General Question

shadling21's avatar

To those who don't believe in a god: Do you use phrases that refer to a deity?

Asked by shadling21 (6501points) November 2nd, 2008

“Holy ___.”
“Oh, my god!”
“God knows that….”
“I’m sure as hell that…”

Personally, I feel awkward saying “God knows how much I love Slurpees,” because I don’t actually believe that He does know how much I love Slurpees, because I don’t believe that He exists. However, it’s hard to kick the habit of using that wording when it comes out so naturally.

Do other atheists use these phrases?

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82 Answers

girlofscience's avatar

Yes. I’m an atheist and have been for… 8 years now. (Was raised Catholic.)

I don’t feel awkward using those phrases, and I use most at least once a day. They’re technically considered “taking the Lord’s name in vein,” so it’s certainly not a display of respect. In reality, they’re really just expressions.

I’m not about to start being the freak that says, “Oh my non-god!”

I say, “Jesus Christ,” frequently, as well as “Good god.” If I am typing, however, I do not ever capitalize “god” unless it is the beginning of a sentence. Of course, I also use, “Holy shit.”

MrMeltedCrayon's avatar

Yup, I catch myself saying 1, 2 and 4 on your list quite frequently despite my disbelief.

syz's avatar

I do, mostly because I don’t have a good alternative.

trumi's avatar

Yes, but only because blasphemy is a lot of fun when you don’t believe.

I do not, however, say “under god” during the pledge, or sing “God Bless America” on any occasion.

stink111's avatar

Oh dang thats exactly how i feel but all i think is no one knows for sure.

laureth's avatar

Yep. They have a lot of built-in culturally-infused power that is hard to replicate any other way.

girlofscience's avatar

@trumi: I do say “under god” during the pledge. I’m comfortable enough with my Atheism to realize that awkwardly omitting words that are meaningless to me isn’t going to make me any more of a non-believer.

trumi's avatar

I understand, I just do it as a protest. Always been a bit on the abrasive side :)

But more, I leave them out because they were added in the 50’s. Which is crap.

I never make a fuss about it, just like to have a silent battle.

chromaBYTE's avatar

The only people I know that don’t use these sorts of “blasphemies” are people that are strong believers in god. They feel uncomfortable using “his name in vain”. One of my friends actually says “oh my gosh”.
We make a joke about it. “Cheeses Crust!!” is one of my favourites.

girlofscience's avatar

AHHHHH, I made a typo and it is too late to edit. It really was a typo. :(


EmpressPixie's avatar

Yep, do it all the time. It’s culture based thing, not a belief thing. If you grow up around people who say those things, chances are you will do. If you don’t, you probably won’t. It’s honestly probably better to be an atheist and take the lord’s name in vain because, you know, a lot of religious folks get upset about that, but we can take comfort that it is just a saying. We don’t need to worry about being damned for having sinned for using a common saying.

Though I do try to avoid it around very religious people. Because they do get offended and I try not to be rude.

shadling21's avatar

@laureth – Well said! It seems that the phrases are more heavy and effective than the alternatives. Why should I avoid it?

@trumi – I understand what you mean, but I’m with GOS on this one. When I sing “God keep our land glorious and free” in the Canadian national anthem, I keep in mind that it’s meaningless to me.

What about religious music? Sometimes I just want to sing a nice old Christmas carol! I appreciate the beauty of the words and melody, but wish that my beliefs jived with what I sing.

laureth's avatar

I love some of the old religious Christmas carols. “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Silent Night” and “We Three Kings” rock my socks. It’s the Frosty, Rudolph, and Hippopotamus crap I could do without.

shadling21's avatar

@laureth- Haha! So, you enjoy the religious carols more than the more secularized ones? Me too! I just don’t know how to reconcile that with my personal beliefs.

I suppose I don’t have to.

gailcalled's avatar

Laureth; Clearly you have never heard Donald Swann and Michael Flanders sing The Hippopotamus Song.

Chorus; “Mud, mud, glorious mud. Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood.”
They also sing it in Russian, if you are a masochist..

My sister and I still fall down when we cite these lines to each other; ” Some people think the title of this song is irrelevant. But it’s not irrelephant, it’s a hippopotamus!”

laureth's avatar

@Shadling: They’re beautiful songs. And I like beauty. And whether or not I believe in God, I think Christmas songs exemplify all that is best about Christianity – the hope and dream of peace and justice and coming together to celebrate the newborn… well, Sun, to me. But either way, it’s nostalgic and nice to hear once a year.

@gailcalled: Ooh, I didn’t know about that one! I was thinkin’ more of that rusty-hinge-voiced “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas” song.

augustlan's avatar

Though I’m not a full-fledged atheist, I’m pretty darn close to it and I use the phrases all the time. Like Empress Pixie I don’t use them around people I know would be upset by it. I also typically capitalize “God”, again for the benefit of others.

PupnTaco's avatar

Sure do.

“Great Odin’s beard!”

finkelitis's avatar

I once asked a blind friend whether she used phrases like “I see,” and so on. The answer was yes. I feel like God is in my language a fair amount. And if we’re going to be specific about it, “Goodbye,” comes from a medieval contraction of “God be with you.”

I think it’s important to understand the history of the language you use, but becoming totally consistent with your language doesn’t seem like a very enriching project. Better to enjoy the inconsistency. That tension between you and your words? That’s hundreds of years of cultural history trying to give you a hug.

gailcalled's avatar

@Finkelitis; you are also cunning and surprising, which doesn’t surprise me.

gailcalled's avatar

Lots of minced oaths, now that finkelitis has reminded me.

zounds = God’s wounds
strewth = God’s truth
sacré bleu = sacré Dieu

shadling21's avatar

Love it. Thanks for the great responses!

Maverick's avatar

I’ve taken to using “gawd” in place of “God” when typing such phrases, least someone assume I am asserting in a fictional character. But, I still use the phrases when speaking, although I try not to use then at all. It just goes to show how engrained in our society that the concept of a god is.

augustlan's avatar

@Maverick: Are you, by any chance JackAdams?

augustlan's avatar

JA is the only other person I’ve ever seen type “gawd” rather that “god”. Just sayin’.

Maverick's avatar

Naw, it just seemed obvious. “dog”, which is god backwards, seemed too obtuse and probably would be construed as insulting, which is not the goal.

Brome's avatar

Interesting question… that reminds me of something I had noticed about language…
I don’t have any actual numbers to give you, but I think there’s a lot more people who believe in God in the USA than in France (which is the country where I was born and raised and still live in today). As a matter of fact, phrases refering to God are rarely used in French. I can’t remember any of my friends or relatives saying “mon Dieu”, which is the french equivalent to “my God”.

As a consequence, the phrases I use depend on the language I’m using. If I’m speaking or writing in English, phrases like “gosh”, “oh my god”, or “holy sh___” are the first that come to my mind, because those are the phrases I read or hear in the english language on a daily basis. On the opposite, when I speak French, I’m going to uses “la vache”, “purée” or maybe something a bit more vulgar (like “putain de bordel de merde” or “la putain de sa race”... don’t use it in any formal situation) which have no religious connotation.

bodyhead's avatar

I’m a nonbeliever.

Yes actually. In addition to your list, I also say God bless you when people sneeze.

But instead of “Oh my God!”, I’ll usually say “Sweet zombie Jesus!”

Sometimes I tell people that what they are doing would make the baby Jesus cry.

chromaBYTE's avatar

@bodyhead: haha, I use “sweet zombie jesus” as well!

Anyone else got funny replacements for “oh my god”?

lapilofu's avatar

Oh My Science! is a slightly tongue in cheek website that takes tweets from Twitter and replaces phrases such as “Oh my God!” and “Praise Jesus!” with “Oh my science!” and “Praise science!” Mostly it’s kind of silly, but sometimes they turn out to be surprisingly appropriate.

I was just wondering the other day what those who do not believe in an afterlife should say after someone dies. I always want to say “rest in peace” but since I don’t believe a person has a soul that needs to rest in peace and telling their dead body to rest in peace is pretty pointless, it feels a little awkward.

jsc3791's avatar

How about:

“By the beard of Zeus!”

“Knights of Columbus!”

“Cheese and rice!”

“My word!”

“Goodness gracious!”

!Ay caramba!


“Oh, horse feathers!”

Knotmyday's avatar

You all need to be saved. I’ll pray for you.

gailcalled's avatar

Anyone interested in the French song about minced oaths, written and sung by the troubadour of the 50’s and 60’s, Georges Brassens?

cyndyh's avatar

@lapilofu: Try “he’s not hurting anymore” or “I’ll miss him” or some version of that. When someone dies it’s the same for the religious and the non-religious. We cry not for the dead but for ourselves because we miss the person. To the un-believer, the deceased is rotting or is ash or whatever the particulars of that death may be and he’s not hurting anymore. To the believer, the deceased has “gone to a better place” and he’s not hurting anymore.

The funeral is for the living and the most comforting thing you can do for the living is to be there while they’re hurting and missing the dead. Sometimes a reminder that we’re all hurting for ourselves, and not the deceased, is enough to get people through it. You don’t have to lie and say something you don’t mean, and you don’t have to point out your lack of belief while someone’s grieving.

On the original question, I use some of those phrase and don’t use others. Hell is just an idea of a horrible place to be stuck in so it can be appropriate in conversation as in “waitress from hell”, “line from hell”, “hotter than hell” and it makes the point.

I used to holler “Oh, God! Oh, God!” in bed, but I these days I give credit where it’s due instead. :^>

Knotmyday's avatar

@gail, I want to hear it! I do, I do!

Maverick's avatar


A) You won’t pray for us, so don’t lie about it.
B) I’ve been “saved” and have since been “saved” by science, and am much happier to not believe in fairytales anymore, thanks.

bodyhead's avatar

@Knotmyday Shoot, where you serious? I gave you a Great Answer because I thought your response was so hilarious.

Knotmyday's avatar

I thought it was funny, too, body.
Maverick, stop scolding me.

Maverick's avatar

haha, what was I supposed to think if you didn’t put in the obligatory smiley to denote sarcasm? ;)
Anyway, I wasn’t scolding – just trying to help save someone a little time. There is absolutely no reason to pray for someone that doesn’t hold the same delusions, afterall.

shadling21's avatar

@Gail – What French song is this?

gailcalled's avatar

La Ronde des Jurons. par Georges Brassens

You need a good unabridged dictionary to get all the odd and very old-fashioned slang..For example, Ainsi, parbleu, que les jarnibleus: parbleu is a nice way of saying Par Dieu, and jarnibleus is a shortcut for je renie Dieu.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Sometimes I use Bob. Partially because I think it’s funny, and partially because, well, I worship Bob Odenkirk. But saying “ohmygod” is just automatic for most of us if that’s what others around us say.

Monty Python has a gag in one of their later long-form episodes where a couple of characters are in the Soviet Union. When they go to the hostel, one character, who’s actually hit his head and thinks he’s V.I. Lenin, is “recognized” as Lenin by the desk clerk who cries, “Oh, my lack of god! It’s him!” Hilarious!

aprilsimnel's avatar

Y’know, in that sketch? Terry Jones’ character thinks he’s Trotsky, not Lenin, so like, OMLOG, I’m totes sorry.

shadling21's avatar

Ahaha no problem. The story is still entertaining.
Lurve for using OMLOG, though. It’s gonna take over!

tiffyandthewall's avatar

i guess i learn toward agnostic, but really, i don’t really consider my beliefs or lack when i say ‘ohmygod’. i say it as a figure of speech. sometimes i want to use something more clever, but i just don’t care enough to be honest.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

the problem here is the word ‘god’. Most religious types say ‘god’ and mean a specific deity. God is a very generic term. There are around 2,500 known gods in human history. So saying ‘oh my god’ or ’god damn’ or any other expletive could mean Zeus, Mithra, Set, Horus, Cthulhu, FSM, etc., etc., etc. I have tried to say Evelyn Damn, and other expletives using Evelyn instead of the generic term god, but it doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily. I have more important things to worry about than whether people want to criticize my use of the word god when I am an atheist. The study of words and their origins is an interesting endeavor, though.

cyndyh's avatar

I’m an atheist and it’s funny how no christians seem to have a problem if I’m joking around and say “By Jove!” They don’t think that means I believe in Jove and follow him or anything of the sort. But if you happen to say “Jesus H. Christ!” when you see a nasty car collision they lay into you like you’re really a believer underneath it all.

If I discuss Frodo does that mean I believe in magic and hobbits and such, oh my? :^>

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

cyndyh, I am a writer of short fiction, and once I wrote a story about a handicapped guy that had a religious verse on his business card. The verse figured into an important part of the story. A co-worker read my story and told me that I couldn’t be an atheist as I wrote a story with god in it. I asked her if I wrote a story about unicorns, would that mean I believed in unicorns? She replied, “Oh well, that’s different, unicorns aren’t real.” Sheesh, the depth of some people’s logic makes a kiddy pool look like the ocean.

cyndyh's avatar

@epz: Exactly! It just still amazes me how many people don’t get this concept.

fundevogel's avatar

God, yes.

but it would mostly be considered blasphemy, though I said the same things when I had a god. In my case it has more to do with the language I’m in the habit of using than anything to do with god.

plus a lot of them are fun to use as interjections. “Jesus Christos!” is simply the best expression of shock or surprise I know.

Got some unintentionally ironic “my lord’s”, a few “sweet wounded Jesus” and the inscrutable “Sweet baby Jesus on a popsicle stick”

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

saying “Jesus Christ on a bicycle” always gets me a stern look from others, as well as the rare “Jesus Christ on a crutch” but I save those epithets for special occasions, like when I am chasing fundies off my doorstep.

cyndyh's avatar

I always liked “Jesus on a stick”.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

@cyndyh “Jesus on a stick” sounds like something you’d get at the county fair. Hey, new product idea…

:::runs off to the local R&D labs:::

cyndyh's avatar

Yeah, it’s good with the peanut sauce. :^>

shadling21's avatar

Ahaha! I’ll have to start using these ones.

patg7590's avatar

doesn’t referring to Him and stating disbelief in Him kind of make Him exist?
if He did not exitst, how can you disbelieve in Him?
***braces for impact***

EmpressPixie's avatar

If that worked I would ride a unicorn to work. Or maybe a dragon.

patg7590's avatar

dragons are REAL
unsure about unicorns…. haha

cyndyh's avatar

Does that make Frodo real and the Tooth Fairy?

bodyhead's avatar

Yep. The good news is you can believe in any stupid thing you want.

cyndyh's avatar

Don’t you mean “The Good News™”? :^>

Strauss's avatar

Try this next time you get mad:

Cheese is dried, got all muddy!

mnmnj's avatar

yes I do. all the time. goddam, jesus, for christ’s sake… I don’t know why. I guess they are a part of my vernacular. I also swear like a truck driver. and I say bless you when people sneeze, which is totally ridiculous.

ninjacolin's avatar

yea, it communicates a certain emotion that others can understand

ratboy's avatar

God forbid!

YARNLADY's avatar

“Log NO”. I was raised in a reglious household and not allowed to swear, even ‘dang’ was forbidden. I gave up trying to believe in God when I left home, but I do not resort to using swear words.

gailcalled's avatar

My very old mother was raised to be a lady, and that’s what my publicly prudish father expected of all of us. When my ma was widowed, she would occasionally spell out “shit” as though that made it more proper.

Now I will occasionally try a “shit” or “hell” in front of her as a little (mean) test. No problems. My sis and I will use “fuck” among ourselves only; since we do it rarely, it has an emphatic effect.

Any word when overused, will lose its power, except for uberbatman and his shrimp, Vladimira.

Today I was having trouble with my new computer and finally noticed that Milo, in his evening peregrinations, had unplugged the lead from the external back-up HD to the DSL connection. This seemed a good time to bring out Carlin’s seven words. Milo seemed indifferent, of course.

(For the newcomers, Milo is fluther’s Catgod.)

cyndyh's avatar

Damn, I thought he was our Godcat as in The Godfather in cat form.

ShauneP82's avatar

I myself believe in God. My best friend however, does not. He uses such terms all the time. Very two-faced huh?

Zen's avatar

@chromaBYTE You asked: Anyone else got funny replacements for “oh my god”?

I use Oy Vey a lot. (It means the same, to me.)


ShauneP82's avatar

@Zen LOL. It must be pretty hard to damn somebody if you are an atheist. Their are a lot phrases that tie God in. lol.

Shuttle128's avatar

@fundevogel I say Jesus Christos as well, quite often if I think before I exclaim. If not, I use the English pronunciation. I used to feel guilty doing it, but I’ve learned to accept that it’s merely a habit and that it’s effect is hard to replicate. Goddammit’s a good one as well. Nothing really gets close to this…maybe the F-bomb, but it doesn’t have the same ominous feel that goddammit does.

Fyrius's avatar


I’ve been trying to secularise my vocabulary by replacing “oh my god” with “good grief” or “my word”.
Instead of “for god’s sake” one could use “for crying out loud” or possibly “for fuck’s sake”.
“God damn it” is easily replaced by simply “damn it”, or so many other alternatives. A personal favourite would be along the lines of “nom de putain de bordel de merde de connard de saloperie de cul de ta mère”.
I have yet to find an alternative for “god knows that (...)”. I could say “the Flying Spaghetti Monster knows” instead, but sometimes I want to be more serious. Maybe “it’s no secret that”.
“God forbid” presents a similar dilemma. “Heaven forbid” is better, but still makes the weird implication that this planet’s atmosphere has any influence on whatever it should be forbidding.

It’s not because I feel awkward using those phrases, it’s because I consciously don’t want to advertise religion with every other sentence. Imagine if people would use the name “coca cola” instead of “god” in those phrases, what a great marketing campaign that would be.

Come to think of it, maybe I’ll do that. Coca cola knows I could do such a thing.

AstroChuck's avatar

No, God damn it, I don’t!

Noel_S_Leitmotiv's avatar

Of course, its Gods only purpose.

Rsam's avatar

I don’t use “God knows…” because, i’ve never really heard it. but all the others seem fair game and don’t understand why i shouldnt use them. most people who know me well enough for me to make such an exclamation around them, know im an atheist.

whats even more fun is coming up with your own variations. such as “Jesus Fuck Nipples!”

YARNLADY's avatar

I don’t think using a word that is spelled g o d and pronounced gawd is the same thing as referring to a diety. Like all swear words, it’s just a noise. I was in a conversation with someone the other day and she said “oh F***” and I said “No thank you I’m not in the mood for that right now” and she said “Huh”, because she was just swearing, not discussing sex.

JeffVader's avatar

I do. Even though religion is a scam & gods are make believe, the words are still culturally & historically relevent. I know that Father Christmas isn’t real, doesn’t stop me from saying his name out loud.

meiosis's avatar

Yes, having been raised in a Christian household in a nominally Christian country, I am suffused with the cultural references that come with that, and have taken on the idiomatic expressions that also come with such background.

“Christ on a bike” is my current favourite expression of surprise.

kritiper's avatar

God Almighty, yes!

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