Challenge to Christians: Wear an Atheist T-Shirt and Gauge Reactions

The Atheist Advocate proposes a challenge to Christians:

I often hear Christians claim that they have been persecuted throughout history and they are still being persecuted today. I don’t think they know the meaning of the word! So, I’m issuing this challenge. You may choose to challenge your Christian friends as well.

Wear an Atheist shirt for a week (wash it once in a while!) everywhere you go, NOT covered up with another shirt. Allowing the public to see it clearly. If a person comments (friends, family, church members, strangers) you’re not allowed to divulge which religion you actually are, or explain yourself in any way. You must only listen to what they say and respond with “I’d rather not talk about it!”

Even though it would leave a bad taste in my mouth, I would wear the Christian shirt with the same rules for the same week.

At the end of that week, who do you think would have a clearer understand of the meaning of the word persecution?

Bonus points if you do it in the South.

(Thanks to Brian for the link!)

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.

  • Alexander Ryan

    I live in Florida. If I wore an Atheist shirt for a week, I’d probably get mugged by a preacher on steroids. It ain’t fun down here, y’all.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    In that heat & humidity, if you wore any T-shirt for a week the smell would probably mug you.

  • Troy Gavazzi

    I’ll cover my “Flatter Jesus or he’ll torture you in Hell” bumper sticker with a Jesus Fish sticker if any Christian will out a “Flatter Jesus” sticker on their car! I have a few extras I can send volunteers since I occasionally have to replace ones that have been ripped/scratched off my car.

  • Anna

    This sounds like an interesting experiment, but in order to get meaningful results, you’d have to ensure that both wearers live in the same general area. Atheist shirts will get different reactions depending on what part of the country the wearers are in.

  • chicago dyke

    it really depends on where you live. i’ve seen these in cities and on college campuses; it’s not generally a big deal. but in a small town, or in parts of the south? a t shirt like that could be the cause of real trouble.

  • Joshua

    “I often hear Christians claim that they have been persecuted throughout history and they are still being persecuted today. I don’t think they know the meaning of the word! ”

    I have a few Christian friends who came to the US as refugees. They may disagree with his assessment here. Still, the shirt thing is a neat experiment.

  • amycas

    I think he’s referencing persecution against Christians in the US.

  • Joshua

    I’d assume that, but it’s a little ambiguous since he said “throughout history.” Unless he just meant US history.

  • Rich Wilson

    The campus I work for had a big environment (conditions of the place, not meteorological) survey recently. I was talking about it with my liberal Christian co-worker, and I actually thing that in this microcosm the roles are reversed. Or at least leveled quite a bit. I’d have no worries wearing an atheist shirt there, but I think an over Christian one might get a few sideways glances at the least.

    The town where I actually live however- I’m careful about letting people know I’m an atheist. I’m all for being out, but my decisions to do so has a very real impact on other people in my family.

  • Charles Honeycutt

    Heh, I was going to say, this experiment needs to be rephrased to “wear several atheist shirts over a week.” Pee-yew.

  • Matt Eggler

    Not necessarily. I wear my atheist t shirts here in Seattle and while no one ever says anything about it I get plenty of shocked and/or dirty looks every time.

  • Nate Frein

    Because it’s impossible to go home, change out, wash the shirt, and put it back on before going out in the morning?

  • mikespeir

    I live in a little North Texas town. You wouldn’t catch me wearing that atheist shirt even though I am one!

  • Person

    What’s with the Star Trek logo on the atheist shirt?

  • Chris Wileman

    I would LOVE to hear the reactions from both sides!!

  • Bart Mitchell

    I’m glad I live in Oregon. You could easily wear either and no one would bother you.

  • SeekerLancer

    I agree with you that the post should be more clear that it’s referring to the United States.

  • Charles Honeycutt

    Because it’s hard on the shirt to do that, you can either use a machine and be bizarrely wasteful, or hand-wash and have the smell not go away after a couple of days of doing that.

  • Nate Frein

    Do you really expect anyone who takes this challenge to want to wear the shirt after the week’s up anyway?

    Wear a light t-shirt (and deoderant) underneath and you’ll probably be good to wear it two or three days barring any stains.

    You could also get two and alternate…

  • Verandaguy

    I’m glad I live in a part of the world where openly being an atheist has little to no effect on the way people treat you. At the same time, seeing all the shit fundamentalist Christians give atheists, especially in the US South, it would be satisfying to see them get a taste of their own medicine.

  • vexorian

    They both should try it with Muslim.

  • N__8

    Yay for science (Variable control and what not)

  • N__8

    In context with this site, I understood that it was referring to the USA. Other certain countries, I’d agree with you. The actions against the nonbelievers of the particular religion of the region is atrocious.

  • LesterBallard

    Febreze, folks. Hit it with a few shots, hang it up outside.

  • LesterBallard

    I imagine real fundies wouldn’t do it for fear of offending Jebus.

  • Richard Wade

    I’ll be surprised if there’s a single taker in the Midwest or the South, especially in small towns. In Jesusland, where we hear the most whining about Christians being “persecuted” because of that mean old First Amendment, they know they’d be taking their life in their hands to wear an atheist t-shirt.

    Just the locations of any respondents will be an interesting thing to see.

  • Pseudonym

    I live in the other Melbourne (Australia). I wager that I wouldn’t get persecuted for either, but I’d probably get quite a few dirty looks for wearing either shirt. Probably the same number, in fact. Admittedly, half of the dirty looks would be because of the poor graphic design.

  • Pseudonym

    I do wonder how the “Christian” shirt would go down in Portland. Everyone would probably assume it was ironic.

  • Pseudonym

    Unless otherwise specified, you can safely assume that everything on this blog carries the disclaimer that any opinions contained therein only apply to the US, and even then, probably only certain parts of the US.

  • Zorntap

    Not to crash the pity party, but here are some alternate suggestions: act mentally retarded; act like you have severe cerebral palsy; show up virtually anywhere in public in a wheelchair; show up with a cleft palate; (if male) talk in a high, squeaky voice; (if female) sport a beard. And savor the love that’s showered upon your person. Keep a diary of same.

    My point being, given the genuine persecution and discrimination experienced in huge, agonizing amounts (and 24/7) by the disabled, the unattractive, the mentally ill, and so on, how can you even stomach this sort of game?


  • Pseudonym

    The two stickers aren’t exactly equivalent, are they. Why don’t you try an Atheist fish or Darwin fish sticker for a while and see if it’s defaced/scratched off less?

    (Admittedly, you may live in a particularly high-nonsense area.)

  • Artor

    I could wear an atheist shirt every day in my neck of the woods & hardly ever get a negative reaction.

  • Artor

    Again, around my stomping grounds, that wouldn’t get much traction either. I’ve seen a few women in full burqas in the last couple days. College town, ’nuff said.

  • Anna

    Same where I live. Admittedly, I never wore a shirt with the word “atheist,” but I did have one with a Darwin fish. I wore it for about four or five years and never got any negative comments.

  • Anna

    So we shouldn’t be concerned about anti-atheist sentiments because some people have it worse? The problem with that is that someone, somewhere always has it worse. That doesn’t mean other forms of prejudice aren’t a big deal.

  • Anna

    Wow, I have never seen a burqa or niqab in real life, although women wearing the hijab is fairly common. I have also seen the chador a few times, but nothing more extreme than that.

  • Zorntap

    Oh, I see. Sorry.

  • Artor

    Maybe my terminology is off. It was a full-length robe, showing only slippers and hands, with a full-head hood/veil that only showed a stripe of eyes.

  • Anna

    My intent wasn’t to shut you up, but if you really believe what you wrote in your first comment, I’d like to understand your train of thought. Polls show that atheists are the least-trusted minority group in America.

    How bad do things have to get before such prejudice is considered problematic?

  • Anna

    Ah, that’s the niqab. Not much difference except for the narrow opening for the woman’s eyes.

  • Croquet_Player

    What do you expect would happen? I’m curious, I live in San Francisco, nothing would happen with either shirt here. (Takes a lot more than a t-shirt to get us worked up. ; ) )

  • A Christopher Schoenwald

    Am I the only geek that thinks the Atheist symbol looks a lot like the Star Trek insignia?

  • MisterMaury

    That said, didn’t Silverman just do a video post about the great (positive) reactions he gets wearing his Atheist shirts everywhere… It sounds like Atheists are trying to take both sides of the argument (We’re persecuted! We’re accepted!)

  • DrVanNostrand

    Pfffft!! Being disabled in the USA is a walk in the park compared to all the babies dying in Africa. Have you no shame? #firstworldproblems

  • allein

    Depending on where you are, they can both be true.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I actually saw a woman in a full burqa down here in Arkansas, at a Wal-Mart. Only happened once, though. I suspect that they were driving through on their way to somewhere else.

  • Feldy Riza

    The same goes with Islam

  • mikespeir

    The problem is that I couldn’t predict what might happen, except that I probably wouldn’t like it. Vernon, Texas is definitely not San Francisco!

  • Feminerd

    Having spent some time (but not lived in) small-town Texas, it’s … unpredictable. Ze could be physically attacked, but it’s not super likely unless ze wears the shirt to a bar, then all bets are off. Car keyed or bumper stickers ripped off, maybe. If ze goes to a public town meeting or something in that shirt, it’ll be lots of angry speeches and dirty looks for sure. Lots and lots of “God bless” in the way that really means “fuck you”. Quite likely some aggressive conversion attempts.

  • Mackinz


  • Georgina Smyth

    or maybe, the star trek insignia looks ike the atheist symbol? would not surprise me if deliberate.

  • TiltedHorizon

    I’ve worn similar tees, no one says anything to me. It could be because no one really cares but it could also be because I’m 230 pounds, 5’10, stocky and generally ‘intimidating’ (most people I know describe me using this word, beats me, I think I’m nice. Maybe its the facial hair).

  • Troy Gavazzi

    Agreed that they are not equivalent in “offensiveness” but either is covered under Amendment 1 of our Constitution and vandalism is vandalism.

  • Walter

    I already do it in the south although it’s the atheist symbol and not the word. I also occasionally wear a jesus fish on a grill button and I’ve never gotten a bad reaction to it.

  • baal

    I think it’d be interesting if several thousand people worse one shirt, waited a week and then the other. If the responses could then be typed and mapped to the country, we’d get a decent idea of how bad it is really or not to wear atheist symbols. Note however, you’d miss the worst anti-atheist sections as folks would self select out of the study due to legit fear of bad acts.

  • John (not McCain)

    More than once I’ve seen a couple of women dressed like that jogging through my neighborhood. At first I thought someone was chasing them, but I’ve seen them several times now and they are definitely jogging. It looked weird at first, like a complete culture clash, but now it’s just normal.

  • DG

    I would have missionaries at my door for the rest of my life here in Utah County (salt lake isn’t nearly as closed minded)

  • PureoneLanewilcox

    Your washing machine privilege is showing.

  • Pureone

    Depends on where you live. I live in a medical destination city, so I see people with all sorts of medical issues every day. Everyone around is nice and smiley in an honest way; treating each individual like a person, as we should.

  • Croquet_Player

    Sounds unpleasant, at least. Thanks!

  • Croquet_Player

    Hang in there, and good luck!

  • JA

    Or just use Febreeze…

  • r.holmgren

    I don’t think Hemantt is that stupid to believe that when someone says, “Christians have been persecuted down through history,” they’re thinking of the U.S. at all. People mean that ever since Christians were driven out of Jerusalem after Jesus’ resurrection, and on down through history somewhere in the world (currently it’s anywhere Islam exists; prior to that it was anywhere atheist governments ruled) people have paid a high price for following Jesus. Hemantt places his challenge within the United States because if he accepted the true context of the comments, he knows that he’d be flat out wrong.

  • Anna

    Talk about unexpected! I’m in a major metropolitan area, so maybe it’s odd that I’ve never seen one. There’s even a mosque near the local post office, but I haven’t spotted any women there wearing more than a hijab. I’m relieved I haven’t seen any, though. I can’t imagine what life must be like for those poor women.

  • Logan

    Wear the Atheist shirt where I live (Joplin, MO) and you would get results, I’m sure.

  • Gavin

    I’m guessing Portland or Ashland. Anywhere else, well…

  • Tobias2772

    This would be a great high school sociology experiment. Divide the class into halves, Have one half wear the atheist shirt and one helf wear the christian shirt. Have all students record all comments or reactions in a note book. The next week have the groups switch and record reactions. What an eye-opener for the kids and it would speak to all kinds of discrimination and prejudice – which young kids are much better at discarding than us old farts.

  • Woodrow Wotan

    The internet can never get away from whites/colors/permanent press privilege.

  • Makiaveli

    You don’t live in the South obviously. They do think they are being persecuted and spout off about it in all seriousness. It’s ludicrous, as most of what they complain about is simply other people asking for the same rights they have, but since when has that ever stopped anyone?

  • Pseudonym

    I completely agree with you. All I’m saying is that your “experiment” won’t prove anything.

  • Darrell Ross

    Why use a machine? Put it in the sink with some laundry soap. Swirl it around a bit. Rinse it. Wring it out. Let it dry overnight.

  • Darrell Ross

    I just moved to Seattle, WA from Abilene, TX. I would not wear that atheist shirt in Abilene. Christian one, sure. Likely no comments at all for that.

    The cops in Abilene stopped following me so much when I took the Obama sticker off my car. Texas is not fun.

  • Darrell Ross

    Shocked or dirty looks are not what I would expect in the south. I would be afraid for my safety if I wore an atheist shirt in the south.

  • Leiningen’s Ants

    Remember folks, it’s not an experiment; what it is, is a challenge. And I very much suspect one in which the people from areas who moan about persecution the most won’t last seven hours, let alone days.

  • Leiningen’s Ants

    Two or three days barring stains? Do you know how many things people can throw at you that leave stains? And bruises?

  • Nate Frein

    If something like that happened…that would pretty much prove the point of the experience right then and there. Not much point in continuing to wear the shirt after that.

  • Thackerie

    Uh-Oh. I’m a disabled, wheel-chair bound, atheist woman who might be sporting a beard if razors weren’t so readily available. Not noticeably mentally ill, though. Is it safe to leave the house?

  • Jon Peterson

    While I’d venture a guess this is more about making a point than it is about scientific inquiry… I think that applying the good old scientific method to it might net some interesting data.

  • Alessia Lane

    I’m in South Florida. I was spit on and cussed at when I wore mine. I also had my (an infant at the time) son in my arms. Never wore it again.

  • Zorntap

    I made the error of walking into Mehta’s crudely laid trap, and, as such, deserve the abusive immaturity–I’m sorry, reasoned responses–I’ve been receiving.

    Mehta’s question is a set-up and a poorly conceived one, at that. It requires Christians as a group to account for a point of view voiced by SOME Christians. Those “some” being, typically, conservative Republicans (and, probably, Southerners). As someone not from the south, who doesn’t vote Republican, who has never claimed that present-day Christians in the U.S. are victims of persecution, how in Hell can I explain, or answer, for such a claim? Obviously, I can’t. But this is about reeling people in, not encouraging discussion.

    The question, of course, is why you folks engage in such behavior. Because you’re clever manipulators? Or simply because an honest debate is utterly beyond you? Both, perhaps.

  • Rich Wilson

    Do you think this exercise might be useful in making the point that “Christians by and large are not the victims of persecution in the USA” to OUR friends and relatives who claim that they are?

    If the exercise doesn’t apply to you personally, then feel free to not whine about it.

  • wmdkitty

    You, sir, are an asshole. I may “have it worse” in some respects, but that doesn’t make anti-atheist persecution any less important.

  • wmdkitty

    Either way, it’s an awesome shoutout.

  • Stan Polson

    Hey. If you write off an entire geographic region’s inhabitants as bigots, guess what? Bonus points if it’s socially acceptable to use that particular group as a punching bag.

  • Ward Howard

    I commend your fair-mindedness on this issue. However, Christian persecution is quite real, with many pastors shot or chopped up pretty frequently. Just because it doesn’t happen in the US like that doesn’t mean it isn’t occurring elsewhere. I would be willing to try the experiment, except that it would not be honoring to God to deceive people, even for a week. The same goes if I were living in Iran. I do know what the result would be- and it would not be persecution either- at worst- it would be judgmental condemnation and discomfort. No one would kill or physically abuse me for wearing such an article of clothing, and I suspect verbal abuse would be moderate to minimal. P.S. I DO live in the South, and I have worked in lab settings where I was the only Christian in a group of atheists. I know to some degree what you guys go through- I’ve seen my friends go through it, and it is wrong.