• Atheists Don’t Know Shit

    A few days ago, the following joke showed up on my Facebook feed:

    Little girl on an airplaneAn atheist was seated next to a little girl on an airplane and he turned to her and said, “Do you want to talk? Flights go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger.”

    The little girl, who had just started to read her book, replied to the total stranger, “What would you want to talk about?”

    “Oh, I don’t know,” said the atheist. “How about why there is no God, or no Heaven or Hell, or no life after death?” as he smiled smugly.

    “Okay,” she said. “Those could be interesting topics but let me ask you a question first. A horse, a cow, and a deer all eat the same stuff – grass. Yet a deer excretes little pellets, while a cow turns out a flat patty, but a horse produces clumps. Why do you suppose that is?”

    The atheist, visibly surprised by the little girl’s intelligence, thinks about it and says, “Hmmm, I have no idea.”  To which the little girl replies, “Do you really feel qualified to discuss God, Heaven and Hell, or life after death, when you don’t know shit?”

    And then she went back to reading her book.

    Now, I like a good joke. I even love puns, and the worse they are the more I love them. I  use large amounts of humor and sarcasm when both teaching classes and doing therapy.  I sometimes refer to my style of teaching as edutainment, for pete’s sake (if you don’t believe me, you can watch one of my lectures). One type of humor that I don’t enjoy, though, is humor with the sole purpose of belittling and insulting others. Such jokes often rely on negative stereotypes and are frequently used against minorities or outsiders. Let’s deconstruct the unpleasant stereotypes in the above joke, as an example.

    1. Atheists target those least likely to be able to defend themselves.
    2. Atheists are not socially skilled.
    3. Atheists are smug.
    4. Atheists think most people are dumber than they are.

    I’m relatively sure not all of these are accurate of your typical atheist. Certainly, I have met non-theistic people who have displayed these traits. But, I’ve also met theists who think or behave in this way. And whites. And blacks. And basically people from every group you can think of.

    photoThe joke also contains a fairly major logical fallacy. While the atheist did not know why animals shit in various shapes (but this lady does!), this has absolutely no bearing on any other potential knowledge that he may or may not have. It’s the equivalent of me starting to talk to someone about the the optimal treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder in youth, but then he or ignores me after finding out that I don’t know anything about cellular mitosis. This is called strawmanning (or for those in the UK, an Aunt Sally).

    Now, interestingly enough, atheists are one of the few groups in the United States that it is still okay to hate and (openly) discriminate against. From state constitutions that outright ban atheists from holding public office to the majority of Americans saying they would not vote for an atheistic political candidate to being one of the most distrusted groups of “religious” minorities (although things are actually getting better compared to 50 years ago!).

    What if we took this joke, and just changed a few words? How would that be received? Would the new joke be deemed shareable and likable across your favorite social networking site? Let’s do a little experiment.

    A Christian was seated next to a little girl on an airplane and he turned to her and said, “Do you want to talk? Flights go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger.”

    The little girl, who had just started to read her book, replied to the total stranger, “What would you want to talk about?”

    “Oh, I don’t know,” said the Christian. “How about why there is a God, and if you don’t accept Jesus as your savior you will be condemned to an eternity of hellfire and pain?” as he smiled smugly.

    “Okay,” she said. “Those could be interesting topics but let me ask you a question first. A horse, a cow, and a deer all eat the same stuff – grass. Yet a deer excretes little pellets, while a cow turns out a flat patty, but a horse produces clumps. Why do you suppose that is?”

    The Christian, visibly surprised by the little girl’s intelligence, thinks about it and says, “Hmmm, I have no idea.”  To which the little girl replies, “Do you really feel qualified to discuss God, Heaven and Hell, or life after death, when you don’t know shit?”

    And then she went back to reading her book.

    Or maybe we substitute a different, often discriminated against religious group, perhaps?

    A Muslim was seated next to a little girl on an airplane and he turned to her and said, “Do you want to talk? Flights go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger.”

    The little girl, who had just started to read her book, replied to the total stranger, “What would you want to talk about?”

    “Oh, I don’t know,” said the Muslim. “How about why there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet? Or how you as a female must wear a burqa and show obedience to your husband in all matters?” as he smiled smugly.

    “Okay,” she said. “Those could be interesting topics but let me ask you a question first. A horse, a cow, and a deer all eat the same stuff – grass. Yet a deer excretes little pellets, while a cow turns out a flat patty, but a horse produces clumps. Why do you suppose that is?”

    The Muslim, visibly surprised by the little girl’s intelligence, thinks about it and says, “Hmmm, I have no idea.”  To which the little girl replies, “Do you really feel qualified to discuss God and women’s role in society, when you don’t know shit?”

    And then she went back to reading her book.

    I am guessing that the “Christians don’t know shit” joke would be seen as insulting and not funny to most, provoking outrage and cries of “stop trying to oppress my faith!” As for the “Muslims don’t know shit” version, I would think it would be unlikely to be shared much at all, since it would be seen as denigrating to an entire culture or at least purposefully trying to start a fight.

    So why, I wonder, is it okay to instead insult and denigrate an ever-growing percentage of the population? A percentage of the population that includes many of the key figures who made possible the sharing of such a joke online via a computer in the first place? A percentage of the population who go to prison at a much lower rate than believers, despite theists repeatedly accusing them of being amoral?

    Your thoughts?

    Category: HumorPersonalReligion

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    Article by: Caleb Lack

    Caleb Lack is the author of "Great Plains Skeptic" on SIN, as well as a clinical psychologist, professor, and researcher. His website contains many more exciting details, visit it at www.caleblack.com
    • SmilodonsRetreat

      Forming demeaning images and social constructs of an enemy group is one of the classic steps in warfare. It’s used to encourage troops on your side to think of the enemy as evil, inhuman, stupid, animals, etc.

      Just look at the WWII propaganda posters.

      It’s the exact same thing. Christians have been engaged in psychological warfare against homosexuals, atheists, other religions, etc for thousands of years.

    • It’s funny because it’s meant as a joke, but ironically mirrors how those conversations usually go. I’m reminded of the Courtier’s reply. “You apparently are unfamiliar with the exquisite fragrance of the emperor’s excrement, nor have you studied in detail its texture and form.”

    • Broadly speaking, most humour other than slapstick and observational humour, needs a victim of some sort.

      I looked into this in this post, fyi:

      The Philosophy of Funny: Victims

      • It’s interesting because my partner’s daughter recently (in doing a gender studies masters) became an evangelical feminist, vegan, intersectional liberal. She used to love humour and comedy big time but now has a harder time accepting it. She has to be much, much more careful in selecting comedians who she will appreciate.

        This is no comment on the moral value of such comedy, though.

        The problem is for many humans, the more taboo and risque the subject is, often the more intuitively funny we find it.

        I seem to remember interesting stuff by Steven Pinker in How the Mind Works on the place and function of comedy and humour.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      The joke is a completely generic, fill-in-the-blank model. It could be applied to almost literally any group; your Christian and Muslim versions didn’t even scratch the surface of its genericity. Try this on for size, and notice that it fits just as well:

      A dentist was seated next to a little girl on an airplane and …

      To which the little girl replies, “Do you really feel qualified to
      discuss crowns vs. tooth implants, when you don’t know shit?”

      And then she went back to reading her book.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        The only way to dispute the genericity would be to acknowledge that theology is shit.

        • Jack_Ma

          I was told that joke by my son’s father-in-law. I replied, “Is the little girl suggesting that theology is like making shit up?”

    • There are those who have no problem indoctrinating other people’s young children and teaching them to suspend critical thinking in favor of blindly trusting what the adults have to say.
      If I recall correctly, they it Vacation Bible School.

    • Marucha Chan

      I sure wish I had found this column two years ago, when you wrote it. I think it was about that time that one of my religious cousins shared it on Facebook, and I (from the not-openly-atheist branch of the family) politely pointed pretty much out all the flaws in this joke that you did — unfair stereotypes, all-purpose straw-man punchline, reframeable to put anyone in the arrogant adult role, and the obvious (to me) fact that evangelical Christians are far more likely to try to prosyletize to other people’s children than atheists. (Bible give-always, Good News Clubs, etc. at grade schools)
      But neither my cousin nor her sister could see any of my points. The more reasonable one just lamely said, of the evil atheist, “I just kept thinking, ‘what kind of a person would do that?'”. The joke seemed like some sort of justice to her.
      The sister, who thinks God tells her what to do in every moment of her life, unfriended me not long after. (That was a relief, actually.)
      It occurred to me that — sorry for the stereotype — maybe the people least likely to question all the glaring flaws and illogic of their childlike faith are just too stupid to analyze this joke and see the bigotry of it — rather like Kim Davis is obviously too stupid to see any reasoning but her own on her “right” to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples.

    • Tristan Vick

      If an atheist shits in the woods, does God hear it?

    • For the Muslims….Islam is submission(without complain) to One God Called Allah, To pray to Allah, Be Contented with what Allah wills on you…. and It is Allah who we believe created the Horse, Deer and the Cow, with their different Stuff…It doesn’t make any difference. Wearing Modestly is important and the world is realizing it. Before and even Now, Women were and are being used as objects of sales, modelling and sex….Islam came to rescue the women and has placed her spiritually same as men, physically lower than men and still above the way she treated in other religions like Christianity.

    • In this case, the atheist was indeed ready to pummel a child. So yeah, he fits the negative stereotypes and got it right between the eyes. And yes, there are atheists who do think they know better than the rest of us and are all too willing to share their ‘superiority’ with the rest of the world unbidden.

    • gnorfel

      Even – IF – I got into heaven… I would reject it knowing that it was populated by people like the one writing this post.
      I agree though – I don’t know “shit” – but at least I don’t pretend to.