How to Read a Remarkable Work of Erotica: Pam Rosenthal’s Review of “Bending” »« “Bending” Resource Guide for Audible Audiobook Readers

9 Questions Not To Ask Atheists — With Answers

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

Some questions perpetuate bigotry instead of reducing it. Here are nine questions that make atheists feel second-class — and that make you look like a jerk.

Asked of Hispanic-Americans: “Are you in this country legally?” Asked of gays and lesbians and bisexuals: “How do you have sex?” Asked of trans people: “Have you had the surgery?” Asked of African-Americans: “Can I touch your hair?”

I think every marginalized group has some question, or questions, that routinely get asked of them — and that drive them up a tree, questions that have insult or bigotry or dehumanization woven into the very asking. Sometimes the questions get asked sincerely, with sincere ignorance of the offensive assumptions behind them. And sometimes they get asked douchily, in a hostile, passive-aggressive, “I’m just asking questions” manner. But it’s still not okay to ask them. They’re not questions that open up genuine inquiry and discourse: they’re questions that close minds, much more than they open them. Even if that’s not the intention. And most people who care about bigotry and marginalization and social justice — or who just care about good manners — don’t ask them.

Here are nine questions you shouldn’t ask atheists. I’m going to answer them, just this once. And then I’ll explain why you shouldn’t be asking them, and why so many atheists will get ticked off if you do.

godless-atheists-threaten-christian-civilization-cartoon1: “How can you be moral without believing in God?”

The answer: Atheists are moral for the same reasons believers are moral: because we have compassion, and a sense of justice. Humans are social animals, and like other social animals, we evolved with some core moral values wired into our brains: caring about fairness, caring about loyalty, caring when others are harmed.

If you’re a religious believer, and you don’t believe these are the same reasons that believers are moral, ask yourself this: If I could persuade you today, with 100% certainty, that there were no gods and no afterlife… would you suddenly start stealing and murdering and setting fire to buildings? And if not — why not? If you wouldn’t… whatever is that would keep you from doing those things, that’s the same thing keeping atheists from doing them. (And if you would — remind me not to move in next door to you.)

And ask yourself this as well: If you accept some parts of your holy book and reject others — on what basis are you doing that? Whatever part of you says that stoning adulterers is wrong but helping poor people is good; that planting different crops in the same field is a non-issue but bearing false witness actually is pretty messed-up; that slavery is terrible but it’s a great idea to love your neighbor as yourself… that’s the same thing telling atheists what’s right and wrong. People are good — even if we don’t articulate it this way — because we have an innate grasp of the fundamental underpinnings of morality: the understanding that other people matter to themselves as much as we matter to ourselves, and that there is no objective reason to act as if any of us matters more than any other. And that’s true of atheists and believers alike.

Why you shouldn’t ask it: This is an unbelievably insulting question. Being moral, caring about others and having compassion for them, is a fundamental part of being human. To question whether atheists can be moral, to express bafflement at how we could possibly manage to care about others without believing in a supernatural creator, is to question whether we’re even fully human.

And you know what? This question is also hugely insulting to religious believers. It’s basically saying that the only reason believers are moral is fear of punishment and desire for reward. It’s saying that believers don’t act out of compassion, or a sense of justice. It’s saying that believers’ morality is childish at best, self-serving at worst. I wouldn’t say that about religious believers… and you shouldn’t, either.

2: “How do you have any meaning in your life?” Sometimes asked as, “Don’t you feel sad or hopeless?” Or even, “If you don’t believe in God or Heaven, why don’t you just kill yourself?”

The answer: Atheists find meaning and joy in the same things everyone does. We find it in the big things: family, friendship, work, nature, art, learning, love. We find it in the small things: cookies, World of Warcraft, playing with kittens. The only difference is that (a) believers add “making my god or gods happy and getting a good deal in the afterlife” to those lists (often putting them at the top), and (b) believers think meaning is given to them by their god or gods, while atheists create our own meaning, and are willing and indeed happy to accept that responsibility.

In fact, for many atheists, the fact that life is finite invests it with more meaning — not less. When we drop “pleasing a god we have no good reason to think exists” from our “meaning” list, we have that much more attention to give the rest of it. When we accept that life will really end, we become that much more motivated to make every moment of it matter.

Why you shouldn’t ask it: What was that we were just saying about “dehumanization”? Experiencing meaning and value in life is deeply ingrained in being human. When you treat atheists as if we were dead inside simply because we don’t believe in a supernatural creator or our own immortality… you’re treating us as if we weren’t fully human. Please don’t.

faith_poster3: “Doesn’t it take just as much/ even more faith to be an atheist as it does to be a believer?”

The answer: No.

The somewhat longer answer: This question assumes that “atheism” means “100% certainty that God does not exist, with no willingness to question and no room for doubt.” For the overwhelming majority of people who call ourselves atheists, this is not what “atheism” means. For most atheists, “atheism” means something along the lines of “being reasonably certain that there are no gods,” or, “having reached the provisional conclusion, based on the evidence we’ve seen and the arguments we’ve considered, that there are no gods.” No, we can’t be 100% certain that there are no gods. We can’t be 100% certain that there are no unicorns, either. But we’re certain enough. Not believing in unicorns doesn’t take “faith.” And neither does not believing in God.

Why you shouldn’t ask it: The assumption behind this question is that atheists haven’t actually bothered to think about our atheism. And this assumption is both ignorant and insulting. Most atheists have considered the question of God’s existence or non-existence very carefully. Most of us were brought up religious, and letting go of that religion took a great deal of searching of our hearts and our minds. Even those of us brought up as non-believers were (mostly) brought up in a society that’s steeped in religion. It takes a fair amount of questioning and thought to reject an idea that almost everyone else around you believes.

And when you ask this question, you’re also revealing the narrowness of your own mind. You’re showing that you can’t conceive of the possibility that someone might come to a conclusion about religion based on evidence, reason, and which ideas seem most likely to be true, instead of on “faith.”

4: “Isn’t atheism just a religion?”

The answer: No.

The somewhat longer answer: Unless you’re defining “religion” as “any conclusion people come to about the world,” or as “any community organized around a shared idea,” then no. If your definition of “religion” includes atheism, it also has to include: Amnesty International, the Audubon Society, heliocentrism, the acceptance of the theory of evolution, the Justin Bieber Fan Club, and the Democratic Party. By any useful definition of the word “religion,” atheism is not a religion.

Why you shouldn’t ask it: Pretty much the same reason as the one for #3. Calling atheism a religion assumes that it’s an axiom accepted on faith, not a conclusion based on thinking and evidence. And it shows that you’re not willing or able to consider the possibility that someone not only has a different opinion about religion than you do, but has come to that opinion in a different way.

don't believe in god you are not alone billboard5: “What’s the point of atheist groups? How can you have a community and a movement for something you don’t believe in?”

The answer: Atheists have groups and communities and movements for the same reasons anyone does. Remember what I said about atheists being human? Humans are social animals. We like to spend time with other people who share our interests and values. We like to work with other people on goals we have in common. What’s more, when atheists come out about our atheism, many of us lose our friends and families and communities, or have strained and painful relationships with them. Atheists create communities so we can be honest about who we are and what we think, and still not be alone.

Why you shouldn’t ask it: This is a total “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” conundrum. Atheists get told all the time that people need religion for the community it provides: that persuading people out of religion is cruel or futile or both, since so much social support happens in religious institutions. Then, when atheists do create communities to replace the ones people so often lose when they leave religion, we get told how ridiculous this is. (Or else we’re told, “See? Atheism is just another religion!” See #4 above.)

6: “Why do you hate God?” Or, “Aren’t you just angry at God?”

The answer: Atheists aren’t angry at God. We don’t think God exists. We aren’t angry at God, any more than we’re angry at Santa Claus.

Why you shouldn’t ask it: This question doesn’t just deny our humanity. It denies our very existence. It assumes that atheists don’t really exist: that our non-belief isn’t sincere, that it’s some sort of emotional trauma or immature teenage rebellion, that it’s not even really non-belief.

Again: Most atheists have considered the question of God’s existence or non-existence very carefully. Most of us were brought up religious, and letting go of that religion took a great deal of searching of our non-existent souls. It’s insulting to treat it as some sort of childish snit-fit.

And honestly? This question reveals how narrow your own mind is. It shows that you can’t even consider the possibility that you might be mistaken: that you can’t even conceive of somebody seeing the world differently from the way you do. This question doesn’t just make atheists mad. It makes you look like a dolt.

bible revelation7: “But have you (read the Bible or some other holy book, heard about some supposed miracle, heard my story about my personal religious experience)?”

The answer: Probably. Or else we’ve read/ heard about something pretty darned similar. Atheists are actually better-informed about religion than most religious believers. In fact, we’re better-informed about the tenets of most specific religions than the believers in those religions. Honestly? For many atheists, sitting down and reading the Bible (or the holy text of whatever religion they were brought up in) is exactly what set them on the path to atheism — or what put the final nail in the coffin.

Why you shouldn’t ask it: As my friend and colleague Heina put it: “‘Have you heard of Jesus?’ No, actually, I was born under a fucking rock.”

Are you really not aware of how dominating a force religion is in society? In most of the world, and certainly in the United States, religion is impossible to ignore. It permeates the social life, the economic life, the cultural life, the political life. We’re soaking in it. The idea that atheists might somehow have come to adulthood without being aware of the Bible, of stories about supposed miracles, of stories about personal religious experiences… it’s laughable. Or it would be laughable if it weren’t so annoying. Religious privilege is all over this question like a cheap suit.

8: “What if you’re wrong?” Sometimes asked as, “Doesn’t it make logical sense to believe in God? If you believe and you’re wrong, nothing terrible happens, but if you don’t believe and you’re wrong, you could go to Hell!”

The answer: What if you’re wrong about Allah? Or Vishnu? Or Zeus? What if you’re wrong about whether God is the wrathful jerk who hates gay people, or the loving god who hates homophobes? What if you’re wrong about whether God wants you to celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday? What if you’re wrong about whether God really does care about whether you eat bacon? As Homer Simpson put it, “What if we picked the wrong religion? Every week we’re just making God madder and madder!”

Why you shouldn’t ask it: There are so very many things wrong with this question. It even has a name — Pascal’s Wager — and I’ve actually written an entire piece on the many things that are wrong with it. But I’ll stick with two for today, the ones that aren’t just logically absurd but that insult the intelligence and integrity of both atheists and believers:

a) Are you really that ignorant of the existence of religions other than your own? Has it really never occurred to you that when you “bet” on the existence of your god, there are thousands upon thousands of other gods whose existence you’re “betting” against? Are you really that steeped, not only in the generic privilege of all religion, but in the particular privilege of your own?

b) Do you really think atheists have so little integrity? Do you really think we’re going to fake belief in God… not just to our families or communities in order to not be ostracized, but in our own hearts and minds? Do you really think we’re going to deliberately con ourselves into believing — or pretending to believe — something that we don’t actually think is true? Not just something trivial, but something this important? Do you really think we would pick what to think is true and not true about the world, based solely on which idea would be most convenient? How does that even constitute “belief”? (And anyway, do you really think that God would be taken in by this con game? Do you really think that what God wants from his followers is an insincere, self-serving, “wink wink, I’m covering my bases” version of “belief”?)

Why Are You Atheists So Angry? cover9: “Why are you atheists so angry?”

The answer: I’ve actually written an entire book answering this question (Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless). The short answer: Not all atheists are angry about religion — and those of us who are angry aren’t in a constant state of rage. But yes, many atheists are angry about religion — and we’re angry because we see terrible harm being done by religion. We’re angry about harm being done to atheists… and we’re angry about harm done to other believers. We don’t just think religion is mistaken — we think it does significantly more harm than good. And it pisses us off.

Why you shouldn’t ask it: This question assumes that atheists are angry because there’s something wrong with us. It assumes that atheists are angry because we’re bitter, selfish, whiny, unhappy, because we lack joy and meaning in our lives, because we have a God-shaped hole in our hearts. The people asking it seem to have never even considered the possibility that atheists are angry because we have legitimate things to be angry about.

This reflexive dismissal of our anger’s legitimacy does two things. It treats atheists as flawed, broken, incomplete. And it defangs the power of our anger. (Or it tries to, anyway.) Anger is a hugely powerful motivating force — it has been a major motivating force for every social change movement in history — and when people try to dismiss or trivialize atheists’ anger, they are, essentially, trying to take that power away.

And finally: The people asking this question never seem to notice just how much atheist anger is directed, not at harm done to atheists, but at harm done to believers. A huge amount of our anger about religion is aimed at the oppression and brutality and misery created by religion, not in the lives of atheists, but in the lives of believers. Our anger about religion comes from compassion, from a sense of justice, from a vivid awareness of terrible damage being done in the world and a driving motivation to do something about it. Atheists aren’t angry because there’s something wrong with us. Atheists are angry because there’s something right with us. And it is messed-up beyond recognition to treat one of our greatest strengths, one of our most powerful motivating forces and one of the clearest signs of our decency, as a sign that we’re flawed or broken.

*****

The list of questions you shouldn’t ask atheists doesn’t end here. It goes on, at length. “How can you believe in nothing?” “Doesn’t atheism take the mystery out of life?” “Even though you don’t believe, shouldn’t you bring up your children with religion?” “Can you prove there isn’t a god?” “Did something terrible happen to you to turn you away from religion?” “Are you just doing this to rebel?” “Are you just doing this so you don’t have to obey God’s rules?” “If you’re atheist, why do you celebrate Christmas/ say ‘Bless you’ when people sneeze/ spend money with ‘In God We Trust’ on it/ etc.?” “Have you sincerely tried to believe?” “Can’t you see God everywhere around you?” “Do you worship Satan?” “Isn’t atheism awfully arrogant?” “Can you really not conceive of anything bigger than yourself?” “Why do you care what other people believe?”

But for now, I’ll leave these questions as an exercise for the reader. If you understand why all the questions I answered today are offensive and dehumanizing, I hope you’ll understand why these are as well.

If you want to understand more about atheists and atheism — that is awesome. Many of us are more than happy to talk about our atheism with you: that’s how we change people’s minds about us, and overcome the widespread myths and misinformation about us. But maybe you could do a little Googling before you start asking us questions that we’ve not only fielded a hundred times before, but that have bigotry and dehumanization and religious privilege embedded in the very asking. And if you do want to know more about atheism, please stop and think about the questions you’re asking — and the assumptions behind them — before you do. Thanks.

Comments

  1. Razz H says

    Oh please. What nonsense!

    Ask away any damned question you want! Offence isn’t caused by asking the question – it’s caused by the reason behind it.

    So if you want to know whether I hate god or how I can have morals because you want to pick a fight, please don’t ask. But if you’re curious and want to learn, discuss, debate, then feel free. That’s how knowledge is spread and we all start to understand eachother.

  2. atheist says

    Wow, what a great list, thanks Ms. Christina!

    Questions #3, 5, 6 and especially #4, “Isn’t Atheism just a religion?”, are ones that I have gotten on more than one occasion. I think it often comes from “projection”, that is, from a religious person’s honest attempt to imagine an atheist’s headspace. To some folks, a non-religious headspace is almost inconceivable. And so they instead theorize a mentality that is a mirror image of a religious believer’s, but with a hole where the God is supposed to be. What they picture is very difficult and painful-seeming, and these questions flow from that exercise.

  3. DrewN says

    I’ve been asked “If you’re an atheist, why don’t you just kill yourself?” before by one of my mother’s friends.
    I answered with a long awkward pause where my mouth flapped open & closed a few times, followed by a less than tactful “What the hell is wrong with you? Why would you would say something like that to someone?!”

  4. timg says

    I really disagree with this. Razz H is correct – if the questions are asked honestly then there is nothing wrong with them.

    If these questions are disallowed then we can never ask, or challenge any theist about their beliefs.

  5. Greta Christina says

    Ask away any damned question you want!

    if the questions are asked honestly then there is nothing wrong with them.

    Razz H @ #2 and timg @ #5: Would you say the same about asking Hispanic-Americans: “Are you in this country legally?” Or asking gays and lesbians and bisexuals: “How do you have sex?” Or asking trans people: “Have you had the surgery?” Or asking African-Americans: “Can I touch your hair?”

    Do you really not think there are any questions at all with insult or bigotry or dehumanization woven into the very asking? Questions that, if you’re absolutely dying to know the answer to, you should maybe ask Google instead of asking your friends and colleagues and family?

    Like I said at the end of the piece: If people want to understand more about atheists and atheism — that is awesome. Many of us are more than happy to talk about our atheism: that’s how we change people’s minds about us, and overcome the widespread myths and misinformation about us. But maybe they could do a little Googling before they start asking us questions that we’ve not only fielded a hundred times before, but that have bigotry and dehumanization and religious privilege embedded in the very asking. And if they do want to know more about atheism, they should stop and think about the questions they’re asking — and the assumptions behind them — before they do.

    If you want to argue that these particular questions aren’t actually bigoted, I’d be interested in hearing your case. But if you’re going to argue that no questions at all are ever bigoted, and that all questions should always be on the table…. no.

  6. birdman says

    There is one value in being asked such questions: Education.

    Also regarding the supposedly jerky questions to ask of hispanics, lesbians, and black people I’m personally all for asking such questions also.

    Would a 5 or 10 or 15 year old ask such questions? Maybe. But if so that doesn’t make such questions “jerky,” and therefore wrong to ask.

    Ask away, theist, and I’ll help to educate you, my fellow human… And you can even touch my hair if you want…

  7. llewelly says

    2: “How do you have any meaning in your life?” Sometimes asked as, “Don’t you feel sad or hopeless?” Or even, “If you don’t believe in God or Heaven, why don’t you just kill yourself?”

    These questions are particularly difficult for atheists who suffer from depression; the implication is that if the atheist would convert, that would somehow cure the illness.

    If the atheist admits their feelings of sadness or, especially, hopelessness, the argument that religion is the answer will often be brought up.

    If the atheist does not wish to face that claim, the atheist is forced to pretend to be happy and fulfilled, a trying task when one is suffering from depression.

    Thus the depressed atheist is caught to between two very difficult choices; pretend to be well, or argue against an earnest, but deluded, and often dangerous offer to cure it with religion. Either option is full of frustration.

    It is a particularly cruel choice in light of the fact that religion can often give the illusion of helping in the short run, through the placebo effect of hope, and sometimes, through a supportive community, only to end in bitter betrayal, when it later becomes clear the depressed person is still suffering, and the community, having found their preferred nostrum to be dysfunctional, wishes to push the whole incident away, and is no longer supportive.

    It is a manipulative line of questioning which most hurts people who are already at risk, possibly even risk of death.

  8. Greta Christina says

    Also regarding the supposedly jerky questions to ask of hispanics, lesbians, and black people I’m personally all for asking such questions also.

    birdman @ #7: Wow. Just… wow.

    Really. You think it’s okay to ask people questions that assume there’s a good chance that they’re criminals. To ask people you barely know about their sex lives, or about their genitals. To ask people a question that assumes their body is freakish… not to mention public property.

    Remind me never to invite you to any of my parties. I can’t imagine what you’d be like to my guests.

  9. timg says

    Greta @#6: Even with those questions it depends on the context. For me to ask them of people that I did not know, yes, pretty offensive. For one trans person to ask another about surgery, perhaps not. For me to ask a close friend any of the above, perhaps not. It is dependent on context, timing when and how asked.

  10. busterggi says

    “Atheists are moral for the same reasons believers are moral”

    Are you sure you’ve been observing believers lately? Because a lot of them seem like right bastards to me.

  11. atheist says

    @Razz H – June 11, 2013 at 8:59 am (UTC -4)

    Oh please. What nonsense!

    Razz, you’re confusing two things here. Your personal feelings about such questions, that you don’t mind them, make sense based on who you are. The larger civil rights issue that atheists often feel marginalized and insulted by such questions, is really what Ms. Christina is focused on here.

  12. Greta Christina says

    Even with those questions it depends on the context. For me to ask them of people that I did not know, yes, pretty offensive. For one trans person to ask another about surgery, perhaps not. For me to ask a close friend any of the above, perhaps not. It is dependent on context, timing when and how asked.

    timg @#10: Yes. Obviously. Of course we can think of contexts in which all of these questions might be acceptable. (A doctor investigating unexplained hair loss might, for instance, need to ask an African-American person, “Can I touch your hair?”) And of course, very close friends know each other well enough (or should) to know what’s okay to ask this particular person. That’s not what this piece is about. Yes, for any general guidelines for avoiding microaggressions, you can probably come up with exceptions. That doesn’t negate the guidelines.

  13. atheist says

    @birdman – June 11, 2013 at 12:39 pm (UTC -4)

    Also regarding the supposedly jerky questions to ask of hispanics, lesbians, and black people I’m personally all for asking such questions also.

    In the abstract, your statement appear logical. Can’t minorities just such questions in the spirit they are meant? In real life, though, we are all people whose feelings get hurt and who feel a palpable need to belong. To ignore her warning about the effects of such questions risks not only hurting someone’s feelings, but possibly creating a problem for you. Why risk such effects when you don’t need to?

  14. llewelly says

    Razz H:

    Ask away any damned question you want! Offence isn’t caused by asking the question – it’s caused by the reason behind it.

    Your claim assumes humans are telepaths. That is nonsense. The questioned person cannot know the motivation behind the question; they can at best make an educated guess.

    Furthermore you assume any resulting debate would favor the correct. That is not true at all; debate is largely a matter of PR skill; who wins has little to do with truth and much to do with manipulating the audience.

    An audience often severely biased against the minority.

    ________________________________________

    timg

    I really disagree with this. Razz H is correct – if the questions are asked honestly then there is nothing wrong with them.

    Intent is not magic. They are manipulative. They have insulting implications; they are not harmless questions. Whether they are asked in earnest curiosity, or as part of an underhanded attempt to convert they carry with them the assumed power of the majority.

    If these questions are disallowed then we can never ask, or challenge any theist about their beliefs.

  15. says

    #2&#5

    I have a friend who recently acquired a stepdaughter. She was lamenting to me about how hard a time she was having finding a hairdresser who could handle kinky hair without wanting to either straighten to shit or cut it all off.

    While out and about, I saw a woman whose hair looked absolutely spectacular. She had this just glorious crown of unapologetic hair.

    I went up and complimented her hair and asked where she had it done.

    Now, my intentions were good. My manner was complimentary. I took that woman out of the good time she was having and made her consciously aware once again that she was the ‘other’. I watched her facial expression go from lively and animated to flat with a fake smile. I inserted my ignorance into the life of a total stranger and thereby made it clear to both her and everyone observing that she was different and something other than the ‘norm’.

    I was rude.

    There are things in the world I am curious about. I’m sort of curious as to the actual mechanics when a friend of mine has a threesome with her girlfriends because I can’t figure out where the hell all those elbows end up. But my ignorance isn’t anybody else’s problem.

    It’s not okay to ‘other’ folks.

    Remember, you may be asking for the first time, but you won’t be the first time they’ve been asked. Use google or something.

  16. says

    #3. I might be splitting hairs here but atheism does in fact denote that there is no God. The doubt part is called agnosticism. Just thought I’d point that out.

  17. says

    #2 and #5:

    Would you ask a White person if you could touch his/her hair? No? Then it’s not o-fucking-kay.

    As a black American (I don’t identify as African-American), I get ignorant questions like that ALL of the time. I remember coming in to work with braids past my torso one Monday after leaving the previous Friday with shoulder-length hair. Three [white] women asked me, “Oh, is that all of your hair?”

    I replied, “Yes, as a matter of fact it is. Black people have this secret elixir which stimulates growth at a radical 72 hour rate. It’s one of the few secrets we’ve kept since slave times. I just add mayonnaise and sleep in it for 2 days, and BAM! Hair down to my ass. No, it’s not all of my hair. Does your hair grown this fast over a weekend? I didn’t think so.”

    If you approach a minority, ask yourself, “Would I ask this question if this person were not [insert marginalized group here]?”

    Is the answer no? If so, THEN IT’S NOT O-FUCKING-KAY! Context, people!

    And Greta, I’m sorry, but PIE>COOKIES :-)

  18. patricksimons says

    A good counter question is, “why is the science community full of atheists and our prisons full of Christians?”

  19. says

    For me, it’s the fact that these seem to be the ONLY questions theists can come up with. And even the slightest teeniest little smidgeon of effort will find plenty of answers to those questions.

    They’re bad questions because it’s like asking for the thirty millionth time whether or not Obama is President.

    Asked and answered. Asked and answered.

  20. rolandbouman says

    I consider myself an atheist.

    Personally, I think these are all great questions. Urging non-atheists not to ask these, or actually any other question regarding faith, seems like lost opportunities to a great debate towards a better mutual understanding.

    I believe the notion that there are certain questions one shouldn’t ask an atheist is counterproductive and in fact could help establish the fallacy that atheism is itself a religion.

    It’s possible that someone, atheist or not, just doesn’t want to enter a debate. That’s fine, but that does in no way, in my opinion, render the question invalid.

    Roland Bouman

  21. mithrandir says

    I see these as ignorant questions. The analogy of a five-year-old asking them (or the equivalent examples Greta gave) is apt; they’re the sort of questions that can be asked innocently only by someone who hasn’t thought at all about atheism, and perhaps doesn’t yet know how to think about atheism.

    I’m pretty mild-mannered (and honestly, rather privileged in just about every social dimension other than religion), so I’d be the sort who could answer such questions politely – but I would, as Greta does in this article, also emphasize how the questions lack empathy and encode the biases of their own thinking, and that it’s not unreasonable for an atheist to consider them offensive.

    And if someone asked me several of the questions in the list, or showed no sign of even trying to think about the answers, I’d eventually say “Okay, you’re not honestly asking questions anymore, you’re just attacking my beliefs.”

  22. Robert Vary says

    I’m rather surprised that people are arguing that it’s okay for people to ask these questions because we’d (for the most part) be okay with a five-year-old asking these questions. Yes, these questions are mostly out of ignorance, but adults are different than five-year-olds. Small children haven’t really learned empathy or social boundaries yet. If my (theoretical) five-year-old son walked into our dinner party and took his pants off, our guests would probably think it was cute, if rather inappropriate, and would lead to me having a talk with him about how we don’t do that in public. If I suddenly took off my pants at that dinner party it would be a VERY different situation.

    “But what if it’s a nudist dinner party?” “What if we’re getting ready to have an orgy?” “What if all the people are my close friends and they know I’m so much more comfortable without pants?” “What if my pants are on FIRE?” Yes, of course there are theoretical times it might be appropriate. In general, though, “Keep your pants on during a dinner party” is a pretty good guideline that will stand in most circumstances. Five-year-olds might not know that yet, but adults do, or should.

    We’re not five years old anymore. We should at least have an inkling where these social boundaries are. And if not, well, this piece can help give you an idea of when to keep your pants on.

  23. Pen says

    Well I’m going to say, since I am an atheist who gets asked these kinds of questions that the only one I have a real problem with is that I like it. So I think it’s like this: personality may be a factor but I also live in an environment where I have a strong presumption of being treated with respect (and I’ll remind people about our shared presumptions if I have to). I also live in an environment where there is no presumption of everybody having much of a grip on everyone else’s background and ideas. I’ve never lived in a situation where people could be expected to know much about my background, I’ve always had to answer relatively naive questions, so maybe I’m just inured to the whole thing.

    Still I feel quite strongly about this. I honestly don’t know where this expectation that other people will refrain from being ignorant, or surprised at new ideas comes from. That’s not what humans are like. And the end result of a list like this is that there isn’t a single darn question left as far as I can see that anyone could ask me about atheism. And since, in certain cultural zones (I’m looking at the USA, might as well admit it), the same policy is applied to all kinds of topics you end up with nothing to talk about except the weather – literally – or else with no possibility of conversing with people outside of your own in-group. Do you notice that this is what actually happens?

    I really don’t like this situation. I dislike it so much that I have to register a dissenting voice here. It’s Greta’s point of view, fair enough, but it isn’t mine. And by the way, did Greta just supply a list of ‘official answers’ to some set of questions so that people who happen to wonder about them can assume my opinions without asking me? Because the risk of a ‘once and for all answer’ that’s phrased like this is that it comes across as ‘once and for everyone’. I hope everyone gets the message not to ask Greta these questions any more but my message is that I don’t really mind how many times I hear them. It makes a nice change from trying to explain where I’m from.

    Sorry about the rant.

  24. jacobletoile says

    I am in the majority/ power position in every aspect of my life except atheism. I welcome the questions. If you intend judgement, you’ll get condescending snark back, if not you’ll get an honest answer. These questions can and do lead to some very interesting conversations. Also there is a huge difference between asking someone how do you develop a moral code that is not dependent on revealed rules and “can I touch your hair, or do you have the junk you were born with” talk a false equivalency. The reality is we are other to the majority and if we want to be less demonized, honest conversation is important. One of the important distinctions for me, how can atheists be moral, and how can you be moral are very different questions. I can talk about my personal moral journey, I can’t talk about anyone else’s.

  25. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Greta @#6: Even with those questions it depends on the context. For me to ask them of people that I did not know, yes, pretty offensive. For one trans person to ask another about surgery, perhaps not. For me to ask a close friend any of the above, perhaps not. It is dependent on context, timing when and how asked.

    …you know, I have a disability that impairs, sometimes severely, my ability to infer things that are supposed to be “obvious” in social contexts, and yet it’s perfectly obvious to me that Greta had something close to context #1 here in mind when deploying these blanket statements. This is somewhere between “charity” and “basic intellectual honesty,” really.

    [Meta: THAT’S okay, isn’t it?]

  26. rolandbouman says

    I quite agree with what @pen said.

    At the same time I’m amazed by the attitude exhibited by @mithrandir, @robertvary, and I guess Greta too. In my opinion, you’re setting the bar for your expectation with regard to human interaction insanely high. You basically guarantee to be disappointed for the rest of your life.

    For instance, what @mithrandir said:

    “I see these as ignorant questions.”

    It seems to me you’re being judgmental. Not everyone has had the benefit of an education, and some people are brought up with little room for other opinions. Yet in spite of that, they are taking the time to ask you a question. I say deal with it. What if people are simply naive instead of ignorant? Finally they have come to the point of surpassing their ignorance and inviting you to educate them, yet you decide their question is inappropriate and renounce them. Way to go!

    “they’re the sort of questions that can be asked innocently only by someone who hasn’t thought at all about atheism, and perhaps doesn’t yet know how to think about atheism.”

    So what? Have you thought about every issue ever? Wouldn’t the fact that they didn’t think about it explain why they’re asking the question in the first place? What’s wrong with people asking frank questions? Do you feel too good to grace them with an answer? That seems rather stuck up to me.

    Talkling about naive, the notion that people should “google it” is IMO much more naive. If we discount the fact that not everybody can google it, there are even loads and loads more people that don’t know how to separate the weed from the chaff. The internet is one of the worst ways to learn something if you didn’t already know what you were looking for. So, no. I’d rather have people ask me instead of googling what I am supposedly thinking.

    “the questions lack empathy and encode the biases of their own thinking”

    Completley puzzled by this….empathy? Empathy for what? Personally I think the fact that people are asking is good in itself; they could just as easily decide not to talk to you at all and just act soley by their prejudice. I’d rather take on biased or naive questions.

    “it’s not unreasonable for an atheist to consider them offensive.”

    So is that how it works? You look at the question, analyze it, and then conclude that this is something you, or possibly another atheist, may take offence to, thus rendering it invalid or inappropriate? Do you also propose a law against being offended? Good luck with a world like that. What happened to, when actually (as opposed to hypothetically) being offended, simply dealing with it and explaining it to whomever is offending you?

    @roberyvary, I’m also completely puzzled by this statement:

    “Yes, these questions are mostly out of ignorance, but adults are different than five-year-olds. ”

    Do you mean adults are worse, because they are harder to correct? Then I agree. Doesn’t change the fact you have to deal with them. Or do you mean that adults, becuase they are adult, are categorically different and have some built-in concensus about which questions are appropriate?

    “We should at least have an inkling where these social boundaries are.”

    To me this is infuriating! I can’t see anything wrong with any of the “9 questions”. So that must mean you’re implying that because of that, I too do not know where social boundaries are. Yet I, who has been an adult for more than half of my life, have never been caught pulling my pants down at a public gathering. Why do you think that is? Could it be that perhaps the rule “don’t pull your pants down” is much simpler than “don’t discuss items that some, but not all, atheists may or may not find offensive”? Could it even be that there is no such thing as “absolute social boundaries”? Maybe I’m crossing your social boundaries by asking you rhetorical questions.

    In short, stop being oversensitive and judgmental.

  27. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I might be splitting hairs here but atheism does in fact denote that there is no God. The doubt part is called agnosticism.

    Read deeper.

  28. says

    @ Roland

    It’s nice that you are giving the askers of these questions the benefit of the doubt and assuming that they are asking from a place of intellectual honesty, but those of us who are lacking privilege in every other aspect of our lives including our atheism have a markedly different experience.

    I can only think of one instance in the hundreds of times I have been asked these questions where I was being asked out of genuine curiosity and desire to learn.

    Now, I only have so much time in my day. I have to spend a large portion of that defending the fact that I am a woman, defending the fact that I am overweight, defending the fact that I am a mother of only one child, defending the fact that I am working in a traditionally ‘male’ field, defending the fact that I don’t conform to ‘normal’ standards of beauty, defending the fact that I am often the ‘other’, worrying about my safety due to being a woman, etc…. in addition to actually, ya know, living my life.

    As much as I’d love to also educate all the idiots out there incapable of critical thinking and/or reading a book and/or using google, I need some time to fucking sleep. And frankly, I have to deal with the thousand other ways people think they are entitled to my time/attention.

    I don’t need dumbass questions like ‘how am I moral’ and ‘why do I not kill myself’ on top of all that other shit. Especially since, well, what the fuck kind of questions are those, really?

  29. rolandbouman says

    @WithinThisMind Ok, so you don’t need the hassle. Fair enough: Just say “No”.

    But how does that, in general, make the “9 questions” inappropriate for atheists in general? I thought that was the topic of this article. I don’t think the topic was, if I may summarize your line of argument, “some atheists are part of all kinds of other minorities as well and don’t feel like answering these questions”.

  30. says

    This kind of reminds me of a scene from my favorite movie, Pulp Fiction. You know…when Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace were enjoying their food at Jack Rabbit Slims. Mia was practically begging Vincent to ask her a question. Vincent finally says, “Okay. But you have to promise not to get offended.” Mia quickly replies, “Oh no. I can’t do that. You just go ahead and ask your question. Then if I get offended, I would have broken my promise through no fault of my own.” Vincent realizes how ridiculous his request was and then he proceeds to ask her the question.
    I used that example to illustrate that when a person asks a question, they have no control over how the receiver will respond to their question. By the same token, the receiver has no control over what kind of question they will be asked. If, through the course of conversation, someone becomes offended, then the offended person must deal with it in a manner that they feel is effective and satisfactory (i.e. ask for an apology, physically leave, etc.). However, I must note that the person who becomes offended has allowed themselves to become so. Whether or not one takes offense is an individual choice. If you really think about it, they are only words. And the only way words can kill you…is if you let them. I have been called plenty of things in my lifetime (both negative and derogatory). However, I know who I am. So, if someone calls me something negative or derogatory, it doesn’t mean anything to me. And believe me, it will happen again. And I am sure that someone will ask another question that sounds ignorant, ridiculous or absurd again. Like @rolandbouman, I say let them. They are only words. Ultimately, I am the one who chooses how I will respond to them.

  31. Ysanne says

    I agree with Roland here.
    These questions are about one’s ideas about how the world works, which makes them very different to the jerk-y questions that focus on quite personal things.
    Believers usually ask questions like the ones above because they do not understand how and what atheists think, and the same lack of understanding also prevents them from realizing what their question implies if you follow through its premises.
    Especially when the implication is not 100% waterproof: E.g. in the explanation why question #1 is offensive, the “how” is taken as a worst-case “how could you possibly? you obviously can’t!”, and a basic part of the question’s answer (“being moral is part of being human, no need for god”), which the asker obviously did not know before asking, is cited as a reason.

    Now obviously not everyone wants to discuss their ideas and beliefs with random strangers, so I’d consider it quite impolite to just go up to a random atheist and ask any of the 9 questions without knowing whether they’re willing to answer. But in the same way, I wouldn’t ever go up to some random believer and start asking them questions about their faith. Or walk up to a random person in the street and try to start a conversation about politics, or football, or the finer points of Star Wars.

  32. leap says

    My main issue with this article is how benign all of these questions are. It’s always possible to contrive a very offensive question, like “would you ask a black person how many people they’ve mugged?” and I would have to concede that this is probably a question you wouldn’t want to ask, but I think it’s obvious that there’s a subtle difference between that question and, say #7 on the list: “But have you read the Bible?” which is the most uncontroversial probing of the logic behind someone’s beliefs. Not to mention that when two people are discussing their beliefs about reality with the intent of determining what’s true, it makes no sense to remove certain questions from the table as taboo. Imagine an article titled “Nine Questions Not to Ask a String Theorist”. When you are critiquing and examining someone’s beliefs about the natural world, the boxing gloves come off in a way that they don’t when you’re discussing someone’s biological traits, ethnicity or sex life.

    To be fair, some of the questions do contain a tiny element of ad hominem, but nothing that a few minutes of education wont fix, and often they themselves are legitimate philosophical concerns. For instance, if a person believes that they derive morality from their religion, it’s perfectly valid to question where they would draw their ethics from in the absence of that belief.

    Another point that someone alluded to earlier; I’m not comfortable directing everyone who has these questions to a list of “official answers” which may or may not accurately represent me. This, imo, is the benefit of personally answering people’s questions about my beliefs and lack thereof. I get to have the final say when it comes to clarifying my personal positions as opposed to shifting that responsibility to Google or another atheist who may misrepresent me, however slightly.

  33. atheist says

    @rolandbouman – June 11, 2013 at 9:07 pm (UTC -4)

    I quite agree with what @pen said.

    At the same time I’m amazed by the attitude exhibited by @mithrandir, @robertvary, and I guess Greta too. In my opinion, you’re setting the bar for your expectation with regard to human interaction insanely high. You basically guarantee to be disappointed for the rest of your life.

    Again, you’re confusing two issues here. If the issue is how you personally feel about such questions, then you’re simply explaining that you don’t mind being asked them, because of who you are. That’s fine. If the issue is the attitude behind such questions, and the way that most atheists will feel upon being asked them, then you replying that you don’t mind them is a bit of a non-sequitur. As is the response that this sets a high bar for social interaction.

    I agree with other commenters that these questions are often asked innocently. @Mithrandir had probably the most apt description in calling them ignorant. @Robert Vary also had a good point that while a child asking such question could be charming, an adult asking them would be quite different. This is because we expect a different level of consciousness from adults.

    As to whether these answers represent a set of “official” answers to questions, I don’t think so. I don’t think Ms. Christina intended these to be official, and I don’t think she has the level of influence that would make them be taken that way. I think she’s simply compiled a list of ignorant questions that atheists are often asked, and wrote answers to them, answers which illuminate why they are ignorant.

  34. atheist says

    @rolandbouman – June 11, 2013 at 9:07 pm (UTC -4)

    “We should at least have an inkling where these social boundaries are.”

    To me this is infuriating! I can’t see anything wrong with any of the “9 questions”. So that must mean you’re implying that because of that, I too do not know where social boundaries are. Yet I, who has been an adult for more than half of my life, have never been caught pulling my pants down at a public gathering. Why do you think that is? Could it be that perhaps the rule “don’t pull your pants down” is much simpler than “don’t discuss items that some, but not all, atheists may or may not find offensive”? Could it even be that there is no such thing as “absolute social boundaries”? Maybe I’m crossing your social boundaries by asking you rhetorical questions.

    Why be infuriated? Why not realize that nobody considers you wrong if you aren’t offended by such questions, but at the same time, many atheists will be offended by them?

  35. Pen says

    Why be infuriated? Why not realize that nobody considers you wrong if you aren’t offended by such questions, but at the same time, many atheists will be offended by them?

    It feels like somebody is policing our social interactions for us. How many atheists is ‘many atheists’? So many that I and others have to submit to the establishment of this boundary for their comfort and convenience?* Could we not rather talk about the best way to tell someone we don’t want to answer a question, e.g. ‘Oh, you know, the answer to that is so long and I have a headache just now. Hey, maybe you’d like to go and read….’. Please, because this constant closing down of meaningful social interactions is offending me. I do not want this boundary. Or do some of you really just want a place to bitch about how much of a pain you find it to have to continually ‘defend’ yourselves? That’s also fair enough, but call it what it is and maybe try to mention that it’s contextual and related to e.g. headaches or too much else to deal with or being busy just now or whatever..

    *The point is taken about Greta’s level of influence but I think we can agree to be talking in hypotheticals here.

  36. atheist says

    @Pen – June 12, 2013 at 9:01 am (UTC -4)

    It feels like somebody is policing our social interactions for us. How many atheists is ‘many atheists’? So many that I and others have to submit to the establishment of this boundary for their comfort and convenience?* Could we not rather talk about the best way to tell someone we don’t want to answer a question, e.g. ‘Oh, you know, the answer to that is so long and I have a headache just now. Hey, maybe you’d like to go and read….’. Please, because this constant closing down of meaningful social interactions is offending me. I do not want this boundary.

    I don’t know exactly how many atheists will find such questions insulting – let’s say it is 50% for the sake of argument. I feel that personally I might find such questions insulting, or not, depending on my mood and the way they were asked. The fact that you don’t find such questions insulting may simply mean that you are socially strong and secure in your self. There’s nothing wrong with that. Now you should just realize that many atheists aren’t socially strong, or don’t have a clear sense of self, or are just sensitive. Those atheists find these questions insulting, experiencing them as “microaggressions” to use the popular term.

    You’re right that there’s an aspect to policing interactions here. I think that to the extent she is policing interaction, she’s asking non-atheists to raise their level of consciousness, and think before asking potentially insulting questions. And she is reminding atheists that 50% of their own find these questions insulting. So while she’s raising a certain barrier for conversation, she’s not really precluding conversation so much as she’s letting everyone know that these particular questions are pain points for many.

    So I don’t think you are precluded from talking about these things. If you are asked one of these questions you might reply normally, but then also remind the asker that while you don’t mind such questions, other atheists might find them insulting. Does that make sense?

  37. rolandbouman says

    @atheist, you claim I’m confusing how I personally feel toward the “9 questions” and you seem to imply I’m disregarding that these question are perceived offensive by some larger body of atheists. You also claim that this has to do with the intention of the one asking the questions.

    Like @pen, I can only guess where you got your data how most atheists feel. It must be from the same place where you sensed the intentions of the person asking the “9 questions”.

    My point is simply that these questions are not offensive to me because they are not offensive at all. These questions have neither trivial nor self-evident answers. As others (such as @leap) pointed out they deal with our view of the world and human nature, which makes them in some sense topics that touch science and philosophy.

    The wonderful thing is that one can rationally argue their answer and determine one’s stance. It is for this reason that being asked one of the “9 questions” is completely different from the slurs regarding ethnicity and race that started off the article. I would argue that the questions pertaining to sexual orientation and sexuality are inappropriate for yet another reason; I do not normally make inquiries about the sexlife of heterosexuals, nor do I make small talk about medical conditions or upcoming surgery, so for that reason alone it would be inappropriate to ask this in relation with any LBGT issue.

    In short, labeling these questions as inappropriate basically means you categorically reject any discussion of your fundamental view of the world. That is, IMO, a very bad thing. This is exactly the kind of dogmatic thinking which I feel is the most damaging consequence of some religions.

    Finally,

    “Why be infuriated? Why not realize that nobody considers you wrong if you aren’t offended by such questions, but at the same time, many atheists will be offended by them?”

    The infuriating thing is that I find these genuinely valid questions and I do not feel I’m offending anybody if I (or anyone really) would ask them precisely for the reasons I outlined above. Yet @robervary feels this is on the same level as 5-year olds pulling down their pants. This does not do justice to how interesting and serious these questions are.

  38. llewelly says

    I often find it difficult to deal with the fact that different people have different social boundaries, and different vulnerabilities.

    And when I was younger, I often wondered how “normal” people work with such complex social situations.

    But one thing I have learned in the last five or so years, is that many people are in furious denial of the fact that different people have different social boundaries, and moreso in denial of different social vulnerabilities.

    This has been shown to be a very important post; many people do not understand the problem, and many others seem to think that if they holler loudly enough the problem will just go away.

  39. says

    —-@WithinThisMind Ok, so you don’t need the hassle. Fair enough: Just say “No”. —-

    Oh for fuck’s sake, did you really just go there?

    I’m going to bring out that line that is getting folks all riled up these days – check your privilege.

    Do you have any idea what happens when I ‘just say no’? I’m not even allowed to ‘just say no’ when a guy is demanding my phone number without suffering harassment, name-calling, and the threat of assault/battery.

    I ‘just said no’ to a guy trying to hand me a bible and he followed me across campus calling me a whore deserving of hellfire. I ‘just said no’ to a family member trying to ask me these questions and had to leave the location after being followed up and told that I was an abusive, neglectful parent who was condemning her child to hell by not taking him to church. I’m just glad CPS concluded she was a nutter but it was a scary few days worrying about whether or not she’d reached some born-againer masquerading as a social worker who was about to ruin my life.

    —This does not do justice to how interesting and serious these questions are.—

    What is ‘interesting and serious’ about asking someone ‘well if you don’t believe in god, why don’t you just kill yourself?’

    Tidbit about me you should consider before answering the above question – a few years back my sister killed herself. A few years before that my best friend killed herself.

    So, what is ‘genuinely valid’ about that question? What do you think motivates someone to ask that kind of question? WHY do you think I am obligated to give them the benefit of the doubt when to date, every single fucking time I’ve been asked the question it’s been by a derailing troll-ish jackass?

  40. Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD says

    Being asked these sort of questions once might be interesting, and an average atheist might attempt to answer them, it’s the ceaseless repetition of the same questions, over and over again that wear down. Especially since on the net there are many resources for answers to these questions such as this one that they can look at if they really want to know. But no, they don’t actually want to know most of the time. They want to convert us. They want to think of themselves as normal and right (which admittedly we do too) and if there are people who are quite happy without their deity then that threatens their worldview.

    And Greta didn’t say no discussions, not at all, she just indicated some questions, which by nature of their presupposition and non-thinking about what they are asking are insulting. If you want a discussion with someone, do you usually start it by insulting them?

    And for the person confused about agnosticism and atheism, they are not on the same axis. agnostic is about knowing, atheism about believing. I don’t know whether there is or is not a god, but I don’t believe there is (no proof for one but since it is not possible to prove a negative in general it’s not possible to entirely rule it out). There are apparently some agnostic theists as well (they don’t know for sure there is a god but they believe it in anyway). I have not as yet come across any description of a deity that I’d be willing to worship even if they were able to prove its existence anyway.

  41. says

    As a white, middle income, heterosexual, CIS, male I find no reason to object or be offended by these questions or have people ask to touch my hair, whether I’m a legal citizen, what my genitalia look like, or how I have set.
    Wait.. my experience and attitude aren’t universal?
    People might perceive things differently?

    Inconceivable!!!

  42. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    @WithinThisMind You say check my privilege. I say look up http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_pity

    Did you try looking up “privilege” while you were at it?

    You don’t “get” why certain things matter because you don’t have to deal with them. What’s remotely controversial about that.

  43. says

    Asking demeaning questions about race, gender, or sexual orientation is inappropriate. These are things one cannot change.

    However, asking questions that deal with philosophy or the meaning of are encouraged. It’s this point that separates atheism from Christian dogma. Didn’t most of us begin by asking questions?

    I sympathise with the people commenting above that live in Christian nutbar regions. I am sorry that you have to fear for your lives and have people constantly demonise you.

    However, I personally don’t live in one of those regions. Therefore, to say that this applies to all atheists is presumptuous. To say that this applies to most atheists is also presumptuous (believe it or not, atheism goes much further than Utah or North Carolina or even the US).

    Asking anything with the purpose to marginalise is wrong. But when it comes to philosophy, it’s the context, not the actual wording of the question. I’ve been asked the above questions many times by people who had no intention of insulting me.

    Atheism is just the unquestionable belief that there are no supernatural deities. That’s it. It’s not dogma.

    Don’t put me along with your boat. Your problems are your problems. My problems are my problems.

  44. atheist says

    @rolandbouman – June 12, 2013 at 9:51 am (UTC -4)

    My point is simply that these questions are not offensive to me because they are not offensive at all. These questions have neither trivial nor self-evident answers. …

    In short, labeling these questions as inappropriate basically means you categorically reject any discussion of your fundamental view of the world. That is, IMO, a very bad thing. This is exactly the kind of dogmatic thinking which I feel is the most damaging consequence of some religions.

    I disagree that to label these questions inappropriate is to reject philosophical discussion. There are ways to discuss the issues raised in these questions that are appropriate and respectful. Instead of asking, “How can you be moral without believing in God?”, for instance, a religious person could explain that their sense of morality is intertwined with their religion, and ask how an atheist experiences morality. This would not presume that the atheist has no morality.

    The infuriating thing is that I find these genuinely valid questions and I do not feel I’m offending anybody if I (or anyone really) would ask them precisely for the reasons I outlined above. Yet @robervary feels this is on the same level as 5-year olds pulling down their pants. This does not do justice to how interesting and serious these questions are.

    I think Ms. Christina did a good job of outlining why folks might find them offensive. If you still consider them inoffensive then we’ll just have to disagree. You might take into account the evidence of this thread. More than a couple of commenters find them inappropriate as well. Other than that, go with No God.

  45. rolandbouman says

    @Cynickal: funny how the classiest comments are always posted by the fancy fake screen names. Anyway. This thread clearly demonstrates is not only possible, but also likely that people get offended by all kinds of things. Privilege or the lack thereof withstanding, it doesn’t mean that being offened at some particular thing isn’t silly.

    There’s no argument about racial or ethinic slurs, LGBT discrimination or sexism. I argued that the topic at hand is different in nature. This argument has also been made by @Ehn Keh and @leap.

    Feel free to keep feeling offended rather than analyzing that argument itself.

    @Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    So you didn’t get to what part of @WithinThisMind’s reply my link to the appeal to pity referred to. Hint: it didn’t have to do with any notion of privilege. Maybe you should look up that wikipedia link too.

  46. timg says

    I would like to ask Greta, and any others here whether or not in their opinion it is OK to ask Christians questions like

    – Why do you believe in God when there is no evidence ?
    – If you believe that the bible is literally true then how do you account for the contradictions ?

    and a whole host of better questions.

    Quoting from Greta’s book, discussing religion

    “We see no reason not to criticize it, to ask hard questions about it, to make fun of it, to point out flaws in it, to point out the good evidence contradicting it, to point out the utter lack of good evidence supporting it … and to do our damnedest to persuade people out of it”

    I fully agree with this, but theists have the same rights in their attitude to us.

  47. says

    Roland,

    You didn’t answer my question.

    What is ‘interesting and serious’ about asking someone ‘well if you don’t believe in god, why don’t you just kill yourself?’ What is ‘genuinely valid’ about that question? What do you think motivates someone to ask that kind of question? WHY do you think I am obligated to give them the benefit of the doubt when to date, every single fucking time I’ve been asked the question it’s been by a derailing troll-ish jackass?

    I don’t want your pity, jackass, and I sure as hell never asked you for it. I want you to THINK for ten damn seconds. I want you to actually dig into that alleged brain of yours and consider where a question like ‘if you don’t believe in god, why don’t you just kill yourself’ comes from and what kind of brain-dead so-stupid-the-republican-party-wouldn’t-vote-for-them trollish asshole would even think that’s an acceptable thing to actually ask someone?

  48. says

    —– Why do you believe in God when there is no evidence ?
    – If you believe that the bible is literally true then how do you account for the contradictions ?—

    Do you not see the difference between these questions and ‘Why aren’t you a murdering rapist’ and ‘why don’t you just kill yourself’?

  49. leap says

    @atheist & @WithinThisMind: Occasionally I have heard atheists pose moral questions to theists such as “Why don’t you stone gay people to death? That’s what Leviticus tells you to do.” or “If God told you to kill your child in the same manner that he commanded Abraham to kill Isaac, would you do it?”. When an atheist asks questions such as these, they could certainly be construed as implying, however subtly, that the theist lacks morality by virtue of their beliefs, however they are legitimate philosophical questions in my opinion because they are questioning the legitimacy of deriving morals from the Bible. I see it the same way when a theist questions the legitimacy of deriving morals from a worldview that lacks a god. Would you take the same amount of care to not offend a theist in these types of situations?

  50. rolandbouman says

    @WithinThisMind I didn’t answer your question in the first place because the way you warned me in your reply #41 to be very careful to answer your question while dropping the “tidbits” concerning your sister and best friend didn’t, put mildly, seem at all like an invitation to actually answer the question. The way you’re addressing me in reply #51 is not exactly an improvement.

    So what good is to come of it if I answer it now? I’m not interested in more of your name calling. I doubt it will make any difference now if I explain my point of view in this stage. So, I guess I’m going to say “No”.

  51. says

    What Greta is doing here is urging theists who are involved in these sorts of conversations to do better. Ask better questions. Do a little research. Use the google machine. Don’t ask the FIRST thing that comes to your mind. Instead, think about it, and then maybe ask the second or third thing that comes to your mind, after you’ve considered for a bit. Be thoughtful. Don’t offer knee-jerk responses.

    That sort of thing.

    I get impatient with questions like, “How can you be moral?” I don’t see how my life, or anyone’s life, is improved by continually having to convince ignorant theists that I’m not a moral monster. And how do we expect people to change, if we atheists make zero collective effort to educating theists that assuming atheists have no morality is wrong and offensive? Seriously, wouldn’t you rather answer a question along the lines of, “What is morality and how do we form a sense of it?” Be truthful.

    If you don’t agree that assuming that atheists have no morality is wrong and offensive then we have nothing to talk about.

  52. says

    So what good is to come of it if I answer it now? I’m not interested in more of your name calling. I doubt it will make any difference now if I explain my point of view in this stage. So, I guess I’m going to say “No”.

    Color me unimpressed. This reads like an admission that you’ve no good answer for WithinThisMind’s question, but aren’t honest enough to admit that. Also, tone trolling.

  53. ehnkeh1 says

    @withinthismind
    ‘well if you don’t believe in god, why don’t you just kill yourself?’ Is a perfectly reasonable philosophical question with no intention of driving a person to suicide. It may be rough though.
    The most important thing about these questions is context: if you feel someone asking is genuinely curious, go ahead. If you feel otherwise, why bothering answering in the first place?

    @sallystrange Like I mentioned before, fuck google and fuck the Internet. What is wrong with a discourse between able-minded human beings? Why should people be expected to ‘look it up’?

  54. antialiasis says

    I don’t mind answering questions like these, personally, but that’s because I enjoy arguing about religion – the people here saying these questions are perfectly benign and they’re all for educating theists puzzle me. None of these questions are asked out of confusion or curiosity; they’re rather aggressive accusations phrased as questions (unless, perhaps, the asker is a child), and the person asking them has no actual desire to be educated.

    If someone were genuinely curious about the grievances of atheists, asking a random atheist “Why are you atheists so angry?” is simply not how they’d go about getting that question answered. They’d ask something more like “Oh, the atheist movement? What is that all about, anyway?”, or, “Atheists have a movement? What are you fighting for?” “Why are you atheists so angry?” is what you ask when you already know exactly what atheists are angry about, but have decided that they shouldn’t be angry about it. Similarly, “How can you be moral without believing in God?” doesn’t really mean “How can you” – it means “You can’t”. Someone who is genuinely simply confused doesn’t ask it like that; that phrasing in itself makes it into a challenge.

    It’s great that a lot of atheists will respond to these challenges completely unfazed, but to claim there’s nothing disrespectful about asking them is silly. You can inquire about these things in a respectful, genuinely curious way, but these actual questions, the ones Greta was actually responding to? They’re deliberately disrespectful. They’re challenges. They’re not simply attempts to learn. They’re like “When was the last time you took a shower?” – that’s a question you ask when you want to imply that a person stinks, not something you ask out of a genuine curiosity about their showering habits.

  55. ehnkeh1 says

    Maybe some of us want to voice our own opinion on the subject? I can so many interpretations on the googlemachine that I disagree with

  56. atheist says

    @leap – June 12, 2013 at 4:32 pm (UTC -4)

    @atheist & @WithinThisMind: Occasionally I have heard atheists pose moral questions to theists such as “Why don’t you stone gay people to death? That’s what Leviticus tells you to do.” or “If God told you to kill your child in the same manner that he commanded Abraham to kill Isaac, would you do it?”. When an atheist asks questions such as these, they could certainly be construed as implying, however subtly, that the theist lacks morality by virtue of their beliefs, however they are legitimate philosophical questions in my opinion because they are questioning the legitimacy of deriving morals from the Bible. I see it the same way when a theist questions the legitimacy of deriving morals from a worldview that lacks a god. Would you take the same amount of care to not offend a theist in these types of situations?

    Thank you for asking. My answer is that I don’t like when atheists use questions of that sort either, and I try not to ask them. I feel that atheists ought to respect religious believers as well, even if we think they’re wrong about the existence of their God. I feel that conversations ought to start from a respectful place when at all possible.

  57. leap says

    @atheist: I suppose we have a difference in approach, but I respect your consistency.

  58. Pen says

    Do a little research. Use the google machine. Don’t ask the FIRST thing that comes to your mind. Instead, think about it, and then maybe ask the second or third thing that comes to your mind, after you’ve considered for a bit. Be thoughtful. Don’t offer knee-jerk responses.

    That sort of thing.

    Or maybe you could say ‘you know I don’t even spend a lot of time thinking about that right now and what really interests me at the moment is (social justice/ defending secularism/…)’ or even ask a question to find out where they’re coming from.

    And to the people who say they are ‘never’ asked a question respectfully and can ‘never’ refuse to answer or deflect the conversation to something they do want to talk about – you have big problems with your society. Much, much bigger problems, really, than whether someone wants to know if you’ve read the Bible or not. Bigger problems than who is privileged and who isn’t and what to do about it. You have a society with such massive issues with respect and tolerance that it barely counts as a society at all. You need to do something about it and I would be supportive if I knew how, but not by consenting to live as if such conditions prevailed everywhere, or indeed – I think this is what some of you are asking – to normalising social rules needed by people who live in dysfunctional societies over the social rules needed by people who don’t. That’s screwed up. It promotes dysfunction.

  59. azebra says

    This was an interesting article to read but these problems mostly exist in America. You should try living in Britain or Australia where Atheism is perfectly normal. I may have been asked some of these questions only a handful of times in my life but it was by raving born-again Christians and they stand out like a sore thumb around here. Most regular Christians meet so many atheists that they know far better to ask them anything about religion at all. In fact I would say that, in Australia, Christians are really rather discreet about their religion for fear of alienating people and not getting invited to the BBQ anymore. Certainly here you can get elected as the leader of the country whilst being opening atheist. I think the US and Ireland are the only Christian country where this would’ve impossible.

  60. says

    —I didn’t answer your question in the first place because the way you warned me in your reply #41 to be very careful to answer your question while dropping the “tidbits” concerning your sister and best friend didn’t, put mildly, seem at all like an invitation to actually answer the question. —

    No, you didn’t answer my question because you were aware any answer you gave would make you look like an asshole, because the question is extremely assholeish. I just gave you the ‘tidbit’ so you could hopefully grasp just one of the many reasons why it’s an assholeish thing to ask.

    It’s not an intellectually honest question. It’s not a question asked in good faith. It’s not a question actually asked from a desire to learn.

    It’s a question designed to trigger people, dehumanize them, other them, make them feel worthless and otherwise like shit as a way to shut them up and dismiss them.

    —-I’m not interested in more of your name calling. —

    You say this…and yet…you still don’t get why we have a problem with these questions. You feel like I’m attacking you by asking questions of you….but for some reason, you aren’t getting that we feel attacked when people ask questions of us.

    Yes, I did indeed load the question by pointing out the ‘tidbit’. Do you not grasp that questions like ‘how can you possibly claim to be moral’ and ‘why don’t you just kill yourself’ are loaded?

    —-So what good is to come of it if I answer it now? —

    Oh teh noes! He doesn’t think answering will do any good! Will he take a lesson from this and apply what he just learned to the original post by Greta? Tune in tomorrow for another episode of ‘Educating the Privileged’ on the welcome to the fucking real world channel! This contempt was brought to you by the letters F and U.

    —Is a perfectly reasonable philosophical question with no intention of driving a person to suicide. It may be rough though.—

    I never claimed the intent was to drive a person to suicide. I pointed out however, that suicide is a very real thing, and it’s about as appropriate to ask someone ‘why don’t you kill yourself’ as it is to make rape jokes.

    —If you feel otherwise, why bothering answering in the first place?—

    This was answered already. See my response to the whole ‘just say no’ thing.

  61. rolandbouman says

    @WithinThisMind I explained why I don’t think it’s worth to continue debating this point. If you won’t buy that, and you feel the need to second guess my motives, call me an asshole or whatever, then fine, so be it.

  62. Greta Christina says

    I don’t want your pity, jackass, and I sure as hell never asked you for it. I want you to THINK for ten damn seconds. I want you to actually dig into that alleged brain of yours…

    WithinThisMind @ #51: Please stop the personal insults. And everyone, please dial back on the hostility. This is not Pharyngula. Please review my comment policy, and abide by it. Thank you.

  63. Greta Christina says

    ‘well if you don’t believe in god, why don’t you just kill yourself?’ Is a perfectly reasonable philosophical question…

    ehnkeh1 @ #57: Are you serious?

    You really think it’s a reasonable philosophical question to ask someone, “why don’t you just kill yourself?” Especially when people use that exact phrase as an abusive, hateful insult every day?

    If for no other reason: This is an absurd, terrible question because it’s obvious that atheists don’t all go kill themselves. Even if you’re so deeply tied into their religious belief that you really can’t imagine going on with your life without it… it should be patently obvious that atheists do this all the time.

    There is a difference between asking something like, “For me, so much of the meaning of my life is tied into my religious belief, and I have a hard time imagining going on with my life without it — how does that work for you?” and asking, “Why don’t you just kill yourself?” The former accepts that life without any gods can have meaning, and simply wants to understand how that might work. The latter is hostile and abusive.

  64. Greta Christina says

    And on the larger topic in general: I am somewhat baffled by many of the arguments being made here, which amount to, “I don’t find these questions offensive — therefore nobody else should find them offensive, either, and there’s no reason to push back against them.” I made some pretty specific cases in this piece for why, exactly, these questions are offensive. Maybe I’ve missed it, I’ve been pretty busy in the last couple of days and haven’t read every word of this discussion, but I’m not really seeing any engagement with the I made. I’m just seeing, ‘Well, I don’t mind it, therefore you shouldn’t, either.”

    I’m also baffled by other arguments being made, which amount to, “there’s not always offensive intent behind these questions, therefore they’re not offensive.” I don’t know how many times we have to say this: Intention isn’t magic. People are offensive without meaning to be all the time. Intentional hurt isn’t the only kind of hurt — carelessness and lack of consideration for whether what you do and say will hurt someone is hurt, too.

  65. erinmcc says

    i wont object to whether these questions should or shouldnt be asked, but i would have to object to any one person declaring that a specific list of questions should not be asked of atheists, and even more so to any one person giving answers to those questions, and for the whole thing to be presented as representative of atheists.

    the only thing all atheists have in common is a lack of belief in gods. we are not all moral, or even have the same morals. in contradiction to #3, some of us may believe in supernatural things like unicorns, or ghosts or bigfoot; being atheist doesnt immunize one from ridiculous belief, except for the gods part. some of us may feel hopelessness, despair, and sadness; again, we are individuals and we dont all have a social network that fills in where a church would otherwise, especially if we suffer from social disorders (for example, some studies have shown autistics are more likely to be atheist).

    we are atheists, but we are no more the same than all christians are. and we therefore would not all answer these questions the same. and as seen in the comments, would not all view the questions in the same regard.

    on a personal note, i DO hate and am angry at god, or at least the idea of god, since only the idea and not the diety is real. it is a horrible belief that has allowed and encouraged humans to commit the worst atrocities this world has seen, and continues to negatively affect people on a daily basis. if any one thing in this world is worthy of hate, it is the idea of god.

  66. ehnkeh1 says

    Philosophy needs to be constantly challenged. It’s different from race, sexuality, or gender, which are constant and cannot be changed. That is where we first disagreed.

    Like I said before, I sympathise with people who live in extreme regions. The constant barrage of questions they receive will most likely have the intent of marginalisation.

    However, I do not live anywhere like that. Therefore, I am perfectly ok with people asking me questions. In fact, I encourage it.

    That is why I object when someone states that all atheists hate questions like the above. I object that people should only look at Google (which is mess of inconsistent information) for their answers.

    and “why don’t you just kill yourself?” is different from ‘well if you don’t believe in god, why don’t you just kill yourself?’. I believe context precedes any words. If I feel preyed upon I just walk away.

  67. says

    @Greta
    I understand your point. You (and several others up here) feel that people should think before they speak and examine the weight of their words before they actually say them. Our world would be a nicer, more civil, and perhaps better place because of this. However, people aren’t really made that way. A lot of people bring their emotions into it, like @WithinThisMind did. And they feel personally attacked by what the other person has said. Now, the other person may or may not have meant any harm. It really doesn’t matter. What really matters is how the receiver perceived them and responds. You have complete control over how you will react to certain statements or lines of questioning. I tend to see all humans as flawed. And I accept them as imperfect creatures who will sometimes disappoint me (myself included). However, I refuse to stand here and say that the best way to eradicate this type of ignorance is through censorship. I can’t dictate to anybody what they should or should not say. I mean, seriously. These are only 9 questions that supposedly should not be broached…but you’re only 1 atheist. What if another atheist comes along with 25 questions. Then another atheist comes after that with 100 more questions and so forth and so on. Do you all seriously expect people outside the atheist community to keep track of which questions they are allowed to ask and which questions are “forbidden”? If so, you’re just setting yourself up for a lifetime of disappointment. I believe that @rolandbouman and a couple of others up here see these questions for what they really are…words. And as I said in my #32 response, “the only way words can kill you…is if you let them.”

  68. Silentbob says

    @ 72 Nardo Hall

    And as I said in my #32 response, “the only way words can kill you… is if you let them.”

    FFS, what’s wrong with you? Did you not read the second last paragraph of comment # 41. Talk about not considering how your words may hurt people.

  69. Silentbob says

    @ 62 Pen

    And to the people who say they are ‘never’ asked a question respectfully and can ‘never’ refuse to answer or deflect the conversation to something they do want to talk about – you have big problems with your society. [… ] Bigger problems than who is privileged and who isn’t and what to do about it. You have a society with such massive issues with respect and tolerance that it barely counts as a society at all. You need to do something about it and I would be supportive if I knew how, but not by consenting to live as if such conditions prevailed everywhere, or indeed – I think this is what some of you are asking – to normalising social rules needed by people who live in dysfunctional societies over the social rules needed by people who don’t.

    Suppose it’s not a case of “people who live in dysfunctional societies” and “people who don’t”, but two (or more) classes of people living in the same society, one of which experiences the dysfunction, while the other doesn’t – and therefore assumes it doesn’t exist.

    In that case, wouldn’t it be true that “who is privileged and who isn’t and what to do about it” is the “big problem”?

  70. says

    @Silentbob
    Yes, I did. As a matter of fact, I read all of the paragraphs on this thread. And your response just proves my point. You are attempting to make me feel guilty about what I said. However, I know exactly what I said. I meant to say it that way. And I make no apologies for saying it because I believe it to be true. Words have absolutely no effect on you unless you let them.
    Now, you may believe otherwise…and that’s fine. But if something I say offends you, it’s not my problem. I cannot control how another person feels. That responsibility falls squarely on your shoulders. Ultimately, what we are talking about are just “words” here. We are not talking about punching someone in the face or shooting someone with a gun. We’re just talking about people making statements or asking questions that displease us. And to that, I say, “So what?” Ask any question that you like. Make any statement that you want. I couldn’t care less whether it may offend me or not. And I am suggesting that you shouldn’t either. If you spend the rest of your life allowing what people say control how you feel then you’re always going to be frustrated and feel victimized.
    Think about it. What the author is asking of us is no different than if a Muslim told you that you can’t draw a picture of Allah. Why? Because it’s offensive to them and their religion. Well guess what? If I feel like drawing Allah, I’m going to draw Allah. I am not “hurting” anyone by making marks on a page. Any “pain” that is felt, I submit, is self-inflicted. Even a blind man with glasses can see that that is their problem…not mine. I cannot control how my speech makes someone else feel.

    p.s. – I am sure that some of you thought that I was trying to be racist by making the Muslim statement. I wasn’t. I was just using that as one clear example to illustrate my point. However, even if you did think that, it’s not my problem because I know exactly what I am. So, take as much or as little offense to it as you wish. If it was me, I wouldn’t waste my time.
    p.s.s. – And I don’t hate blind people either. The blind man comment was hyperbole. Did that offend you? Ooops! Oh well…

  71. Greta Christina says

    Like I said before, I sympathise with people who live in extreme regions. The constant barrage of questions they receive will most likely have the intent of marginalisation.

    However, I do not live anywhere like that. Therefore, I am perfectly ok with people asking me questions. In fact, I encourage it.

    ehnkeh1 @ #71: Translation: “I live in a relatively privileged situation, where I am less marginalized as an atheist than many many many other atheists commonly are. I do not experience a barrage of willfully ignorant, hostile, “just asking questions” questions every day of my life. And my experience is the one that counts. Sure, many other people find them insulting and dehumanizing — especially when they have to hear them day after day after day — but the fact that I get enjoyment out of these conversations trumps this fact.”

    If I feel preyed upon I just walk away.

    And once again: That is coming from a huge position of privilege. Not everyone is able to walk away. For many many people, these toxic, hostile, willfully ignorant attitudes are all around them: among their co-workers, their bosses, their neighbors, even their family. Good for you that you can walk away. Not everyone can.

  72. Greta Christina says

    However, I refuse to stand here and say that the best way to eradicate this type of ignorance is through censorship.

    Nardo Hall @ #72: Where, exactly, did I advocate censorship? How does telling people, “Please don’t say this shit, it’s bigoted and dehumanizing, and here’s an explanation of why” constitute censorship?

    You have complete control over how you will react to certain statements or lines of questioning… the only way words can kill you…is if you let them.

    I am going to say this as calmly as I can: Please do not tell a person who has been the target of a persistent campaign of threats, hatred, bullying, and harassment for over two years that we have “complete control over how we react to statements,” or that “the only way words can kill you is if you let them.” It is blaming the victim. People do not have “complete control” over how we react to bigotry, hatred, and dehumanization. These things take a toll. Even if we build up a thick enough suit of armor to shield ourselves from it… that, in itself, is a toll. Living with that suit of armor is incredibly painful and isolating.

    And spend a little time reading about bullying victims who commit suicide before you say that “the only way words can kill you is if you let them.” If you think bullying victims who commit suicide are to blame because they “let” words get to them… then shame on you.

  73. Pen says

    Greta @68

    I’m just seeing, ‘Well, I don’t mind it, therefore you shouldn’t, either.”

    I feel that what really happened is the opposite of that. It feels like you’re saying ‘I mind it, so whether you do or not, I’m going to try to make you all abide by the rules that suit me’. You wrote “9 Questions Not To Ask An Atheist’. Not, ‘9 Questions I’m Sick of Answering’ or something else more precise. You’re an atheist blogger, I can believe you’re sicker of answering them than I am and I suspect this may be a lot of what’s motivating you. I think what would have made all the difference to me is if you hadn’t tried to generalise this view to all of us. I realise some people agree with you and others don’t, I’m one of the ones who don’t so I feel negatively affected (whereas they no doubt feel supported). Atheism is part of my identity that I want to talk about with other people, so that makes me feel strongly about it. What you’re doing tends towards controlling how I present my identity and forces me to abide by group rules, even invisibly, by which I mean, if people have been educated not to ask me certain questions, I will never even know.

    On the other hand, I don’t, as suggested, want you (or anyone) to have to put up with situations they don’t like. I want a way for everyone to get what they want which Is why I’m suggesting what we need is something like ‘9 Ways To Decline Answering A Question You Don’t Want To Answer’. I’m just not buying the idea that we all have to bend to some people’s vulnerabilities, often justified, when it’s their vulnerabilities that need addressing, not the questions.

  74. Greta Christina says

    But if something I say offends you, it’s not my problem.

    Nardo Hall @ #75: If you are not willing to take responsibility for how your words affect people, and are not willing to take other people’s feelings into consideration when you open your mouth, I do not want you commenting in my blog.

    I have responded at somewhat greater length about this at #77. I am not going to explain it again. I welcome and indeed encourage lively and vigorous debate here, but I expect a basic level of human consideration in these conversations. If your basic attitude towards human discourse is that you shouldn’t have to stop and think about what you say, and the context in which you say it, and the history that lies behind it, then please go participate in other conversations elsewhere. I do not want you in my home.

  75. Pen says

    @74 SilentBob

    In that case, wouldn’t it be true that “who is privileged and who isn’t and what to do about it” is the “big problem”?

    You may have a point about this, though I think there are some definite signs in this thread of people’s views being correlated with different societies. I’m European, living in Britain. My American in-laws are East Coast secular Jews. I realise that America’s first atheist president is a ways off and I don’t have a whole lot of experience of Alabama, to pick a place whose reputation has preceded it!

    Where I live, atheists are generally in the more culturally privileged/numerically and otherwise dominant group in many of my local environments. How do you think that should affect my attitude towards answering people’s questions? Isn’t it a bit arrogant to tell a member of a frankly disadvantaged religious group that they’ve insulted me because they tried to understand me, or heck, even hold me accountable for my beliefs (which affect them more than theirs affect me)? What’s complicating this situation for me is the cultural dominance of America in the media and on the internet which tends to me mean we share America’s problems. You probably don’t know about ours. This is also a form on privilege.

    But anyway there’s one way for everyone to answer your question for themselves . How they behave in situations of privilege or disprivilege should be coherent. If you are disprivileged as an atheist, behave in the way you would like people to behave towards you if the roles were reversed. Very likely, they one day will be. There’s a lot of privilege that depends purely on numbers rather than injustice so it’s quite shifting and it’s not something we can hope to get rid of like gender or racial injustices. We have to learn to live with it. There’s an art to ‘being the only one in the room’, just as there’s an art to being a member of the predominant group, being the only one in the room full of people who are usually disprivileged with respect to you, being a member of a disprivileged group who suddenly finds they have a lone member of a privileged group at their disposal, etc… These are the social skills I think we should be developing in preference to educating people to shut up (which we seem to be doing a lot of these days, let’s face it).

  76. says

    @Greta
    I haven’t been vile or mean or nasty to anyone on this thread. The only thing that I have been is honest. I make no apologies for that. I am very willing to take responsibility for my words. However, if you ask me to take responsibility for how another person responds to or perceives what I say, that is impossible. I have no way of knowing how a person will react to what I say. The best that I could do is guess. And sure, I could spend my day worrying about how someone else feels. But what good would that do? The only thing that you would gain from that is stress, ulcers, hypertension, heart attacks, cancer…So if you want to go around worrying about other people’s feelings, by all means, be my guest. Just don’t ask me to do it. And I say this not to be rude, but to be honest. I’m just not built that way. See, I can have a conversation with someone without taking their feelings into account and still respect them. Everyone who knows me knows that I always speak the truth whether it’s pc to do so or not.
    Basically what you have done is told me to shut up and get out because you don’t like the way I argue my point of view. I’m pretty sure most people would call that censorship. I would never do that to you. No matter how much I disagreed with you. I would never invalidate your freedom to express yourself.
    So what about your words? How do you think they make me feel? Did you take time out to consider your words before pretty much ostracizing me in front of the whole group? Wait…since I am on the wrong side of this debate, I guess it doesn’t matter how you address me. I guess that’s the least of what I had coming, right?
    Okay, Greta. You win. I’ve seen the error of my ways. You guys are right. People need to stop asking atheist all these ignorant questions. As a matter of fact, just so that we can protect everybody’s feelings, let’s just stop asking questions all together. Besides, everybody knows that no one has every learned anything by asking questions…
    p.s. – I too know a little something about hatred, harassment, etc. I grew up a black kid in the deep South. I guess I’ll crawl back in this corner and shut up now.

  77. timg says

    Greta, let me rephrase #50. I really would value your opinion.

    Is there any equivalent set of verboten questions to ask a christian in the US, or does this whole concept only apply to members of a majority, privileged group asking questions of members of a marginalized group? If the latter then is there any equivalent set of forbidden questions to ask of a Muslim in the US? Is it OK to “to ask hard questions about it, to make fun of it, to point out flaws in it”

  78. says

    —A lot of people bring their emotions into it, like @WithinThisMind did. —

    :::Headdesk:::

    Ah, right. I’m just ‘too emotional’.

    Well, I suppose ‘contempt’ is technically an emotion.

    —If I feel preyed upon I just walk away.—

    If I walk away from the most egregious offender in my life, I will never be allowed to see a beloved, dying grandparent ever again.

    If I walk away from the second most egregious offender in my life, I will have to give up having my child involved in a sport he loves immensely.

    If I walk away from the third more egregious offender in my life, I will have to set my degree off track by at least 6 months.

    If I walk away from the fourth most egregious offender in my life, I’ll pretty much have to move out of town entirely.

    I’d love to walk away from all the harassment, but my feet are getting pretty tired and I haven’t yet figured out where it is I can walk away too…

  79. D M says

    You must be kidding.

    If someone announces they have a position on the nature of the universe – whether they are Buddhist, Christian, agnostic, or atheist – it is entirely legitimate to ask them questions. If they don’t like the questions, they are free to decline to answer.

    Now, certain questions – like “why do you hate God” – are just plain rude. But it is more than legitimate to ask someone about deeper meaning questions.

    It’s actually offensive to read that you have “answers” for these questions. Atheists are a diverse group, united in their lack of belief.

    It is equally acceptable to ask a Christian why they believe in a God when there is so much suffering in the world, or ask about the many crimes against humanity committed in the name of Christ. And, if the Christian doesn’t want to answer, they don’t have to either.

    I am an atheist. I am not persecuted or misunderstood. Mostly, people don’t care what I believe. I find it hard to believe that being asked questions about nonbelief is somehow marginalizing, especially when the question you list are mostly legitimate topics for discussion.

    Freethinkers, my ass. Non-thinkers, non-debaters, wimps.

  80. freemage says

    I agree that this shouldn’t be titled, “9 Questions not to ask atheists”. It should be titled, “9 Questions not to ask atheists if you want them to actually believe you have any sincere desire to debate or discuss honestly, as opposed to proselytize”. Because when talking about social rules (which is all this is), that’s what the full intent is–“If you want me to treat you with respect, you have to come from a position of respect, and these questions don’t pass the smell test.”

    Parallel example: During a discussion of cosplay, the issue of sexier outfits, and the reactions you get at cons was brought up. I made what I thought was a non-controversial point that, “If you want a picture, you should ask first, and accept the answer.” Several folks immediately said, “They have a right to take the picture if there’s no con rule against it.” This, of course, misses the point. The point of the rule is how I, as a bystander, am going to view the picture-taker, not whether or not I have any power to enforce the rule beyond expressing my opinion of the person violating.

    ****

    Also, to all the folks who are so offended that Greta DARED to post ‘answers’ to the questions… Do you see any that were incomplete, didn’t cover the vast, vast majority of replies that could be formed, or otherwise needed correction or adjustment? ‘Cause if not, it does make me wonder what, exactly, the freakin’ problem is. (And if you can come up with an answer that falls outside the broad strokes she used above, AND is coherent and plausible, then I suspect she’d be delighted to see it.)

  81. ehnkeh1 says

    A better title for this article would be “9 Questions not to ask American atheists living in bumfuck Christian states” (I would have preferred ‘predominantly’, however there are nations with Christian majorities that don’t have insane attitudes toward non-believers)

    Your problems, living in a tiny portion of this world, do not apply to all of us. I feel terribly bad that many of you here experience the author’s problems day to day, but don’t try to dominate what I consider my identity.

  82. ehnkeh1 says

    @freemage
    There’s a difference between objectifying your body vs questions your personal philosophical beliefs

  83. ehnkeh1 says

    *people objectifying your body vs people questioning your personal philosophical beliefs

    Christ, where the hell is the edit button?

  84. Greta Christina says

    I am an atheist. I am not persecuted or misunderstood. Mostly, people don’t care what I believe.

    D M @ #84: Good for you. Your experience, however, is not universal. Not quite sure why you feel a need to dismiss and trivialize their experience.

    I find it hard to believe that being asked questions about nonbelief is somehow marginalizing, especially when the question you list are mostly legitimate topics for discussion.

    Please point to the place in this article where I said that asking questions was marginalizing. I argued that asking certain specific questions was marginalizing. And I made a case for why these specific questions were marginalizing — especially when they get asked again and again and again and again and again. If you want to argue against that case, please do. But just saying, “Those are legitimate” is not an argument — it’s simply a re-statement of your thesis.

  85. Greta Christina says

    Not sure why I’m spending so much time engaging with someone who has clearly expressed a lack of concern for how other people feel. But I’m at the airport with time to kill, so why not.

    I haven’t been vile or mean or nasty to anyone on this thread.

    Nardo Hall @ #81: No, you haven’t. Which is why I haven’t banned you. But you have indicated a clear lack of concern for how your words affect other people. Which is why I gave you a warning that I expect commenters in this blog to pay attention to how their words affect other people.

    I have no way of knowing how a person will react to what I say. The best that I could do is guess.

    Actually… that’s not true. You can educate yourself. You can pay attention to social cues. You can pay attention to context. You won’t get it right 100% of the time, but with a little effort, you can make a reasonably good estimate of how people will react to what you say.

    And sure, I could spend my day worrying about how someone else feels. But what good would that do?

    Really? You need it explained to you what the benefit is of caring about how other people feel?

    Basically what you have done is told me to shut up and get out because you don’t like the way I argue my point of view.

    No. I have given you a warning that I expect a certain standard of behavior in my blog. And you may have neglected to notice that several other people are making more or less the same argument you are, without having gotten this warning. You may also have neglected to notice that I’ve given someone else a warning in this discussion who was taking my side, but was violating my comment policy in doing so.

    I’m pretty sure most people would call that censorship. I would never do that to you. No matter how much I disagreed with you. I would never invalidate your freedom to express yourself.

    I encourage you, once again, to review my comment policy. In particular, In encourage you to review #12: Respect my right to moderate my blog.

    You have the right to speak. You do not, however, have an unlimited right to speak in my space. You have the right to speak — but you do not have the right to force me to listen. And you do not have the right to use my platform. I have very little patience with people who think that moderating blogs and other Internet comment discussions constitutes censorship. If you don’t intend to respect my comment policy, please go elsewhere.

    So what about your words? How do you think they make me feel? Did you take time out to consider your words before pretty much ostracizing me in front of the whole group?

    Yes. I did consider it. I am not arguing that avoiding hurting other people’s feelings trumps all other considerations. If you think I’m saying that, you clearly haven’t been reading my blog for very long. I am saying that it should be one of the considerations in your mind.

  86. Greta Christina says

    Is there any equivalent set of verboten questions to ask a christian in the US, or does this whole concept only apply to members of a majority, privileged group asking questions of members of a marginalized group?

    timg @ #82: That’s actually a really good question. My immediate response is to say yes, there probably are: people can ask questions in a douchey, dehumanizing way to pretty much anyone. But I think it’s more of an issue with marginalized groups, and when the douchey questions feed directly into the specific forms of marginalization — since then it isn’t just about personal obnoxiousness, but reinforcing the marginalization. I may have to think about this more, though, and would welcome other ideas about it.

    IIf the latter then is there any equivalent set of forbidden questions to ask of a Muslim in the US? Is it OK to “to ask hard questions about it, to make fun of it, to point out flaws in it”

    Again, a good question. Yes, there are almost certainly questions that Muslims in the U.S. get asked again and again and again — questions that aren’t simply questions about the truth/ lack thereof of the faith, but that play into harmful stereotypes. I think when it comes to marginalized/ minority religions, it’s a somewhat tricky line to draw — critiquing the religious beliefs the way we would critique any other bad idea, while not marginalizing the people. (To go back to my article: I’m not saying people shouldn’t argue against atheism, or question it. I’m saying that some specific questions feed into bigoted, dehumanizing stereotypes.) I’ve said before that there’s a difference between criticizing/ questioning/ mocking the ideas, and criticizing /questioning/ mocking the people. And there’s also a difference between statements made/ questions asked in a public forum, in the marketplace of ideas where the standards of discourse are somewhat more vigorous… and statements made/ questions asked of individuals, one on one, in social settings. I do think that’s not always an easy line to draw, though — especially when there is so much hostility to people from a particular religion, such as Muslims in the US. Again, I want to think about this more, and would welcome other ideas about it.

  87. says

    ‘well if you don’t believe in god, why don’t you just kill yourself?’ Is a perfectly reasonable philosophical question with no intention of driving a person to suicide. It may be rough though.

    Like Greta says, intent isn’t relevant – it’s pretty easily predictable to anyone with a functional sense of empathy that “Why don’t you just kill yourself” will be perceived by many, if not most people, as hostile in the extreme. Regardless of whether it’s linked to the question of god’s existence or not.

    If you’re coming back, perhaps you’d be so courteous to explain why you think asking that question “may be rough,” and how this “roughness” is different from, you know, triggering intense feelings about past trauma in people who have had suicidal ideations or had a friend or relative commit suicide. For me, my roommate’s father committed suicide, and just yesterday, a friend of a friend found her fiance dead of suicide by hanging in their bathroom. It’s a frequent enough occurrence that common decency ought to preclude phrasing your question about how atheists find purpose and meaning in life that particular way.

    ____

    i wont object to whether these questions should or shouldnt be asked, but i would have to object to any one person declaring that a specific list of questions should not be asked of atheists, and even more so to any one person giving answers to those questions, and for the whole thing to be presented as representative of atheists.

    the only thing all atheists have in common is a lack of belief in gods.

    I find that mentally substituting “member of the atheist movement/community” for “atheist” neatly resolves the tension that led to this outbreak of pointless semantic nit-picking.

    ____________

    You have complete control over how you will react to certain statements or lines of questioning.

    This is so completely, obviously untrue, it baffles me how people continue to advance this particular falsehood. The only thing I can figure out is, this person has never once been confronted by consistently cruel, designed-to-provoke verbal attacks. That person must have lived a very nice life. I’ve certainly had moments when I felt attacked, upset, and angry, even though the rational portion of my brain was simultaneously noting that there was no objective reason for feeling that way at the time. I’m pretty cure the consensus of cognitive neuroscientists is that people do not have conscious control over their emotions most of the time.

    However, if you ask me to take responsibility for how another person responds to or perceives what I say, that is impossible. I have no way of knowing how a person will react to what I say. The best that I could do is guess.

    Again, this is clearly untrue. If it were true, Nardo would be unable to function in society. You don’t have to “guess” to know that “Why don’t you just kill yourself” is highly likely to evoke a negative response. You do have ways of knowing how people will react to you. You can reference previous interactions as a point of comparison. You can use your empathy to figure out what feelings your words may inspire in other people. You can even just ask questions, like, “If I said X to you, how would that make you feel? Do you think you’re unusual or typical in that respect?” Etc. I find such protestations of sociopathic levels of ineptitude regarding human interactions unconvincing.

    ——

    Freethinkers, my ass. Non-thinkers, non-debaters, wimps.

    Ironic that advice meant to raise the level of debate gets you labeled a “non-debater”. And “wimp”–of course, because taking preemptive measures to not deal with offensive/abusive assumptions means weakness. A true “STRONG” person never puts on a shield, never avoids pain, but only marches directly onto the battlefield naked with only a sword. Toxic masculinity scripts, anyone?

    ——

    Your problems, living in a tiny portion of this world, do not apply to all of us. I feel terribly bad that many of you here experience the author’s problems day to day, but don’t try to dominate what I consider my identity.

    Please explain why offering advice to theists about how not to come off as a jerk when asking questions about atheism is “dominating” anyone’s identity. What exactly is your definition of “domination”?

  88. steven says

    Greta, you have laid out exactly what I was thinking, and expressed it better than I could have. Thanks!

    Some of the objections in the comments are interesting. Of course believers are going to continue to ask silly or offensive questions. The point of this article, as I see it, is to list some of the sillier ones along with some thoughtful responses. That’s helpful to me. My brother actually confronted me with Pascal’s Wager, though I don’t think he knew it was called that. I get questions like this frequently; I’m bookmarking this post.

  89. D M says

    Greta Christina:

    I appreciate the response, but in the end, I think you are really just extremely ignorant. I note, for example, in the first question, you seem to think that it is somehow personally offensive for people to ask an atheist the question of whether there can be a basis of morality, and then go off about how it’s even insulting to religious people to ask the question, since it implies that the only reason that religious people can be good is fear of Hell.

    If you think that there is a solution to the problem of moral nihilism that accompanies a atheist worldview, then I think you must be completely unfamiliar with philosophy (eg, Neitzche’s Beyond Good and Evil, the French existentialists, and Hume’s observation that you can’t derive an ought from an is). If you accept science and evolution, you don’t believe that nature is teleological or designed. Accordingly, moral codes are products of culture, and can vary.

    I accept moral nihilism. However, I also see the problems with it, which are fairly obvious.

    On the other hand, you seem to have absolutely no idea of the basis for morality in Christian or Western philosophical thought. Back when I was in Catholic school, I learned that the reason that one was to refrain from sin was not to avoid Hell, so much as to have a closer relationship to God. In other words, the motivation was not primarily negative. Similarly, in philosophical works prior to Darwin, the nature of humanity was seen as fixed, often by a cosmic designer that place humans in a role that had definition. This led to moral theories – from the Greeks through German Idealism – that might, in our view, be marked by the naturalistic fallacy. However, there were consistent theories, and they could be considered the be as fixed as religious teachings, since they were based in unchanging principles of nature.

    Darwin changed that. We know that our nature is the result of a series of accidents and conflicts, and that accidents and conflicts will continue to shape humanity. We know that diversity, not consistency, drives evolution forward. Accordingly, we no longer can posit fixed moral principles. Nor can we posit that nature is moving on some pre-ordained teleological path to perfection.

    The question isn’t what is ignorant. Your answer is. My answer to the question looks nothing like yours. Which is why the question should be asked.

  90. Pen says

    Do you see any that were incomplete, didn’t cover the vast, vast majority of replies that could be formed, or otherwise needed correction or adjustment?

    Yes, actually, but I’m not getting into that because differences of opinions amongst atheists is not what I have a problem with.

  91. antialiasis says

    Greta is saying “Don’t ask atheists these questions” in much the same sense in which you might say “Don’t shout at people in the street that they stink”: it’s a dickish thing to do. It’s not that these questions are Forbidden Topics or that all atheists are or should feel mortally offended at it or that discussions about these issues should not happen – it’s just, again, a dickish thing to do, and as I pointed out in my previous comment at @58, that’s largely because these aren’t honest questions asked respectfully by genuinely curious people, but thinly veiled expressions of the person’s existing prejudice about atheists being passed off as questions. People honestly trying to understand atheism would ask different questions. Asking these questions is on at least the level of dickish that “Burn in hell, heathen” is – more, actually, since the latter isn’t actually enforcing negative stereotypes.

    It’s not that the topic of atheist morality is some kind of verboten subject and believers should never ask atheists about their moral values. It’s that the question “How can you be moral without believing in God?” is asking atheists about their moral values while assuming that it’s impossible for them to actually have any at all. It’s that assumption inherent in the question that’s bad, not the idea of discussing secular morality.

    I appreciate the response, but in the end, I think you are really just extremely ignorant. I note, for example, in the first question, you seem to think that it is somehow personally offensive for people to ask an atheist the question of whether there can be a basis of morality, and then go off about how it’s even insulting to religious people to ask the question, since it implies that the only reason that religious people can be good is fear of Hell.

    If you think that there is a solution to the problem of moral nihilism that accompanies a atheist worldview, then I think you must be completely unfamiliar with philosophy (eg, Neitzche’s Beyond Good and Evil, the French existentialists, and Hume’s observation that you can’t derive an ought from an is). If you accept science and evolution, you don’t believe that nature is teleological or designed. Accordingly, moral codes are products of culture, and can vary.

    There is strong evidence that morality is inborn to a significant degree – we evolved to have a sense of fairness and empathy (as Greta explicitly referenced in her answer). While obviously the ultimate values we derive from those basic innate feelings are cultural and variable, and an alien species could in theory evolve with completely different moral values with no cosmic law saying ours is the true morality, our morality is still nonarbitrary and derived from a fundamental set of ingrained values shared across the species. So yes, there is definitely a sense in which being moral is an innate part of being human.

  92. says

    I’m not offended by these questions, no matter how many times they are asked. I prefer to think people ask from a genuine sense of curiosity, or ignorance rather than a deliberate attempt to offend me. I think it says a lot about someone if they think it is more probable a question is asked out of spite than out of ignorance or curiosity (or who takes offense, where none was intended).

    I appreciate the answers you’ve written as a resource for people asking these questions. They’ll come in handy as a go to reference if I am short on time. I do not appreciate you attempting to silence these questions on my behalf. I am happy to answer these questions until I die, accepting that a small portion may be from people who are genuinely just trying to irritate me.

    Maybe these people have never asked before. Maybe they’ve just thought of it and were so impressed by the revelation that they didn’t Google it in a planned and productive manner. Maybe they’ve asked and never been given an answer that makes sense to them. There are a lot of reasons people ask questions. Deliberately trying to offend you is just one, and probably not the most likely, in my experience.

    And no….I don’t feel dehumanised or offended by others trying to adjust their understanding. What business is it of mine how they obtain their answers? I don’t know what they’ve gone through to get to the state they’re in. The assumption that they have the ability and knowledge and so on to ask me questions that I deem valid is obscenely arrogant. They don’t move in the same circles I move in. They haven’t had the life experience I’ve had. They don’t know what I know or know how to find out what I know which is (I choose to believe) precisely the reason they are asking me a question.

    I don’t want to just talk to the same people all the time about the same things. I am happy to talk about the same thing to many different people, however. Who knows what I might learn about my own philosophies if questioned often enough. It might be the simplest question asked in a different way that makes me reconsider something.

    Perhaps we need to setup an Atheist group where people who want to ask these questions can be directed, without being told how offensive they’re apparently being.

  93. says

    DM: “Now, certain questions – like “why do you hate God” – are just plain rude. But it is more than legitimate to ask someone about deeper meaning questions. ”

    I don’t even think that question is that bad. It’s amusing, first up. Second, what does it say? It indicates that their worldview doesn’t encompass existence without a deity. What do you expect them to ask when they have such a worldview? They believe there is a god. That god has rules. You’re breaking them, which makes said god unhappy. To them, it is unthinkable you would not know what that god wants. They live in that world. They know the answers. To them, not doing what god wants (and everyone in their world knows what god wants) implies deliberately antagonising said god. Just as you would if you hated that god.

    It makes sense, it’s not offensive and as I said in my previous post, there are many entirely innocent reasons they may be asking you this question. I prefer to treat it as such and not expect them to conform to my worldview where there is (apparently) known baggage that goes with asking these questions.

  94. freemage says

    Jarrod: You still misunderstand. It’s not that the questions are asked ‘out of spite’, for the most part. Rather, it’s that the ignorance to which you attribute them is derived directly from faulty and insulting assumptions. One point of the post is to get directly at those assumptions, so the problem can be ripped out by the roots, rather than just trimmed back a bit.

  95. Ariel says

    I commented on Question 3 in the first round of discussion. Since (as it seems) the present conversation evolves much around Question 1, here is my input (much in accordance with what DM said in #94 – hello DM, by the way! Ex-Catholic and a graduate of a Catholic school here as well!)

    There are a couple of problems with Greta’s argumentation for the offensiveness of 1. Some of them were indicated by DM in #94 (the fragment of DM’s comment concerning positive motivation offered by the Catholics – not a mere fear of going to Hell – is quite correct; that’s what they tried to teach me at school as well). This done, I’m going to handle other problematic aspects.

    Before going into details, a general remark. My overall problem with Greta’s text is that in practice it amounts imo to shutting down discussions. I don’t care whether Greta intended it this way. She may say that it’s about phrasing, that it’s possible to have the same discussion, expressing the same views, in a non-offensive way, and that’s what she intended to convey. If so, I don’t care. Intention is not magic and that’s not what is achieved here. Let’s see it on the particular example of Question 1. To remind you, the question is: How can you be moral without believing in God?

    We read:

    Why you shouldn’t ask it: This is an unbelievably insulting question. Being moral, caring about others and having compassion for them, is a fundamental part of being human. To question whether atheists can be moral, to express bafflement at how we could possibly manage to care about others without believing in a supernatural creator, is to question whether we’re even fully human.

    In short: the question is insulting because asking it is tantamount to questioning the humanity of the atheists. That’s Greta’s reason.

    To see what the problem is, start with appreciating that the believers (or at least those of them who ask the question) have a different account of human condition. Not just a different concept of humanity, mind you. It’s not about definition. It’s about the account. On their view, it is God that gives you his grace and leads you on your way. People asking this question think that human nature is weak and frail, that by yourself – in isolation from God and his grace – you are prone to corruption. Note also that “you” in the last sentence is universal: it applies both to the atheists and to them, the believers themselves. This is the way they think of humans in general: without God all is left is a corrupted, suffering being.

    Now Greta says: don’t ask this question, it’s insulting! But see, Greta’s stated reason for the offence is exactly that the person asking the question doesn’t share her (and mine, to be sure) view of humanity, promoting instead a picture of a human as someone miserable and corrupted without God. Do you guess at this moment what I’m getting at? Yes, accepting it as offensive is a conversation stopper. It’s not about phrasing. Greta said in effect that such an opinion is beyond the pale. Given her stated reason, it is the view as such that shouldn’t be stated or implied. Go away, believer! You think that we are inhuman, and as long as you don’t change your mind or shut up, there is no place for you here!

    Different phrasing won’t help. To borrow an example from comment #48:

    Instead of asking, “How can you be moral without believing in God?”, for instance, a religious person could explain that their sense of morality is intertwined with their religion, and ask how an atheist experiences morality. This would not presume that the atheist has no morality.

    This is perhaps fine as a conversation starter in a discussion about one’s sense of morality. But what happens next? Assume that the atheist explained his experience of morality. And assume that the believer still stands by his vision of humanity as corrupted without God. By Greta’s stated argument, he is not permitted to voice or imply it. Offensive content; stating it implies that atheists are inhuman (on our vision of humanity). The practical effect: shut up or get lost.

    So here is the problem with Question 1 in a nutshell: Greta’s precondition for having a decent conversation amounts (in practice) to that of the believers changing their minds, dropping part of their religious beliefs before they talk to us, or (alternatively) being quiet about those beliefs – not voicing them. If implemented, the practical effect will be them not talking to us about important parts of their worldview (which we all – including me – consider false, by the way). Or not talking to us at all – well, that would be at least my reaction on their place. In practice it means “don’t formulate your views – your views are ugly!”. I think it’s a horrible idea. I think that far from facilitating communication, it promotes hostility between atheists and believers. I think it doesn’t make it easier to the believer to learn anything. Quite on the contrary, it makes the atheists look even more arrogant and smug than before. Does it surprise you that I don’t want to be a part of it?

    I’m also not buying this “you should educate yourself before talking to us” stuff. It’s pure arrogance. Talking to the atheist is a part of education. When students come to my seminars, of course I require some background. But apart from seminars there are also entry level courses. On an entry level course questions are asked which have been asked thousands of times before. There are hundreds of textbooks giving answers to these questions. Nevertheless, a lecturer introducing the rule “don’t ask basic questions, you have tons of textbooks to educate yourself!” would be – by my standards – a pompous, arrogant asshole. Now, some internet discussions are indeed closer to seminars and they have their own rules; but others are more entry level. Add to this the fact that on the net we are not lecturers but participants on an equal footing. Add also the fact that there are plenty of people, some of them very ignorant, for whom the active exchange is the preferred way of acquiring new information. And in the middle of an entry level discussion, insert a picture of the atheist, shouting “go away, there are tons of material, educate yourself before you dare approaching such an enlightened person as meeeee!” My title for such a picture would be “arrogance”. Any other titles to propose?

    Last, and unrelated, short remark. The “offensive question” number five: what’s the point of atheist groups? It sent me giggling when I read last time how insulting it is if the believer asks it. It still makes me giggle. Greta, the point of having atheist groups has been hotly debated – as you know well – among the atheists. Hell, the atheists were bickering about this while pecking each other like drunken storks! In such a situation, to expect the believers, of all the people, to accept the answer as obvious and the question itself as insulting? Sorry but … please tell me you were joking.

  96. says

    I’m also not buying this “you should educate yourself before talking to us” stuff. It’s pure arrogance.

    Again, why? It seems like basic courtesy to me. It’s what I would do before getting into a discussion with, say, a Native American Oglala Lakota woman about how her experience living on a reservation informs her perception of feminism. If I came at her with a dozen questions about Indians and reservation life that had ignorance and derogatory assumptions about Indians as the premise for all of them, she’d be upset and rightly so, which is why I wouldn’t do it. I don’t understand what the problem with “educate yourself” is. Seriously.

  97. Ariel says

    SallyStrange

    Again, why? It seems like basic courtesy to me. It’s what I would do before getting into a discussion with, say, a Native American Oglala Lakota woman about how her experience living on a reservation informs her perception of feminism. If I came at her with a dozen questions about Indians and reservation life that had ignorance and derogatory assumptions about Indians as the premise for all of them, she’d be upset and rightly so, which is why I wouldn’t do it. I don’t understand what the problem with “educate yourself” is. Seriously.

    Sally, I appreciate your example. I was a bit careless and some qualifications are necessary.

    What I would say is that the details of the situation matter. What I had in mind was of course a confrontation between atheists and believers in discussions on morality. There are some aspects of this situation which are quite specific, not easily translatable into examples of the kind you gave. Here are the two main differences.

    1. The believer’s starting point in such a discussion is not a derogatory assumption concerning the atheists specifically. It’s an assumption concerning human condition and God in general. This assumption concerns not only us, but the believers themselves.
    2. The believer’s assumption is quite central to his worldview. It’s not a part which can be dropped easily. Seeing the “life without God” as valuable requires sometimes a lot of transformation and effort. Only too often it doesn’t function like a local piece, easily substituted with something else.

    I think that (1) should modify substantially one’s perspective on how offensive what they say is (an aspect which I didn’t really touch in my previous post. Not much time also to elaborate on it now; perhaps later).

    I think also that (2) should modify the demands we put as preconditions for talking with the believers; it should modify also what we expect from them. I can’t know about you, but my worldview would be far from shattered by new information about Native American Oglala Lakota people. Any preconceptions I might have here are local; changing them wouldn’t be a pain, absorbing new information would come without costs. It is not the same with the believer. Question 1 concerns the relation between people and God. It deals with something very central to them. That’s why it’s so difficult to make a change and absorb new information. And that’s also why the demand “educate yourself before talking to as” strikes me as excessive. I read it as saying “drop an important part of your religious beliefs before coming to us, otherwise you are causing us offence!”. That’s a very tall order and it’s indeed difficult for me to see it as anything else than arrogance. Unless of course you mean something weaker (in such a case give some details; maybe our standpoints are not that different after all).

    I hope it explains it a bit. Sorry, no time to write anything longer now.

  98. says

    @Ariel
    In #101, you pretty much said it all. The idea behind this post is to make a preemptive strike against a certain line of questioning. The author’s reasoning behind this is the assumption that the people who are about to ask these questions are AWARE that an atheist would find them offensive.
    The problem with this, as you so clearly point out, is that 1) not all atheists find these questions offensive. There were points where I laughed too when I first read through the list, especially at question #2. “Why don’t you just kill yourself?” I thought if someone walked up to me and asked me that question, I would probably laugh right in their face and ask them, “Do you realize how absolutely absurd that question is?” 2) By asserting this type of preemptive strike, you only shut down the lines of communication. And 3) the person asking the question may not know that the receiver would be offended by it. If no offense was given, but offense was taken, then the burden of ensuring that the situation is rectified falls squarely on the shoulders of the offended person. They could do this by making the questioner aware of the offense, asking for an apology, removing themselves from the conversation, etc. However, to say that the questioner “should have known…” or “should have realized…” and therefore should never have asked the question to begin with is a non sequitur. Why? Because the only way that the questioner will gain this type of knowledge is through the asking of the question. You take away the ability of the questioner to ask the question, you also eliminate the source by which they gain insight that allows them this type of forethought that the author requires them to possess. But the question has to first be asked and answered. So, the next time they talk to an atheist, they may not ask that question…but then again, maybe they will. It may require them to ask it of several atheists in order to gain a more concrete understanding of atheists in general. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

  99. says

    I don’t have a problem with trying to answer those questions — but when a question is dishonestly framed and worded, perhaps the only proper answer is another question. For eacmple, when someone asks “Why do you hate God so much?” the only appropriate response is “What makes you think we hate God?” If someone is trying to baffle you with bullshit, bat it right back to them and force them to try and explain themselves.

  100. Al Dente says

    The problem with the questions as Greta gave them is they assume the atheist is an immoral or amoral, emotionally immature, ignorant nihilist. If someone asks “how can you be moral without god? then their unspoken assumption is that it’s difficult if not impossible to be moral without god. It doesn’t make any difference if the basis for the theist’s morality is fear of Hell or wanting to show love for god, it’s still “you cannot be moral without god.”

    I once answered the “since life without god is pointless, why don’t you kill yourself?” question with “if you’re going to go to Heaven when you die, why don’t you kill yourself and get there sooner?” The theist got quite insulted but could not understand why I felt insulted about being asked a similar question about suicide. It all has to do with privilege.

  101. rolandbouman says

    @aldente,

    I still don’t get it.

    I’m aware of the notion of privilege, but I simply do not see any logical connection that explains how “privilege” automagically translates questions of the form “how can X exist?” into statements of the form “X cannot exist”.

    I am not excluding the possibility that some people that ask “how can X exist” do that with the intention of conveying their bias that “X cannot exist”. But that only demonstrates there are people with said bias. It does not mean that the question “how can X exist” itself harbors the assumption that “X cannot exist”.

    The worst that can be said of the question “how can X exist” is that it leaves room for the possibility that “X cannot exist”. But it leaves just as much room for the possibility that “X can and does exist”.

  102. Al Dente says

    If person A assumes that morality comes from god then it follows that for them without god there can be no morality. So person A sees person B, who doesn’t accept god as the basis for morality, as being necessarily immoral or amoral. The question “how can person B be moral without god?” is like asking “how can person B eat when there is no food?”

  103. says

    @SallyStrange
    In response to #92 – “This is so completely, obviously untrue…”
    Actually, it is completely true. You are the one who controls how you will react to certain statements and lines of questioning. It happens constantly throughout the day. The most common example that I can give you is people working within the customer service industry. They are constantly confronted and berated by irate customers, yet they do not give in and allow themselves to be swept away with emotion. It’s called “will power” and “self-control.” Try as the customer might, to solicit a particular response, their words ultimately have no power.
    Or, better yet, look no further than this thread and the exchange between @rolandbouman and @WithinThisMind. @WithinThisMind tossed some harsh language at @rolandbouman, one can only assume to incite anger within him. Was he offended? Maybe (only @rolandbouman can answer that question). Did @rolandbouman get angry right back? No. Why not? Because he seems to be aware of the fact that they were only “words.” And words, by themselves, cannot compel him to do something if he doesn’t want to do it (i.e. You are the only one who controls how you will react to certain statements and lines of questioning).

    As for the second statement where you replied, “Again, this is clearly untrue…”
    Actually, what I said is not clearly untrue at all. None of us know how a person will react to what we say. The best thing we can do is guess. And I will prove it to you.
    Let’s say you called me a derogatory name. Would I be offended by it? If offense is as obvious as you all say it is, then you should be able to answer this question with a simple “yes” or “no.”
    However, I am willing to wager that you cannot…because you have no idea what will or will not offend me. The only thing that you know for sure is what offends you. And those are two totally different beasts. You won’t really find out whether or not I’m offended until after the statement has been made or the question has been asked and answered.
    And, by the same token, I couldn’t expect you to take responsibility for how I would respond to or perceive what you say (or ask). That responsibility would be on me…not you. Please do not confuse this with absolution for the actual language or words that you have chosen to use when addressing me. You’re still accountable for that. You’re just not responsible for how I take those words. So, if it turns out that your words haven’t actually offended me, then no harm is done. However, if it turns out that your words have offended me, then it would be up to me to make it known so that the situation could be rectified to my satisfaction.

  104. rolandbouman says

    @al dente,

    with all due respect, your argument is flawed.

    “If person A assumes that morality comes from god then it follows that for them without god there can be no morality.”

    You that are making the assumption that A believes god is the exclusive source of morality. There is no reason why they should.

    Even if we assume that A does believe god is the only source of morality, then the situation at hand is one where A is probing for an explanation how it could be possible. How do you know in advance that A is not going to adjust their assumption? I find it plausible they are asking the question precisely because they are willing to take another point of view into account.

    Categorically not answering the question is, in my opinion, letting the opportunity pass by to broaden their mind.

    “So person A sees person B, who doesn’t accept god as the basis for morality, as being necessarily immoral or amoral.”

    So here again, it is you that is assuming that A thinks B is *necessarily* immoral or amoral. If they were convinced about that, then why would they be asking the question? It’s possible that A is asking the question without being willing to adjust their assumption in the first place, or even to make B accept their point of view too. But in that case, it would make A look rather stupid if only B is willing to engage and answer the question with relevant arguments. I don’t see how this in anyway degrades or humiliates B.

    “The question “how can person B be moral without god?” is like asking “how can person B eat when there is no food?”

    It is not. The definition of eating involves consuming food. So the question “how can one eat if there is no food” is trivial. The relation between god and morality is far from self-evident. Even the most stubborn theist that believes morality comes from god will have to explain how, if it were true, it is then possible that some believers do evil. Or that evil exists at all for that matter. This is exactly why “how can you have morality if you don’t believe in god” this is not a trivial question.

  105. Al Dente says

    Many theists believe that morality derives completely and absolutely from their god. William Lane Craig goes so far as to claim that when his god does or orders something quite obviously immoral if done or ordered by anyone else the immoral action automatically becomes moral.

    It’s possible that A is asking the question without being willing to adjust their assumption in the first place, or even to make B accept their point of view too. But in that case, it would make A look rather stupid if only B is willing to engage and answer the question with relevant arguments. I don’t see how this in anyway degrades or humiliates B.

    I’m sorry, I don’t see how denying B’s morality can be anything but degrading towards B (with the caveat that B actually does have a basis for morality, some sociopaths don’t). In her discussion of Question 1 in the OP, Greta makes the argument that morality is part of the human condition and denying B’s morality is denying B’s humanity. As for A looking stupid, that depends on whether A can accept B’s arguments. Lane Craig refuses to admit to any non-god basis for morality and he’s not unique in this opinion.

  106. rolandbouman says

    @al dente,

    “Many theists”

    Aside from the question how many is many, many is not all. Some atheists used to be theists. Asking these kinds of questions may have helped some to decide to stop being theists. I believe that is a good cause, and I think it is a bad idea to categorically declare the question inappropriate for that reason.

    “I’m sorry, I don’t see how denying B’s morality can be anything but degrading towards B”

    Look, you’re making this remark in response to my admission that some A are stupid. It still doesn’t mean everyone asking the question is degrading you. Therefore, it is not the question itself that should be categorically avoided.

    So, the crucial fact in my opinion is that not all A are stupid. I understand that being confronted by those that are can be unpleasant or even worse. I personally have trouble seeing how I could feel degraded by the other’s stupidity but apparently that is not the same for everybody. But this is more a problem of dealing with stupidity than dealing with a particular question or a particular wording thereof.

  107. says

    In #112, @rolandbouman makes it clear that we cannot make the assumption that everyone who asks these particular questions or uses this type of language is doing so out of malice. Some portion of them are. I do not doubt that. However, whatever drives them to say what they say (contempt, spite, vindictiveness, etc) is their problem to deal with. It’s not mine. The words used wouldn’t degrade me at all unless I allow them to…because they are only words. They are simply the product of the person speaking them. Address the person’s behavior and perhaps they could be persuaded to change their attitude (and thus their language). Essentially, you have to deal with each person on an individual level because the problem doesn’t lie within a particular question being asked. The lies behind the basis of the person asking it. And we have no idea what that basis actually is until after the question has been asked and answered.

  108. Al Dente says

    d. It still doesn’t mean everyone asking the question is degrading you. Therefore, it is not the question itself that should be categorically avoided.

    I didn’t say everyone asking the question was degrading me. However there are those who are. Plus intent isn’t magical. If someone asks me “how can you be moral without god?” then I think they’re calling me immoral. Maybe you don’t think that but you’re not me.

    For some reason you refuse to accept that a large number of theists do doubt the humanity of atheists. I can tell you from personal experience that there are people who literally think atheists are immoral because god isn’t dictating morality to us. Sorry if reality doesn’t match your wishful thinking about how many theists view atheists.

  109. kurtcagle says

    In my experience, as both an Atheist and a Pagan (and yes, it is possible to be both), I find it rare that Christians (curiously never any other religion) ask these questions without the intent of evangelizing their beliefs to me. They are not looking to hear my beliefs. Most actually find my beliefs unimportant, and will go out of their way to attempt to ask leading questions so that they can advocate their own beliefs as being the only true ones.

    I discovered after a while that it was a waste of my own time and patience to discuss religion (and increasingly politics) with them. When belief and faith become the magic glue that holds their world together, then rational arguments become meaningless because there is no longer even agreement about the basis of reality that you and the other person use.

  110. rolandbouman says

    @aldente:

    “For some reason you refuse to accept that a large number of theists do doubt the humanity of atheists.”

    The part about “many”, “large number” etc. theists is not something that can be refused or accepted without any data. You have produced none so I simply have no way of knowing what you mean when you refer to these subjective magnitudes.

    The part about how they doubt humanity of theists: I repeatedly admitted that some theists may ask this questions not out of curiosity but to prove atheists got it wrong. Somehow that is not strong enough for you. You want me to accept that they, no less, doubt your and other atheists humanity. While it may possible that some do, it does not match my experience with (mostly christian) believers. On the contrary, the more fundamentalist they are, the more they tend to think no soul is ever lost to Jesus.

    “Sorry if reality doesn’t match your wishful thinking about how many theists view atheists.”

    Ah! So your reality is *the* reality, so anything I say that is contrary to your experience must be wishful thinking. It seems you found the magic formula to settle any argument.

    Look, it seems to me there are 2 things going on.

    On the one hand, you made a logically flawed argument (#106, #108) about what it means when someone asks a particular question. This is a matter of logic and can be settled without reference to any experience. I believe I showed you exactly why your argument was flawed (#107, #110, #112). Perhaps you don’t agree with my reasoning but I haven’t seen you producing any counterargument. So I’m going to go ahead and assume you have none.

    On the other hand, there is a matter of personal experience. I am convinced you have experienced “many” (whatever that means exactly) theists that believe atheists have questionable morale, or even worse. But I have experience data as well, and on a personal level, my experience is just as valid as yours.

    Just because you’ve had more negative experiences than I does not mean you’re right and I am not. My experience does not dismiss yours. But your experience does not dismiss mine either.

    As a little background, I live in the Netherlands, where 40% of people do not “belong to” any specific creed or church. Mind you that that does not mean they are atheist; It does mean that 60% is likely to be theist in some form another, and the vast majority of those are christians.

    It should be clear that based on just statistics I interact on a daily basis with more theists than atheists. But I also actively sought conversations with theists about morality. Rest assured that these dealt with many questions like these. Those were sometimes heated, but nonetheless worthwhile discussions. Discussions that would not be possible when questions like these would be considered inappropriate.

  111. Greta Christina says

    You are the one who controls how you will react to certain statements and lines of questioning. It happens constantly throughout the day. The most common example that I can give you is people working within the customer service industry. They are constantly confronted and berated by irate customers, yet they do not give in and allow themselves to be swept away with emotion. It’s called “will power” and “self-control.” Try as the customer might, to solicit a particular response, their words ultimately have no power.

    Nardo Hall @ #109: There is an enormous difference between what we do in response to other people’s words, and how we feel and think in response to other people’s words. Yes, we have some choices in the former. But we have much less choice in the latter. There is an enormous body of evidence in psychology and sociology demonstrating this — especially when the things being said to us are being said again and again and again. The damaging psychological and emotional effect of sexist words, racist words, homophobic words, transphobic words, classist words, etc. is extremely well-documented. If you’re going to insist on denying this reality, and continue to make your argument based on the denial of this reality, I see no reason why any of us should take your arguments seriously.

    However, whatever drives them to say what they say (contempt, spite, vindictiveness, etc) is their problem to deal with. It’s not mine. The words used wouldn’t degrade me at all unless I allow them to…because they are only words.

    Nardo Hall @ #113: So, to sum up: You don’t care how your words affect other people. You are not willing to take any responsibility for how your words affect people, You are not willing to take other people’s feelings into consideration when you speak. And you aren’t affected by what other people say. So we should listen to your ideas on human communication and take them seriously… why, exactly?

  112. says

    @Greta
    I’m not arguing that there isn’t a difference between what we do and how we feel and think in response to words. I am fully aware that there is. My point is that we are the ones who control these aspects about ourselves in regards to people using merely words against us. Another person has no control, whatsoever, on how I respond to or feel about the words they use when addressing me (unless I give them power over me). The only true power that words have are the power that we give them. I’ll give you another example:
    When I was in grade school, one of my classmates came up to me and started calling me “crybaby.” And he made a little sad face while doing it. He kept at it and at it until eventually I began to cry. He had hurt my feelings. And this was his intent all along. After school, I told my Mom about the incident. And she asked, “But you aren’t a ‘crybaby.’ Are you?” I thought about that for awhile and realized that my Mom was right. I’m not. So, the next time he tried that at school, guess what? I didn’t cry. My feelings weren’t hurt. I was a little sad though. Not for myself…for him. And I haven’t let words control me ever since.

    So, I do care and I know that words adversely affect people. As I stated in #81, “I am very willing to take responsibility for my words.” And if I say something that is truly offensive, then I have no problem apologizing or admitting that I was in the wrong. However, it is pretty absurd to expect me to know what everybody that I speak with finds offensive. I have no idea how the offended party took my words until they make it known to me. After it is made known, then we can move forward and rectify it. This is the case in any situation. The offended party needs to address the problem in order to resolve it on a level that is satisfactory to them.

    This blog post is suggesting that theists should “shut up” already with these questions because “everybody knows” they’re offensive. First of all, it’s presumptuous to assume that you know the frame of mind of everyone who asks these questions and therefore feel that nobody should be allowed to ask them of atheists. You claim that I am somehow not willing to communicate. However, I’m not the one advocating for cutting off the lines of communication here. I feel strongly that people should be able to ask any question they wish. Secondly, you seem to think that I don’t take other people’s feelings into consideration when I speak. Of course I do. I have respect for others. I’m just not going to let their words dictate how I feel or what I do. If someone wants to toy with my emotions, I wish them “good luck.” I put my toys away a loooong time ago.
    And you really don’t have to take my ideas or point-of-view seriously. They were just put out there as something to think about. If you accept them…fine. If you don’t…no worries. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I take them seriously. Because they are a part of my belief system and who I am as a person.

  113. Josh F says

    Greta, I love your piece. It’s very well written and the points you make are well stated. I guess where I disagree is, as an atheist, I very rarely get insulted by any questions or discussions. In fact, I welcome it. For instance, the excellent answers you provided – I’d love to receive these 9 questions and give your 9 answers. No problem. Again, it takes a lot to offend me. One that will do it though is telling me (with absolutely certainty) that my soul will burn in a place called Hell for time infinity after this physical life ends. But, other than that, I’m totally cool with questions. Even the “insulting” ones. Again, thanks for the wonderful piece. :o)

  114. dimosvl says

    Hi everyone. I really dont mean to be rude but i have been reading these comments and i get more and more upset over this discussion. As a white atheist, not that the “white” matters, i dont care of any question you ask me. You can ask me what position my father and mother used when I was conceived and if i know ill tell you, if not i ll ask my parents and then tell you. There is nothing offensive about any of the questions, regardless of race, religion or whatever. If people are uptight and get offended even with hello, then what we gotta stop saying hello? I am not saying homophobic or racial slurs that might offend some one, i am asking a legitimate socialogical question. if you take it the wrong way,your fault.

    @spastic6particle

    Would you ask a White person if you could touch his/her hair? yes i would if something about them was interesting to me

    Black people have this secret elixir which stimulates growth at a radical 72 hour rate. It’s one of the few secrets we’ve kept since slave times.

    I actually find that more offensive than any of the questions regarding homosexuals, sex lives and so forth.
    I am of greek decent, we have been slaves to the Romans, Turks, we have been attacked by Bulgarians, Italians, Germans and in total we were slaves for over 400 years. That slavery card…you gotta lose it. I don’t get upset with any of the above ethnicities because my great great great great great great great grandfather was a slavee to them. I wasnt so who gives a damn.

    I started writting something else and so many thoughts went through my mind, i am sorry if it came a little confusing but bottomline what i wanted to say is that if people get upset with every little thing its their problem.

    We have to stop being too nice and politically correct all the time. Remember there are no bad words, the meaning of the word could be interpreted bad but the word itself is not bad. Likewise….there are no bad questions …..

    I applaud birdman for saying: Ask away, theist, and I’ll help to educate you, my fellow human… And you can even touch my hair if you want…

    Thats the spirit everyone should have…..and why would i do a search on google when anyone with a blog is now a professional writter and have an opinion on everything mostly a wrong or incorrect one when I can get it straight from the horses mouth?

  115. says

    Reading through this list, I take it more as a lesson in etiquette, rather than a list of off limit questions. In most cases, these questions are asked as a means to minimize or undermine atheists. The questions generally have a negative or combative tone. If they were asked from a position of honest curiosity, they would usually be phrased differently: “How did you become atheist” rather than “Aren’t you just angry at god”.

    What I love about this article is that it’s one more piece in the dialog to help atheists gain understanding and acceptance.

  116. umyaya says

    If you are an atheist and I am a Christian, why feel the need to tell me that I am wrong? Because if there is no god, our end of life on earth is the same. If my faith helps me with my life, gives me purpose and helps me be a better version of me, then why the need to take that away? What harm is there in having a pastor show up at a horrible accident and pray for the victims? What is the harm of having the ten commandments listed on the outside of a building? What harm is there in putting a manger scene up at the mall? I guess I don’t understand that part. The physical harm I have seen done to peaceful marches by non-believers is just appalling. I am not saying that is the case for all non-believers but it is for the ones I have encountered.
    I also dislike how you decided to lump all religions into one group when you spoke of how an atheist’s anger comes from your sympathy for the believer due to the “oppression and brutality and misery created by religion”. This is not the case for my faith. My life experiences as a Christian have helped strengthened me as a human, has made me stronger and a more appreciative person. I have learned my morals through my faith and find love and compassion for other humans, not just because of our humanity alone but because God created me to be love others. I do not hate people as my faith teaches me that it is not the human God created that is evil but the sin that lives within that person that is evil. “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin.” God loves all of us and I believe that He also follows this same motto. It has changed my view of people in general and has created a softer heart towards others. I have learned that I am not privileged because of my faith. I do not see less heartache, have less disappointments but have found that they happen in order to make me stronger. Even in the darkest moments of my life, when I didn’t think I could take any more, God knew I could because he knows my strength, even when I don’t. I have learned that I sin each and every day because I am selfish, I am greedy, I am self-absorbed…I am human. I may not be a murderer, but in Gods eyes, all sin is equal. I am no better than the next person. And God knew that about us. This is why he sent his son, Jesus, so that we humans, none of which are perfect enough to enter heaven on their own accord, can be forgiven of each and every sin no matter the degree of sin. This does not mean that we can continue to sin in the same manner, which causes us to strive to be a better person. This is what I believe.
    So, based on my beliefs, do you see anyway that this could “harm” me or others? I agree, that there are many beliefs (both religious and non) out there that do cause harm, degrade people, dehumanize others, cause indoctrination of ideas and can create some truly evil people and situations. I also believe that there are many “Christians” out there that do not live a truly Christian lifestyle and they can cause our faith’s name to be slandered and degraded. It really upsets me that this happens because I find nothing but happiness and love from my faith. So to lump all religions into one bucket is just not fair.
    I am not trying to get rude comments back, I am trying to just be honest and truthful. If you do respond, please do so respectfully. Thank you.

  117. says

    @umyaya
    You have left a number of different points to address, so let me take them one by one.

    When it comes to your own personal life, there is no harm in allowing you to have your beliefs. There is absolutely nothing wrong with personal faith if it brings comfort, structure, and/or strength to you.

    What harm is there in having a manger scene in a mall. There is no harm in that; I can walk on by and ignore it , or even take a different path is it bothers me that much. A mall is a privately owned space and the manger scene is simply a personal expression by the owner or operator. But having the ten commandments posted outside of a court house sends the message that only Christian values are respected here. It alienates any non-Christians who may have business within the courthouse. And such a display violates the First Amendment protection against state established religion.

    I do not deny that religion provided many people with a moral compass. But it is foolish to deny that Christianity has a past which included many acts of brutality. For example, most of the violence that has marked the history of Ireland is rooted in the struggles between Protestants and Catholics (two denominations of the Christian faith). While it is easy to extract the message that “God” loves everyone from the Bible, there is also ample reason to extract messages of homophobia and negative feelings toward people for a variety of reasons. Most everyone hates the message of the Westboro Baptist Church, but their message is coming from the Bible. So the question comes down to which message is the correct message. The answer simply depends on how you read the Bible and which parts you choose to emphasis and which parts to ignore.

    One of the Christian messages I take great exception to is the idea that we are all sinners. Humans make many choices every day about how we are going to live our lives, but there is nothing innately bad about people. Those who become hateful are usually doing so because of the examples set for them by their parents. Those who become violent or criminals are often following the same examples. Or it’s something they learned as a result of things that happened to them in their life, or they have some kind of mental illness which causes them to not have traits like compassion and empathy, which I feel are natural. I believe that people are good by nature. I believe that given a positive example, humans will naturally treat others well; that we will act with empathy and compassion. And I believe this is true whether we are raised with religion or not.

    When you get down to it, the problem that most non-believers have with religious people is not a personal faith in the idea of God. The problem we have is when the believer attempts to impose their beliefs on the rest of society. Basically, you are welcome to your beliefs, but don’t try to force them on me.

  118. drdb says

         A word of unsolicited advice for @Greta Christina, @WithinThisMind and everyone else still making an honest, reasoned effort to “…get through…” to the likes of @rolandbouman, @Nardo Hall, @leap, @Pen and others: just give it up. Although they pay a lot of lip-service (well, “finger-service”, anyway) to the notion that they’re only here to try to “…inform the discussion…” or “…further the debate…”, that’s a load of disingenuous BUSHWA, to put it as kindly and gently as I can.
     
         Their whole raison d’etre is “provoke-provoke-provoke”, then hide behind the same pseudo-philosophical rock Howard Stern crawls under whenever he becomes A Jerk Too Far: “It is impossible for me to GIVE offense, only for you to TAKE offense! Therefore, I’m free to spew any patently-insulting, confrontational crap that dribbles out of my cake-hole, with absolute impunity and no apologies whatsoever, and it’s entirely your OWN fault if you choose to react badly, so there, too, anyway!”
     
         The infantile behavior of these “preda-trolls” is as predictable as gravity. In this case, out one side of their faces, they claim to be virtually “…un-insultable…”, because their “…verbal Kung Fu…” is so very much stronger than yours – you poor, weak, pathetic creatures, you! Yet, out the other side of their (two) face(s), they absolutely, positively will NEVER relent in their endless, specious contention that you have grievously insulted them by DARING to presume to speak for them on (fill-in-the-blank hotbutton-subject-du-jour).
     
         They’re “… Unaffected By Opinions…”, “…Only Deal In Facts…” and/or “…Have Absolutely No Personal Stake In This Issue…” which, of course, makes them the very spirit of “…Impartiality…”. Fascinating, then, that such “…Completely Neutral, Utterly Disinterested Parties…” will KEEP ON COMING BACK, ad infinitum, ad nauseum – for just exactly as long as they can “…get a rise…” out of someone!
     
         Naturally, they must ignore, at all costs, people like @atheist, @antialiasis and @freemage, who routinely hit the nail(s) squarely and repeatedly on the head(s). For, to do otherwise would be tacit admission that all their “cleverness” amounts to nothing but the braying of jackasses.
     
         Also predictably, they will now make every effort to jump down MY digital throat, using all the usual tired, worn-out, ad hominem attacks, without a single HONEST argument to present.
     
         I don’t even directly engage or address “asstrolls” like these anymore. I just destroy them in place and move on. The only real solution is to lock them out if they rear their ugly, little, pointy heads too many times. Then they can go whine on someone else’s blog about being “…innocent victims of censorship…”.
     
         In point of fact, however, they’re simply victims of their own recto-cranial impaction… but then, that’s how they “…choose to react…” to the world.

  119. Greta Christina says

    drdb @ #126: I very much appreciate this information. Seriously. But I’m also going to ask you to please abide by my comment policy, and not aim personal insults at other commenters in my blog (such as “The infantile behavior of these “preda-trolls”,” “Yet, out the other side of their (two) face(s),” “t all their “cleverness” amounts to nothing but the braying of jackasses,” “I don’t even directly engage or address “asstrolls” like these anymore,” ” if they rear their ugly, little, pointy heads too many times.”). Thank you.

  120. drdb says

    Roger that, Greta; it’s your world here, and I’m just an interested guest.
     
         However, having observed this identical (mis)behavior, literally hundreds – perhaps thousands – of times, over the course of more than two decades, across countless blogs and subjects, I’ve noted that simply “calling them out, in no uncertain terms”, for their undeniably-churlish conduct, frequently either “straightens them out” (if they’re actually trying for “honest engagement”, and just didn’t notice how nasty their zeal and passion had led them to inadvertently become) or “runs them off” (if they’re deliberately and maliciously trolling, for their own puerile “amusement”), without need for further action….

  121. rolandbouman says

    @drdb It’s quite simple.

    I am an atheist.

    When someone – like Greta – steps up and claims to represent the collective – atheists, and address their audience, giving them directives on how to treat the members of that collective, then I should be able to voice my disagreement with that treatment. After all, this plea not to ask atheists certain questions may affect they way people treat me in a way I neither endorse nor asked for.

    For some reason, you seem to think this kind of critique is “specious contention” borne from the feeling that Greta has “grievously insulted” those that criticise. And you already presume that any counterpoint to your statement is a “jump down [your] throat” and an “ad hominem attack”. And to top it off, you argue that the “only real solution” is to “lock them out”, that is, if you didn’t “destroy” them already.

    It seems to me you’re basically saying you only want to interact with people that agree with you. Frankly this attitude reminds me of exactly the kind of fanaticism that scares me in the religious fringe. It’s your right to behave like this if you really want to. However it’d be really great if you could make an effort to make clear that you’re not representing all atheists. Thank you so much in advance.

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply