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Dec 16 2011

Atheist Tropes We Can Do Without

What with the death of Christopher Hitchens on the front page of pretty much every news outlet in the world, the comments are full of people’s opinions about atheism and atheists. In the spirit of Shakesville, asking the question “Which film trope needs to go away forever?” (somebody quoted me there, which is how I saw it), I want to know which atheist tropes need to take a dirt nap.

I’ll start (thus snagging the easy ones): Inflamed hemorrhoid and commenter “Art Aficionado”, on NPR, on his third comment in the first eight on Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s piece on Hitchens (seriously, NPR, BBH? Were all the interns gone on college break?) writes “I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Hitchens prayed to God in his final moments. It’s very plausible.” He repeats this claim several times across the comments, in response to those who show him how unlikely this would be, and how irrelevant.

In the same thread, we see multiple commenters noting that Hitchens, despite Dinesh D’Souza’s (again, NPR, this is why BBH shouldn’t have been let near this piece) description of Hitch as “a happy atheist” (given D’Souza, this description made him stand out from other atheists), seemed to them to be bitter, unhappy, and angry. This trope imposes a personality on atheists that outshines any description or actual evidence of happiness, and it’s old, by this point.

Oh, but there are more! Another commenter pulls out the old favorite “atheism is like a religion in many ways.” In the same way that it is like peanut butter, or b-flat, or fuzzy kittens, maybe—they are both nouns. Any way that atheism is like religion, that is not much more true of Manchester United fandom, is utterly irrelevant.

I could go on, but that would defeat the purpose. What atheist tropes can we bury in an unmarked grave in Potter’s Field?

103 comments

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  1. 1
    Steerpike

    My nomination? “Atheists are just angry with God…”

  2. 2
    Prof. Bleen

    What, you mean besides “Hitler was an atheist”?

  3. 3
    Anthony K

    The one about us eating babies. Not that it’s not true, but I think I’d get better deals on newborn haunch at Safeway if it weren’t such a popular atheist treat.

  4. 4
    ubermalark

    “Atheism is just another religion” has to top my list. Closely followed by “Atheists have no morals!”.

  5. 5
    screechymonkey

    The Straw Vulcan stereotype, that we’re all totally baffled by the concept of emotions.

    Or, relatedly, as someone mentioned in the linked thread, that the existence of emotions is somehow a challenge to our worldview. “Oh, you only believe in things for which there is evidence? Well, what about looooooove? You can’t measure love in a test tube!”

    I could do without the Grandma Gambit being used against Gnu Atheists. (“Hey, I don’t believe in god either, but I don’t go to my dying grandma’s hospital bed and tell her there’s no heaven. Therefore Richard Dawkins should stop writing books. QED.”)

  6. 6
    rikitiki

    This one: Atheists really, really, really do believe in God deep down…and when some calamity or tragedy comes along, they’ll pray to that God.

  7. 7
    Hank Fox

    The fact that atheists are so preoccupied with God means they really believe in Him.

    Atheists can’t possibly have any sense of morality, because you only get that with God.

    And a sort of reverse-one, something I’ve heard many times as an atheist:

    If you’re a good person, you’re really a Christian without knowing it.

  8. 8
    sumdum

    I’ve heard the ‘did something happen to you that you gave up religion?’ used against me recently. In other words, ‘are you angry with god about something?’ Needs to go. Vamos, vade retro argumentum, and all that jazz.

  9. 9
    Matt Meeks

    “Atheists do not exist”

  10. 10
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    That we’re unartistic and have no sense of beauty or wonder.

  11. 11
    grokes

    “For atheists, life has no meaning.”

    It’s one of the few arguments that compels me to bring out the sky fairy/sky daddy epithets.

  12. 12
    MadScutter

    Gonna have to go with the “Atheists do not exist ” one as well. (An opinion held by my father-in-law).

  13. 13
    khms

    “For atheists, life has no meaning.”

    Hmm. The idea that life should have meaning puzzles me.

    Meaning is something people do. Life, in this sense, isn’t. Therefore, the concept is broken.

    Or in other words, no, life does indeed have no meaning, but I can’t see how that could be a problem.

    In fact, the idea that my life should have a meaning decreed by some sky fairy is rather repellent. Goes against the idea of free will and all that.

  14. 14
    Angelina

    Some of these have doubtless been mentioned already, but…

    “Hitler was an atheist.” – And the priests who molested children were religious, what’s your point?

    “Atheists have no morals.” – This is part of the debate about whether morals really come from religion. I, of course, believe they do not. (Good) parents don’t just tell their children that sharing is good and beating their brother/sister in the head with their toys is wrong because god says so. They say it’s just the right and wrong things to do. In other words, they don’t TEACH the moral structure entirely based around god, so obviously god is not required in the teaching of a moral structure at all! Pardon my babble/digression…

    “Atheists are incapable of love.” This usually goes along with the wingnuts who think we eat babies and kick puppies, because we have no morals.

    “All atheists are nihilists.” – This one rather pisses me off, as it imposes a belief system upon me. It also makes no sense, as atheism and nihilism have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

  15. 15
    N. Nescio

    My top five, in order:

    1: “You’re an atheist? So you believe in nothing.”

    2: “You’re just angry at God/want to sin without consequences!”

    3: “You must have had a bad experience with Christianity at some point, if you only knew about MY flavor of Jesus you’d still believe!”

    4: “You can’t begin to understand the Bible unless you’re a Christian and have Holy Spirit Reading Comprehension! What do you mean you used to be a Christian?”

    4a/5: “You used to be a Christian and then lost your faith and embraced atheism? You must never have been a True Christian™ to begin with, otherwise you’d still believe!”

  16. 16
    Zugswang

    Is it too much to ask that we simply do away with all of them?

  17. 17
    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr

    That atheists with physical or mental illnesses are simply deluded/unable to think straight, and are just bitter at god for their illness.

  18. 18
    Janey Q Doe

    I’ll cast my votes in for ‘Atheists don’t exist’ and ‘Oh, but then your life has no meaning.’ Both make me want to hit people.

  19. 19
    Randomfactor

    “I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Hitchens prayed to God in his final moments.”

    Of course you can’t, cupcake. It shows how pitifully limited your worldview is.

    In the matter of tropes, the “atheism is a religion” one gets my vote off the island too.

  20. 20
    Wowbagger, Designated Snarker

    That simply talking about atheism is considering by Christians to be an offensive and an attack on their belief system and/or that writing books about atheisms is described as ‘militant’.

  21. 21
    Reese M.

    More tropes to bury:

    1.) Atheists are just as bad as the fundamentalists because they state with certainty that there is no god. Therefore, the correct answer is agnostic.

    2.) It takes more faith to be an atheist because it means we came from NOTHING!!!!!1!11! (See Dawkins’s climbing mount improbable as a response.)

  22. 22
    Mike

    I read today that half of Americans are now poor.

    An atheists wet-dream. Survival of the fittest…

  23. 23
    Jalyth

    When I first read the question, I thought it meant: what tropes do atheists believe, rather than what do other folk believe about us. So my first thought was ” we think we are so much more smarter and enlightened than those others”. Frankly, though, it fits what the question really is. The “we know something you don’t know” trope applies in my life for sure.

  24. 24
    Darwin Harmless

    My nomination: There are lots of people who are way smarter than you who believe in God. (Nope. Sorry. If they believe in God they are by definition not smarter than me.) Leading to the next trope, which happens to be true in my case: Atheists think they are smarter than all the believers. They are arrogant. (I plead guilty as charged.)

    Of course I only nominate those two because they get up my nose so badly and everybody else has nominated the low hanging fruit.

    Atheism is a religion. (Yes, like not collecting stamps is a hobby. Somebody brilliant said that, not me.)

    Atheists have no reason to care about anything. (What? Atheists have no ego. You gotta be kidding me.)

    Atheists are angry and bitter and unhappy. (I am so happy, damn it.)

    Atheists can’t appreciate the beauty of creation. (Damn straight, but I sure do appreciate the beauty of reality.)

    Atheists can’t know true love. (Why do you get to judge my emotions?)

    You can’t be moral without God. (Aw shit. Not even if I act moral? I know the difference between right and wrong, without needing anybody watching me and threatening punishment.)

    I remember telling a fundie about how disgusted I got with church as a child. He looked at me with this sudden, knowing look and said,”Oh. So that’s what happened.” As if I’d just revealed that I really did believe but had been turned away from God by a bad experience with coercion and bullshit. If I’d had HIS religions experiences I’d still be a believer. I wanted to reach across the table and strangle him. Of course I’m far to civilized to even react.

    The reason there are all these atheist tropes is that the religious are truly terrified by the idea of being alone in a pointless and meaningless universe, without a daddy figure watching over them. That’s what you will find if you ask them to give up God. Fear. Naked fear. Their lives would be empty without the delusion. They’d be ever so lonely. Alone and afraid. And staring into an eternity of… nothing at all… just freaks them right out. They just can’t get their head around the idea that they won’t be there to be upset by it.

    But the very worst trope of all has to be: There are no atheists in fox holes. (Translation: you can’t hold your intellectual position when the crunch comes. You’ll have to cave like everybody else.) Gotta hate that one the most.

    Please pardon the ramble. I’ve had too much coffee.

  25. 25
    Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    I read today that half of Americans are now poor.

    An atheists wet-dream. Survival of the fittest…

    Now that Mike brings it up, the idea that atheists worship Darwin, with On the Origin of Species as their sacred scripture.

  26. 26
    iknklast

    That the only reason we’re atheists is that no one has shown us the true light (meaning that, while we’ve been witnessed to and prayed over thousands of times, we haven’t actually heard what caused THAT PARTICULAR Christian to believe, and once we do, we’ll all be, as one Muslim trying to convince me of this put it, saints)

    That atheists are trying to stop people from praying – we’re just trying to stop the government from praying

    That we don’t understand the reason for the Christmas pageant. I understand fully – axial tilt.

  27. 27
    kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith

    I read today that half of Americans are now poor.

    An atheists wet-dream. Survival of the fittest…

    You got that backwards. It’s a religious nutbag’s wet dream.

    Statistically, the poorer a country is, the more it becomes religious.

    Bullshit about everything you’re gonna have in the next life and about how your ennemies are going to be punished by your almighty imaginary bully friend has much more traction among those who are opressed, ignorant and poor than among those who are prosperous, happy and educated.

  28. 28
    Linda Grilli Calhoun

    Re: atheists are angry – My trope vote is a little more complicated, but along the same lines.

    Many biblebangers experience us as angry and bitter because during their exchanges with US, we often have plenty of reason to become angry. When they are being ridiculously judgmental, provocative, and utterly stupid, we often express our frustration (not always, but you get the drift).

    What they don’t realize, and maybe never will, is that we have lives apart from arguing with them. L

  29. 29
    yellowsubmarine

    I’m going to have to vote for “You really do believe in god, you’re just rebelling.” However, “atheism is just another relgion,” is a close second, and while it’s not technically a trope about atheists, “THIS COUNTRY IS A CHRISTIAN COUNTRY!1!” MY BRAAAAAIN!!!

  30. 30
    Danaleigh

    That atheists only “reject” God because we want to be free to live hedonistic and immoral lifestyles without fear of punishment. Probably closely followed by the “it takes more faith to believe in evolution” thing.

  31. 31
    Randy

    One that really annoys me is the claim by theologians and even some atheists educated in theology that we atheists are unsophisticated and not widely or well-enough read on the topic of theology. Therefore, we don’t really know what we are talking about and our arguments are unrefined and show a lack of nuance and real understanding. Horseshit I say. Most atheists I know have a better understanding of Christian theology and a much deeper knowledge of the bible than do most Christians I know.

  32. 32
    rapiddominance

    I read an interesting article over at Psychology Today asking if Hitchens was “an alcoholic or a workaholic.” This particular author went with the latter, though a noticeable portion of the commenters dissented.

    To me, he seemed to love his work and thrive in the utilization of his talent. But its not like I hang out with him, either. And while my visual and audial experiences of Hitchens presented a picture closer to happiness rather than constant anger, I still have to contend not only with his addictions but his own excuses for indulging them (especially the alcohol).

    In all fairness, I think some of his excuses for drinking might have been for comical effect; but for those of you more familiar with him than I, you’ll perhaps be able to make sense out of that, as well.

    The thing is, it sounds plausible that Chris Hitchens found some regular occuring portion of his life to be dull and dreary–despite the fact that we’ve seen him so obviously alive and exuberant.

    As people go about exploring the history of this brilliant man, some of you might choose to honor his memory more profoundly by looking deeper into what it was to BE Chris Hitchens. To ask a question surprising riddled with implications, namely, “Was Christopher Hitchens a happy person?”

  33. 33
    speedweasel

    @rapiddominance

    Speaking of, “exploring the history of this brilliant man,” you “might choose to honor his memory more profoundly” by at least reading Hitchens’ memoirs.

    He *hated* being called Chris.

  34. 34
    Thomas L Caldwell

    Christian in the US are used to winning, they’re used to being the top dog in the competition. People generally like being part of the winning team and want to be associated with #winning. As a player of online games (COD franchise mostly) I’m not that good but I love the human aspect of gaming. I like to watch the interaction of the people playing the games. The better players (at least the ones with the higher scores at the moment)all tend to defend heartily that the game is completely fair and without bias. I don’t know what all the players are thinking, of course, just the ones who are vocal. I don’t know where I’m going with this now that I think about it but I’ll keep typing until I run out of steam. The players that loose generally accuse the winners of cheating and mostly on the opposite team. I’ve noticed that is not as one sided as time goes by, I would think that you can account this to players becoming more aware of the dynamics just as myself.

    The smugness of christianity is more real and ingrained in modern society. American exceptional-ism and the “we’re a christian nation” are hopefully the baby boomers last hurah. (No offense to any baby-boomer atheists “you’re one of the good ones”)

  35. 35
    H.D.Lynn

    Atheists worship science. Really? At the Church of the Bunsen Burner?

    Saying phrase like ‘God damned’ and ‘oh my god’ must mean we really believe in god. Hey, we’re breaking a commandment right there, not keeping one.

  36. 36
    'Tis Himself

    The trope that annoys me most is when goddists tell me why I’m an atheist rather than ask me why. I’ve even had one goddist tell me I’m wrong when I told her why I didn’t believe in gods.

  37. 37
    lauriemann

    I’m not “angry at god,” I’m angry at the way people use religion to excuse horrific behavior, by individuals, institutions and governments. I think atheism/agnosticism is fairer in its treatment of the individual than religion generally is.

    I don’t like the fairly classic trope that atheists hate all things religious. I know that religion has inspired people to create gorgeous art and music. I love the fact that one of my personal heroes, Richard Dawkins, is, like me, a big fan of Christmas music.

  38. 38
    ischemgeek

    Mine is “Without God, there’s no reason to be moral.” and its close relation, “Religion teaches morality, empathy, and goodness.”

    I’ve argued both points with my mother, and inevitably, No True Scotsman fallacies start flying all over the place like snow in a blizzard. She’s called me biased against religious people, and I tell her that I’ll start “respecting” their religion (read: not challenging anything religious people say on any topic even tangentially related to religion) when they start respecting my lack of one. You can’t in one breath call me an amoral devil-worshipping terrorist-supporting baby-eater by association and in the next decry me for being bigoted when I challenge you on the statement and expect me not to respond with irritation and scorn.

  39. 39
    Gregory Greenwood

    I have to vote for ‘atheism is just a religion’, ‘science is your god’ and all variants thereof. It is intensely annoying to be confronted with someone who is utterly incapable of accepting that anybody can view the world other than through the lens of religion or some religion analogue. I find it hard to speak to someone who can’t tell the difference bewteen scientific methodology and religious mythology.

    —————————————————————-

    Mike @ 22;

    I read today that half of Americans are now poor.

    An atheists wet-dream. Survival of the fittest…

    You do realise that there is no particular connection between atheism and social darwinism, right? And that so called ‘social darwinism’ is actually widely recognised to be a poor attempt to inappropriately apply Darwin’s theory of natural selection to social interactions, and has little to do with the the modern theory of evolution?

    Perhaps you should have made some attempt to understand the actual position of atheists vis-à-vis sociological issues before coming here to make such sweeping, condemnatory statements? If so, you would be aware that atheism is a braod term, embracing people from all accross the polical spectrum, and as such it demonstrates crass ignorance to attempt to claim that ‘atheists’, as some kind of uniform movement, would endorse something as ugly as social darwinism and such horrors as eugenics that such an ideology implies. Further, you might be aware that a substantial proportion of atheists are left leaning social progressives that would by definition be opposed to such things.

    Maybe if you take the time to actually broadern your horizons and understand the topic at hand, you will avoid making such a fool of yourself in future.

    Just a little free advice.

  40. 40
    Cosmic Snark

    “You’re just angry at God because he wants you to live righteously as we Christians do, but you want to live a sinful and hedonistic lifestyle.”

  41. 41
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    I hate the assumption that we haven’t found the “correct” religion, or as it has been said to me (several times): “You just need to pick a religion!”

    Infuriating.

  42. 42
    Eric

    Angry at god is a good one, “You’re just angry at god that’s why you are an Atheist.”

    Or,

    “You can’t be good without god!”

  43. 43
    Grimalkin

    How about “Atheists are Satanic” ?

    Never quite got how we worship a devil we don’t believe in, but I do hear this one a lot.

  44. 44
    Tom S. Fox

    “If you don’t believe in God, why are you blaming Him for everything?”

    There is something about the concept of speaking hypothetically that theists just don’t grasp.

  45. 45
    knobody

    being told that I’m a devil worshiper.

    no, really, i don’t believe in him just as much as i don’t believe in god, Zeus, gremlins, and Santa. i do, however, have actual experimental evidence for the existence of the tooth fairy.

  46. 46
    DLC

    I’ll throw out an opposite case, just to illustrate by contrast:
    “You have to be intelligent and well-educated to be an atheist.”

    not true at all. I have relations whom are not possessed of any of the preceding qualities but who have said to me “That whole church and god and all that’s just a buncha shit.”

  47. 47
    Adrienne

    Just the basic premise that there is “something wrong” with you if you are an atheist. Being a christian is the default everyone is supposed to be born with (especially their sect) and every other point of view is measured against. Something is deficient in your thinking if you are not christian.

  48. 48
    articulett

    Has someone mentioned: “Atheists think the universe came from nothing?”

    That one bugs me for multiple reasons.

    First it claims to know what atheists think. Most atheists have been believers and so usually have a pretty good idea as to what believer’s tell themselves to keep beliefs alive. But most believers have not been atheists and assuming what atheists “must think” smacks of claiming psychic powers.

    Second, it is theists postulate a universe that came from nothing –poofed into existence by a god who is made of nothing and is outside space (nowhere) and outside time (never).

    Third, I don’t have to know how the universe was formed to reject a magical explanation, just as I don’t have to know where missing children are to reject the hypothesis that aliens (or atheists– ha) are eating them. If scientists don’t know, then why would I assume that some guru or writer of a holy book did? I trust that real answers will come from the same source that has provided us with all real answers about the real world– science.

  49. 49
    Paul Coyne

    “you’ve just never opened your heart to god’s love, so you don’t know what you’re talking about”. Translation – “you don’t have the same hallucinations as I do, so you can’t criticise me”

  50. 50
    Draken

    There are no atheists in foxholes.

  51. 51
    Paul Coyne

    This is an actual quote from an online debate I was having with a particularly mad god-botherer. “one must search and research to find the truth…..no one is “neutral” no matter what one says! Where do the precepts of morality come from? Not from man……other wise our world would not be in this state !”

  52. 52
    Thomas Lawson

    When people like Kirk Cameron claim:

    “I used to be an atheist, just like you.”

  53. 53
    jaybee

    When I am weak, I sometimes read and comment on yahoo news articles that are followed with a discussion forum, and I nearly always regret it. When someone survives some freak accident fifty people will say, “That was a miracle,” or “God shows how merciful he is once again.”

    In reply to one of these comments, I or some other atheist will ask that while they might think God was merciful for letting the baby survive a tumble down a cliff, say, where was God to prevent the accident to begin with so the baby didn’t have to suffer multiple broken bones and possible brain damage.

    Invariably there will be a chorus of Christians saying that atheists should shut the hell up and why are they always pushing their opinions down everybody else’s throat. There is no recognition that 99% of the time it was the Christian who went first and dragged God into it.

  54. 54
    Kemist

    I hate the assumption that we haven’t found the “correct” religion, or as it has been said to me (several times): “You just need to pick a religion!”

    Infuriating.

    Ah, yes. The “You’re a seeker” thing. And when you’re younger this is usally followed contemptuously by “it’s just a phase”, the rebellious teenager trope.

    I also particularly despise the “you’re an atheist because a xian wronged you / you were abused in childhood / bad things happened to you” myself.

    1) Bad things happen to everybody

    2) No particularly bad thing has happened to me to make me let go of religion

    3) Even if it did, doesn’t make the bullshit you’re trying to push on me more true. You can be both outraged and right.

  55. 55
    Sastra

    My quick list:

    “It takes a lot of faith to be an atheist. I don’t have that much faith.”

    “I don’t believe in the God you don’t believe in, either. If you only understood how nice, accepting, vague, obscure, and science-friendly God really is, then you could believe in God, too.”

    “Yes, a lot of people go through that atheist stage. Then they start thinking about the issue more deeply.”

    “All beliefs are based on faith. Believing in God is no different than believing that other people have minds.”

    “You must think you’re smarter than everyone else.”

    “So, I guess you will only believe in what you can see!”

  56. 56
    Kemist

    When people like Kirk Cameron claim:

    “I used to be an atheist, just like you.”

    *Snorfle*

    I put those statements in the same category as :

    “I used to do drugs, have millions of dollars and all the women I wanted before I found Jebus.”

    “I used to be a Satanist.”

    “I was a teenaged witch.”

    Yeah, riiiiiiiiight.

    Theatrical hard-sale testimonials made by particularly untalented actors.

  57. 57
    Kemist

    This is an actual quote from an online debate I was having with a particularly mad god-botherer. “one must search and research to find the truth…..no one is “neutral” no matter what one says! Where do the precepts of morality come from? Not from man……other wise our world would not be in this state !”

    I’m really trying to imagine someone who can say that without any irony whatsoever.

  58. 58
    Kemist

    “So, I guess you will only believe in what you can see!”

    My favorite answer to this is :

    “Of course not ! Our brains and eyes can be fooled with too easily. I believe only in what I can reliably and reproducibly detect.”

  59. 59
    Jim Norman

    “Atheists have nothing to offer society. They’re useless.”

  60. 60
    Daniel

    #1 for me would be people assuming that others that don’t agree with them must have the worse of intentions, or that they’re inherently bad. Fundamentalists that go about saying that atheists only doubt their religion for the worse reasons (eg, just to sin freely) or that atheists are completely amoral get on my nerves the most.

    #2 would be a tie between “you know god is real deep down” and “you were never a true christian.”

  61. 61
    Manticore

    I hate the “Atheists worship Satan” bit…

    I believe those are Satanists, thanks.

  62. 62
    Ferrous Patella

    CuttleFish,

    I go to the link for BBH’s article and cannot find “I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Hitchens prayed to God in his final moments. It’s very plausible.” Am I looking in the right place? Did the article get changed?

    If she wrote that and NPR pulled it, it sounds like they were aware that she crossed a line.

  63. 63
    Cuttlefish

    It’s in the comments, not in the article. Sorry for the confusion; I complain about both.

  64. 64
    'Tis Himself

    I get annoyed at the Christians who seem to think I’ve never, ever, in my entire life, heard of Jesus.

  65. 65
    Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

    @Thomas Lawson, #53

    When people like Kirk Cameron claim:

    “I used to be an atheist, just like you.”

    Yes. Yes, he did, he used to be an atheist just like us, unless he was born with a bible in his hand or subjected to some serious in utero indoctrination.

    I like to interpret that phrase as an acknowledgement that religion is something foisted on the vulnerable before they develop critical thinking skills.

  66. 66
    jimvj

    Wrt the foxhole trope, shouldn’t it imply that in a situation of dire panic a believer should have strong doubts about which god he was praying to? Praying the usual way isn’t changing the situation, so maybe, s/he should start covering all bases and petitioning as many other gods as s/he knows, just to be safe.

  67. 67
    Nineveh

    Re. atheists in foxholes, according to the research there aren’t many Christians in foxholes, either. There’s plenty of evidence to show that people in fear and pain who cry out for aid don’t generally cry to (a) god for aid, but for their mothers.

  68. 68
    switchnode

    All the big ones got pointed out in the first few comments, but here are a few that need to go away nearly as badly:

    “By saying ‘I don’t believe in God’, atheists presuppose God.” Uh, hon? You did the presupposing. (Besides which, this one tends to fall to the ‘insert Zeus/unicorns/Russell’s teapot’ gambit—is there a name for that? there should be—spectacularly.)

    From the former, though a particularly tortured chain of reasoning involving the ultimate-cause fallacy: “Atheists don’t mean they don’t believe in God; what they should really be saying is that they don’t believe the first cause of the universe is important.” Sure… whatever you say.

    Similarly, “Atheists actually believe in God; they just pretend to reject religion because they don’t want to be a part of society.” Religion is the only thing holding society together, of course. God knows no one would ever speak to anyone else outside a house of worship!

    I frequently encountered these gems in the person of someone who managed to combine fervent (converted—no word on what she was before) Judaism with fuzzy spiritualism. Resolving respect for godless faiths like Buddhism with the sorts of things she came out with must have taken a level of cognitive dissonance that boggles my mind.

  69. 69
    jacobfromlost

    What I hate most is when theists engage atheists in a discussion that hinges on evidence, science, the scientific method, the burden of proof, and basic logic, and proceed to demonstrate that they don’t know what any of those terms mean.

    Then the atheist politely asks them to define those terms so we are all using agreed upon, operant terms of the debate, and they REFUSE. My guess is because it is far easier to debate if you can change the terms of the debate whenever you want, kind of like agreeing to play a game only if you get to massage the rules whenever you want. (And when your opponent notices, points it out, and suggests the rules be established–in this case, the operant terms of the debate– the retreat, ignore, or obfuscate. Obviously they can’t win the game if the rules are established ahead of time.)

  70. 70
    Cosmic Snark

    i do, however, have actual experimental evidence for the existence of the tooth fairy.

    I used to think I had the same evidence, but as it turns out, I was mistaken.

  71. 71
    madscientist

    How about when they trot out crap from the Buybull like that one about how the unbelievers know the truth in their hearts? I kind of agree with that one – we know there’s no god and we say so – but somehow the religious folks think it is their lies about there being a god and a magic Jesus that are true. So the “Jesus shaped hole in their hearts” crap has got to go – what it really is is a Jesus shaped hole in their heads.

  72. 72
    davesmith

    I’ll add a strange trope I haven’t seen in the list. It was from a Baptist:

    I told him I really didn’t believe in hell, and he accused me of being intellectually dishonest.

    (Had I not been dumbfounded by the accusation, I would have accused him of being somewhere on sliding scale from stupid and gullible to genuinely evil.)

    But the trope I’d like to kill most is that you can’t be good if you’re an atheist.

  73. 73
    Cuttlefish

    One I have not seen yet (given the number here, that’s actually quite a surprise!)–During the Camp Pendleton Cross kerfuffle, one of the commenters, following Psalm 14, would not use the word “atheist” at all, but substituted “fool”.

  74. 74
    mark

    When people say that atheism is also a religion, I ask them, I also don’t believe in Santa Claus, What religion is that?

    And when I’m told that where do I get my morality if not god, I simply point out that unless you believe is slavery, collective punishment and parents being allowed to kill their kids under certain circumstances, then they too don’t get their morality from god.

  75. 75
    EvoMonkey

    The two most frequent tropes about atheists that I have encountered are linked together in the minds of believers. The one very predictably follows the other. They have already been mentioned here :
    - You’re not really an atheist.
    - You must be angry with god.

    Some others that I have encountered:
    - You just haven’t found the right church. You should come with me to my church and you will change your mind.
    - Atheists are un-American.
    - So you don’t celebrate Christmas?
    - You just think you’re smarter than everybody else.
    - You’ll change your mind when you fall in love (get married, have children, grow old, become sick, face death, etc.)?

    I think my top candidate though is this one:
    - So what were you before you became an atheist? You had to be something.

  76. 76
    joe

    Theists and Atheists have a religion the same way stamp collectors and non-stamp collectors have a hobby.

  77. 77
    David Marjanović

    - So you don’t celebrate Christmas?

    Kurisumasu is the Japanese celebration of love and rampant consumerism.

  78. 78
    BT

    The definition of an atheist that evangelical christians promote: that atheists are asserting absolute certainly that no god exists. Any admission of things unknown, uncertain, or theoretically possible, however unlikely, is said to disqualify one from being an atheist, moving them into the “agnostic” camp. This is, or course closely tied to the “no such thing as an athirst” and “atheists really know god” business.

  79. 79
    StarStuff, a soulless cunt

    For all the younger atheist out there: “You just say you’re an atheist to rebel against your parents.”

    That one is especially silly for me, since my parents couldn’t care less. My mother actually bought me a Darwin fish last christmas. But I don’t hear the one as often anymore. I guess that means that I’m getting old.

    The “satanist” one is one I can relate to. The first time I publicly stated my lack of belief in god (I was about 15) I was asked by a fellow student if I “worship Satan”. I was pretty surprised by that level of stupidity; If only I knew what kind of stupidity would come.

  80. 80
    DLC

    “I’m ‘not very religious’ but I find atheists to be more annoying than religious fundamentalists. ”
    Which is usually followed by one of the other tropes listed above.

  81. 81
    Prio

    “Atheus are DUMBASS”

    I’m not making that up
    not infuriating but very, very sad

  82. 82
    Scott M

    One trope I hate is the “Hollywood atheist”. In far too many films and TV shows, a character might start off as an atheist, but somewhere in the course of the story the character “loosens up” or “sees the light”. Typically they’re characters who have been “broken” or damaged in some way to make them atheists, and if the original wound can be cured so can their atheism.

    “I am Legend”, “Flatliners”, “Contact”, “The Reaping”, “The Rite”, and so many others.

  83. 83
    Escuerd

    Darwin Harmless wrote:

    There are lots of people who are way smarter than you who believe in God. (Nope. Sorry. If they believe in God they are by definition not smarter than me.) Leading to the next trope, which happens to be true in my case: Atheists think they are smarter than all the believers. They are arrogant. (I plead guilty as charged.)

    I’d say that this one’s annoying not because it’s false, but because it’s irrelevant.

    I’m not sure what definition of “smart” your using, but in the sense of being able to understand concepts more readily, there probably are plenty of believers who are smarter than you (or me, or the vast majority of people you could choose, for that matter).

    Smart people are capable of believing dumb things. It doesn’t matter if someone’s intelligent if their beliefs are unjustified. Few people, atheist or otherwise, could credibly say they’re smarter than Donald Knuth (a Lutheran) or Barry Simon (an Orthodox Jew), but the existence of smart believers won’t give me much pause until they start making smart and credible arguments for their belief.

    Intelligence can help you reach correct conclusions more often, but it’s no guarantee. Believing that anyone with a stupid belief must themselves be stupid can lull smart people into a sense of overconfidence.

    Anyway, back to the topic at hand, other tropes about atheism that chap my ass are:

    -Since you don’t know everything about the Universe, you should be an agnostic at best.

    and the related

    -To be an atheist one must claim to have special knowledge.

    I got the latter from a self-identified theist-leaning agnostic when he asked about my religious stance and I said “atheist”. I wonder how he’d have replied had I said “Catholic” or “Methodist”.

    -Atheists [or "new atheists"] are just as bad as fundamentalists.

    Apparently the problem with fundamentalists isn’t that their beliefs are wrong, but that they insist on arguing that they’re actually true. Arguing that some claims are true is so militant.

    -Atheists who behave morally just aren’t taking their beliefs to their logical conclusion.

    -Atheists think there is nothing greater than themselves.

  84. 84
    rwgate

    My sister (a born again xian) can’t accept the fact that I am an atheist and have been all my life. She trots out the “you’re not really an atheist, you’re a seeker”. She has no concept that a person really can’t have any religious leanings at all.

    Worst though is “I have an incurable disease and only six months to live. This is a test from God. If you become a Christian, he will let me live”. True story.

  85. 85
    jesec

    “Atheists haven’t read the bible.” Or it’s more active form, the idea that somehow throwing random bible verses at atheists will convert them.

    And ditto on the “it’s just a phase/you’re rebelling” stuff. I should add “when you get to my age you’ll realize…” There’s just so many ways of saying “Silly kid, you’re too young to have any *real* opinions. Unless they match mine, of course.”

  86. 86
    Aaron Baker

    I’m not sure in my quick scan whether this was mentioned above, but it’s a major annoyance to me, and I want to vent about it: the idea that the only atheists worth listening to are those who lament what a tragic thing the loss of religious faith is.

    If you say instead that, in losing religious faith, you’re losing exactly nothing worth keeping, your attitude is somehow “unserious.” This inability (or unwillingness) to understand that other people may just not have the high estimate of religion that the pious do irritates me immensely.

  87. 87
    Alexander the Good Enough

    Much of this was exhaustively covered here: 289 Ways to Irritate an Atheist

  88. 88
    elronxenu

    “You have to have faith to be sure there is no God.”

  89. 89
    frustum

    Perhaps this one isn’t really a trope in that a word’s meaning is defined (eventually) by how the word is used and understood by most people, but it irritates me all the same. It seems most people think “atheist” means that one refuses to recognize the existence of God no matter what. Most atheists that I know define it to mean: “I don’t see the evidence for God’s existence, so I don’t believe in one, but if new evidence comes available, I’ll reconsider.”

    Related to this is the idea that agnostics are reasonable people, while atheists are unreasonable people. It is ironic in that most atheists came to their atheism via application of reason, while most people that claim agnosticism that I’ve spoken with would most accurately be describe as indifferent more than undecided.

  90. 90
    DiscoveredJoys

    Atheism is just another religion.

    To which I reply that, although I believe the assertion is overblown, if atheists are ‘religious’ then it shows that a god is not necessary to underpin religious beliefs.

  91. 91
    Svlad Cjelli

    The idea that christians invented parties. Jul this week.

  92. 92
    Andy

    That we’re terrified by bananas – literally the stuff of nightmares, apparently.

  93. 93
    Thuktun

    @khms “Goes against the idea of free will and all that.”

    Not to change the subject, but is there any compelling evidence for the existence of free will?

  94. 94
    Zerotarian

    I nominate “Which God don’t you believe in? Because I probably don’t believe in that one either!” Popular among liberal believers, who apparently are under the impression that atheists simply dislike God, as opposed to not seeing any evidence for him.

  95. 95
    cactuswren

    “If there’s no eternal life, why don’t you just kill yourself? What’s the point of even living if you’re going to end up nothing but worm food?”

    “So you think there should be no laws against murder? I mean, if there’s nothing more to a human being than a bunch of chemicals, I shouldn’t be punished for shooting a person any more than I should be punished for shooting a bucket of chemicals, right?”

    “Einstein believed in God! So you think you’re smarter than Einstein?”

    “85% of the people in the world believe in God. So you think they’re all wrong and YOU’RE right?”

    … In fact, pretty much any argument that begins with the word “So”.

    (BTW, I’m tickled that my comment at Shakesville triggered a thread here.)

  96. 96
    cactuswren

    Addendum, usually delivered with a sort of malignant relish: “Boy, Carl Sagan/Isaac Asimov/Christopher Hitchens/Insert Dead Unbeliever’s Name Here sure knows NOW how wrong he was!”

  97. 97
    Ivorybill

    The one I dislike the most is the idea that god is a lens through which one can understand the universe, and atheists don’t have that lens or perspective and therefore lack the basic capacity to understand theism. Put another way, god grants the grace to understand him. You have to be a member of the club to understand, and if you are not one of the elect, you can’t criticise or dispute the existence of god.

    It’s a subtle and powerful variation on the tendency of religion to substitute answers for inquiry or ambiguity. It’s the last refuge of really intelligent theologians, because it’s kind of an unassailable preposition. It does indeed shut down the conversation.

  98. 98
    gabrielecosta

    I don’t know if I should be frightened by the fact that no one has brought up the recurrent logical short-circuit:

    “So you are an atheist? Then prove me there is no God!”

    (subtitle: “you can’t, therefore God exists. La la la.”)

    Am I really the only one being told this **** a zillion times?

  99. 99
    anchor

    “Atheists believe in nothing!”

    Oops. Wait. I guess we do. Accepting zero is kinda useful.

    never mind

    Hold on…so what’s theists’ problem again?

  100. 100
    articulett

    gabrielcosta@99– I hear the fence sitter version a lot– “I can’t prove there is a god, but you can’t prove there isn’t.” Because there are two options, people think these 2 options are equally likely.

    I can’t prove that there aren’t invisible walruses– nor that there aren’t real undetectable aliens doing real anal probes on real earthlings– nor that I’m not the reincarnation Lady Godiva– but that doesn’t mean that there is a 50-50 chance that any of these claims are true.

  101. 101
    aaronbaker

    How about the latest from the always annoying Ross Douthat?

    When stripped of Marxist fairy tales and techno-utopian happy talk, rigorous atheism casts a wasting shadow over every human hope and endeavor, and leads ineluctably to the terrible conclusion of Philip Larkin’s poem “Aubade” — that “death is no different whined at than withstood.” Officially, Hitchens’s creed was one with Larkin’s. But everything else about his life suggests that he intuited that his fellow Englishman was completely wrong to give in to despair. My hope — for Hitchens, and for all of us, the living and the dead — is that now he finally knows why.

    To put it briefly: Life is worthless unless there’s an infinite quantity of it.

    Has Douthat, or the many others who use some variant of this argument, ever had an inkling that life might be more precious with no likely prospect of its infinite duration?

    BTW, Douthat is brilliantly taken apart by the always worthwhile Charles Pierce on the Esquire Politics blog: http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/ross-douthat-christopher-hitchens-6618992 I wish more Catholics were like Pierce.

  102. 102
    Atheist Pilgrim

    @99 Yes! Happens all the time.

    My other favourite is:
    “no, you’re not an atheist, you’re an agnostic”.

    When I try to explain that I am actually both, the reponse is usually something like “then you don’t know what you are”!

  103. 103
    Darwin Harmless

    I thought I’d heard them all, but here’s one I’ve never heard before: Atheists only believe in things they can see and touch.
    Uh, sure. Like we don’t believe in gravity, radio waves, or the theory of evolution? Where do they get these crazy ideas about what I believe. Unless what they meant to say is we only believe in things for which there is evidence, in which case this trope is evidence of a shocking lack of language precision.

  1. 104
    What I’m Reading Friday, Say, December 18, 2011 | Rationally Thinking Out Loud

    [...] Atheist Tropes We Can Do Without | The Digital Cuttlefish [...]

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