What have you done that atheists can’t?

Ah, Glenn Beck: bizarre as always. He’s now claiming that Wolf Blitzer Was Set Up, that “forces of spiritual darkness” maneuvered him into asking an atheist on air about whether she wanted to thank the Lord, just so she could denounce God publicly. Now everything is a conspiracy theory to these guys.

But what I also found interesting in his long ramble is his challenge to Christians to prove themselves worthy by getting out there and doing something that atheists can’t. This sounds like the inverse of Christopher Hitchens’ challenge: “Name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer.” There is an assumption that somehow, Beck’s Christian followers have some mysterious capability that atheists don’t, although he never specifies what it is. I’d love to hear it, though.

Perhaps…standing by and doing nothing in the face of tragedy other than praying, and somehow feeling self-righteous about it? They do seem to have an almost magical lock on sanctimony.


  1. Viktor Brown says

    …So, basically, he’s saying that it was Satan who had Wolf ask the atheist? Wow, how sensible of him. /sarcasm

  2. OptimalCynic says

    “his challenge to Christians to prove themselves worthy by getting out there and doing something that Christians can’t.”

    Which one of those should be non-Christians?

  3. Oswald Banecroft says

    But the Christians do have a magical power. They have the power to raise the dead and heal the sick, they simply do not do this because they hate everyone, unless, of course, they do not do it because everything they believe is a lie… But, seriously, how likely is that?!

  4. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    If someone’s fucking stupid enough to believe in Satan there’s no hope for them, since doing so means absolutely anything could be deception. I’ve never heard a Christian come up with a good answer to the question “If Satan is real, how do you know Jesus wasn’t him in disguise as part of a plan to turn people from the true faith of Judaism?”

  5. says

    #2: Fixed. I’m jet-lagged all to hell, it’s mid-morning here in Romania while my body is screaming at me that it’s the middle of the night and I should be sleeping, so make allowances for the next few days. I’m going to be worse than usual.

  6. OptimalCynic says

    Thanks PZ, much appreciated. Very interesting challenge, I suspect Beck is setting himself up for failure here.

  7. consciousness razor says

    There is an assumption that somehow, Beck’s Christian followers have some mysterious capability that atheists don’t, although he never specifies what it is. I’d love to hear it, though.

    It’s probably believing in a god. That’s the obvious thing that atheists can’t do. Since believing in gods is what makes them exist, it is powerful magic indeed. The beliefs don’t last very long, so what they need to do is get a bunch of Christians on CNN, so that Blitzer can inquisitively tell them what to believe on TV. Then, many will see it and be reminded to believe again all at once. In no time, we’ll have more than enough gods to fight back the forces of spiritual darkness (no relation to black or brown people).

  8. bwells says

    Does the saying, “Two hands working can do more than a thousand in prayer” come to mind?

  9. says

    Of course they’re scared of us! We’ve got the powers of Satan and iron, two things their god is helpless against.

  10. Viktor Brown says

    Of course we scare them! They’re entire world view is built on the foundation that they are not only correct, but it is obvious they are correct, thus anyone who disagrees threatens everything they believe in.

  11. PDX_Greg says

    One obvious power they have over us, and they wield it all the time, is to blame all of their anti-social beliefs and behaviors on God, un-ironically.

    The power we have over them is that we can sleep at night without fear of supernatural demons or eternal hellfire. Yep, we are absolutely free to be decent human beings to everyone without inviting supernatural malevolence. How liberating is that?

  12. Viktor Brown says

    …That’s not too different from, I dunno, Objectivists blaming stuff like that on collectivism or Stalinists blaming stuff like that on capitalism. We atheists have our crazy wings, too.

  13. Banecroft says


    Wait! What editions rule set are we operating under? I am so confused. Please say 2nd Edition!

  14. sundiver says

    NOW everything is a conspiracy? The RWA christers where I work have been calling everything a conspiracy for years.

  15. says

    Satan has it out for poor Wolf, obviously. First he led him to buy into the “dark-skinned individual” crap John King spewed forth in Boston, and now he made him walk straight into an atheist in the middle of a flattened neighborhood.

    Beck is right, I’m seeing the signs here. Rise and shine, Anderson Cooper!

  16. Banecroft says

    Wait, when did god become the troll gods? Oh, yeah, sorry, stupid question.

  17. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    The RWA christers where I work have been calling everything a conspiracy for years. – sundiver

    Well if they’re right, everything is a conspiracy – between Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spook.

  18. John Morales says

    Nah, it’s an open secret that Satan is a sockpuppet of God.

    (He gets to play Santa at Christmas!)

  19. okstop says

    @Banecroft (#16):

    First edition we can choose totally broken classes (Beastmaster, Duellist, et al), second edition we can choose totally broken kits (Archer, Bladesinger, Witch, et al). Six in one…

  20. says

    Actually, I do have the answer. Here’s something that Christians can and allegedly do all the time, that no atheist can ever do: get killed for being a Christian and never raise a hand in self defense. According to many Christians, allegedly getting killed by the millions (hint: you’ll probably never find those numbers confirmed by any non-Christian news source or report), that’s a virtue and an achievement worthy of admiration in and of itself.
    If it were true, I’d give them that the killed people managed to stand by a particular interpretation of Christian philosophy in the face of death. But I wonder what they think the actual accomplishment is there. Perhaps the murdered Christians would’ve loved to have weapons to defend themselves. They’re not around to tell what they actually thought when the murderers came in the night. Perhaps the claimed numbers of martyred civilians in places like Sudan are merely the result of government-backed militias and army being vastly superior to the mostly unarmed minorities they’re trying to suppress and drive away, not evidence of a lack of will to resist. In the case of Sudan, it’s a fact that the Arab muslims are just as keen on destroying black minority muslim populations for tribal and racist reasons, as they are against the Christian minority. As usual, Christians like to purport that they’re the sole target and that it’s all just because of Jesus. Sudan is also the refuge of people like Kony, whose militias slaughter and enslave entire villages in the name of Christ. I can see how people would join an anti-Christian force for revenge, and then taking it out on innocent villagers who happen to be of a largely Christianized ethnic minority. We all know how warmongers lie to the people, inciting them to join the fight because they’re the victims – on both, or more sides.
    If the “power of God” manifests in people who die helplessly, and that’s his most brilliant achievement on this world as some Christians would apparently claim, then how can they call him “almighty” and “loving” with any sense of consistency?
    Maybe the secret Christian superpower is actually to master a sort of logic that is inaccessible to anyone but religionists.

  21. randay says

    Not to worry, today CNN was able to find a couple of victims of the tornado who prayed and thanked Gawd for saving them and killing their neighbors instead, even one who was saved by two volunteers looking for victims.

    Another Christian superpower is killing each other. Some have weapons and the others don’t, as in Rwanda where armed Christians managed to massacre a couple of million unarmed Christians. This act was provoked and encouraged by Catholic priests, some of whom are on trial for crimes against humanity.

  22. Christoph Burschka says

    My favorite quote was this:

    Because, quite honestly, if there is no difference, I mean, wouldn’t you rather stay at home on Sunday? Wouldn’t you rather just go ahead and just do what you wanted to do and not listen to some invisible guy in the sky?

    It’s stuff like that which blurs the line of Poe’s Law.

  23. unbound says

    To be honest, if such a challenge gets the lazy xtians in our neighborhood to start actually helping the community, it would be welcome relief.

    My wife and I (both atheists) do far more for our local community than over 90% of the local xtian population (that is a very conservative estimate). We are constantly short of volunteers, so my wife and I end up helping well beyond what we signed up for. And the only snotty volunteers we have to deal with are invariably xtians (a sad fact of this area).

    There are definitely some good xtians that help out, but the vast majority seem to be nothing more than self-centered asses.

    So, with that in mind, something that most xtians can do that our local atheists don’t seem to be able to do, is watch what goes on around them and do absolutely nothing to help their community (i.e. their neighbors) all the while complaining.

  24. says

    This is fascinating to me as Glenn has centered in on one of the reasons I deconverted and one of the things I throw back at the smug theists when they ask me to name something that would cause me to believe in God. (The expected answer is of course me suddenly realizing that atheism is a faith-belief.)

    Theists cannot heal the sick or “cure” homosexuality or predict the future. They fail to lift lifestyle related afflictions like unwanted pregnancies, STDs, crime, drug and alcohol abuse, child abuse, or domestic violence. Despite much talk of “prayer changing the pray-er” there’s not a jot or tittle of evidence that religion changes behavior better than secular support groups.

    Compared to using evidence-based education and behavior mod techniques, religion crashes and burns. Instead theists use their belief in God’s plan and God’s forgiveness to justify doing all the horrible stuff they wanted to do in the first place.

    Have at it Mr. Beck. I assume you will find a way to declare your experiment a success, no matter the result. Cynical atheists will call you a hypocrite, and maybe even a cynical Christian or two will say Satan orchestrated the whole mess, but as a lover of truth I applaud your effort.

  25. John Morales says


    There are definitely some good xtians that help out, but the vast majority seem to be nothing more than self-centered asses.

    But then, if the vast majority of people are Christians, one would expect that.

  26. doublereed says

    Really? How does Beck know that Wolf wasn’t set up by God because he wanted people to know he doesn’t exist?

  27. says

    Perhaps…standing by and doing nothing in the face of tragedy other than praying, and somehow feeling self-righteous about it?

    You left out loudly proclaiming that said tragedy is God’s punishment of unspecified wicked people. Didn’t see that one coming, didja, smart guy?

  28. haitied says

    I think Wolf just asked a fuckin stupid, thoughtless question meant to kindle a fire in the hearts of his unthinking audience. Then, of course, Beck cries Wolf >.>

  29. hillaryrettig says

    The one’s easy:

    1) I donated a kidney to a fundamentalist Christian man (who also happened to be a phenomenal animal rescuer). He was one of around a hundred people that year in the US to get a kidney from a stranger, and so although he did see this as a god-given miracle, in his thank you note he wrote, ‘I can’t believe the most godly gift I’ve ever gotten is from an atheist.”

    (Kidney donating is awesome, btw: I highly recommend it to rational types who are not medically squeamish. The ROI for a little inconvenience is phenomenal, and the experience is sublime. Here’s my article on the experience, and email me if you have questions or want support: http://www.hillaryrettig.com/2011/03/28/vegankidneydonation/ )

    2) My ex and I not only took in four foster kids (four teenaged Sudanese refugees aka Lost Boys), but for a year I went to church with them so they would feel supported by a mom and not alone among strangers. // I wonder how many religious people would either (a) not go to church or (b) go to a radically different service to support differently-believing kids. (I was born Jewish, btw, and during Easter service got to hear the part about how my people betrayed Jesus.)

    Or even foster the kids to start with, of course – because despite the awesome liberal example Jesus sets, most religious people seem to think that if they throw a can of beans in the food pantry each week they’re set, charity-wise. We lived in an affluent suburb, then, and I got used to church people with many times the money and house that we had telling us what saints we were for fostering — and then listing all the many reasons that they could never dream of opening their own underused McMansion up to a needy kid.

  30. blf says

    I seem to remember that Jesus actually rattled off a list of miracles that Christians should be able to perform.

    Not sure if there is an actual “list” per se, but basically yes:

    John 14:12 (KJV): “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.”

    Xianity sites spin this madly. For instance, Don’t New Testament Passages Say Christians Will Perform Greater Miracles than Christ?:

    Jesus wasn’t saying that His disciples would be able to perform all of the supernatural acts that He did through the power of the Holy Spirit (although they did perform miracles). …

    Love the contradictions there: Only applies to disciples, who can’t do miracles, except they did.

  31. Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

    So this poor woman barely got away with her life and the life of her baby, gets interviewed by a jerk who assumes her to be theist and handles the situation with grace and she’s the bad guy? If an atheist who has just been made homeless and is smiling and holding a baby scares Beck, he is a cowardly creep. Plenty of theists were interviewed. It isn’t as if one atheist drowned out their voice but the persecution complex with people like Beck is at MRA levels of ridiculous.

  32. spike13 says

    Hmm…something christians(or thiests in general) can do that Athiests cannot…
    wearing magic underwear immediately springs to mind,
    engaging in polygamy,then claiming religious bias when going to jail,
    filling children’s heads with non sense, superstition and fear,and be publicly lauded for it,
    call your backyard shed a church and use it as a tax dodge,
    tell devestated parents that the tragic death of their child was “gods will” and then be offended by the hatred in their eyes,
    and my personal favorite,
    publicly putting a babies penis in your mouth,infecting him with a fatal case of herpes,then having the mayor of New York defend you on television.

    See it’s not that hard! I’m sure if we put our heads together we could make a quite sizable list.
    C’mon Glenn next time give us a hard question to answer.

  33. spike13 says

    Oh, to clarify, I may have a few pair of holey underwear,but not that kind of holy.

  34. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    There’s nothing mysterious about Beck’s attitude, and it doesn’t require mental gyrations to contort it into something sensible. The obvious, direct meaning is as plain as day and it’s important to grok that:

    This is all about My Tribe, My Brand, Making Sure Our Flag Signifies We Are a Better Group than That Other Group. It has nothing to do with Christianity per se, except in sofaras religions are a great vehicle for fomenting in-group brand loyalty.

    It’s just the same as bigots who say gay marriage will hurt their straight marriage. Why is everyone so baffled over this, and why do we try so hard to tease out how that could “logically” be possible? That’s not what the bigots are really saying. It’s simple when you remember it’s a basic, knee-jerk, defensive reaction against the dilution of their “brand.” That brand being We’re the Culturally Favored In-Group Defined by The Fact That We Get Things and Privileges Others Don’t.

    When you give those things and privileges to others it doesdilute their brand because to them the value in their brand is that it gets things other, lesser brands don’t get to have.

    Yes, it’s that venal, petty, and ugly. No philosophical pondering required to understand it.

  35. says

    I believe we may be looking for Matthew 28:17-18

    17And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 18They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

    I really can’t recommend a controlled test with the snakes or the poisons. People do try the snakes and periodically learn the hard way. Anyone who tried the deadly poison has failed to write up the results. Casting out devils requires a definitive test for the existence of a devil and speaking with new tongues is much easier than understanding new tongues.

    Laying hands on the sick has been tested and hasn’t held up too well.

  36. rr says

    More Christian super powers:

    achieving a satisfying sense of accomplishment from doing nothing
    neutralizing the reasoning ability of the human brain
    slowing societal progress to a crawl, or even reversing it!
    making life cheap and disposable
    justifying and committing torture, murder, war and genocide (just like Yahweh!)

  37. spike13 says

    LOL IT.
    It always struck me when i hear someone say ” I’ll pray for you”, what they’re really saying is:
    “hey god! you got this right?…well my jobs done…

  38. Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

    Something Christians can do that I can’t…

    I can’t pretend that an innocent member of an oppressed minority who died by execution would support the death penalty in a system that most often takes the lives of oppressed minorities, some of whom are innocent.

    I can’t wear a tiny replica of a torture device around my neck and call it a symbol of hope.

  39. Trebuchet says

    Most fundies would actually agree that Beck himself is not Christian, being of the Mormon persuasion. Of course they held their noses and voted for Romney anyhow.

  40. RFW says

    I was going to say this:

    Only xters can successfully con believers into believing nonsense and coughing up money directly into the cons’ pockets. Atheists can’t do that.

    But then I thought about something I posted a day or two ago on the Joe.My.God blog (on blogspot) about the people who foment homophobia, asserting a variety of pseudo-religious reasons: those haters-in-chief almost certainly don’t believe a word of the hatred they spew. And guess what? I can do that too! By the powers invested in me by the Most High and Holy God, I declare homosexuals the enemies of God! Send money!

    This applies, inter alia, to Michelle Bachmann, Bryan Fischer, Brian Brown, Oral Roberts, and all the rest.

    PS: About conspiracies: by definition, conspiracies are conducted in secret, Ordinary legislation and regulation are done in the full light of day and hence cannot be conspiracies. Anybody disbelieving this is directed to the Federal Register and the Congressional Record.

  41. spike13 says

    I’ve often wondered about the fetish that christians have for homosexuals. Why does that particular subject send them into such spasms of foam-flecked rage? Their answer may be that “It’s a mortal sin.”,but there’s a ton of other mortal sins, many of which their congregations are more than likely guilty of. Why spend so much time railing on and on about one issue?
    I remember back when breibart was just getting his rage pages started, I wandered over to have some fun.
    Of course one of the subjects was “gay marriage”, I left a post asking:
    “In what way does two homosexuals getting hitched effect your life in any way, shape or form?”
    i’m sure you can imagine the avalanche of half- formed thoughts and venting of spleen,
    Never got an answer to the question though.

  42. says

    1. Sex
    2. Homosexuality is a natural but harmless human variation that occurs when certain genetic traits are expressed in certain conditions. The traits in question appear to be advantageous for selection in some conditions, but are a disadvantage when their expression results in a propensity not to reproduce. The population as a group is advantaged but the individuals may not be. But this sort of poorly planned genetics conflicts with the idea that God has a plan of innies and outies for each and every one of us. This leads to cognitive dissonance, which in turn leads to hostility.
    3. Sex
    4. Anal sex.
    5. Hot lesbian sex.

    Did I miss anything?

  43. spike13 says

    #50 Christine.
    lol,,,very good! think you covered it!
    Maybe it’s just me,but, i can’t see spending that much time worrying about what others do.
    micro-megalomania is one hell of a sickness.

  44. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Now everything is a conspiracy theory to these guys.

    Of course.
    Religion is a belief in a benevolent conspiracy. If god and all good men and true working together cannot get what they want, the only explanation is that there is a malevolent conspiracy working against them.

  45. RFW says

    In reply to spike13 #49, 24 May 2013 at 11:03 am (UTC -5)

    I’ve often wondered about the fetish that christians have for homosexuals. Why does that particular subject send them into such spasms of foam-flecked rage?

    That’s a good question, and you’re not the first to ponder it. [The Joe.My.God blog often touches on possible answers, btw.]

    Some possibilities:

    1. The haters-in-chief used to use the dirty commie russkies to stimulate donations, but when the Soviet Union disintegrated that no longer washed, so they adopted gays as their pet hate, in order to keep their cash flow in good health. This hypothesis is, btw, testable by examining the haters’ track records in the period from 1985 to 2000, to see if they actually switched from berating the reds to berating the gays. Some of them — I think Pat “Nutbar” Robertson — still go after “commies” from time to time.

    2. The dupes were very likely indoctrinated in childhood about “queers” and the lessons took very well, so the haters-in-chief are in a way merely throwing fuel on a smoldering fire.

    3. Then there’s the “ick factor”. Some of the haters have a pathological obsession with anal sex and feces, so much so that one can’t help but wonder if they’ve ever changed a baby’s diaper. (The simple truth is that if you engage in anal sex, sometimes shit happens, but when it does, most people simply pause, clean up (and clean out), and carry on where they left off.) Normal people, gay or straight, don’t think much, if at all, about others’ sex lives, but the haters have what are called “dirty minds.”

    4. And of course a lot of that “foam-flecked rage” is nothing more than an act. This is item #1 in different words.

    Generally speaking, you must presume that the haters-in-chief don’t actually believe a word they say, and dismiss them as nothing more dirty-minded grifters.

  46. grumpyoldfart says

    Spike13 @ #49

    I’ve often wondered about the fetish that christians have for homosexuals. Why does that particular subject send them into such spasms of foam-flecked rage?

    It’s the “us and them” thing. Our country is great, your country is shit. Our football team is good, your team is not. Our sexual preference is godly, yours comes from Satan.

    The church leaders could have chosen any smaller group and used them as the group to be hated. In the past it was Jews, or blacks, or orientals. It is no longer politically correct, however, to attack those groups, so the church leaders searched about and discovered that homosexuals do not have a lot of mainstream supporters. That made them an easy target and so the parishioners were directed to attack them.

    And the parishioners attack with great pleasure because the “us and them” routine excuses every mistake they’ve ever made. Their attitude is: If we were in charge, things would be wonderful, but they (the gays) are taking over and ruining everything for us – so it is right for us to attack them.

  47. Azuma Hazuki says

    Given the way women have been treated, all over the world and for almost all of human history, if sexual orientation was a choice we’d all be lesbians. That right there ought to be proof enough to these people.

  48. spike13 says

    #54 RFW
    #55 grumpyoldfart

    Excellent points both of you.
    Aronra I believe, made a point that religion is inverse, love= hate, tolerance = intolerance.
    Sad that they are allowed to shape young minds.

  49. robster says

    Hey PZ, why capitalise the “Lord”? This suggests at least a lingering respect of some sort for an absurd nonsense. This mythic figure is the lord of no one.

  50. John Morales says


    robster, the capitalisation is for the same reason God is capitalised: it’s functionally a proper noun, kinda like “the President”, and English capitalises those.

    (The only lingering respect exhibited is for English orthographic conventions)

  51. Ichthyic says

    “forces of spiritual darkness” maneuvered him into asking an atheist on air about whether she wanted to thank the Lord,

    yeah, those “forces of spiritual darkness”?

    those would be the dozens of other previous interviewees that told Wolf how they “thank the Lord” they survived, making Wolf surprised when he ran into someone who actually DIDN’T repeat the mantra.

    so if you’re really looking for those forces of spiritual darkness, best look to your own house, moron.

  52. Ichthyic says

    It’s the “us and them” thing.


    xianity was designed from the start to appeal to authoritarian personalities.

  53. orchestrator says

    Haha, I read the last word of PZ’s post, “sanctimony”, after viewing the last post, the video with the periodic table song, and my brain immediately thought, “sanctimony – isn’t that one of the lanthanides?”

  54. microraptor says

    Given the way women have been treated, all over the world and for almost all of human history, if sexual orientation was a choice we’d all be lesbians. That right there ought to be proof enough to these people.

    See, you’re talking about gay women, which is, in the minds (if you’ll pardon the exaggeration) of these people is totally different from gay men because there’s no penis involved. According to these people, women only become lesbians because they haven’t met the right man yet.