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Care in Atheist Terminology - Comments

hitchens_jnr's Avatar Comment 1 by hitchens_jnr

The last point, I strongly dispute (in part).

Moses - no evidence whatsoever for his existence.

David - a very small amount of possible evidence for his existence (which isn't quite the same as saying no evidence!)

Jesus - almost cerainly a historical figure, though not the same as the guy in the Gospels!

In the Jesus case, talking about his existence isn't perpetuating a Christian myth, since a very respectable historical case can be made for it. Saying he existed isn;t the same as saying he was the son of God who died for our sins!

Regarding colloquialisms like "for God's sake", I don't see as a problem, I say this all the time! When people say "by Jove" (do people still say "by Jove"?) they're not affirming a belief in the king of the Roman gods!

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 16:37:14 UTC | #547307

jmd's Avatar Comment 2 by jmd

Holy shit!

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 17:10:01 UTC | #547318

Layla's Avatar Comment 3 by Layla

Why should we avoid these phrases at all?

What's wrong with using words which came from religion?

This is purely my own little theory, but it seems to me that it's only those who have grown up with religion and then have had to undergo some painful, life changing process of giving it up, that feel the need to rid every sign of religion from their lives and their vocabulary.

I grew up nonreligious (with the exception of a few years of mild CofE stuff in early childhood) and I've never felt using religious words or phrases were a problem in the slightest. Just because I don't actually believe in God doesn't mean I can't use the English language and all it's religious hangovers. I don't believe in Thor either but I don't mind calling Thursday Thursday.

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 17:21:09 UTC | #547328

El Bastardo's Avatar Comment 4 by El Bastardo

I'm with Layla, use of language is use of language.

In fact the bible is an excellent literary piece, when studied as such. Language is a colourful and useful tool, to be used and celebrated. I cannot claim to be au fait with the history and origin of every word or phrase I use, just to be sure it sits with my non-belief. Arse to that.

In fact quite the opposite, I've oft used anchormanesque expressions that have gotten me funny looks in the office, "by Wotans beard", "by Baals dangly bits", and my personal favourite (though slightly nastier) "by the weeping gonads of christ".

Or as my son would say, "Meh!".

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 17:53:58 UTC | #547341

DamianIcely's Avatar Comment 5 by DamianIcely

Comment 1 by hitchens_jnr :

The last point, I strongly dispute (in part).

Moses - no evidence whatsoever for his existence.

David - a very small amount of possible evidence for his existence (which isn't quite the same as saying no evidence!)

Jesus - almost cerainly a historical figure, though not the same as the guy in the Gospels!

In the Jesus case, talking about his existence isn't perpetuating a Christian myth, since a very respectable historical case can be made for it. Saying he existed isn;t the same as saying he was the son of God who died for our sins!

Regarding colloquialisms like "for God's sake", I don't see as a problem, I say this all the time! When people say "by Jove" (do people still say "by Jove"?) they're not affirming a belief in the king of the Roman gods!

This is a sentiment that I've come across repeatedly. It's stated as if fact by everyone but I've yet to be presented with any real evidence.

I'm going to google "did Jesus actually exist" but as that will no doubt bring up a huge amount of rubbish I would appreciate clarification on this point from anyone else here.

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 18:33:27 UTC | #547364

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 6 by Stevehill

Sometimes we maybe try too hard to avoid these phrases. They've become part of the language.

Maybe we're being too "respectful", too careful to avoid giving offence, by not using these terms?

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 18:45:28 UTC | #547375

DamianIcely's Avatar Comment 7 by DamianIcely

OK after a brief look I found this site. Seems fairly respectable and was the first that didn't start out by saying that the gospels were inerrant and therefore jesus must have existed.

Have to say, I'm not particularly convinced. The evidence certainly doesn't seem sufficiently strong to support a statement like:

Jesus - almost cerainly a historical figure, though not the same as the guy in the Gospels!

It's really not that important as even if he did exist he certainly wasn't a god. I just get irritated that this mantra "there is historical evidence for the existence of Jesus" is constantly repeated. NOT ONE contempory source. In a time when just about everything was recorded.

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 18:46:46 UTC | #547378

hitchens_jnr's Avatar Comment 8 by hitchens_jnr

COmments 5 and 7 by DamianIcely

I'll try to deal with this briefly. First up, you're of course right that Christians massively over-state the case, they do have a tendency to make a lot out of sources that aren't relevant, and any historical claims based on Biblical inerrancy are clearly very poor.

You're right that Jesus lived "in a time when just about everything was recorded" - what you don't follow on to say is that not all of these records (in fact only an infinitissimally small proportion of them) survived. Entire wars in the Hellenistic Period escaped the literary record: how much less likely is it that the career of an eccentric peasant preacher would get noticed! (And the Roman government records for first-century Judaea were destroyed in the Jewish War of 66 - 70 CE anyway!) Jesus is only important with hindsight: at the time he was nothing special, an eccentric religious teacher and rabble rouser executed in Jerusalem. Contemporary Jews and Romans are unlikely to have perceived him as a significant figure. The fact that there is no contemporary literary evidence for Jesus' existence is not enough to claim that he didn't exist.

We do, however, have evidence for the existence of Jesus' brother, James. Josephus, the Jewish historian, records the execution of "James, the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ", in a passage which all textual critics accept as being genuinely written by Josephus (unlike Josephus' account of the Crucifixion, which is clearly a Christian invention). James was supposedly executed in the 60s CE, when Josephus was living in Jerusalem. So we have an independent source for the existence of a man called James, the brother of a Jesus who claimed the title Christ. And the Gospels and Paul tell us that Jesus had a brother called James (he's even wrongly accused of writing one of the Epistles in the New Testament!) This is, I would say, independent literary evidence for Jesus' existence.

A final point: we know that Christianity originated in Galilee and Judaea (Tacitus tells us this as well as the Gospels). Less than 20 years after the purported date of the Crucifixion, Paul tells us there was a large Christian community in Jerusalem. Is it likely that all these Jerusalemites would follow the religion of a man who supposedly lived well within living memory, and was executed in their own city, despite none of them being able to remember any of these purported deeds? It would be entirely unparallelled in all of antiquity for an invented religious figure to be located in recent histoircal time, as opposed to a distant "mythical" past, and such a religious movement could not have hoped to enjoy any success, least of all in the very regions where they claim these events took place.

Of course, absolutely none of this means we should believe that he performed miracles or was the son of God. But I'm afraid that just as you get annoyed when you read people claiming that Jesus' existence is likely, I (as a trained ancient historian) get cross when I hear people claiming that Jesus almost certainly didn't exist!

I know I said I'd be quick, but believe it or not this is quick: there are other arguments I could use! I hope all that makes sense and isn't too waffly.

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 19:09:58 UTC | #547395

Layla's Avatar Comment 9 by Layla

I was just thinking that these terms don't really reinforce Christian myths when I suddenly remembered my uncle, after becoming born again, using that exact argument to actually back up the existance of God. He actually seemed to think that we all just instinctually call out to Jesus/God at times of great emotional intensity because of some in built knowledge of God or something and he was unable to see that this is merely a part of the English language.

Anyway that doesn't mean these words really back up Christian myths it just means some people will clutch at whatever straws they can.

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 19:15:39 UTC | #547398

bluebird's Avatar Comment 10 by bluebird

Rest in Peace - - - I much prefer Acquiesce in Repose (can't remember who wrote that in tribute to a writer).

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 19:32:04 UTC | #547409

katt33's Avatar Comment 11 by katt33

I have no problem accepting that this figure existed and as for the God thing, it is people to place deity status and veneration status unto figures. Look at Bhudda, Confucius, this idea of anointing saints, all this is man made, in no way divine. Personally, I refuse to let go of colloquial phrases just because people associate them with religion, as I don't. I don't even connect Christ to religion personally, so I can meditate on that figure, symbolically.

It is people who load words with dynamite and make it a big deal, rather than just look at all of it as cultural and if everyone on the planet looked at all religions and such as strictly culture and taught it that way the world could have peace.

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 19:49:22 UTC | #547414

greenwich's Avatar Comment 12 by greenwich

What a ridiculous OP. If you're going to do this, then I take it you'll also stop saying goodbye to people. ;-)

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 19:51:49 UTC | #547415

locutus7's Avatar Comment 13 by locutus7

So Jesus had a brother named James. Jimmy Christ - a nice ring to it. Well, Houdini had a brother who help him with his magic tricks, so if Jesus did exist, maybe his brother helped him with the con.

Sorry, off topic. But I don't have a problem with christian lingo. I enjoy Santa Claus even though he is fictional (wait, don't someone tell me HE, too, had a brother).

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 19:57:59 UTC | #547421

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 14 by Schrodinger's Cat

Oh for God's sake, yet another cursed and godforsaken thread from those blessed with eternally subjecting us to the hell and damnation of their accursed souls that cannot just let the matter pass on and rest in peace.

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 20:30:34 UTC | #547433

David-in-Toronto's Avatar Comment 15 by David-in-Toronto

Jesus! I use all those terms!

And those euphemisms for “deceased” have to go too? I shall never be able to enjoy the Dead Parrot Sketch again.


Sun, 14 Nov 2010 20:43:22 UTC | #547440

Callinectes's Avatar Comment 16 by Callinectes

It's our cultural heritage. Christianity was a major influence in the development of modern English, and I dare say the influence, at least in English-speaking cultures, went both ways.

It's only ever an issue when a religious troll calls me on it, in which case I explain using the above exactly why he's an idiot.

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 21:23:36 UTC | #547453

hitchens_jnr's Avatar Comment 17 by hitchens_jnr

Comment 13 by locutus -

Jimmy Christ, love it!

He's only "James" in the English-speaking world. In his own culture, he'd have been called Yaaqov ben Yosef, and Jesus would have been Yeshua ben Yosef. In his Galilean dialect, the last "a" wouldn't have been pronounced, so he'd have been known as "Yeshu".

I suspect the reason we change these names is because a lot of Christians hate to be reminded of the fact that their main guy was a Jew!

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 21:30:21 UTC | #547456

WonderNerd's Avatar Comment 18 by WonderNerd

That is why I always say (jokingly of course), "For Darwin's sake!" or "For the Love of Natural Selection!"

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 21:58:42 UTC | #547474

DocWebster's Avatar Comment 19 by DocWebster

I agree that using these words does constitute a tacit acceptance of their importance to the religious. I find myself almost saying quite a few of your examples from day to day and I have to hunt for something to replace it on the fly. When alone or with like-minded atheists it shouldn't be anything to worry about because the words are meaningless but in the presence of the faithful they constitute a code of sorts that they can use to identify each other. To that end we should come up with alternatives that trip off the tongue in the same manner so that when a faith head tries to finish whatever phrase we are using in their own head it will jar their thoughts and cause them to actually think for a moment. Personally for me though I still pay tribute to my now departed Father-in-law with his favorite "Christ on a stick" which does give some the vapors but WonderNerd has the right idea I think. So close to what they expect you to say that they finish it their way in their own head and different enough that they have to rewind and try again with a "what the hell was that????" in there for good measure.

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 22:48:47 UTC | #547494

green and dying's Avatar Comment 20 by green and dying

I have no intention of removing these phrases from my vocabulary. They serve a purpose. Is there even another phrase that means the same as "bless him/her"? And how would I pointlessly acknowledge that someone has sneezed without "bless you"?

It's just a myth. Jesus Christ, no need to take everything literally.

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 23:16:12 UTC | #547506

scot5's Avatar Comment 21 by scot5

We could also get rid of the word evil.

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 23:18:56 UTC | #547508

Layla's Avatar Comment 22 by Layla

There's nothing wrong with the word evil or any of the other words.

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 23:35:51 UTC | #547516

scot5's Avatar Comment 23 by scot5


I would agree with you on many religious words and phrases such as for example saying "Heavens sake". Using this implies nothing really, but describing things as evil does imply a type of religious mentality.

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 23:57:04 UTC | #547524

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 24 by ZenDruid

Dead Radical on a Stick, this is inane!

Mon, 15 Nov 2010 00:06:19 UTC | #547530

Layla's Avatar Comment 25 by Layla

No, it doesn't.

Evil is a good old Anglo-Saxon word meaning essentially "very bad" and it only has one specific sense which is religious in nature, that where it is used as a noun meaning a kind of force. It's perfectly possibly to use it in a non-religious sense.

Mon, 15 Nov 2010 00:15:28 UTC | #547533

scot5's Avatar Comment 26 by scot5


Whenever we talk about things as being bad in a moral sense we are usually falling into a form of religious thinking. Using the word evil just reinforces this because of its extra force and more explicit link with the supernatural in the popular imagination.

I know its difficult to rid oneself of making old fashioned moral judgements - but just consider the fact that most people would not talk of a lion or a dog performing an evil act. So, its time we stopped talking about it with respect to humans.

Mon, 15 Nov 2010 00:34:04 UTC | #547543

raytoman's Avatar Comment 27 by raytoman

Why should all this crap be allowed?

You would no doubt be happpy with sayings "nigger in the woodpile", "catch a nigger by the toe", etc (apologies for my usage here).

These sayings are devised to reinforce evils like religion and racism. It's only a few years since the above were OK in the US and South Africa, they may still be used in private by racists.

Your list is currently used by 6 billion so it's understandable why there are so many on the list and why athiests find it hard to avoid them.

The most frequently used is "Oh my God!" (and not just in porn movies). I havn't used that since I stopped praying in my very early teens. We could all give that up easily. Can't call yourself an athiest if you don't!

Mon, 15 Nov 2010 00:46:46 UTC | #547551

hitchens_jnr's Avatar Comment 28 by hitchens_jnr

Comment 27 by raytoman-

The difference between this and the "n" word, of course, is that the "n" word (and any similar terms you might care to think of) were devised solely to denigrate and offend the people against whom it might have been used. When you say "Oh my God" or "Jesus Christ" in anger or exasperation, the only people liable to be offended are, in fact, some Christians, the very people whose views you think these harmless expressions reinforce! I use these expressions all the time. And by the way, I can call myself an atheist. Non- belief in a god is the only criterion for membership of this club. What sort of colloquial language you choose to use is not a sufficient basis for exclusion.

Mon, 15 Nov 2010 01:00:05 UTC | #547559

Roedy's Avatar Comment 29 by Roedy

I, Roedy, said: "Speaking of Moses, David and Jesus as historical personages when the evidence is they are fictional characters."

My information here comes from a book by a famous Canadian Anglican theologian, Tom Harpur, in his book The Pagan Christ: recovering the lost light. Amazon reviews

Moses: Not so much as a shard of pottery or a footnote on an obelisk. Someone of that stature, and a 40 year expedition in the wilderness should have left many traces. Given the fame that would accrue to any archeologist who found even the tiniest clue, it is not for lack of trying. I consider this complete lack of corroborating physical evidence utterly damns the bible as a work of fiction, since Moses is its #2 alleged historical figure.

David: Just one mention of minor chief named David. There is plenty of evidence for other kings of his alleged stature.

Jesus: Documents other than the bible show Jesus being introduced much like superman over a period of many years, with the myth gradually being fleshed out with more and more stories. There is no mention of some spectacular faith healer in the secular record. There were dozens of other faith healers with similar alleged magic powers in the historic record. If Jesus existed, he did not make much of an impression on non-Christians. There is no record of all that Cecil B. deMille stuff happening when Jesus allegedly died and resurrected. It is all pure BS.

The bible was like a children's game of telephone, stories told and retold, each time warped and exaggerated until they were written down.

I am somewhat suspicious that Christians would lose track of such important artifacts as the Ten Commandments stone tablets (even if broken to sand), the Ark of the Covenant whatever it was and the holy grail. I tend to put them in the category with Joseph Smith's missing gold plates, though the Ark could just possibly still exist.

Once we started carbon dating Christian relics, we discovered nearly all were bogus. Lying and bamboozlement is the very heart of Christianity.

Harpur argues that none of this matters. The essence of the Christian teaching has nothing do with performing miracles and magic tricks.

It matters to me since Christians use this alleged magic as proof the creator of the universe commands them to kill and persecute gays like me. Who are they to argue it makes so sense?

Mon, 15 Nov 2010 01:16:48 UTC | #547568

Roedy's Avatar Comment 30 by Roedy

Several people have asked why bother avoiding innocuous Christiansms. After all, they have been thoroughly integrated as a part of secular speech.

I would attempt this for two reasons:

  1. to avoid falling into Christian superstition, like my atheist mother did. When you use certain language, it facilitates corresponding superstitious modes of thinking, gradually eroding rationality. Especially as you get old or near death, Christians will pounce.

  2. Think how many times you have seen an image of Noah's ark. It is used for seed banks, animal rescue, disaster preparation... along with creationist religious indoctrination. Even the titles of secular nature documentaries on the Oasis channel often use religious vocabulary (e.g. miracle, creation, ark) Enough repetition makes even the preposterous seem ordinary. This is why Christians feel no need to present evidence for goofy stories like Noah. It is part of the background. It needs no more explanation, in their view, than air. By subtly changing your vocabulary, you unobtrusively keep challenging these background assumptions. If you are like me, you want to see Christianity go the way of the Aztec god of sacrifices Chalmecatecuchtlz. Avoiding reinforcing Christian superstition with sloppy speech is just one more technique to send it on its way.

Don't worry. I won't pounce on you for infractions.

Mon, 15 Nov 2010 01:35:24 UTC | #547578