Atheists Need Their Own Profanity

Photo by Bob Simmons (Flickr)

If you’ve ever been on an atheist web site with enabled comments or live chat, I am sure you’ve heard or seen the same things as me. Some people are rude, some get angry, some frustrated, some run out of arguments and many end up using expletives. OK, so much for the fine arts of rhetoric, debate and conversation. But that is not my point.

My surprise is that so many of them use expletives that have been bequeathed to us from religions or the religious. We need to move away from this corrupting toxic baggage burdening our emerging culture.

I am going to focus mostly on Christianity’s bequeathed prejudices to English, as those seem to be the predominant ones employed and it’s the only language I speak fluently. But whatever your ethnic background and principal language, I would suggest you give this some thought and see if you are falling into the same cultural trap – of using the enemy’s weapons of subtle mental coercion.

Why Is Calling Someone A Body Part An Insult?

OK, we all know that the monotheists have a LOT of sexual hang-ups, so it’s sort of natural I suppose that all the best bits on a person have been transformed into insults, to confirm the ugly, or dirty, or disgusting nature of the procreative act and to denigrate the enjoyment humans can obtain from their own bodies.

Frankly, I like my dick and I think that cunts are pretty great too. The same goes for dickheads and pussies. I suppose the latter could be a reference to cats, but… well, I like cats too. All these references to the human genitals should be dropped, as they do not need to be disparaged. There is nothing wrong with them, and it’s only our religious cultural parasites that have taken a ride on our language and turned these best parts of human anatomy into words we use to try to hurt each other. Every time we do this, it’s like offering praise to Saint Augustine. Just think of it that way next time. Or to put it another way, if you were given a choice to lose a leg or your genitals which would be more important to you? I suspect that there would not be as many eunuchs out there as one legged men.

I suppose you can still call someone an asshole, as that is a “dirty” part of the human anatomy (at least if you’re not wiping properly), although it is a pretty useful part of the body (think about life without one). The only totally worthless bit on a human (at least the best known one) is the appendix. But I know that calling someone an “appendix” just doesn’t give us the satisfaction of calling them a “twat”. Hopefully, that will change someday. (Reminds me of the time in high school when a friend of mine called a pretty girl who had rejected him a “real twat.” My other friend got a very strange look on his face as he said “there are artificial ones?” Of course, this was in the days before “flesh-lights” and “pocket pussies.”)

But really, can we get over the hang-ups about our bodies? The flesh is not corrupt, and our genitals are not the pathway to perdition and hellfire. Using these terms as insults perpetuates the religious view of our bodies as sinful and worthy of denigration. And besides, having an asshole is eminently better than being without one.

Although “tits” used to be considered a profanity, it’s not really an insult. (I always liked George Carlin’s take on the word “tits,” it just sounds too cute to be rude.) And calling someone a “booby” has a lot of other lexical baggage, so I think we can consider it safe for use.

How About Bodily Waste?

Well this one has been around for a long time, and shit and piss are pretty universally viewed as being repellant, whatever their redeeming features as fertilizer. And farts are probably ok too (even if to many men, for some very odd reason, they remain ever humorous…). So these are ok, and their continued use does not promote any particular religious view, prejudice or doctrine. And of course igniting your farts on YouTube almost guarantees you at least 100,000 views, more if you’re female.


Same as the insults related to the genitals, religious groups just love to mark sex out as a bad thing. Why is “fuck you” such an insult? I suppose it’s really taken as meaning “rape you,” as that implies an unwanted forceful violation. But just a fuck? Most people enjoy consensual sex. Again, only to the religious with their hang-ups on sex is there anything bad with it.

Then there is what I would call the aspirational sexual insult where you invite someone to have sex with you, as in the phrase “blow me”, “suck it”, or “eat me” (and yes we are talking about Alice’s cookie here…). These are probably ok, as they are invitations to a pleasurable activity (at least for one person) and they can be responded to with a simple “yes, please” or some variant on “you wish.”

Buggery falls into this category too. Homosexuality is always debased, with profanities like “faggot,” “queer,” and all the variations on “bugger.” The Brits, a most imaginative people, seem to have a virtually unlimited supply of euphemisms for this activity, with “poofter” being my particular favorite (although some claim it heralds from Australia). Whether you enjoy anal sex or not, there is nothing wrong with it, and using it as a profanity only reinforces its perception as something morally debased and proscribed by religion.

That leaves us with things like “sheep shagger” which, while nasty, doesn’t have much to do with religion. Although many religions do disavow sex with animals, I think we can safely say that this is a sort of universal revulsion – except if you’re from New Zealand where I am told it’s a badge of honor (just kidding). (“Why do Scotsmen wear kilts? Because sheep can hear zippers.” I admit to being partial to sheep jokes.) Anyway, it’s sort of like saying “do not kill” is religious in orientation because almost all religions prohibit it in some form. So calling someone a practitioner of bestiality remains fair game.

It’s odd that there is no real insult related to pedophilia, perhaps because it is not really an enumerated sin in any of the three monotheisms. (Certainly didn’t make the Hebrew’s top ten.) Perhaps it’s become just too horrible to be referenced casually? Maybe it’s just too modern of a concern? After all, it isn’t that long ago that European monarchs were still getting engaged as “children” and often marrying at an age no longer considered to be proper.

Perhaps an insult of this nature didn’t catch on as it would have been tantamount to ridiculing your betters? In any event, there doesn’t seem to be one in popular use, and that is probably for the best. Although with all the revelations of child abuse by catholic priests, one might develop in our popular culture out of those revelations of systematic abuse in the future.

Lastly in this category are the incestuous insults, like “mother fucker.” Most cultures (with some highly notable exceptions, like the ancient Egyptians) have had some prohibitions on incest at some degree or another. I remember one short play where a man was asked what he thought about incest, and his response was “well it depends on what your sister looks like, doesn’t it.” Incest has harmful genetic effects for any progeny of a close relationship, but other than this there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it as long as the two parties are willing adults. But again, there are few eloquent insults in this line of reference. As I said before, since sex is a pretty nice thing, I would put this in the “don’t demean sex” category, even if it’s with your relatives (just practice effective birth control or move to Appalachia in the US).


It seems like women only get raked over the coals on this one, and the equivalent terms for men are somewhat complimentary, like “stud” whereas women get tagged as “sluts” or “whores” or “hoes” or whatever nonsense is popular on the rap charts. As I’ve said before, making sex nasty is a religious objective, and sex for women is even worse as all three monotheisms have a preferred place for women that is pretty close to if not directly and unequivocally being property of their men folk. It especially saddens me when I hear women describing other women as sluts. Get over it. Women are not property. They are not evil or dirty if they are not virgins, and they should be able to enjoy sex as much as they want with as many partners as they want. The justification for a double standard for women in this area comes straight from the abusive religious texts we are supposed to be rejecting.


This has always seemed to be an odd one for me. All the monotheisms reject masturbation (of course they would hate something fun that was so easily accessible to everyone). Victorian England and even American psychiatrists until the 1950s and 60s thought that excessive masturbation could cause insanity (circumcision was meant to help prevent this calamity from occurring). So this is clearly a religious thing. We use the terms “jerk”, “jack-off”, “wanker”, “tosser”, and so on and so forth (again, the Brits appear to hold the world record for creativity of descriptive language in this category). None of this is bad, unless you are religious, so it too goes into the cultural dustbin of profanity promoting religious objectives.

Tangential to this are phrases related to semen and cum, often directed at women and accusing them of being the receptacles of this discharge. Again, sex isn’t bad, and neither are our bodies, so don’t let the religious folks turn this into something bad. So, just to be clear telling someone to go consume a “cum Slurpee” is helping to promote the religious sanctioned demonizing of sexual acts, but telling them to go eat a “yellow snow cone” or a “poopsicle” (we are in the winter months for those in the Northern Hemisphere) is just fine.


Speaking a god’s name as a profanity is really an interesting idea, don’t you think? I mean, you hit your thumb by mistake with the hammer, and you exclaim “Jesus Christ!” What exactly is this supposed to mean? Are you calling Jesus to come to your rescue? How about when people shake their heads and say “oh god”? Jews don’t seem to do this, and neither do Muslims. For an atheist, it’s pretty meaningless. A lot of atheists use references to insult a religious figure like “Jesus fucking Christ”, but why mention Jesus at all? As atheists, there is no reason to invoke any god’s name as an expletive, profanity, indicia of frustration or curse. It just perpetuates the falsehood that there is some special meaning in the name more so than in another name, like Ralph.


Most of these are curses (which are more imaginative and are not really included in my discussion) and not strictly expletives, like “damn you”, “God damn you”, “go to hell”, “burn in hell”, etc. We all know these, as most of them have been leveled at us as atheists by believers on-line or in person. What a waste of breath. But as profanity, only “damn” counts, which is still intrinsically a curse, since it’s a verb. There is no hell and referring to one, even for the sake of being rude to a believer, is just more gas on the fundamentalists’ fire. What is the point in using a non-existent place as an expletive anyway? It doesn’t seem very esthetically satisfying to me. Maybe we should replace “hell” with someplace really scary, like “go to Detroit” (I am from Michigan, BTW), or “may you rot in the Sudan”, or “Kim Jong Un is waiting for you in North Korea”, or “have fun in Rich Limbaugh’s jacuzzi”? Sure scares me more than hell does.


This is a hard one to qualify, because it exists in so many cultures and has no religious context. But it is a defamation of a person who is born to parents who are not married. Now since marriage in many cultures is linked to religion (I expect that marriage pre-dated religion and religions just expropriated the concept as a way to control the custom) I think I want to include this in the list of forbidden profanities. What is wrong, after all, with being a bastard? It traditionally has been a position of diminished social standing, but that didn’t stop William the (Bastard) Conqueror from adding Briton to his realm in 1066. I don’t think that people have to be married to be good parents, and I see no expression of guilt or taint of adultery (shades of “The Scarlet Letter”) in the children born to single mothers. Indeed, in a number of societies, single motherhood is a significant portion of total births, so let’s get over this stigmatizing insult based on outdated conceptions of adultery and marriage that religions have tried to control as a way to increase their own power over people. Being a bastard is a designation that has nothing to do with who you are, what sort of person you are, or anything else. It just says that your parents weren’t married at the time of your birth. Big deal, get over it.


Dogs get a bad reputation in many cultures. Perhaps because they sometimes practice coprophagia (eating feces – maybe this is where we get the concept of a “shit eating grin”?).

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