Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 4

Saying that religious claims “don’t make sense”. It’s true there are countless religious claims which don’t make sense, and can never make sense. But I’ve always felt that saying something “doesn’t make sense” sounds a little too close to “I don’t understand it”. It’s the kind of thing one might say when trying to understand advanced calculus, not just things which are inherently nonsensical. But most of us are atheists precisely because we do understand religion, and speak from a position of having too much information on the subject, not too little. So that’s why I find myself catching myself, and instead of saying the concept of the trinity, for example, “doesn’t make sense” (which it doesn’t), I say it’s incoherent. Instead of saying that the concept of an infinitely loving God punishing people with infinite torment for finite sins “doesn’t make sense”, I say that it’s paradoxical, not to mention unethical. To me that sends a much stronger message: that the issue isn’t with us, it’s with metaphysical claims that directly contradict what we know to be true about the world we live in. Other options: logically invalid, fatally flawed, internally contradictory, unintelligible.

“When it comes to the Bible, you can’t just pick and choose what you want to believe…” Not only can Christians do this, they absolutely have to. And as I point out here, every time someone repeats this cliche they are actually giving the Bible far more credit than it deserves. Also, do we really want to imply that absolute fundamentalism is the more admirable position, simply because it happens to be more logically consistent?

“Christians believe serial killers can still go to heaven just by becoming Christians on their deathbeds”. For the most part this is absolutely true–particularly when it comes to evangelical Christians, who largely believe that salvation is achieved by faith and faith alone. But a secular argument could at least be made that it is conceivable for someone to commit the most horrific crimes imaginable, and eventually come to deserve forgiveness for those crimes before dying. But consider the same scenario in reverse: a law-abiding, devout Christian who later becomes a sadistic mass murderer, and remains one until the day he dies… How many people realize that according to the Christian doctrine of irrevocable salvation (“once saved always saved”), this hypothetical person is still guaranteed a spot in heaven while Einstein and Gandhi burn in Hell? Such a scenario is FAR more perverse than the hypothetical “deathbed conversion”, yet is every bit as consistent with the professed beliefs of fundamentalist evangelicals.

For the rest of the series:

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 1

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 2

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 3

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 5

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 6

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 7

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Atheist Cliche’s to Avoid – Part 3

“The books of the Bible were just decided by popular vote”. The Da Vinci Code has probably done the most to perpetuate this myth, and even went so far as to claim that the Biblical Canon was voted into existence at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD under direct order from Roman Emperor Constantine. In reality none of that is true. Yes, the canonization process was in large part subjective, and often based on faulty premises (the alleged authorship of the texts supposedly going back to Jesus’ disciples, for example). But the process of canonization took place over hundreds of years, as a result of many decisions made by many individuals, and to this day it still has not been truly “settled”: Different branches of Christianity still recognize different canons, with many of them—even the Catholic canon—not being formally ratified until the 16th-18th centuries.

OK, just kidding. This is what Jesus actually looked like.

“The Bible has gone through so many translations we don’t know what it originally said”. There are indeed many translations of the Bible, and in some cases the specific translation you read can make a pretty big difference. But it’s not like the Bible was written in one language, then translated into another, then translated from that into another, and so on and so on until it eventually reached “English”. We actually have existing manuscripts in the languages the Bible was originally written in (primarily Hebrew for the Old Testament, exclusively Greek for the New Testament), and we’ve translated those texts directly into English. But the irony is, this is actually MORE damning to the trustworthiness of the texts than if it weren’t the case.

That’s because Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic, not Greek, and they were largely if not entirely illiterate by the Bible’s own admission (with the exception of Paul, who let’s face it was not one of Jesus’ disciples). So the fact that the books attributed to Jesus’ disciples were actually first penned in Greek (and not just Greek, but in many cases highly literate and fully fluent Greek) means they could not have been written by their alleged authors, or anything resembling first-hand witnesses. At-best they were oral accounts passed down for decades before being committed to paper; at-worst they were literary creations based on a kernel of historical truth but written for the first time decades after the fact.

“Pretty much anything from Zeitgeist”. It really says something when an atheistic documentary has been thoroughly and independently debunked by just about every atheist/skeptic website, magazine, and podcast out there. Here’s a good one from Skeptic Magazine.

For the rest of the series:

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 1

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 2

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 4

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 5

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 6

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 7

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 2

“Jesus never existed”. Not only is there overwhelming scholarly consensus that he did (even among non-Christian scholars), but any atheist making this claim is ultimately doing themselves a disservice–not only by setting the bar artificially and unnecessarily high and essentially flipping the burden of proof onto themselves, but because the strongest arguments for Jesus’ existence are also arguments against his divinity and his status as the so-called Messiah.

“Jesus said bring them and slay them before me”. This is “true” to the extent that the Bible claims Jesus uttered those words. But Jesus was actually telling a parable–in an attempt to justify the doctrine of Hell–of a hypothetical king who says those words within the context of that parable. In other words, Jesus did not literally order any men to be killed before him. Of course, the irony here is that this is actually more damning (ha) than the alternative: If Jesus had truly ordered these men to be killed, an apologist could find some way to rationalize their deaths as morally justified, or claim that the story was only applicable to that specific instance at that specific point in time. But parables are by definition intended to be universally applicable, and the orthodox doctrine of Hell (if it were real) is infinitely more morally abhorrent than the mere execution of a few men.

Ridiculing Genesis. The Genesis stories are prime fodder for atheists and standup comedians everywhere, and for good reason: They are the most ridiculous stories in the entire Bible. But everyone already knows that, and most Christians will simply dismiss such ridicule by saying that the stories are meant to be taken metaphorically.
So instead of Genesis, how about ridiculing the problems with the Bible that people don’t know about, and which aren’t as easily written off as “metaphorical”? Think Jesus destroying a fig tree because it wasn’t fig season. Animal babies being born with stripes because of what their parents were looking at while mating. Jesus saying the end of the world would come within the lifetimes of his original followers. Or my personal favorite, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on two donkeys at the same time because the writer of Matthew sucked at reading Hebrew. No more Noah’s Ark jokes please.

This is what Jesus actually looked like.

“How the hell could they have fit two of every animal on the Ark?” OK, sometimes taking jabs at the Ark story is just too hard to resist. But if you’re going to do it, at least don’t make this mistake: Despite the popular conception of “two of every kind” on the Ark, the Bible is clear that there were actually seven pairs (or just “seven”, depending on which translation you read) of every “clean” animal–which includes the VAST majority of animals–and two of every “unclean”. That’s right… the Noah’s Ark story is even more ridiculous than even most atheists realize, by a factor of three to seven times.

For the rest of the series:

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 1

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 3

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 4

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 5

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 6

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 7

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 1

Christian author Christian Piatt recently wrote a series of articles on “Christian Clichés To Avoid”, which generated quite a bit of buzz in both the Christian and atheist blogospheres. It was a great read, even if (maybe even particularly if) you’re an atheist.

It was so good, in fact, it prompted me to start this series on “atheist clichés” we should also avoid.

These are a basically things I hear from other atheists all the time, in some cases even highly prominent figures in the atheist community. Some are weak arguments against religion (where similar but much stronger arguments exist). Some are statements that atheists make in an attempt to defend atheism, yet actually downplay the atheist position or even implicitly marginalize atheists overall. And some are simply things which are flat-out, demonstrably false.

As with most clichés, some of these sayings certainly have their uses, and—with the exception of those which are simply false—they can be perfectly appropriate for use in certain contexts. These are clichés to avoid, not clichés to completely stop using under all circumstances. So I’ll try to be clear, while discussing each one, which category they fall under, as well as what we should be saying instead.

“I don’t believe in God”. There’s obviously nothing wrong with saying this in casual contexts, particularly in the company of other atheists. But the problem is the way “believe” can be interpreted as whether you support a particular position, not just whether you believe in its existence. One can say they “don’t believe in” the death penalty, for example, but that says nothing about whether they believe the death penalty exists. And as absurd as that interpretation may sound, it plays directly into the mindset of countless religionists who claim that atheists know deep down that God exists, but we simply choose to “reject Him”. Also notice how the wording is subtly yet inherently biased in theists’ (particularly monotheists) favor, while making the subtle presupposition that the existence of their god–particularly the Judeo-Christian God–is somehow the default position. That’s why I prefer the slightly more wordy (but far more accurate) “I don’t believe in the existence of any gods” (of course, if you really want to get under a theist’s skin, there’s also “I don’t believe in the existence of your god”).

(So and so) lost their faith”. Think about this for a second; what else is there that we refer to as a “loss” that isn’t something we’d like to have back? If you ask someone you how they’ve been lately, would they ever say “I had a really bad cold but I lost it a few days ago”? Would someone ever say they once had a smoking habit, but “lost it”? Simply saying “became an atheist” avoids that connotation.

“(So and so) actually believes…” (Examples: “Catholics actually believe the bread and wine literally become Jesus’ flesh and blood”; “Mormons actually believe magical underwear will protect them”; “young Earth creationists actually believe the Universe is less than 10,000 years old”). Unless we’re psychics we have no way of truly knowing if someone believes in the specific metaphysical claims of their religion (with the possible exception of suicide bombers). Even if they explicitly and publicly proclaim it, there is simply no way to know what private doubts someone may harbor, or whether they’re simply toeing the party line when it comes to professing their beliefs.

That’s why to say that a person or group “claims to believe” something is not only more accurate and more intellectually honest, but it subtly conveys the point that just because people claim to believe in absurd, ridiculous things doesn’t truly mean that deep down, they truly believe in those absurd, ridiculous things. And as Richard Dawkins points out, in many cases they probably don’t.

For the rest of the series:

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 2

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 3

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 4

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 5

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 6

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 7