Annoying Atheist Clichés

After reading Christian Piatt‘s two lists of annoying Christian clichés, Vic Wang decided to write up his own list of annoying atheist clichés — things we should stop saying:

“(So and so) lost their faith”. Think about this for a second; what else is there that we refer to as a “loss” that isn’t something we’d like to have back? If you ask someone you how they’ve been lately, would they ever say “I had a really bad cold but I lost it a few days ago”? Would someone ever say they once had a smoking habit, but “lost it”? Simply saying “became an atheist” avoids that connotation.

“When it comes to the Bible, you can’t just pick and choose what you want to believe…” Not only can Christians do this, they absolutely have to. And as I point out here, every time someone repeats this cliche they are actually giving the Bible far more credit than it deserves. Also, do we really want to imply that absolute fundamentalism is the more admirable position, simply because it happens to be more logically consistent?

What would you add to Vic’s list?

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • John A. Anderson

    “Hitler was a Roman Catholic.” OK as a response to the Christian trope that he was an atheist, but otherwise I like to leave Hitler out of arguments. Who cares what Hitler believed? 

  • Fozzy

    Its not really about what Hitler believed anyway.. its about the total uselessness of the religion that was so prevelant in the region and world at the time and didn’t do a damn thing (before, then or since) in the way of stopping any of this from happening. 

  • Mat Greenfield

    “You only do charitable things to selfishly curry favor with your God, I do them out of selflessness.”

    I think that this is self-contradictory, if you acknowledge that it’s possible for people to do charitable deeds completely selflessly, then to say this assumes that a believer is incapable of it and wouldn’t do so without belief.

  • Don Gwinn

    The point about picking and choosing what to believe is correct.  BUT (you knew there’d be a “but,” right?) It’s still important to point out that you can’t have it both ways–you must EITHER take the bible as inerrant, OR take it as an allegorical book from which you can choose to take some lessons and leave others.

    It’s OK with me if a Christian believer wants to take the position that he will think for himself and reject parts of the bible that pain his conscience.  But once he’s made that choice, he can’t get away with coming back the next day and explaining that “I’m not against gay marriage, God is.  He put it in the Bible, and I just follow that rule.  Sorry.”  

    It’s also OK with me if his neighbor asserts that the bible is inerrant.  I don’t agree, but he has the right to his own crazy notions.  But again, once he’s made that choice, I won’t let him get away with coming back the next day and explaining that the slavery and rape in the bible are remnants of older human societies rather than the inerrant word of God.  If he wants to do that and be taken at all seriously, he’ll need to renounce his previous position before he contradicts it.

  • George Wiman

    We shouldn’t say we “believe” in evolution. Even if the usage is correct on some level, the word “believe” means something very specific to a Christian, much as the word “theory” means something specific to us. Rather we should say we understand why evolution is true or something like that.

    I’ll stop making fun of creationism when state boards of education stop trying to wedge it into the curriculum and political critters stop saying the age of the Earth is a mystery.

  • Guest

    Muslims are enjoying this.

  • PsiCop

    I agree. It hardly even matters what Hitler … or any of the rest of the top Nazis … believed. Hitler’s lieutenants were actually a diverse bunch, some of them (e.g. Goebbels) even had communist leanings. There’s evidence several of them were Teutonic pagans (or maybe wannabe pagans). So talking about any of their individual beliefs or motivations is mostly a useless exercise. The real problem with them was twofold:

    First, none of them would even have dreamed of trying to wipe out all the Jews, much less work to carry it out, had there not been a strong, centuries-old  stream of Christianity-fueled anti-Semitism running through Europe (and central Europe in particular). Christianity’s long tradition of hatred for Jews must be considered a culprit.

    Second, they’d never have been able to carry out their hideous plan, had not millions of Germans been willing to go along with it. Since the majority of Germans then were definitely Christian, that means — again! — that Christianity bears responsibility for this.

    So Hitler’s personal religiosity, whatever direction it might have gone in, is largely irrelevant. What is relevant is the anti-Semitism that he & his lieutenants espoused, and they’d never have espoused it, if Christianity hadn’t created and fostered it already, long before any of them were born.

  • ortcutt

    Do any atheists actually say “lost their faith”?  It’s such a passive way of referring to the process, something happening to you rather than an action that you take yourself.  All of the atheists I know say “I rejected that ridiculous nonsense”.   Maybe there are a few tragic atheists who see themselves as passive victims of their “loss of faith”, but I find that those wishy-washy folks find their way back into religion pretty soon.

  • Matthew Pettis

    “So-and-so lost 30 pounds, now they look great!”

    I’m not sure example number 1 is all that bad.

  • CultOfReason

    Agree. S.E. Cupp comes to mind.

  • ortcutt

    “Oh, if I could only have faith, but I can’t manage to do it.”  I strongly dislike these people.

  • John Small Berries

     How, then, would you respond to someone who directly accuses atheists of having no motivation to be good people, since we don’t believe we’ll have a reward or punishment in “the afterlife”?

  • John Small Berries

    So what? Some of the “clichés” on that list are intellectually dishonest arguments. Should atheists continue to make them simply because avoiding them might bring “enjoyment” to someone who believes something we reject?

  • jose

    I’ve never seen most of those used. Are they that common as to refer to them as clichés?

    The last one about the reverse scenario to the deathbed is wrong. He says it’s just as consistent with evangelical beliefs, but it isn’t.

  • C Peterson

    I think that, for the most part, that’s a pretty lame list. Most of the items aren’t clichés at all. Some are simply reasonable responses to arguments by Christian apologists (specific references to the words of Jesus). Others are initial comments that would typically be expanded upon (I don’t believe in God, Jesus never existed). Some aren’t even things atheists commonly say, but are expressions used by religionists (So and so lost their faith). Some are arguably appropriate discussion strategies (ridiculing Genesis). A few are just minor complaints about usage or word choice (religious claims “don’t make sense”).

    I wouldn’t add to this list, but I would remove nearly everything from it… leaving not much behind.

  • 3lemenope

    First, none of them would even have dreamed of trying to wipe out all the Jews, much less work to carry it out, had there not been a strong, centuries-old  stream of Christianity-fueled anti-Semitism running through Europe (and central Europe in particular). Christianity’s long tradition of hatred for Jews must be considered a culprit.

    This. I’d recommend for anyone interested in a fleshed out case along these lines, Constantine’s Sword by James Carroll.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    A huge area for improvement is the very first one that he lists on that blog…..

    We atheists should avoid saying “I don’t believe in God”, since that plays into the idea of the ONE single monotheistic God that the believer believes in.

    Instead, notice the favorable shift when we atheists say “I don’t believe in ANY gods (plural)”. Now the focus shifts to there being MANY gods proposed throughout human history (or even in the current world), and the believer does not believe in most of those any more than we atheists do.

    Recently I’ve considered emphasizing this more by saying “I don’t believe in any of the gods”, which is an unusually awkward sentence and thus intentionally draws attention to “what do you mean by ‘any of the gods’”).

    Lastly on this point, I really like the way that Edward Tarte always says “I’m an atheist, which simply means that I find no credible evidence for the existence of any gods.”  It’s a little longer, but still short enough for an ‘elevator pitch’ and damn it is good and it totally points to the burden of proof being on those who need to provide evidence for whichever god they are trying to sell.

  • C Peterson

    I usually say that evolution is simply an observation, and that I believe that the rich set of theories developed to explain it are largely correct.

  • C Peterson

    Have you ever heard an atheist or anti-theist make that claim except as a response to the false claim that Hitler was an atheist? I suppose it might happen occasionally, but I don’t think I’ve heard it, and it can’t possibly be common enough to rise to the level of a “cliché”.

  • C Peterson

    Agree. S.E. Cupp comes to mind.

    The question was whether any atheists use the expression!

  • C Peterson

    Somebody- I think it might have been in this forum- suggested “I gained my reason” as an alternative to “I lost my faith”. It’s an excellent usage, which I try to encourage (even though personally, I never had any faith to lose, and happily never had to regain my reason).

  • Christopher Buchholz
  • ortcutt

    I don’t like the use of “reason” as the opposite to “faith”.  I find that most people don’t know what they mean when they use the term.  It’s the lack of evidence that’s the problem with faith, not any fault in reasoning.  

  • RebeccaSparks

    I agree with   Christian Piatt on this one.   You’re trying to show this by showing they can’t believe in the contradictions in the Bible, or perhaps by showing were the Bible strays from conventional morality.  However, criticizing pick and choose beliefs is that you’re making the source of the incoherency of Christianity that person’s belief; that the Bible can be logically and morally consistent  but the problem is with believers picking and choosing what they believe.  The real problem is the Bible is ambiguous and self-contradictory, and many positions are morally troubling.  If a person truly believes every contradictory thing written in the Bible, it does not make the Bible itself any more logically valid.
    I can understand why it’s tempting to say, “You believe X but not Y.” because that unbelief it feels like a loose string that will hopefully unravel the whole thing.  I think generally it’s better to pursue each issue individually, when something is inconsistent within the Bible and where it’s inconsistent with a modern morality.

  • C Peterson

    While I understand that “reason” has many meanings, in my most common usage the word is precisely the opposite of “faith”. I see faith as the acceptance of ideas without evidence, and reason as the insistence upon evidence before taking any idea seriously. That’s how “reason” has been used since… The Age of Reason! And I think the usage is sound.

  • Rainydayjess

     I use the phrase “accept the evidence for” because it applies to all science. Or something like, “I find the evidence for evolution, gravity, and my own existence to be convincing.”

    “Accepting evidence” implies that we are open to new evidence that may revise our understanding. I think it’s important to have a note of that willingness to accept new information in these discussions because that is precisely what differentiates scientific thought from religious thought. “Believe” and “truth” sound like absolutes.

  • Rainydayjess

     How about:

    If your only motivation to be good to others is that your god will torture you later if you don’t, by all means, please, for the love of humanity, keep going to church!

  • Coyotenose


  • Coyotenose

    Hmmm.  “Healthy people don’t require approval to be happy when they see other people warm and fed. I don’t, and I bet you don’t either.”

  • The Other Weirdo

     Oh, and let’s also not forget that Germans weren’t the only one only too happy to supply all the Jews they could lay there hands on for the gassing chambers. There was a story, whose details I can’t remember, that at one point the Germans had to ask another country to stop sending them all the Jews because they couldn’t keep up with the killing.

    Whatever the Nazis believed, it must be remembered that they were surrounded by millions of Christians who, with very few exceptions, hardly paused to think twice about it.

  • Hayden

    My biggest pet peeve is people who say, “I don’t *believe* in evolution. I *accept* evolution,” or one of the many variants. The word “belief” is neutral, and we should not be ceding its use to the religious.

    This is the definition of “belief.”> Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.
    If I submit a proposition P to you, and you agree that P is in fact true, that means you believe P is true. The theory of evolution is a proposition about the diversification of life on Earth. If you agree that evolution is true, then you believe in evolution.

    It’s really that simple. Belief is simply adopting the position that a certain idea is true. It’s possible to believe things for good reasons or bad reasons, but at the end of the day, it’s still a belief. Let’s stop letting the religious dictate how we get to use language.

  • Hayden

    No. Just, no.

    Did you watch the video of Russell Brand interviewing two members of the Westboro Baptist Church? They had a very specific definition of the word “love”. Should we stop using that word, too?

    Let’s say a bunch of Christians start telling you that evolution means dogs giving birth to cats. Which is the proper response? Do we stop using the word evolution, or do we correct them about the proper definition of the word? The same should hold true for th word “believe”.

    I believe in gravity. I believe in germ theory. I believe the Earth circles the Sun. I believe Barack Obama is president. I believe I have two eyes, two hands and two feet. I believe in evolution.

    These statements are not just correct “on some level.” They are correct, period. Don’t let religious people bully you by trying to sneak connotations of faith into a completely neutral word.

  • Ruth

    Accusing the religious in one way or another of stupidity.  There are plenty of smart Christians.  What is stupidity anyway?  A low IQ?  Or does the atheist simply mean lack of critical thinking skills?  Well, sorry, but there are plenty of atheists who lack critical thinking skills in one area of life or another.  Bill Mayer and his stance on medical science for one.  There are people like Martin Gardner who acknowledged that his belief did not make any kind of scientific sense, but was an emotional matter.  How is that stupid or irrational?  

    Another claim that bugs me is that most wars are caused by religious belief.  There isn’t a factual basis for this.  Plus, it would be very hard to tell.  People are very tribal and a particular religious belief may be shared by the tribe, but that isn’t to say that the religious belief is what causes the dispute between tribes.  

  • Ruth

    A long time ago I said I lost my faith because in fact I had lost my faith.  I did not and do not consider myself a passive victim or tragic.  It was just part of my life’s journey.  However, I examined my loss of faith and over time concluded that it makes no sense to believe without evidence or at least, to believe without some utility. 

  • Ruth

    Brayton’s list is more interesting.  Although many seem to disagree, I think I agree with his point that it is an error to say “religion poison everything.”   I think of the comfort some get from religion and have a hard time stating categorically that it is poison for them.  But then again, in some way that comes off as patronizing, as if I am saying that I don’t need superstition to get through life but weak minded people like you need it.  

  • 3lemenope

    There are differences between the colloquial and the technical, and the fact is that these discussions generally take place informally. The colloquial meaning of the word belief is heavily weighted towards the contexts in which it is normally used, that is, in the context of religious belief. And so in informal discussions of scientific findings, use of the word leads everyone astray.

  • viaten

    It’s not that simple.  I think belief means different things in different people’s minds.  It seems some religious people think a scientist’s “belief” in evolution isn’t much different if the scientist were to believe in space aliens planting life on earth or in some other weird creation myth.  I think it’s unfortunate we use one word for something that seems to be quite different in different people’s minds.  A good scientist has no choice in believing what the evidence strongly suggests, but sometimes says “I believe such and such, but I could be wrong” when making an educated guess about something.  Some religious people look at belief as something that can be chosen or rejected.   They “believe” because it is in there interest.  Sometimes not believing isn’t an option.  There are different things going on.  I can accept (and prefer) people saying they accept evolution.  It helps highlight the difference.

  • viaten

     Good point about word usage.  But I’d prefer “gave up on their faith” for the first example.

  • Compuholic

    I would assume that the story you heard was about Poland. 

    At the beginning of the 20th century Poland was very friendly to jews. As persecution grew stronger in Germany, many jews moved to Poland. The massive immigration of jewish people led to increasing anti-semitism is Poland (and, as usual, the catholic church did their part of providing an excuse to go after the jews: Old myths like the blood libel myth were resurrected)

    But I doubt the part of the story that the Nazis asked to stop sending them jews. Pretty much every one of the occupied contries had their own system of concentration camps. Those camps were mostly controlled by the Nazis but it is important to note that there were many people in the occupied countries who sympathized with the Nazi-Ideology and even many non-Germans served in the SS.

  • advancedatheist

    “Christians experience sexual frustration. Atheists enjoy sexual fulfillment.”

    Uh, hello? Elevator Guy and similar beta male atheists might have a different opinion about their opportunities for “sexual fulfillment.” 

  • ortcutt

    Religion poisons critical thinking and lack of critical thinking poisons everything.

  • ortcutt

    The irony is that they take themselves to be “being more scientific” by using “accept” rather than “believe”.  However, the cognitive sciences have been happy enough with belief and other propositional attitudes since the death of behaviorism in the 1960s.  Beyond that, it’s unclear how exactly “accept” is any better than “believe”.  It’s still just another propositional attitude, so why is that supposedly better?  They can’t explain.  

  • Ruth

    That is why I ask what people mean when they say they believe or don’t believe in something. 

  • ortcutt

    People are legally entitled to their crazy notions.  That doesn’t make them epistemically entitled to them.

  • Ruth

    I don’t know that I agree on an individual level.  My father was a critical thinker and careful to go where scientific evidence led him.  But he was also a deist.  I don’t think his religious views poisoned his views on other matters.     I do agree that cultural beliefs can be poison, and those cultural beliefs may include certain religious beliefs, nationalistic beliefs, beliefs about people different from yourself but I don’t know that religion per se is poison.  

  • ortcutt

    Equally important is not going where the evidence does not lead you.  Religion teaches people to form beliefs regardless of the lack of evidence.  That’s deeply corrosive.

  • Ruth

    I want to drill down on this because I don’t know that I agree with this.  People by nature tend to form beliefs without evidence.  Religion can be one of those beliefs.  So can the belief that your own country is the best country in the world.   Depending on the particulars of the belief it may or may not be corrosive.     I can’t help but wonder how much these sorts of beliefs have utility for group cohesiveness.  And we cannot say that religion has inspired only small mindedness.  It also has inspired some to be generous.  I guess what I am saying is that I think that religion is a mixed bag.   Point me to evidence (rather than just rhetoric) to the contrary and I will re-evaluate.    

  • C Peterson

    Deism is not a religion, it’s just a belief that there’s some sort of creator behind the Universe. While I’d say it isn’t the product of the best critical thinking, it’s very different from what any religions teach, and does not itself require any religious beliefs at all. We can offer the opinion that religion is poison and still accept that deists are unpoisoned.

  • George Wiman

    Nothing wrong with the word ‘believe’ per se, but it is as central to faith as theory is to science.  So it’s sort of in a class by itself and when I’m talking adversarially I do avoid terms that I know will complicate the communication. 

    Believers – their term, their connotation – are an altogether different thing than someone who has accepted evidence conditionally on further evidence.  So when we say we “believe in” evolution they hear that we chose to accept it on faith without evidence.  So it’s not a rule or anything but if you use “believe” when talking to a “believer” you may find yourself going in circles unnecessarily. #VoiceOfSadExperience #YMMV 

  • David Rozycki

    People usually say he is Catholic in response to Christians claiming he was an atheist.

  • jcdenton40

    Yes, that’s essentially what I was getting at when I said:

    “…notice how the wording [of "I don’t believe in God"] is subtly yet inherently biased in theists’ (particularly monotheists) favor, while making the subtle presupposition that the existence of their god–particularly the Judeo-Christian God–is somehow the default position.”

    Of course, saying “I don’t believe in any of the gods” is certainly an improvement, although even that implies some degree of special status for those gods which have been “discovered” and/or are currently believed in. And it also has the problem with the connotation of “believe”, which I alluded to above.

    Obviously there is no reason to believe in the existence of *any* gods, not just “the” gods that we currently know of.

  • jcdenton40

    Regardless of whether the word “believe” has an inherently religious connotation (and it certainly does to some), that argument isn’t really necessary to see the problem with saying you “believe in” evolution. It’s the fact  that “believe” is used to describe support for ideological positions, as well as the acceptance of factual realities.

    Imagine someone using the following line of questioning:

    “Do you believe in euthanasia”?


    “Do you believe in evolution”?

    BTW, I’ve heard it suggested that saying “I understand evolution” is preferable to “believe”. But one can certainly “understand” something without believing in its truthfulness (for example, I would say that most of the people on here likely “understand” religion quite well, probably even better than those who “believe” in it).

    Personally, when it comes to evolution I prefer to say “I understand that evolution is true”, or “I understand that evolution has been proven to be true”.

  • smrnda

     I’m going to mention that Martin Luther was a raving anti-Semite towards the end of his life, and though antisemitism existed all over Europe, he had a pretty big influence on German culture and mindset. Take Luther’s antisemitic writings and realize that if you crossed out his name, someone would imagine it came from someone like Hitler or Goebbels.

  • Willy Occam

    Perhaps saying that “religion poisons everything” is a bit hyperbolic, but I think that any kind of belief without evidence is problematic.  In your example of people who believe our country is the best country in the world, they are typically the jingoistic sorts who conveniently disregard all of the not-so-good things we might have done in the world, and wonder why any other country would have a quibble with us.  Any “group cohesiveness” based in such entrenched beliefs, one that eschews critical thinking, is potentially dangerous.

  • Greg Gay

    When somebody does form a belief based on insufficient evidence, it is harder for them to recant the belief when the evidence against it is available.

  • Greg Gay

    Right. Giving that response is a refutation that the theist is necessarily doing it for God. But rather than using “selflessness”, I would admit “I do it for that internal rewarding satisfaction I get that seems to come from the evolution of social groups”, or something less cumbersome that makes the point.

  • Randy

    I would add “atheism is a lack of belief”

    Similarly to “lost”, “lack” implies something that it’s good to have.   You “lack a means of transportation”, but you don’t “lack a third arm”.

    Also, atheist people have beliefs.  We just don’t believe we should behave as if the supernatural exists in some particular way. 

  • C Peterson

    You can simplify that further to “evolution is true”.

  • ortcutt

    The damning thing about many religious people is that they have normal intelligence, got a normal education where they were exposed to scientific ideas, and they still managed to believe things that are not just false, but absurdly false.  If they were just naturally lacking in intelligence, then it wouldn’t be their fault, but it is their fault.  They were offered a chance to have critical thinking skills and they failed.  Being gay isn’t a choice, but being willfully ignorant is.

  • Yiab

    Regarding Point 1, see “virginity”.

  • Plasticpony256

    Would it be better then to state something like “I believe in proven fact” or “I believe in scientific law”, this way we, atheists, show no favoritism to the religious person.

  • Godlesspanther

    There are many common atheist responses that don’t work at all in some situations. I have a neighbor who is a believer and I attempted to point out that he is also an atheist. 

    Do you believe in Thor? 

    – Yes. 

    Zeus, Isis, Odin? 

    – Yes, yes, yes. I believe in all of them, and all the gods I’ve never even heard of — I believe in all them too. 

    So — I must concede, Jack is not an atheist. A polytheist to its absolute extreme, but not an atheist. 

    People who are very entrenched in a faith will not consider any argument against it to be at all valid — no matter what. 

  • Greisha

    Maybe somebody already mentioned it, but losing a few pounds may be a very happy occasion.

  • Plasticpony256

    My problem here is that by claiming “I am an Atheist” in essence I am saying “I am not like you, the theist” to me this is giving credence to theism. “I exist because the theist exists”

  • Godlesspanther

    I have never been intensely involved in any religious group. I come from a non-religious family. I have read many stories of people who leave religious organizations and I have some understanding of the level of emotional attachment that a person can have. Especially those from a deeply religious family of origin. 

    The process of indoctrination will often include a strict line drawn between in-group and out-group. These people are trained from childhood to distrust anyone outside that group. Therefor anyone who does not embrace the theology can only do so out of a sinister motive. 

    The level of intelligence within the group will follow the same as the larger population. Most are average intelligence, some are above average, a few geniuses, some below average, and a few mentally handicapped. 

    As for being offered critical thinking skills and rejecting them — it’s called ‘compartmentalization.’ They do understand, generally, how critical thinking works and they think that it ought to apply to everything except their faith. Their god and their holy text always plays by a different set of rules. The first and primary rule is that the religion is always right no matter what and to even consider otherwise will cost you your immortal soul. Anything else can be questioned because it wont send you to an eternity in a lake of fire. 

    Smart people will believe things that are not so smart. They are just better at defending and rationalizing their beliefs. 

  • Godlesspanther

    I prefer Ed’s list. It’s well constructed and quite helpful. 

  • C Peterson

    My view- which isn’t generally a popular one- is that real intellectual skill- what we might call “genius”, although not in the common sort of statistical sense, requires three things. It requires good thinking machinery- roughly what is usually called “intelligence”. It requires knowledge; no matter how good the brain, it needs grist. The better the education, the more effective an intelligent person will be. And finally- and this is the one I think is usually overlooked- it requires the will or mindset to actually engage in thinking. A great many intelligent, well educated people don’t do this.

    I don’t think it is possible for a person who possesses all of these attributes to believe in religion, or to be more theistic than a vague deism. And we see that in practice- the great minds are almost inevitably atheist as far as we can tell. Genius and religiosity are fundamentally incompatible, outside of outright pathologies like idiot savant cases or mental illness. This explains cases like Francis Collins. He’s obviously got good brain machinery, and he’s obviously got a good knowledge base. But I think he has not applied his intelligence towards the matter of theism, and especially not towards Christianity. If he had, he’d be neither a Christian nor a theist. I think it explains why all religionists aren’t “stupid”, they simply fail to think about their religious beliefs in the same way they think about other things.

  • Hero_of_valhalla

    I’d say his first claim is inaccurate and the other rather blunt. When we say we lost our faith, the underlying implication is that it wasn’t necessarily an easy transition, or even one we wanted to make. Some are affected in all areas of their life, not all for the better.

    The second point of picking and choosing is in my mind a bit of a strawman. At least when I use that bible picking line, I’m implying they cannot just wave the bad away, like so many moderate christians and muslims do. When they do not react to the assholes of their own group, or accuse us atheists of being without morals because they have a good book, I point out that their book isn’t any better.

  • George Wiman

    Exactly right!

  • Greg Gay

    You “lack a means of transportation”, but you don’t “lack a third arm”.

    10,000 years ago, nobody lacked a means of transportation. In the future when artificial third arms become the rage, there will be people who lack a third arm. Just sayin’.

  • ortcutt

    The ancient Athenians had a shrine to the Agnostos Theos, or Unknown God.  If you think of gods as powerful beings that may punish you for not making the proper offerings, then it makes sense to cover all the bases and make offerings to gods who you aren’t even aware of.  The Romans seem to have done the same.  The idea that you would purposely only worship one god seems to have been an innovation of Akhenaton and then the Jews.  Your neighbor sounds like a bit of a loon, but he’s also taking a very standard polytheistic attitude to the subject.

  • ortcutt
  • Godlesspanther

    Well, there is a fundamental problem in covering one’s bases in such a manner, and that is that there a several gods that require exclusive worship. The one whose name is “jealous” comes to mind. 

    Jack is a nut. He’s also a drunk. I’m sure you know the type — has had the most exciting and eventful life in the world, but the only thing that anyone else has seen him do is sit around drinking beer. 

  • TCC

    “Gave up on their faith” will sound to a religious ear like you didn’t have the fortitude or willpower to keep believing, so that still doesn’t strike the right tone.

  • Drew M.

    Even masturbation is better as an atheist. No Catholic guilt.

  • m6wg4bxw

    I believe in my head.

  • jcdenton40

    Yep, that’s a good one (and someone else pointed out “losing weight’ in an earlier comment). 
    Certainly though, the examples are few and far between (and it’s interesting isn’t it, that for both “faith” and “virginity” we have religion to thank for the stock terminology we use to describe no longer having it?).

  • jcdenton40

    I liked Brayton’s list, and in the interest of full disclosure I should mention that his was posted just a few hours before mine (although almost all of mine was already written before he posted his). :-)
    I thought it was quite interesting though that the direction he went in was pretty much the complete opposite of mine, despite neither of us writing in response to the other.

  • jcdenton40

    I’ll be the first to admit that many of the “cliches” I cited may not fit the dictionary definition of such (i.e. “sayings which have been overused to the point of losing their original meaning or effect”). However, I will say that I’ve heard all of these many times and continue to hear them on a strikingly regular basis–in person and online, from atheists and non-atheists alike–so they certainly qualify as “overused”.

    To respond to some of your specific critiques, the “lost their faith” line is certainly used by religionists, but I would disagree completely that it is not commonly said by atheists. Of course, I should point out that I’ve spoken with hundreds of different atheists specifically on the issue of their deconversion stories, and continue to speak with many new ones on at least a weekly basis (which is why, with almost all of these phrases, I’ve heard them FAR more often than most). 

    Also, I would say “lost their faith” is used particularly often when referring former clergy who have become atheists; of course, the phrase is just as problematic when referring to a former pastor as it is any other formerly-religious atheist.

    I should also point out that I’m not trying to suggest that all of these are to be avoided in all contexts. Ridiculing Genesis, for example, is perfectly reasonable when someone is actively trying to represent Genesis as fact. But making fun of the Creation story/stories, Adam & Eve, and Noah’s Ark and then *never moving the discussion beyond the first book of the Bible* is where I think atheists do themselves a tremendous disservice and are essentially repeating the same critiques ad nauseam.

  • Guest

    there is also “losing weight”. I am sure no one wants their weight back they lost with weight watchers and running. ;)

  • Danny Klopovic

    I’d add the annoying atheist cliche that “absolute fundamentalism is the more logically consistent view” if only because it reveals on the part of the atheist making that claim their intellectual dishonesty. 

  • ortcutt

    Part of the problem is that you have a lot of thinkers in the “Age of Reason” basing conclusions on a priori reasoning rather than on evidence.  Descartes comes to mind.  I don’t see that as any improvement over faith.

  • Chris B.

    We do commonly speaking of losing things that we do not want to get back in other contexts.  For example, we speaking of losing weight without implying that we want the weight back!  Nevertheless it is good to make people aware that we do not see being nonreligious as lacking something desirable.

  • Jake

    Some annoying atheist cliches? How about “Critical Thinking”/”Reason”/”Evidence Based”, basically all forms of these phrases. They have become so overused by the atheist movement that they are now nothing more than mere buzz words repeated endlessly with no real thought given to their meaning.

  • C Peterson

    Simple statements, oft repeated, are important elements of communication. They are shortcuts for ideas. I’d argue that we shouldn’t be focusing on any need to change those, but rather, on the importance of recognizing that these statements are conversation starters, not enders. No single sentence, no matter how carefully crafted, is going to do a very good job of conveying an important idea to a skeptical audience. The real message should be this: if you’re prepared to use one of these “clichés”, be prepared to explain yourself. Because any of these statements, with elaboration, are perfectly acceptable.

  • C Peterson

    To be clear, “reasoning” means something different than “reason”.

  • ortcutt

    I’m just pointing out that using the term “reason” to denote the requirement of evidential support doesn’t fit well with how the term was used or with common habits of thought in the Age of Reason.  Since the term “reason” is so polysemous, it’s basically useless except as a rhetorical cudgel.  

  • CultOfReason

    Good point.  The question for her, though, is – self-delusion, or sly as a fox?

  • C Peterson

    My vote is on the latter.

    In fact, she may well be an atheist. I think most intelligent people are. But she’s more of an entertainer than a serious journalist, and she’s created a lucrative niche for herself as a sort of reluctant atheist. Like most public figures, her actual views with respect to theism and religion are difficult to know.

  • Darren Nolen

    Might have been Hungary. As I recall, and I do not have the references handy, the Hungarian Jews were shipped to Germany/Poland for ‘processing’ instead of that being done locally.
    I believe the issue was not so much the Nazi’s wanting this to stop, but that rather the enthusiasm / efficiency of the Hungarians for exporting their Jews was putting a strain on the rail transport, which was needed for military and industrial use as well. Certainly the export did not stop, as Hungary was pretty thoroughly denuded of Hungarian Jews.
    Don’t take my word on it, the source of my recollection is, I think, “Hilter’s Pope”, which I understand may not be viewed as the most reliable source. I present this as a possible point in the right direction for anyone who wants to dig up the real story.

  • Darren Nolen

    The use of “Belief” is problematic, and it should not be the case where religionists get to own a word that is so central and necessary for non-religious uses.
    One simple distinction that can be used is “Believe” versus “Believe In”. I believe that Evolution through Natural Selection explains the existence, diversity, and distribution of life. This is a different statement than “I believe in Evolution.”
    To a Christian, saying “I believe _in_ X” is a statement of dogma.
    I have attempted, in the past, to shift the religious connotation of Believe onto the word Faith (which is where I think it belongs). I think this could be a useful tactic, though I cannot claim rousing success from my limited attempts.
    The argument would, I think, go something like this.
    A belief can be stronger or weaker. A belief can be revised. A belief can be confirmed, but a belief can also be refuted. At this point, all the rationalist will be on board, and many of the religious to, though we will see some alarms starting to flash at the suggestion that a belief can be refuted.
    I suggest drawing the line here, between belief and faith. A belief can be refuted, but surely even if one belief turned out to be wrong, and was discarded, that would not undermine a person’s faith?
    If there is anything I could tell you, any evidence that I could present, any argument that I could make to cause you to change or abandon your position, then we are talking about a belief.
    If, on the other hand, there is nothing which could ever challenge that belief, then we are talking faith.
    Christians do not believe that humans can walk on water, but they have faith that Jesus and Peter did. Christians do not believe that virgins can become pregnant and give birth, but they have faith that Mary did. Rising from the dead, water to wine, the real presence of Christ in the host? All beyond dispute, and thus articles of faith, not belief.

  • Sfindley312

    Why do you always make excuses for your faction. You claim to be a scientist, definetly not a rocket one!

  • abb3w

    On a related note, I’d add “there’s no faith involved in atheism/science” to the Annoying Atheist Clichés — particularly as a response to the Theist cliche “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist”.

    If you believe anything, it’s either a primary proposition, or taken as an inference from other propositions. The nature of the Münchhausen trilemma means that any proposition ultimately rests on a basis that is either an infinite regress, a loop of circular reasoning, or a proposition taken without any justification from priors as an Axiom — all of which look to be “faith” in at least some sense, even though they’re not necessarily faith associated with religion.

    It would be a hair more accurate to say there’s no faith required for atheism that isn’t also accepted at least implicitly by religious people in general. However, that doesn’t scan so well.

  • C Peterson

    What excuses? What faction?

    (And as an orbital dynamicist, I actually am pretty close to being a rocket scientist!)

  • Rich Cook

    I prefer the phrase “stopped believing in God” to “became an atheist.”  It’s more broadly applicable and retains the positive vibe.  I’m a proud atheist but not all are, and a person might be happier to think they just stopped believing in God than take on the label “atheist.”  

  • viaten

    It’s what some do who are in transition and have been trying to hang on.  Faith is too abstract a word viewed in different ways and the transition can be experienced and viewed (from inside, or outside by believers and atheists) in different ways.  It could be “abandoned their faith”, “let go of”, “deserted”, “left”, “walked away from”, “threw out”, “broke away from”, “rejected”, “freed themselves from” …  I’m OK with “lost” if it’s taken as sort of an idiom.  Otherwise, I don’t think there is any one phrase the will satisfy everyone.

  • PsiCop

    You are absolutely correct about Luther being about as anti-Semitic as any of the Nazi head honchos. Even so, Luther was not born in a vacuum. Just as the Nazis absorbed anti-Semitism from the world around them, so too did Luther.

  • Liz

    This is a ridiculous list. Some of them are valid (like, you know, saying things that have been verified first), but there are others that are completely illogical. We are supposed to stop asking Christians to be consistent because… we don’t want them to be even more insane and actually stop being hypocrites? At least the fundamentalists are representing what the Bible is actually saying. Maybe if more people recognized that, they’d understand why fundamentalists appear to be so batshit insane. Maybe because the Bible is? Anyone? Nice try, but this list is ignoring some crucial realities.I also REALLY don’t really see why anyone should stop criticizing Genesis. Yes, it’s well known that it’s bull shit. It’s still in the Bible, and it’s still considered divinely inspired truth by a lot of Christians. Everyone does not already know Genesis is horse shit, because I’ve met some of them. Even if every single Christian or Jew did know it was ridiculous, that’s not really a good reason why we should stop criticizing it. If “believers” honestly support the Bible, they have to support that book too. They can’t cherry pick what is and isn’t metaphorical and still expect to be taken seriously, and that’s always a relevant argument to make. Most atheists are tired of arguing about it, but when there are people who honestly believe we are descendants of Adam and Eve out there, or that the Earth was created in 6 days, obviously the argument is still necessary. Most Biblical arguments are entirely cliché to atheists because the entire religious argument IS ridiculous. The only clichés atheists need to avoid are the ones based on inaccuracy, and that seems kind of obvious.

  • Dan Gerszewskiq

    The tricky bit is that belief is something you accept as true or real.  it carries no connotations of truth or untruth, only sincerity.  

    I would say that you KNOW evolution is true, based on evidence and observation.
    You also believe but that’s a much muddier word.  I can believe that I am a duck, that doesn’t make it so.