I recently gave tips on how atheists can peaceably interact with religious family members at Thanksgiving. Now, here are tips for religious family members on what not to say to an atheist during holidays or any other family gathering. Next week, I’ll suggest what they should say.
I hope these tips help make family visits more pleasant for everyone. I also hope they won’t deter theists from talking about religion with atheists. Nothing here precludes having a respectful and friendly conversation with your family atheist, but more about that next time.
Here are seven things you shouldn’t say to the atheist in your family:
1. “Why are you angry with God?”
Atheists are no angrier with God than with the Tooth Fairy. Only God-believers can be angry with God. Some people might have become atheists because they are not satisfied with theodicyexplanations about why a good and powerful god would allow so much evil in the world, but most have become atheists primarily because they find no evidence for the existence of any gods.
2. “You’ll be a believer when you have a big problem.”
This is an offshoot of the “no atheists in foxholes” cliché. (See, for instance, the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.) Atheists tend to address problems by looking for practical solutions to resolve them, and through supportive friends, family, and medical doctors. Many believers “talk” to God only when they have a problem, so such a comment is more applicable to theists than to atheists.