Atheist Swears

One thing that bothered me after I became an atheist was that it was so difficult to stop using habitual phrases/swears like “oh my god!” and “Jesus!”. Why should I be swearing by things I don’t believe in? I mean, it’s just a little thing. They’re just phrases; they’re not meant literally. They’re comfortable words to express surprise, anger, incredulity, and other emotions. It’s (mostly) not the words that carry meaning, but the way they’re said. But such phrases are specific to culture and do subtly reinforce certain world views. “Oh my god!”, for example, carries the implicit assumption that there is one god (as opposed to many or none), and that this is the normal, default view. And these assumptions are rarely, if ever, questioned by the people around me.

I love to poke at assumptions like that. I intentionally define atheism as “not believing in any gods”, using the plural, explicitly for the purpose of poking at assumptions like that. It gets across the same basic meaning as the more usual “not believing in God” while at the same time containing a small poke at the assumption that one need only consider one god (regardless of how vaguely or specifically that god is defined) when considering the presence or lack of god belief. It’s like poking at the implicit assumptions of Pascal’s Wager to make it fall apart. As soon as you ask which god (Zeus? Allah? Yahweh? Vishnu? etc.), it becomes obvious that the options are not limited to belief in God or non-belief in God, and the possible outcomes are not limited to God exists or God does not exist.

So, yea, I really could not resist messing around with the way I swear just for the purpose of poking at other people’s unquestioned assumptions (and for my own amusement). I mean, as long as I can’t ditch the habit of swearing by gods I don’t believe in, I might as well have fun with it, right?

The easiest change was just to pluralize things where possible. E.g. saying “oh my gods!” instead of “oh my god!” or, likewise, “for the love of gods!” or “good gods!” or simply “gods!”. I can’t think of anything fun to do with phrases like “Jesus!” or “good Lord!”, though, so I’ve been trying to come up with new fun swears to replace them with, mostly with reference to the Olympian gods (I’ve been studying ancient Greek philosophy, and the gods do get mentioned quite a lot–they have very strong cultural relevance for that place and time period) or fictional eldritch horrors (Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn) or, of course, the Flying Spagetti Monster (r’amen). This leads to phrases like “for the love of Zeus!” or “great Azathoth!” or “Zeus, son of Kronos!” or “what in Hades?” or “by FSM”. For the most part, I can just pick a name at random and use it to replace a word or two from some other fairly standard phrase. Some of the resulting random phrases don’t quite work, though. For example, “good Cthulhu!” or “for the love of Cthulhu!” really, really don’t work (“for the fear of Cthulhu!”, perhaps?). So, mostly, I have to come up with phrases I like before I actually need to use them. Making up new phrases is a lot of fun, though, and occasionally I come across a really good one in other atheists’ writing that I steal or modify or use as inspiration for more phrases of my own invention*. Because, you know, I’m hardly the only one that likes to poke at unquestioned assumptions or subtly highlight the silliness and/or absurdity of this whole business of swearing by gods.

* For example, I fell in love with the phrase “for the sweet love of Loki!” after I saw it on Greta Christina’s blog, and I got the idea of swearing by eldritch horrors while reading Eliezer Yudkowsky’s fanfic Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (which I highly recommend! It’s got lots of stuff about how to think rationally/scientifically as well as being highly entertaining), and I’ve seen more people than I can remember swearing by FSM.


8 thoughts on “Atheist Swears

  1. Well, I got into paganism for a while, and I interact with a lot of pagans, so the whole, Oh my gods is pretty standard fare to me. It doesn’t break down anything because of the people I know. Same with zeus, osiris, etc. My favorite new swear is “Sweet zombie Jesus.” and yes, I do still say Oh my god.


  2. Oooh, “Sweet zombie Jesus”, I like it! Although, I’ve seen a convincing case being made for Jesus being a lich. “Sweet lich Jesus” just does not have the same ring to it, though.

    I’ve been leaning heavily towards swearing by the Olympian gods lately just because of my increased familiarity due to reading a bunch of stuff about ancient Greek philosophy (and it’s cultural/historical/religious context) and also Hesiod. Like, I could just lift a random phrase out of Hesiod’s Theogony (e.g. “Zeus the aegis-bearer”) and use that as a swear, possibly throwing in a “sweet” or “by” somewhere.


  3. I know way to many pagans on line to ever use the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Norse, Etc. gods and not have it be taken seriously. You might want to try using more gods from fantasy writing though. If you are familiar with David Eddings belgariad & mallorean serieses, a good one is “by the beard of Torak.”

    I saw that same thesis on Jesus being a lich. But I still prefer sweet zombie jesus. It has just the right amount of casual blasphemy to show that you really don’t take their gods seriously.


  4. “It has just the right amount of casual blasphemy to show that you really don’t take their gods seriously.”

    So true.

    “You might want to try using more gods from fantasy writing though.”

    Excellent suggestion. Ooh, this gives me a good excuse to read more fantasy. I ought to familiarize myself more with the Cthulhu mythos, as well. Hmm. I could also start swearing by Russel’s Teapot and the Invisible Pink Unicorn. Or Last Thursday.


  5. I definitely played with the idea of “oh my gods” and “godsdammit” for a while as well. What’s actually stuck for me, though, is the far less fun “oh my goodness”. I kind of like it because goodness is actually a thing I believe in, and it kind of confuses people, since “oh my goodness” is normally associated with people who are religious to the point where they consciously avoid taking their lord’s name in vain.

    I really, really can’t let go of “Jesus fucking Christ” though…


  6. Like Kasey I tend to use “goodness”, for much the same reasons. I’ve also picked up “stars and stones” from the Dresden Files, and “great Caesar’s ghost” from somewhere. Every once in a while I’ll say something about the Invisible Pink Unicorn (blessed be her tiny hooves), or Cthulhu or some other random joke, but more frequently I just make something up on the spot and then forget about it. By far the one I go to most in the heat of the moment is that old favorite, “fuck”.
    I would really like a broader variety of such expressions in general use, not just for atheists. Partly to erode the privileged presumption of Christianity, but mostly because we have such a rich language and we should really take advantage of it!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s