What not to say to an atheist

Someone on the internet compiled a list of the worst things you can say to an atheist. While the methodology may not be scientific, it surely seemed spot-on. Reading the list, though, I was struck by an important realization: this wasn’t a list of things that would make an atheist angry. It was a list of things to avoid in order to not look ‘stoopid’ to an unbeliever. If all you want to do is really piss off an atheist, the classic ‘you know, Hitler was an atheist…’ usually suffices, or perhaps ‘Atheism is just another religion’. Both did not appear on that list.

On the list, ‘You are going to hell’ reigned supreme. Of course. Suppressing the reflex to grin pityingly at whoever says that is an essential survival skill for every atheist.

In second place was my personal favorite: ‘I pray for you’. This one atheists have a problem with not because it is a stupid thing to say (it is), but because of the conflicting emotions it elicits from us. We know it is meant in a kind, sympathetic way. But to an atheist, it is very much like the alcoholic uncle sincerely declaring that he’s drinking to your health. It makes us flinch in sympathy for you.

If you really want to do something for me, buy my book.