After participating in a number of on-line forums populated by various combinations of Christians, Muslims, atheists, and others, I have come to the conclusion that a lot of atheists on the Internet seem to be either new at it, or consumed by some sort of fear that their former faiths will reach out and drag them back unless they push back hard all the time. Therefore, as someone who has been an atheist for a long time and who has been able to coexist peacefully with Christians in my life for just as long, I have some rules for fellow atheists to bear in mind.
Rule #1: It’s OK to say “Oh My God”
I often hear comedians (who no doubt think they’re being hilariously original) asking what atheists say instead of “Oh my God”. But it’s not just comedians; regular people ask that too, and even some atheists struggle with the question.
However, the real question should be: why is this a question at all? Why can’t atheists say “Oh my God” in moments of shock?
“Atheists can’t say that because they don’t believe in God!” you might answer. And that seems to make sense … until you ask why the word “Herculean” persists in the English language. When a Christian says “Lou Ferrigno landed the role because of his Herculean physique”, he is not saying “I believe in the Greek demigod Hercules”. When a Christian refers to a Trojan horse, he is not saying that he believes Homer’s tale is historically accurate. When a Christian accuses another of being “narcissistic”, he is not saying that he believes in the Tale of Narcissus. When Christians went to see “The Poseidon Adventure” in theatres, they were not declaring fealty to an ancient Greek god of the sea.
The fact is that Christians use these phrases not because they secretly believe in Zeus, but because Greek mythology is part of the cultural history of western civilization. Similarly, Christianity is and will be a part of the cultural history of western civilization for the foreseeable future. If people still refer to Greco-Roman mythological figures nearly two thousand years after the death of Hellenistic paganism, then it seems safe to say people will still be blurting out various Christian terms long after we’re all dead.
In short, if you’re an atheist, go ahead: say “Oh God” during sex. Say “Jesus Christ!” as an expletive. The effort you put into creating your own custom expletives is wasted and will accomplish nothing, other than to make people look at you funny. You’re an atheist now; those words have no actual power over you, so stop acting as if you’re afraid of them.