Musings on Greta Christina’s List of Insulting Questions…

In a blog post titled ‘9 questions atheists find insulting? Bollocks!’ Paul Braterman criticises Greta Christina for writing an article on Everyday Sexism suggesting people should stop asking atheists certain questions as they’re insulting.

The questions are:

  1. How can you be moral without believing in God?
  2. How do you have any meaning in your life?
  3. Doesn’t it take just as much faith to be an atheist as it does to be a believer?
  4. Isn’t atheism just a religion?
  5. What’s the point of atheist groups? How can you have a community for something you don’t believe in?
  6. Why do you hate God? (Or ‘Aren’t you just angry at God?’)
  7. But have you read the Bible, or some other Holy Book, heard about some supposed miracle, etc?
  8. What if you’re wrong?
  9. Why are you atheists so angry?

Braterman points out, quite correctly, that to dictate so finely the grounds on which any discussion can take place is to impede discourse. He writes that ‘no one is going to learn anything from anybody if one side lays down rules about what the other side is allowed to say, before the discussion even starts.’

I agree. But what really struck me here wasn’t the suggestion that these questions were insulting, but the way in which Christina seemed to think it was her right to insist on what other people be allowed to say based on the fact that she might find it insulting.

Christina wrote ‘Sometimes the questions are asked sincerely, with sincere ignorance of the offensive assumptions behind them. And sometimes they are asked in a hostile, passive-aggressive, “I’m just asking questions” manner. But it’s still not okay to ask them’.

No. It is okay to ask them. Just as it’s okay to ignore the questions being asked if you chose to. We all find offence in different things and that’s okay too, but none of us has a right to have our sense of being offended catered to. Life just doesn’t work like that.

But also, I think we need to accept that as we write about this subject- about this silly list of questions -we do so from a position of immense privilege because we do not face extreme consequences for speaking openly about our atheism. I am sure that in America there is greater social stigma for atheists than there is here in the UK but it is still pretty safe to speak openly about being good without god in the states. Right now, being openly atheist is dangerous in certain parts of the world where you risk being murdered on the street for simply turning your back on religion. Bangladesh, for example.

To try and dictate what is and isn’t civil discourse about something that affects such a diverse group of people that is so much bigger than any of us is a little bit mind-blowing, to be honest.

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Hayley Stevens

Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

3 thoughts on “Musings on Greta Christina’s List of Insulting Questions…”

  1. I generally agree. Those questions reflect how believers conceptualise the world, true, but most of them are legitimate, answerable questions (as opposed to loaded, trick questions). The framing of the questions is from a belief perspective but I assert that is not necessarily insidious, compared with truly vile questions framed from a racist or sexist viewpoint. (Questions 6 and 9 come closest to the analogy of, say, white people asking black people, “Why do YOU PEOPLE always…” Therefore, those two questions can be dealt with by the calm, civil employment of withering sarcasm.)

    My own method of answering these questions would probably be gently Socratic. I would get the questioner to define their terms and examine some of the unspoken assumptions baked into the questions. I wouldn’t do this as an evasive ad hominem, or as a first step in destroying their beliefs and so converting the questioner to my position (horrors!). I would do this to rattle their certainty ever-so-slightly with the aim of bringing some modesty and hopefully compassion into the conversation.

    It is my feeling that a thoughtful believer could answer most of these questions correctly by examining the basis for their own belief. A dogmatist would not be able to do so and would just get angrier and angrier.

    (If I wanted to go really deep, I would ask the believer to examine why the concept of atheism bothers them so much. But I wouldn’t ask this at a party or a family gathering. e.g. I would never ruin Christmas by talking about religion!)

    > it is still pretty safe to speak openly about being good without god in the states.

    Unless you are running for public office. Atheism is the last taboo in American public life, where an alarming number of people thirst for a Christian theocracy, though the Constitution forbids a religious test for office or a state religion. There has been a black president, there might soon be a woman president, one day there could be an openly gay president, but s/he would still have to be seen by the press climbing the steps of a church, hand in hand with a spouse. It’s been a ritual of presidential politics for quite some time.

    1. Of course. But it’s so noticeable to me here in Canada, where a candidate’s religion is rarely scrutinised.

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