Atheists and Deity Based Swearing

The other day, I overheard an interesting conversation. A girl was talking to her boyfriend and mentioned how odd she finds it that her atheist friend says “Oh my God!” When she asked, the friend said it was just an expression, but she thought there was something more to it, like maybe her friend really does believe in God, deep down, because why else would she use that phrase? I thought about interjecting into the conversation to explain it, but that would probably have been unwelcome, so I didn’t. It got me thinking, though.

It seems like some Christians want to believe that everyone really believes in God, deep down. There’s a Bible verse I’ve had quoted to me that says something to the effect that everyone knows, somehow, that God exists, or that God has provided plenty of evidence so that people can find him, if they look (because beautiful sunsets and grand nature, or something?), so that everyone who rejects God is without excuse (if anyone knows which verse or verses I’m talking about, I’d appreciate it if you’d leave the chapter and verse number in the comments so I can look it up)*. I hate when Christians quote verses like this to deny other people’s experiences. It’s really condescending to tell a complete stranger that you know more about their experiences than they do, and using a Bible verse to do it doesn’t make it any less offensive. I get that a Christian might not be inclined to believe me if I say I have had experiences which contradict this verse or that (e.g. I searched for God and didn’t find him), but it would be nice if people didn’t say to my face that I am mistaken about my own experiences. I’m not trying to say that people should change what they believe because I find it offensive, I’m just saying that maybe they could keep it to themselves in mixed company if there’s no way to say it politely.

Personally, I think people who believe in a god or gods are mistaken and probably aren’t applying critical thinking to their religious beliefs, but I don’t go around saying that to everyone. If the subject even comes up, I say things like “I don’t believe in any gods,” or “I don’t find your arguments convincing,” not “You’re an idiot for believing that.” And when other atheists do go around saying stuff like that, I don’t approve of it. It’s rude and offensive, and it’s not even true. There are plenty of highly intelligent people who believe in God. I ought to know. I’m related to several of them. I find it even worse when atheists claim that religious people are delusional. It is not only rude and offensive, but it misrepresents both religious belief and mental illness. And mental illness already has enough stigma attached, thanks. Please don’t add to it.

In general, there are a number of statements I’ve run across where Christians basically say to atheists “you too!” Whether it’s “you really believe in God, deep down” or “you have faith, too” or “everyone worships something.” Honestly, this kind of confuses me. I don’t really understand why it is important to people to believe these things, except in cases like the above, where it’s clear that the reason is “because the Bible says so.” If anyone knows why and wants to try to explain it in the comments, that would be great. Especially if it’s a belief you hold yourself. Why is it important to you to defend that point? Would it really even affect anything important if it weren’t true?

But yea. To get back to the original topic, using deity based swears isn’t an indication that someone believes in some sort of deity. It really is just an expression. I know this because I’ve actually tried to stop using deity based swears, and I couldn’t do it. It’s too deeply ingrained. The most I’ve managed with any consistency is to swear by “gods” rather than “God.” It’s not much, but at least it makes it unambiguous that I’m not swearing by the Christian deity. People might assume I’m a polytheist, but I’m kind of okay with that.

* Romans 1:18-20 (NIV) – “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Thanks, Charlie, for pointing me to the specific verses I was thinking of.


11 thoughts on “Atheists and Deity Based Swearing

    Okay. Done. I think. Anyway…
    I’ve had a post floundering in my drafts for months talking about the pervasiveness of Christian religion within everyday life in the US to the extent that religious language and euphemisms is still consistently used by non-religious individuals. It’s a bit of a twist on the idea, but the same basic concept. Wow. I love it!
    Later sunshine ^.^

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    • I’d love to see that post from you, Ivy. There’s so much subtle stuff in the language use that I don’t even notice until I accidentally connect the dots and have an epiphany, as well as the really blatant stuff, like deity based swears.

      I go out of my way to try to avoid using Christian-centric language and phrasings, but it’s not easy to do. I had another post about language use that I wrote earlier (, talking about how Christians refer to their god and how the language they use normalizes certain specific assumptions (e.g. that there is only one god, and it is the one god’s existence and the one god’s attributes that are up for discussion and disagreement in arguments about religion; and that when there is a reference to God, it must be a reference to specifically their god, e.g. as in the “In God we trust” bit on American money, which can both be specifically about the Christian god and also, when necessary, not be about a specific god so it’s not a violation of church and state).

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      • Romans 1:19-20. But the 18-32 whole passage goes into the details, including some wonderful smash on homosexuality of course.

        Personally, I never tolerated “oh my god” and the such from Christians or myself. Found it disrespectful. But now that I am an atheist I’ve found myself specifically using “Jesus fuck” and “god damn it,” deliberately, as the most insulting curse I can find when my frustration with Christian arguments runs over.
        I hear what Ivy is saying though (I think). An atheist saying “oh my god” kind of promotes god, like what you overheard at school. Karen and I make sure that those around us know we aren’t celebrating Easter or Christmas for that reason. Yeah, it’s roots are in paganism anyway, but when Christians keep seeing atheists celebrate Jesus, it only promotes the idea that we “really do believe in God.”

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        • Thanks for the reference to specific verses. I’ve added it to my post.

          “Gods damn it!” is one of my favorites. I usually try to avoid any swears containing “Jesus” or any derivative thereof, personally, but I can certainly appreciate the delightful irreverence of “Jesus fuck”. I’d like to use more of the interesting swears I saw in Plato’s Apology (i.e. “by Zeus”, “by Hera”, “by the dog, (the god of the Egyptians)”) or other interesting historical sources, but it’s kind of hard to remember to use new, unfamiliar swears in the heat of the moment, so I usually suffice to just pluralize gods.

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  2. I think Ivy hit it pretty well by noting the pervasiveness of the Christian culture.

    The one I’m trying to quit is “and… I’m going to Hell” as a cultural shorthand for I’m a terrible person. I’m just waiting for some uppity Christian who I’ve offended at some point to call me out on it.

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  3. Good article. We all know everyone has different beliefs and different experiences. I think a lot of christians feel they are not standing up for their faith if they do not say something to either point out another’s supposed mistake, misinterpretation or lack of faith. I appreciate that you point out how rude it is for someone, atheist, gay, christian, to make remarks that condemn or demean someone’s way of thinking. If we could just accept one another as is, and treat each other with respect even in our differences, I think things would be better among all of us. I do agree with you that the phrases people sometimes say are just that, phrases. It does not mean that are using it in terms of what they actually believe.

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  4. What I find funny about the “deity based swearing” is that when I did it as a child, Mom shamed me by saying I had broken the commandment about not taking God’s name in vain. When I said it on Facebook as an atheist, she teased me about saying ‘God.’ So from now on I say OMNG (Oh my nonexistent God) instead of OMG. XD

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  5. Swearing is far more culturally based than a matter of individual preference. Have you ever tried to translate another language’s curses into English literally, rather than reaching for the English with the equivalent feeling? My ex is a linguist. He’s also a French Canadian. The Canadian expressions are also religiously based, but they’re different and if feels weird to say them in English. “Host,” “Chalice,” “Tabernacle.” It just doesn’t work.

    My grandmother was of Lithuanian descent and she often called people names of animals, “Snake,” “Pig,” “Dog.” We do that a little bit, but not in the same way. I really didn’t translate.

    How about all the sexual words? One of my therapists used to make a big deal about it, but, again, I don’t really think it has much to do with the individual. I’ve always had a pretty positive attitude about sex, yet I still think “Fuck” is a curse.

    I didn’t realize you’d written this when I made my comment earlier. I’ve been puzzled lately by the tendency of theists to insist that atheists secretly believe in their God. Denying someone else’s experience is a psychologically unhealthy thing to do. That’s why I try not to say to theists that I think they don’t really believe. At some level, if you’re going to communicate at all, you have to take what the other person says at face value. When I truly believe that someone is consistently lying to me, I tend to disengage. I ask myself, “If I don’t believe this person, why am I listening.”

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    • A lot of the things Christians feel compelled to defend by denying other people’s experiences puzzle me as well. I’ve tended to react by having less tolerance for people denying my experiences, and being careful that I’m not doing the same thing to others. For instance, I really don’t understand how people think that beliefs are something you can just choose. I haven’t experienced my beliefs as choice at all, and it really gets on my nerves when people try to tell me that I chose not to believe. But, since that bothers me so much, I try to go out of my way not to do that same thing to others. While I still suspect that no one really just chooses their beliefs (though choices certainly influence a person’s beliefs), I’m not going to tell someone who says they chose to believe that they’re wrong about their own experiences. And since so many people say things like that, I’ve accepted the possibility that maybe some people really do choose to believe, even if it doesn’t make intuitive sense to me. They know more about their own experiences than I do, after all, especially the internal ones. And other people’s experiences don’t depend on my understanding in order to happen.


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