Random musings on whatever subject strikes my fancy, published every other day.

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“Stuff” Religious People Say

It all began from this meme, originally shared by +Al Acton via +Dezzi The Humanist.

I thought I would do a count-down style list of reactions to these things.  Part way through, someone told me about her experience with one item not on the list and I knew I had to add it.

What struck me about the experience of writing each one of these is how easy they were to deconstruct.  I applied the modicum of empathy that I can summon and put myself into the mindset of the person who would say this, and then the person who might be hearing it.  Given my current state as the person way more likely to hear these things than to say them, the one who says them takes the worst of it.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I have been each of these people.  And so to the people saying these things, I ask you to try also to put yourselves into the mindset of the ones hearing them.
The series is now complete.

“It’s all part of God’s plan”

“It’s all part of God’s plan” is something I have heard religious people say to people who have just suffered some very negative life event.  Anything from a bad breakup, to a fire or other disaster, all the way to the death of a family member.

Unlike the other goofy statements in this series, this is not reserved for apostates and atheists.  It gets sprayed around pretty indiscriminately.  It might play a role in causing some people, who were wavering anyway, to leave religion entirely.  So for that I suppose I should be grateful.  But I can’t summon gratitude for this execrable utterance.  It’s that combination of cruel, egotistical and judgemental that exemplifies for me all the very worst things about religious life.

The target of this statement is always someone who has just suffered a loss.  It could be a loss of any kind; it could be a loss greater than the speaker can imagine.  I have been told by a mother who lost a child that she’d had this tossed at her.  In what twisted mentality was someone thinking it would be comforting to say something to her that amounts to, “Hey, you know the big guy upstairs who runs the universe?  He thinks this is going great!”

Which brings me to the egotism of it.  The speaker is letting you know, in no uncertain terms, that they are privy to “God’s plan”.  They have seen that whole MS-Project file, and this amazingly crappy thing that has you suffering right now is right there on line 45,730,951,384.  Right between “Publicly pious athlete wins game, covers spread by two points, his agent wins a cool eighty grand” and “Tornado hits Bible-Belt town, kills 12, leaves one house out of 57 standing”.  The owner of that one lucky house paints “Thank you, God!” on what’s left of his roof, just to rub it in.  He never liked his neighbors much, anyway.

And perhaps that’s the cruelest, nastiest thing about this bit of verbal slime.  The bad thing happened to you and not to me, and that is what sparks my association of it with God’s Plan.  You don’t hear people invoking Divine Intentionality on their own sufferings, just on that of their inferiors.  By which they mean, pretty much everyone else.

This is #11 (bonus!) of a series covering the top ten goofy things religious people say to atheists.


“You are being fooled by the Devil.”

“You are being fooled by the Devil.”  This is something you’ll hear from that vocal minority of Christians who take things much more literally than the average bear, and who therefore interpret passages in the Bible about Satan as referring to a literal creature.

Since this creature takes on any form, or no form, and is responsible for anything the speaker dislikes, it’s rather difficult to pin down a testable definition or description.  But that doesn’t make it any less real to your interlocutor.  Here you are spouting what sounds to them like blasphemy and they can only ascribe that to the work of the Evil One.  This is the same evil one who introduced sin to the world in the form of a talking snake.  Now, this snake was not a regular snake, it was the Devil taking on that form.  No matter, all ordinary snakes were punished for it ever after.  Logic and fairness are clearly not biblical values.

The level of rejection you are experiencing when you hear this is just about maxed-out.  To the speaker, nothing that comes of the Devil is worthy of anything but rejection.  You are being informed that your conclusion, arrived at through your own reasoning, is not yours at all.  You are being told that it is an artifact of a creature as mythical as the god you don’t believe in.  Along with the thousands of gods your theist friends and family don’t believe in either: Jupiter, Isis, Krishna, Thor, Moloch, Flying Spaghetti Monster, Astarte….

I have not found a way to re-establish meaningful communication with people whose view of reality is as far away from mine as that.  If you have achieved this feat, please tell us about it in the comments.

This is #10 of a series covering the top ten goofy things religious people say to atheists (but there will be one more, bonus installment)


“You’re just going through a phase”

“You’re just going through a phase” is probably one of the more infuriating things we hear from the religious.  Strangely, it doesn’t only come from our parents, although they are a rich source of it.

As a parent myself I can assure you from bitter experience that saying this to anyone about anything is just about the least constructive thing I can imagine.  “Going through a phase” is something pediatricians like to say to parents struggling with their three-year-old’s tendency to throw tantrums in the supermarket.  Arriving at a logical epistemology and a fact-based worldview isn’t really in the same category as a meltdown on Aisle 4.  But the person who says, “You’re just going through a phase” is being every bit as dismissive of your genuine thoughts as the dad whose refusal to buy Fudgesicles has precipitated a mini-crisis.  That dad does not think his son has a position that needs serious consideration, he just wants the kid to quit making a scene so he can get out of the store and avoid further embarrassment.

Oh yes, embarrassment.  One of the much-touted benefits of religion is that churches, synagogues, mosques, etc. provide families with a larger community.  Well, one of the features of most communities is, judgy neighbors.  And when a member of a religious family comes out atheist?  The other members of that family get to experience another major benefit of religion: shame.  A desire to re-establish some of their standing in the community can be a root cause of shunning and worse.

And by the way, suppose “You’re just going through a phase” is meant in the best way possible: not as “I dismiss your ideas as unworthy” but as “I think this is not your final position, you will change your mind at some point soon.”  Well, what’s wrong with changing your position?  Feel free to do so as often as the facts and your thought process require it.  That logical epistemology and fact-based worldview aren’t just for show!  Take them out for a spin, whenever new evidence or ideas present themselves.

This is #9 of a series covering the top ten goofy things religious people say to atheists.


“The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God’.”

“The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God'” (Psalms 14:1) This is one of the Bible verses that the religious will quote as a supposed refutation of atheism. It tries to make a case for belief in God with what seems at first like logic. The statement is brought in to help construct the syllogism that:

  1. Only fools don’t believe in God
  2. You are (or at least want to be seen as) not a fool
  3. You should believe in God

Is it unfair at this point to bring up the multiple studies that show inverse correlation between education levels and religiosity of societies? It is? Aw, shoot. Yeah, yeah; correlation is not the same as causation. I get it. Still. 
Syllogisms can be powerful tools in logical reasoning but they are also very easy to use to construct fallacious arguments that only sound reasonable. In a syllogism, you have a series of statements where the first two must be true for the third to be true. Then you have to be very careful not to overtax the conclusion that’s supportable by those two and make your third statement too broad.

To show how this one works to trick us into the desired conclusion, let’s look at what it really says and what apologists try to torture it into saying. Here’s what we can correctly infer from the verse, if we take it at face value: At least one person who is a fool says there is no God. (He says this to himself because he knows how dangerous it is to declaim in Bronze Age Palestine; maybe he’s not such a fool after all.) If we think about it in terms of sets, it means that the intersection of the set of fools and the set of people who say there is no God is not empty. What it doesn’t mean is that the set of unbelievers is a subset of the set of fools; yet to support the argument, that is what the religious speaker has to imply. With the first statement of the syllogism shown false, the entire thing collapses. (Ironically, the actual plain meaning of the verse is almost certainly true. There has to be a fool somewhere who is also an unbeliever.)

This may be excusable; people who don’t think hard about the imprecise way common language expresses logical concepts really do have a tough time with this. The mistake may be an honest one, and we should assume good will as long as possible.

As atheists we will be challenged all the time by the religious, with arguments of approximately this level of quality. We need to be on our game.

One final note. The most famous cautionary example of why you need to be very careful with syllogisms,


  • Aristotle is an animal.
  • Cats are animals.
  • Aristotle is a cat.



means that I have an opportunity to rescue this logicians’ punching-bag by naming my next cat “Aristotle.”

This is #8 of a series covering the top ten goofy things religious people say to atheists.


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