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.