The Smartass Atheist Syndrome

Once the contradictions inherent in religion finally lead you to accept that God almost certainly does not exist, it is natural to want to share your newfound wisdom.

I know that feeling well. It’s as if you saw the world as it really is for the very first time.

Wake up! Open your eyes! The emperor has no clothes! NO CLOTHES, I TELL YOU!!

You want to shout it out from the rooftops. You want the whole world to realize their error.

All of a sudden you start seeing glaring contradictions everywhere.

She says she believes in the Bible but she’s never even read it!

He’s grateful he survived, but who should we blame for earthquakes?

She says it’s a miracle she survived the operation, but what about the doctor who performed it?

He’s always asking us to pray for starving children, but he’s never donated a single dollar to charity!

And how do people react when you point out these contradictions? Instead of thanking you for taking an interest in helping them, they lash out! They tell you you’ll burn in hell! Or worse, they piously tell you that God loves you anyway and that they’ll pray for you!


It’s at this critical point when many new atheists contract the smartass atheist syndrome.

People suffering from this condition wholeheartedly believe that religious people are idiots. The main symptom is attacking people who profess religious beliefs instead of focusing on the beliefs themselves.

How can they believe all this?

Don’t they see how contradictory and retrograde their beliefs are?

How can they be so blind?!

Only an idiot would believe such bullshit!

Name calling is obviously bad form, but here I want to focus on whether the smartass atheist’s strategy is logically sound and, more importantly, what effect it has on religious people.

I’m now talking directly to you, my dear smartass atheist.

By now you’ve undoubtedly heard about logical fallacies; those ‘mental illusions’ that religious people love so much. I suppose that as a new atheist you’re very careful not to fall into these common mental traps, right?

Well, how’s attacking religious people instead of their beliefs not a perfect example of Ad Hominem?

Let’s suppose that your religious interlocutor is indeed an idiot; can you then logically conclude that their beliefs are false?

No, of course you can’t.

If logic and reason are so important to you (as they should be), I suggest you should be careful not to fall prey to one of the most elemental fallacies.

Let’s put logic aside for a moment and be a little machiavellian.

What is it that makes you share all those offensive memes and ridicule religious people? I suppose your intention goes beyond insulting them, doesn’t it? I’d like to believe that deep down your intention is to defend reason and fight against irrational beliefs.

Well, please note that not so long ago you were one of those ‘idiots’. Do you honestly think that some annoying smartass would have made you see how ‘contradictory and retrograde’ your beliefs were by calling you an idiot? Would you have changed your mind had some arrogant jerk insulted you and your whole family?

Of course not. I would submit that, in fact, experiencing something like that would have had precisely the opposite effect.

Calling religious people idiots in order to persuade them is not only ineffective but counterproductive; not only do you fail to get your point across, but you actually make them reaffirm their beliefs.

What is it that you really want? Advocate for reason and critical thinking, or simply show everyone how smart you are?

In my experience, if you’re trying to talk someone out of believing something irrational, it is much more effective to assume that your interlocutor is not an idiot, be empathic, and try to understand where the belief is coming from.

Maybe they think that questioning their religious beliefs is wrong. Maybe they find solace thinking this way. Maybe they’re afraid of losing their faith. Maybe they have never thought about it!

Don’t lecture people with bombastic, pretentious, and well rehearsed sermons, which are also frequently incomprehensible and, therefore, utterly useless. Take an interest for your audience’s point of view. Ask questions. Put yourself in their shoes. This should be easy enough; you were in the dark side not too long ago, remember? :).

I’m strongly convinced that in our fight to defend reason and destroy superstition, empathy and humility are much more powerful weapons than aggression and arrogance.

What do you think?





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