This is a subject that no doubt gets under the skin of many an atheist. A friend shared a post about it last week, which got me thinking about my own experiences.
I’ve had three types of situations where something along those lines was said to me. I rate one of them harmless, one annoying, and one deeply insulting. I’ll write about them in that order, and also escalate my emotive treatment of each as I go along.
“I’ll pray for you” after you suffer a loss
I don’t get why any atheists take offense to this one. In my experience, this is said to me by somebody who cares, and is trying to express sympathy. For example, when any person’s loved one has died, it’s difficult to know what to say. Nothing will take away that dreadful sense of loss and despair. But anything said sincerely, anything that can get across that you care, can be helpful. So this statement, when offered by a religious friend or extended family member, despite the fact that if carried out, it won’t actually achieve anything, can be comforting in that it means that the person is thinking of you. It’s not a clever thing to say, because they could just have said “I’m thinking of you”, or tried to express that they have lost a loved one too, and that the loss eventually gets easier to deal with. But it is harmless enough.
“I’ll pray for you” because the person is not prepared to think for him or herself and is dismissing your view
For example, you’re an atheist taking part in an online debate, but rather than responding to anything you state, the theist is only interested in proselytizing. They copy and paste meaningless text and excerpts from their holy book. You explain to them that the book is the claim, as are other “holy” books (other claims of other gods – which are equally meaningful to those believers and equally meaningless to atheists, as well as equally irrelevant to a debate), and that in itself, does not prove or even mean anything. You explain the burden of proof, and ask for evidence of this theist’s claimed god.
Instead of the usual argument where they rationalize other things (that they assume their god created) to be evidence of god – in which case you could explain circular reasoning, and explain that they only have evidence for their assumptions and are looking for reasons to continue believing what they already believe… Instead of all that, the person responds with either threats of eternal torment in Hell, or retorts with “I’ll pray for you”.
That is annoying. It means that not only does the person have nothing intelligent to offer, not only do they not take your point of view seriously, but they never had any intention to debate to begin with. It means the whole thing was a complete waste of time (except maybe for the observer/reader), and no matter what you say, no matter how logical or factual your argument is, the person dismisses everything in their attempts to preach their gospel.
I debate not to show off what I know (or think I know) but also to learn. A debate with somebody who was never prepared to think at all can be extraordinarily frustrating. Then I typically end it by being rude, and leaving them (the non-thinker) with a bad impression of atheism in general, which is unfair because they have no clue about the fact that they have no business even pretending to debate. Yet it often ends that way, because the person is unable to understand that they ended the debate by not debating.
FYI: Receiving this comment in an atheism versus theism debate is common.
“I prayed for you. That’s why you are successful”
My example relates my personal experience with addiction. But this could just as well be something else. In my case it’s, “That’s why you’re clean.” This is one of the most offensive statements that I’ve ever had to hear, and I take it as a deeply personal insult.
You prayed for me, to the god that you believe in. So let’s give all the credit to your god. Let’s forget how many times I tried, and failed, to get clean. Let’s forget how fucking difficult it was, after crystal meth had become my entire life, to let go. Let’s forget all the pain I endured, and all the hardships that I caused for others, especially for my son. Let’s forget the guilt that I had to deal with, and the judgement by others. Let’s forget that to some people, I will never be over it, but always be an addict, to be praised to my face but judged inferior behind my back. I often make light of my success, and it is easy for me now, but it wasn’t always. Letting go of my drug habit and becoming normal again, or at least as normal as I can be because I have no idea what it is to be normal, was incredibly difficult. Most addicts who go that far down the rabbit hole will never come back, and all credit for doing so goes to me, sometimes despite the “help” that was given to me, not because of it. To give credit to your god is to dismiss all that I have achieved, because your assumption of some divine intervention supposes that I did not overcome those obstacles, but that your god held my hand and walked me through them. Your imaginary friend means sweet fuck-all to me.
Besides all that, there’s the issue with theists thanking god for the good things and not the bad things. If you’re going to give credit to god for the good, you should thank him just as much for the bad things. So why not tell me that my addiction was also thanks to god? And that all the people who didn’t clean up didn’t do so because god decided not to save them? How malicious and arbitrarily cruel such a god would be! If such an entity existed, I would want no part of worshipping it. The last time somebody told me that my recovery was all thanks to their god, my reply was “Fuck you and fuck your god”. I’m not sorry I said it, and I will say it again if I have to.
But I don’t really mean “fuck your god”, because that shit isn’t real. I mean fuck that attitude… The belief that you, and by extension everyone else, is unworthy somehow, and can only be saved by your god. That is the underlying message of Christianity, and it is a disgusting message. It dismisses all of our achievements, and excuses all that is bad in the world. It blames victims, but not only of addiction, also of many other terrible things, like the victims of abuse and rape.
It also happens to be the same message as preached by 12 step programs like NA, in which I was forced to participate, which is a large part of the reason for my being such a passionate antitheist in the first place… Because I went into recovery knowing nothing, but assumed in good faith that treatment was based on evidence and would be useful. It was neither. But if it was, if treatment had been based on evidence and had actually helped me, I might be nearly seven years clean now, rather than nearly three years. I’m not blaming 12-step programs for my relapse and I admit that rehab did help me simply because it provided a safe place away from drugs, but it provided no more than that. I am clean and sober despite such programs, and having achieved sobriety despite the happy clappy’s makes it even more insulting when people imply that I made it because of their god.
So the next time you want to tell somebody that they are OK because of your god, think about it, and rather shut the fuck up.