7 Things Not to Say to the Atheist in Your Family

Dec 17, 2014

By Herb Silverman

I recently gave tips on how atheists can peaceably interact with religious family members at Thanksgiving. Now, here are tips for religious family members on what not to say to an atheist during holidays or any other family gathering. Next week, I’ll suggest what they should say.

I hope these tips help make family visits more pleasant for everyone. I also hope they won’t deter theists from talking about religion with atheists. Nothing here precludes having a respectful and friendly conversation with your family atheist, but more about that next time.

Here are seven things you shouldn’t say to the atheist in your family:

1. “Why are you angry with God?”

Atheists are no angrier with God than with the Tooth Fairy. Only God-believers can be angry with God. Some people might have become atheists because they are not satisfied with theodicyexplanations about why a good and powerful god would allow so much evil in the world, but most have become atheists primarily because they find no evidence for the existence of any gods.

2. “You’ll be a believer when you have a big problem.”

This is an offshoot of the “no atheists in foxholes” cliché. (See, for instance, the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.) Atheists tend to address problems by looking for practical solutions to resolve them, and through supportive friends, family, and medical doctors. Many believers “talk” to God only when they have a problem, so such a comment is more applicable to theists than to atheists.


 

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19 comments on “7 Things Not to Say to the Atheist in Your Family

  • “You are not a man, or ever will be, if you do not believe in God”. If my father had been educated, I believe this would have ended our relationship.



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  • Deathbed pronouncements are well known to be inaccurate or just fanciful but Voltaire’s alleged response is a good one.

    When asked by a priest if he rejected satan and all his works blah blah.
    He replied, “This is no time to be making new enemies”.



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  • My grandma: “And she’s married, and she does it in front of her husband and kids! They are sinners and feel no shame, because they’re atheists they are all evil.” About a male family member and his female friend. D:



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  • Well, I can only see two things and not seven. How does one see the full article? The page says, “Read the full article by clicking the name of the source located below.” There are six things below that may possibly be “sources” and none of them seem to work.



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  • The highlighted area above the social media buttons. They should read “via source,” (in orange) right next to them is the author of the article as well as the source. It is “Faith Street.”



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  • I suffered a heart attack in 2008 in which I had “died”. Many believers talk about “going toward the light”. Brain activity continues for some time after cardiac arrest. All I remember was darkness until POW! THAT HURT! (Was the jolt from a defibrillator). The mind prone to belief would probably have “seen the light”. Such a person would have thanked god. I thank the doctors at Scripps Hospital and the engineers at the Boston Scientific Company.



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  • I agree some of these comments appear to be rather ignorant but they are often a natural reaction to a family member who is perceived as having ‘strayed from the truth’, and are likely to be said lovingly and compassionately. I’m eager to see what Herb Silverman suggests we Christians should say to our ‘errant’ loved ones!



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  • “So, you don’t believe in God but you believe in talking monkeys?” Was said to me very recently by a very close family member!



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  • 14
    Russell says:

    This doesn’t understand the christian position. You need to know your opponent more.
    The problem is that that it is against their religion to not believe that Atheists hate God.
    According to Christian theology everyone knows that the Christian God is real but they are just rebelling against him so that they can sin.

    Christians simply must believe this because otherwise God would be punishing innocent people just for being ignorant. The way Christians get around The Problem of Non belief is by believing that it doesn’t exist. There are no actual atheists in the Christian view.

    Read Romans.
    “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them…
    For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

    They also must believe we are foolish and not capable of doing good by Gods standard of that word.
    In psalms
    “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.”

    This goes against observable evidence but when has that stopped a true believer?

    What they have chosen to take on faith makes it so that they must think all kinds of nasty things about us.
    It means we can’t be friends.
    We could get along with them but, if they really believe their doctrine, they cannot get along with us.
    This is the divisive cost of faith.

    What they need to justify with their religion is a good God making hell.
    If they are good people, and they believe in hell, they can’t believe there are innocently lost ignorant people going to hell.
    And, if they love us, why wouldn’t they work every moment to talk us out of the hatred of God they need to believe we must be fostering?

    Your tips for Christians to get along with atheists, is asking them to just not be Christian.



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  • Russell Dec 19, 2014 at 11:32 am

    This doesn’t understand the christian position. You need to know your opponent more.

    The problem is , that there isn’t a “Christian position”. There are multitudes of denominations, sects and individuals, whose beliefs are totally diverse, and usually self-contradictory.

    (If you think about it, there was no Adam, no Eve, and no “Fall” so the whole myth of sacrificed messiahs and “redemption” falls apart!)
    The sillier the nonsense, the stronger the “faith” required to believe it!

    The problem is that it is against their religion to not believe that Atheists hate God.
    According to Christian theology everyone knows that the Christian God is real but they are just rebelling against him so that they can sin.

    Try telling Buddhists, Shintoists, and Hindus there is a default Xtian god!

    At this level of bigotry and ignorance , it is difficult to have a reasoned discussion.

    Your tips for Christians to get along with atheists, is asking them to just not be Christian.

    It is the fundamentalists’ inability to see the viewpoint of others which is the problem.

    Short of educating them in the longer term, there is nothing atheists can do ease this mental block! Fortunately many Xtians don’t have this fundamentalist problem.



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  • Haha… that sounds like an old aunt of mine. In The Netherlands we have this saying: “the eye always looks away”. I believe it compares the English “pot and kettle” saying. 😉



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  • Try this one: “Why can’t you be a nice, decent christian like everybody else?” … This came from a lifetime member of masonry, no less!!! (In all fairness, he was quite old at the time and he had NEVER left his hometown in Pennsylvania)…



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