As a young man, he resolved to devote himself wholly to the work of the Church, and the Lord honoured him in his resolve. At 18 he entered Dublin University, which was then one of the world’s major universities. At 20 he was ordained a deacon and priest in the Anglican Church at Dublin. At 26 he was appointed Chairman of the Department of Divinity at Dublin, an honour accorded to very few who were that young. He was a professor from 1607 to 1621, and was twice appointed Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin.
From his early school days he excelled in history, and from the age of 20, for the next two decades he read every history book he could find. He excelled in church history and prepared several large authoritative works dealing with the Irish and English churches from the times of the Apostles.
In 1625, he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh, which was the highest position in the Irish Anglican Church. An expert in Semitic languages, he argued for the reliability of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and wrote widely on Christianity in Asia, and other Bible-related topics.
In 1628, King James I of England (James VI of Scotland) appointed him to his Privy Council in Ireland. He was critical of the rebellion against James’ successor, Charles I. However, Oliver Cromwell, who led the rebellion, held Ussher in great esteem. When Ussher died, Cromwell held a magnificent funeral for him and had him buried in Westminster Abbey.
Based on the article above, the thought struck me that I could draw a short comic story about Ussher the way you did about Hugh Ross (see comic panels). I could show what a brilliant man Ussher was and highlight his achievements at such a young age. And towards the end of it I could show a comic version of Hugh Ross sitting in his office counting his toes and the caption could say, ‘Much of the confusion in the church today about the age of the earth being millions and billions of years old can be credited to a man by the name of Hugh Ross. He is the leader of a ministry called Reasons to Believe. Ross figured that the Bible really doesn’t mean what it plainly says and since he is such a big wheel in the church, hardly anyone questions his reasoning.’
Do you see how this would make Hugh Ross the idiot in this case? I don’t believe this would be fair to Hugh Ross in the same way that it wasn’t fair to Ussher. Please don’t think I’m saying you are a vicious person that loves to insult anyone you disagree with. I just think it was an easy pun to do and it resulted in Ussher appearing as an idiot. In my cartooning I try to avoid this type of thing as I think of it as a visual cheap shot. If you ever see a cartoon of mine that takes the same ‘cheap shot’ at someone, I am open to criticism about it.
Thank you for expressing your concerns to our ministry.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Thanks for your feedback. I appreciate you taking your time to respond in detail.
I can understand your vantage point but the truth is that as I was drawing each panel I kept looking for some way to have fun with the character ... and since I only had a couple of panels on Ussher, that’s what seemed funny at the time. I honestly had no intention of suggesting that Ussher was not a brilliant man and I think he would be such regardless if his view on creation days is right or wrong. (The cracks about Amway have nothing to do with anything. I was just looking for something silly to fill the space and perhaps give all the Amway distributors a bit of a nudge) But, I do admit, that in two panels Ussher is not given a real fair shake for all his intellect.
Also, please note that my buddy Tom actually did the hatchet job on Hugh … and he is much nicer than I am … and you are right about one thing, we did want Hugh to be the hero in that context. I have worked on staff with him (way before RTB) and think what he is doing is pretty heroic.
What I am trying to communicate is that one shouldn’t read too much into these panels. I really am trying to be an equal opportunity offender (even to poor Adam, who comes off quite randy) and especially that Hugh did not put me up to this bit of lampooning in any way. Does the comic have a spin—sure. Do I support Hugh’s viewpoint—sure. Do I think that anyone who believes in a six day creation is a knucklehead—nope. Do I resent suggestions by some young earth guys that I have compromised my faith by not buying that way of thinking—you bet.
Thanks again for your input.
In His Grip,
Thanks for your explanation of the Ussher cartoon.
I know being a Christian cartoonist, no matter what one’s positions are on biblical topics, it has its share of ‘commentary’ from the viewing audience. I’ve had plenty of it myself. A lot of it has been helpful and I am grateful for it as it keeps me on my toes and has caught the occasional error.
Other times, the input from readers has been anywhere from silly (one guy wrote me to say I had made Adam’s nose too big and this was an insult to God) to just plain maddening. Mine was intended to be more of a ‘keep the cartoonist on his toes’ email.
While we’re on the subject of keeping on our toes, we have a powerful new book out which I’m very excited about and I’d like to send a couple copies to you. I think it will put a new perspective on your understanding of why we feel so passionately about these biblical issues. I would challenge you read it with an open mind and of course, a desire to truly honor God’s word. It’s quite an amazing piece of work. The book is called Refuting Compromise. I believe the author is one of the most brilliant Christian apologists of our time, and I don’t say that lightly.
If you and your friend Tom would be open to read it, please let me know and email me your snail mail addresses. I’ll pop a couple copies in the mail for you.
Sadly, there’s only one little piece of my artwork in it. On the other hand, maybe that’s a good thing! I’ll get fewer of those complaint emails from readers! ;-)
Thanks again for your side of the Ussher cartoon.
In His service,
‘Eager to expose false teaching’
I want to continue to thank [you] for its support of a literal view of creation. I was always fascinated with Noah’s Flood when I was a little boy, but rejected it when I got into the “public school” system. Thankfully, the Lord opened my eyes to the “real scientific evidence”, and my faith has been so strong in the past 6 years. At 25, I am all the more eager to expose false teaching whether it deal with the Benny Hinn’s or Mormons. I am most passionate about creation, and I certainly believe that Hugh Ross has deceived himself, and his own pride will lead to his downfall, for it will be difficult for Him to repent of his errant teachings. Even so, do not be discouraged my brothers in Christ, for God is still sovereign. We must only go forth and teach the truth with boldness; it is the Holy Spirit who convicts and teaches. Though our hearts may become grieved (just as was the case with the Apostle Paul in many of his letters), we still press on towards the prize! Just as they distorted what Paul said during His time, so they will distort what we say. Again, God is sovereign, and His will be done! Amen! I used to become discouraged at the false teachings, but now I do not, for I will not allow them to steal my peace and joy when I speak the truth and know it to be true. Therefore, fight the good fight until the Lord calls us home! Amen!