Ask Richard: When Religious Friends Ask Us to Not Say “Oh My God”

Dear Richard

A while back I was waiting for a lecture to start with a friend when I casually used the word “God” in a sentence. I don’t remember the exact sentence, but it was probably something like “oh my God,” certainly not an uncommon turn of phrase. She then asked me, politely, if I could not use the word “God” because it goes against her religion. Well, for that lecture at least I stopped using the word, but that’s probably because I wasn’t really using any words, it stunned me into silence. I was caught totally off guard and, as an atheist, felt like it was wrong for her to request that. Even so, I felt bad about it after, to the point that I was paranoid about telling other friends I have with views similar to mine, because they could agree with her and slam me down. I’m still friends with her, and it’s never come up again, even though I know I’ve used the word again, in much the same way. I didn’t want to be confrontational about it, she’s a good person, even if I believe she’s a bit misguided, but it’s stuck with me for a while now. I still feel like I missed a beat and I should have said something.

Could you please advise me as to how I should have handled the situation? Not because I want to confront her, but because I’d like to know how to deal with that sort of situation, should it arise again.

Thanks,
Strong but Silent

Dear Strong but Silent,

It would appear from the outcome that you handled the situation quite well. You said nothing, and since then, when you have used the word “God” in a similar way, your friend has raised no further objection. What you said sounded pretty colloquial, so maybe while in a less fussy mood she shrugged it off. Perhaps she has relaxed her feelings about it, realizing that for American conversational standards, she was being unreasonable. Or maybe she’s simply given up on that issue with you. So you were passive about it, and it seems to have blown over.

But that only worked because of a change in her. There is a change in yourself that you need to make, because being passive will only work some times, and you want to have better ways of dealing with the demands and requests that people make of you. I think that what feels unfinished for you is how you muffled yourself both with her and your friends, and things got better only because she somehow adjusted. You’re dissatisfied because you didn’t take an active role in the situation. I think that dissatisfaction means that you’re coming to a point where you will be more able to take that active role. It will take time and practice.

I get the impression that you are very sensitive to the feelings of your friends, and equally sensitive to criticism from your friends. You even kept quiet to those of your friends who share similar views, for fear of their disapproval. Such sensitivity is an admirable trait only when you balance it with being able to freely express yourself. That balance will be different with each friend, and it will change with different situations.

So what should we do when a religious friend asks us to curb our speech or behavior in some way that we think is unreasonable?

Firstly, we should avoid the extremes on either side. Being aggressive, and telling them to go stuff their objections up their lower digestive tract is counter-productive if you’re interested in preserving the friendship. On the other hand, being passive and censoring yourself into muteness will be counter-productive to keeping your sanity. The balance that I’ve discussed in another post is called assertion. Read the assertion bill of rights there and imagine yourself applying it when someone like your friend makes a similar unreasonable demand.

Perhaps you would say to her in a warm and friendly way something like,

“Oh come on, you’re going to hear “Oh my God” a hundred times a day. You know I’m not saying it to be disrespectful, it’s just a common expression. If it really bothers you, I’ll try to avoid it, but please don’t get on my case if I slip. That habit is not out of disrespect. I care about your feelings, but you don’t want me to start tip-toeing around you, do you? We have to respect each other, but we also have to accept each other as we are.”

By saying something like this, you will have brought up the point of what was your intention by the God remark. You are establishing a general understanding that you and she have a shared intention to respect each other balanced with a shared intention to accept each other.

That balance of being mutually willing to adjust because of respect, and to relax because of acceptance can and should apply to your other, like-thinking friends as well. You need to have them as allies with whom you can confide without inhibition, because being an atheist on your own is tough. Comrades are essential.

Strong but Silent, when you recognize that you really are strong, you won’t have to be so silent. As time goes by and you successfully negotiate more of these assertive balances in your friendships, you’ll gain a greater general self-confidence. You’ll see that you are strong in a mature way that means you can be in command of your behavior without stifling yourself, and you can also fully express yourself without deliberately offending others. You’ll be able to hold your tongue when it’s appropriate, to speak out when it’s appropriate, and to do both in ways that are not hurtful to yourself or others.

If ever someone does have some criticism for you, you’ll be able to hear that criticism without humiliation. From that mature strength you’ll also be able to offer criticism to others without crushing their self-esteem.

Your friends will benefit from such relationships with you, and you will benefit from them.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. All questions will eventually be answered, but not all can be published. There is a large number of requests; please be patient.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • JulietEcho

    Sounds like good advice to me. If you ever get into a longer, more philosophical discussion about the use of such phrases though, you might want to bring up the fact that you only used the word “God” – it’s not like you said “Jesus Christ” or “Yahweh” or something specific. There are tons of gods people believe in, and coming from you, the phrase is just empty of meaning – because you don’t have a god you believe in.

    The objection that Christians often have to people “taking the Lord’s name in vain” only applies when someone is (or believes they are) speaking the name of the actual Lord. So if someone doesn’t believe in the Christian God, just saying “Oh my god” isn’t nearly specific enough to qualify. “Jesus Christ” is a different story. Ask her how she’d feel if you said, “By Zeus!” and then tell her that you’re not being specific enough for her to know whether you’re referring to Zeus or Jesus – both are equally meaningless to you and it’s just a phrase.

    It’s something to think about, and I think that we should press our theist friends to examine the reasoning behind their requests and beliefs.

  • Dennis N

    I automatically associate this as a parallel to phrases such as using “gay” or “retarded” as pejoratives. I do my best to eliminate those phrases from my vocabulary, because I know they’re denigrating minorities. However, I have no desire to reduce my use of “oh my god” or “Jesus Christ”, which I, in fact, say as much as possible. What is the substantial difference? Is there?

    My thinking is of two sides:

    One, Christians are not a minority group. They are in power (sorry, there is no homosexual agenda running the country). There are always a different set of rules, no matter how much Pat Robertson wishes otherwise, for minorities than for majorities. This is the reason there is an NAACP and not an NAAWP. Majorities don’t need protection.

    Two, the target of my religious phrasing does not have a real victim. God and Jesus are ideas, they’re not around to be victimized. Religious ideas should not be given special privileges they have not earned.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Strong but Silent,

    I don’t know what religion your friend is but some orthodox Jews will write “G_d” or “L_rd” instead of “God” and “Lord” out of respect and for reasons related to prohibitions against any form of idolatry from the Torah. I would imagine that orthodox Jews would therefore find the phrase “Oh my God” offensive or at least distasteful.

    Some Christians may feel the same way.

    Ironically, my 12 year old son says “Oh my God” a lot and I chide him not to say it so much because I find the phrase somewhat in bad taste (and I’m an atheist!). I know in my son’s case, he probably learned the phrase from other kids at school and says it to get attention and be more dramatic.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    For a little humorous perspective, check out the stoning scene from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    She then asked me, politely, if I could not use the word “God” because it goes against her religion.

    Tell her that censoring other people to force compliance with religious practice is against your religion.

  • Carlie

    I take it as a kind of swearing, and I don’t swear around other people who don’t swear. I really don’t see it as a big deal to avoid words that I know other people don’t like. It honestly doesn’t seem like much of a problem; I’ve never seen swearing as some kind of freedom of speech issue that I have to engage in no matter what the company. I don’t say “shit” in front of my mother, and I don’t say “Oh my God” in front of a pastor.
    (I also don’t care for “Oh my God” in general, because it makes me think of 80s valley girls. But that’s just me.)

  • Gordon

    I tend to say OMG instead, or sometimes Oh My Zod!

  • Siamang

    I also don’t care for “Oh my God” in general, because it makes me think of 80s valley girls.

    Take it from a resident of the San Fernando Valley: They haven’t stopped saying it.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    I’m not saying this would be the best response, but I would totally opt for humor.

    “No, see I was carefully using god with a little g. That’s to indicate that I’m referring to a god, like Zeus or something, not the big G God himself. I’m pretty sure that Zeus doesn’t care if I blaspheme against him, or I’d be struck by lightning more often.”

  • SeekingDuck

    I made the same leap as Dennis N — the suggested response would apply verbatim if you replaced “Oh my God” with “That’s so gay.” Falling back on “intention” is part of the issue, since that’s such a common derailing strategy — if I didn’t mean to be bigoted, then I wasn’t.

    I’m not saying that “Oh my God” really is bigoted or anything, just that I’m skeptical of that particular explanation for why it’s okay. But on the other hand, I’m not sure that any explanation would really satisfy the friend (which is presumably at least part of the intention)… I know people in my family who don’t object to the phrase in public but will then go and talk later behind people’s back about how terrible and disrespectful they are for using it. I don’t think I could say anything to make them see other people’s perspective on it…

  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    LOL, OMG! I do try not to say Jesus F-ing Christ around my born again relatives though. In fact, I try not to curse at all when I am visiting them in their own homes. My mom lives here with us, so we act natural and she gets an earful sometimes.

    But the question is, if I respect them in that way, will they respect me by not saying “Praise the Lord,” “I’ll pray for you,” and other such things around me because I find these things offensive? In most cases, I doubt it. My mother, however, does refrain from using religious speak around us.

  • Gabemik

    I try not to use the phrase simply because I have no god or God.

  • Ron in Houston

    No! Dammit you’re on a mission to snap her out of her delusion. Tell her she’s a delusional idiot and if she dare argue, hit her upside the head with a two by four.

  • sven

    Take it from a resident of the San Fernando Valley: They haven’t stopped saying it.

    For sure!

  • TheLoneIguana

    I like to quote a certain cigar-chomping robot:

    “Oh your god!”

    People either miss it completely or do a great double-take.

  • KarateMonkey

    I’m with SeekingDuck and Dennis N. My mind immediately jumped to all the idiots who don’t intend to give offense when they call things gay or retarded, and then continue to use those words to mean bad or stupid after they’ve been told they’re offensive. Those people are assholes.

    Just because you don’t intend to be offensive doesn’t mean it’s not to someone. If you respect that person you try to stop. If you don’t you don’t. If she respects the letter writer she’ll appreciate the effort and not jump down his/her throat for little slip-ups.

    To be clear, if the letter writer’s friend were asking him/her to refrain from any criticism of religion or putting forward a “Shut up, that’s why” argument or if she were unwilling to show the same respect back I’d say argue it out with her, but this doesn’t sound like that. It’s a trivial change in language. Most functioning adults already moderate their language in a similar manner around family or at work. Just go along with it.

  • Shannon

    I agree with Carlie. I like to swear, but I try not to do it around certain people. Like my mother-in-law ;-) Or random strangers. Or kids. And even though it’s not the worst I could say, I don’t say “Jesus Christ” around my MIL either.

    “Oh god” is harder, but if I know it offends someone, I will try not to say it.

    Heh. My 7 year old son has taken to saying “Jesus Christ” and my Catholic MIL explained to him it wasn’t polite. Funny thing is, my son got it from his Dad, who got it from *his* Dad (MIL’s late dh). He was a Catholic but not a very good one I guess because he was always going off “Jesus Christ” this, “God damn” that, lol!

    The funniest part is that my dh is also an atheist and it bugs him to no end that when he’s upset, the first things to pop out of his mouth are religious swears. He can’t seem to break himself of the habit.

    From my Catholic Grandma I got “Jesus Mary and Joseph”. Can I consider it cultural now? ;-)

  • Richard P

    Oh come on, you’re going to hear “Oh my God” a hundred times a day. You know I’m not saying it to be disrespectful, it’s just a common expression. If it really bothers you, I’ll try to avoid it, but please don’t get on my case if I slip. That habit is not out of disrespect. I care about your feelings, but you don’t want me to start tip-toeing around you, do you? We have to respect each other, but we also have to accept each other as we are.”

    Wow!! That’s a much better answer than I had.

    Mine was more like… fuck off!

    Yours is definitely more eloquent. Mine has more punch though.

  • http://www.dwasifar.com dwasifar

    Like Gabemik, I try not to say “oh my god” or “jesus christ,” because I don’t have a god, and there was no christ, whether Jesus or anyone else.

    But if I do say it, I try to be as ironically blasphemous as possible. Hence, not “jesus christ” but rather “Jesus H. Buttfucking Christ on a goddamned raft.” It seems less hypocritical that way, somehow.

    But I try not to swear gratuitously, either, so I save things like that for special occasions.

    Speaking of swearing, did you know Christ is the answer? I found this out from Bill Bryson. The question, of course, is “What do you say when you hit your thumb with a hammer?”

  • Kathy

    Just wondering how old these people are?

  • http://www.dwasifar.com dwasifar

    Kathy Says: Just wondering how old these people are?

    If they’re attending a lecture, they’re most likely college students.

  • http://pastorwick.blogspot.com WICK

    You could also politely tell her that “taking the Lords’ name in vain” was not referring to cuss words.

    It was referring to USING “the concept of God, etc.” for your own personal gain. In order to gain power, prestige, notoriety, status, respect, etc.

    Far too many Christians seem to be too okay with that, and too upset over words.

  • http://bigwhiteogre.blogspot.com Jon

    Echoing what some others have said I would probably point out that the Bible I don’t think has a problem with saying something like “Oh my God.”

    The word “God” is like a word for a species. Like “human”. Whereas “Jon” is the name of a member of the species. YHWH is the name of their god, and you’re not supposed to use his name in vain.

    And what does that mean? Christians are right that it means don’t swear. But “swear” means “to vow an oath.” And “take in vain” means to take an oath falsely.

    So the real problem would be if you said “I swear in YHWH’s name that I will excercise 3x per week” and then you failed to do it. So you could tell your friend that biblically she need not feel any guilt for saying “Oh my God”.

  • Valdyr

    Jesus gangbanging Christ, Jon posted something constructive?

  • Alex

    I wonder sometimes when a fundementalist is objecting to the inappropriate use of God of Jesus, if they are really just trying to impose their religion on you. I’ve been at business lunches where someone will ask everyone to hold hands and pray first! Shouldn’t religion really just be between a person and their personal God anyway?

  • Linda

    hmm… I never knew “Oh my God” was that offensive. I always thought it was a phrase used when one is surprised or awe-struck by something unusual or unexpected. What’s wrong with that? I did learn my lesson about “Oh mother…” and realized it’s much different from “Oh brother.”

    Man, this English language is so confusing… wait… is “man” okay?

  • ChameleonDave

    He should have said, “sorry, I shan’t say ‘oh my god’ again. From now on, it’s ‘oh jolly jizzing Jesus jumping in jelly’. Any other orders you want to try giving me?”.

  • anonymouse

    Asking someone to not say “oh my god” because it is against YOUR religion is unreasonable. I have to admit I audibly said “pffffft” when I read the subject title. I would probably laugh in someone’s face if they asked that of me. It’s not like she/he threw a curse in there.

  • ChameleonDave

    Oh jolly jizzing Jesus jumping in jelly, I do swear by jealous Jewish Jehovah that a jewel has come forth from the jaws of Jon.

  • Hankins

    I’d say,

    “I’m sorry if I offended you, but I’m an atheist and I tend to be offended by people who condemn me for not believing in their magical imaginary friends. Shoot, I guess we are both offended now.”

  • tzikeh

    When asked (not so often, but occasionally) not to do that, I just say “it doesn’t have any meaning in vernacular conversation–it’s just a collection of sounds that function as an interjection with multiple purposes.”

    If they continue, I tell them that I’ll think about curtailing my use of the phrase, if they think about why it’s okay to ask someone else to do so.

  • Josha

    I am surprised to discover that anyone (other then the conservative Christian) thinks the phrase “oh my god” is offensive. I agree that the phrases “that’s retarded” or “that’s gay” are offensive because their meaning implies that a certain segment of the population is aberrant or worth less. But “oh my god” is ambiguous and is a reaction to something, as opposed to refering to things deemed stupid or unwanted as “so god”.

    I wouldn’t say “Jesus Christ” but I grew up considering it offensive, and it is to many. When I lived in Italy I assumed that “oh my god” was like the Italian “mamma mia” (in terms of common usage) because whenever Italian friends tried to imitate us they would always start by saying, in thick Italian accents, “Oh my god.”

  • Tizzle

    Some time ago, in my pagan years, I stopped saying ‘oh my god’. Mostly because I had decided it was sexist, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to say oh my goddess. So now it’s Oh Good Lord. Which probably doesn’t offend anyone except myself, a little.

    It’s really not that hard to replace a word or phrase in your speech. For a couple years, I managed to never say “like” unless I was comparing or glad of something.

    I do have a potty mouth, but I can usually keep in under wraps in front of my mom, or other non-swearers.

  • Tony

    I would have thought that god, assuming his omnipotent existence, would be big enough to look after himself.

    That’s what I don’t get about religious people getting all offended about other people “mocking” their faith. They believe in an all-seeing all-powerful master-being, and yet they feel the need to stick up for him (it’s always a male funnily enough) all the time. Surely if he can hear my blasphemy yet does nothing to prevent it, it’s because he doesn’t want to do anything about it!

    In fact it’s possibly the greater blasphemy to second guess the creator and start sticking up for him!

  • Christophe Thill

    Possible reply: “Don’t worry, I, not you, will go to hell for this”.

    But why in Bastet’s name would an atheist say “oh my god”? What does it refer to, anyway?

  • http://philaxiom.info Bruce Long

    There is a fine line between respect and control. Religious dogma is all about asserting control psycho-linguistically and through language usage. The Judeo-Christian view of the world is what I refer to as logocentric idealism: roughly translated into humanese, that is ‘reality through words.’ You don’t have to look very far in Christian Doctrine to see this at work. Most of us would be aware that the Genesis story describes the character God as speaking the world into existance with words (“Let there be…”.) The whole Christian life is saturated with this word idealism. Prayer is said to have power sustained by the God character. Prayer is of course words. This is how deliverance meetings and prayer meetings do double duty as programming and control sessions. When believers ‘pray over someone’ (note the ‘over’) or ‘speak into their life’ using prayer, there is a linguistically implemented control and suggestion happening. Such people fully understand that they are in a position of great influence when they do this, because there is the peer pressure of the group (the witnesses) to re-inforce the apparent validity of what is being spoken. I have heard some serious psychological abuse take place in such settings.

    Contemporary cognitive scientists and philosophers have largely abandoned the concept of thought being language, and see language as only a part of cognition/thinking (albeit an imporant part.) Stephen Stich, Michael Devitt and Stephen Pinker are some examples. However, for religionist like Christians, words are everything. They refer to their bible as the word of God, and that bible says that the word was in the world before things began.

    The point is that Christians are encouraged and taught to think linguistically in this fashion. This is also why blasphemy is such a big issue for them. The codification of their dogma is linguistic, the pattern of their thinking is linguistic, and the way they communicate mystical or ‘spiritual’ messages to each other is linguistic. Jesus is himself described as the word in the word (the bible.)

    Although we need to be polite, we cannot do so at the expense of submitting to religious control, which in such cases is the real aim. The religious devotee/believer may not realise it, because the whole psycho-linguistic framework of religious belief is co-optive. This means that such a person is an agent of control on behalf of their Church even if they don’t understand the mechanism as I have described it.

    I for one understand the much maligned Pat Condells assertion that “I don’t respect your beliefs and I don’t care if you are offended.” The reason for this is because the co-optive linguistic control mechanism is in fact a form of psychological bullying. Condell is evidently tired of acquiescing to such control on the basis of avoiding offense. The problem is that words are signs which are ‘slippery’ to some extent – they can signify different things to different people. I noticed that someone queried why ahteists would even bother saying ‘Oh my God’ when for an atheist the term ‘God’ is what linguists and philosophers sometimes call an ‘empty referent’ – a word with no correlate in the real world – a word that denotes real nothing at all. It is simply that all of us use language extensively, and language is very infectious and habitual.

    Richard is correct, people say this kind of thing, and “Jesus Christ” and “Damn it” all of the time, but their meaning is largely or completely empty. We just say some things because people in our culture say them. However, in the case of these ‘holy words’ what this language provides is an opportunity for religionists to assert their identity, and attempt to exercise linguistic control. The appropriate response is indeed to remind the believer that these words are not theirs to own and dictate the terms of reference for, and to plainly say to them that it is a form of “getting on your case” about something meaningless. Put another way – they must respect that you are allowed to use any language you like and respect that you are allowed to mean nothing by it, or whatever you mean by it, even if that is nothing in particular. Christians do not own the word ‘God/god’, nor its semantics, nor its meaning, and have no right to dictate any meaning to the rest of us. The claim of offense is simply a sneaky way to wrest control over the language, and simultaneously to rest control over the other interlocutor/person by constructing offence upon dictated meaning. Once one acquiesces to such devices, the religionist/believer has secured a pattern of response to offense such that anything they don’t like simply needs to be called offensive to be controlled. This is clearly psychological bullying of a subtle but powerful kind, and should be resisted kindly but firmly, and shown for what it is.

    ~ Bruce has recently completed a masters thesis in English “Informationist Science Fiction Theory and Informationist Science Fiction”, and is currently a PhD candidate. His topic is “A nomological naturalistic metaphysical theory of information for cognitive science and epistemology” and is about what information is and what it has to do with how we can know something.

  • Michael

    GOD DAMN-IT! You people are pissing me off!!! Stop being so apologetic for being right! If your krixstain friends get upset about you using the every-day term ‘Oh my god’, then tell them that you’re upset at them inserting their imaginary ghourd into every f–king conversation and application. Tell them to take their religion back home, where it belongs, and to not INSULT you by its’ constant use. I’m sorry, but I must disagree with Mr. Wade on this one. Complacentcy is not the right way to go. We need to tell them that their religious beliefs hold no sway over us, and that if they don’t like your usage of the English language to go lock themselves away from society, If we, the small but rapidly growing Minority of un-believers, constantly give in to their ILLIGITiMENT Demands about their IMAGINARY diety, we’re letting IRRATIONALITY WIN! AS FOR ME, I SAY:, F–k your make-believe god… Damn it!

  • Michael

    To Tony…….. You can’t blaspheme something that does not exist!

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Oh jolly jizzing Jesus jumping in jelly, I do swear by jealous Jewish Jehovah that a jewel has come forth from the jaws of Jon.

    Either Jon is getting better or its a different Jon.

  • jamboh

    Ask her in return not to use the words “evidence”, “sanity” and “equality” as your belief system is based on these…..

  • vivian

    I had a teacher in high school who was an older lady and she was out there. She’d yell at us for the oddest things and was pretty mean.

    One day she yelled at me because I closed my book two minutes before the bell rang (didn’t matter if we were done with our work, we HAD to keep those books open until the bell rang). I seldom caused trouble in school, but this bitch was ridiculous. So when she yelled at me, I said pretty loud, “Jesus Christ” (in the most annoying teenage voice you could imagine) and I opened my book and sat there.

    I don’t know who was suprised more the teacher or other students. I could tell she was REALLY mad, but I hadn’t said any bad words and couldn’t really punish me for it.

    What I did wasn’t right but I felt better, and she left me alone after that (maybe she was afraid to get too close for fear of lighting bolts). :)

  • Stephen P

    If I was in a flippant mood, my answer would be “I was referring to my god, not yours”.

    But in most cases I would simply pass over this as not worth bothering about. I have been asked to do – or not do – many strange things over the years, most of them nothing to do with religion. (I may even have been guilty of making strange requests myself.) Don’t feel you have to tackle every issue head on – often it’s more pragmatic to go with the flow. If it’s important to him/her, I’d go along with it. There are plenty of other expressions one can use.

    But of course there is a limit. For example a colleague of mine was asked by a neighbour not to hang his washing out on a Sunday. If I was asked something like that then I would refuse to comply, politely but firmly, followed if necessary by: “I’m afraid I find it impolite of you to keep insisting; please stop.”

  • http://peacefulatheist.wordpress.com Lily

    But why in Bastet’s name would an atheist say “oh my god”? What does it refer to, anyway?

    I agree. I’ve mostly stopped making any such references to God since becoming an atheist. It doesn’t seem as dramatic or meaningful anymore.

  • Richard Wade

    Michael,

    I’m sorry, but I must disagree with Mr. Wade on this one. Complacentcy is not the right way to go. We need to tell them that their religious beliefs hold no sway over us, and that if they don’t like your usage of the English language to go lock themselves away from society

    Actually, in general you and I agree. I’m not advocating complacency, I’m advocating assertiveness. Passively giving in to every theist’s demand of our behavior is an unacceptable extreme, while aggressively telling every theist to go have carnal knowledge with themselves is an unnecessary, and sometimes self-defeating extreme as well. Our responses all depend in large part on our relationship with the person who’s asking us to amend our behavior, and whether or not we want to keep that relationship.

    Strong but Silent clearly said that s/he wanted to keep the friendship, so my advice was toward an outcome that will include that. As S. but S. grows more assertive and self confident, s/he will probably re-assess friendships that include absurd demands. In any event, s/he will have a wider range of responses at hand to apply to the various new challenges that come along.

    I’ve used just about every response that the commenters have listed here, each one depending on my relationship to the person making the demand/request. This has included everything from silent compliance, to telling them in graphic detail how to stuff one half of their demand into each end of their food tube and set them both on fire.

    While that last approach may have been emotionally invigorating, as I’ve grown older I tend to go for something where I briefly and politely tell them that I consider their asking me to not say “x” a transparent attempt to introduce their religion into the scene and to have that fact dominate my and others’ behavior, and no thank you, I will be who I am, take it or leave it. Sometimes all this can be clearly communicated with just a look.

    Interestingly, the more that basic assertive stance has become an integral part of me, the less other people even try to govern my behavior.

  • http://brasilmagic.wordpress.com Grace

    I have a problem in not saying these two expressions, and would like alternatives. See, I was born in Brazil, the largest Catholic country in the world, where saying “Oh meu Deus” or “Jesus Cristo” does not offend anyone, quite the contrary, it is like calling out to god. I realized JC was not well seen here in America when a co-worker chastised me for saying “Jesus Christ” when I was surprised. Since then, I avoid that one but the “Oh my god” flies out of my mouth often, when I am surprised or upset. As a die-hard and activist atheist, I wish I could stop saying that. It is so ingrained and I hate the F word or even shit in public. I think “oh my goodness” is an alternative. Any other suggestions?
    As you see, this story surprises me since in my country of birth is normal and expected to use there expressions.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/78284495@N00/ Michel

    “I’m sorry, I don’t practice your religion, you shouldn’t ask me something like that.”

  • http://www.bluefrogdesignstudios.com/thebluefrogsays/ The Big Blue Frog

    I don’t usually say “Oh my God” or anything like that. It’s not because of any respect or disrespect; those phrases just don’t mean anything to me. I do use euphemisms though, which is perplexing even for me. I say “Jeez criminy” or “Hey-soos marimba.”

    I like the way Penn Gillette says “Cheese & Rice!”

    No advice here. Just rambling.

  • alvaritoamoedo

    when a theist says you cant say the expression ”oh my god” since atheists are godless. tell them they cant say the word ”common sense” either since they lack of it.