The bear and the atheist

At my bridge club, on one of the days of the week, there is a tradition of someone, who is I think the oldest person in the group, starting the session with a joke before we start playing. Her jokes are usually raunchy and pretty funny, and she tells them well. But on days when she is absent, someone else will tell a joke and this week the person told one about an atheist and a bear. It is an old joke, the kind that gets circulated that you can read here. I had heard this same joke about ten years earlier and wrote about it then.

It struck me this time that although the atheist is supposed to be the butt of the joke whom we are supposed to laugh at, Christianity comes off worse, with their God being portrayed as vengeful and vindictive with a cruel sense of humor, hardly the loving and forgiving deity that is advertised nowadays. The atheist, on the other hand, comes across as a reasonable, honest, and principled person, not pretending to have a religious conversion even as he faces death. I wonder if the Christians who like to relate this joke realize this.

I was also amused because I do not think that the people in my bridge club (other than my bridge partner) know that I am an atheist. In general, I do not make a point of talking about my beliefs unless it comes up naturally in conversation. I know and like the woman who told the joke. I wonder if she would have made the joke if she knew about my lack of belief in gods.


  1. brucegee1962 says

    Your story almost made me want to see an alternate ending acted out:

    Christian joke-teller: …and the bear said, “Oh Lord, for this meal I am about to receive make me truly thankful.”
    (Other Christians all chuckle.)
    Atheist: I don’t get it.
    CJT: Umm…see, the bear is going to eat the atheist anyway, so, ummm…
    Atheist: Oh, I see now. So the atheist in the story was under the impression that Christians were kind and merciful, but he finds out at the end that there isn’t any difference between a Christian bear and an atheist bear. They’re both just as likely to eat you. Yes, I get the joke now. Very amusing.
    (The atheist laughs uproariously, while all the Christians look shocked.)

  2. Reginald Selkirk says

    And then there’s the oddity that the atheist wishes to remain a nonbeliever, even though he now has direct evidence of God’s existence.

  3. Trickster Goddess says

    That joke makes no sense at all. Why would the atheist insist on maintaining his disbelief despite irrefutable proof of the existence God via a direct encounter? And why would he think making the bear religious would stop it from eating him?

    I don’t get it.

  4. Silentbob says

    Yes it makes no sense. It’s not just that the athiest ignores direct evidence, but the “atheist” asks God to perform a miracle in the belief that it will be done.

  5. Holms says

    Having just read it for the first time… why did the atheist not wish to be transported safely home?

  6. Physpostdoc says

    I don’t see how Christian God comes across as vengeful — it’s the atheist who comes across as idiotic and self-degrading in a way (because if he with his flawed logic believed that turning the bear religious would make it kinder and prevent it from attacking the atheist, there there is a subtext here — i.e. even an atheist believes that beings without a religion-based core belief system are not capable of displaying finer moral qualities such as kindness).

  7. steve oberski says

    This joke, and the xtian apologetics* industry in general, is not aimed at atheists.

    It’s meant to keep the xtian rank and file in line, ensure that they never question their beliefs and never look outside their bubble.

    Given that their belief system is not evidence based, internal inconsistencies in their “jokes” and arguments are a feature, not a bug.

    * I am always amused by this term as used to describe xtian rationalization of their belief system, I think that subconsciously xtians realize that they have a lot to apologize for.

  8. petern says

    TG at #4…

    Like the atheist in the joke, if I were finally presented with irrefutable evidence for the existence of gawd, I would certainly become a believer, but I’ll be damned if I would ever worship something like that.

  9. OverlappingMagisteria says

    I’m wondering if the joke may have originally been aimed at a different group, instead of atheists. Oftentimes, whoever is the butt of the joke gets swapped out depending on who is telling it. There doesn’t seem to be anything in the joke that requires it to be an atheist and, as others have pointed out, having an theist makes the setup awkward to tell.

    I’d say that making the joke be about a religious person and a bear would make more sense. It explains why they start calling out to God.

  10. Deepak Shetty says

    The humor in the joke is the twist at the end rather than the Atheist being the butt of it (you could replace the Atheist by say a Muslim and still arrive at the same joke). It looks to be a combination of Scorpion and the frog + death by oingo boingo.

    @Trickster goddess

    Why would the atheist insist on maintaining his disbelief

    The Atheist says it would be hypocritical to ask for help , not that he still disbelieves.

    Needs a believer of a different religion though.

  11. Reginald Selkirk says

    @11: The twist at the end is the punchline, but there has to be a setup before the punchline. And in this case, it is based on the frequent and casual defamation that atheists don’t believe, not for lack of evidence, but because they want to escape the moral strictures of religion.

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