Good for Nothing

We all have our “catch phrases”.  Obama is going to “never rest” until a problem is done, which means he’s probably going to be awfully tired.  Santa says, “ho ho ho” instead of “ha ha ha” when he’s laughing.  When I was very young, my friends and I would say “Dy-no-mite!” for no particular reason other than we heard it on TV.

There is one “catch phrase” I am known for.  “Atheists are good for nothing”. It just slipped out one day during a good old forum chat argument.  “Since atheists don’t believe in God, why behave in a moral fashion?” was the question.  My answer was simply “Atheists are good for nothing”.  Ever since, that phrase has been associated with me.

Sadly, even though atheists are for the most part critical thinkers, many people do not take the time to understand what I mean. I had to take the phrase out of my signature line on the JREF forum to keep some atheists from private messaging me about how I was “insulting” them.

Perhaps it is because I am known as not being an atheist that people suspect me when I say “Atheists are good for nothing”.  I have two atheist children, 90% of my friends are atheists, I belong to several groups that support atheists (because I feel there is great intolerance for atheists and everyone need to be supportive in getting rid of this prejudice), and even James Randi himself says it’s OK for me to hang with the JREF crowd. I enjoy being the “token” believer, and there is even a small group of non-atheists skeptics that have “infiltrated “ TAM and other skeptic events. The thing most atheist skeptics don’t know is that most “believer” skeptics think comments from Hitchens and Dawkins are small potatoes compared to how we have been treated by our fellow “believers”.  I’ve been informed I am NOT going to heaven more than a few times since among other things God is so angry at me about that whole accepting homosexuality as simply part of the interesting variety of life. The special corner of hell occupied by Charles Darwin has a chair for me since I believe in evolution.  I have been told I’m going to be damned because I dye my hair and wear pants a lot. The list of what I do “wrong” to a fundamentalist believer is much longer than the list of what I “think wrong” to the average skeptic. People asked me at TAM if I was upset by what Richard Dawkins and other atheists were saying.  I felt like saying “Look as long as he’s OK with me wearing pants, he’s got nothing on my fundie neighbor!”

What does hurt me though is when people I care about do not understand what I really mean by “Atheists are good for nothing”.  So here is the history.  I have a storybook that my grandmother gave me, called the “Giant Story Book” which she found it in the attic of the old house she lived in. The book is dated 1890.  I loved reading the stories as a child, and there was one little poem we both especially liked.  It is by Mary Wyatt.

Good for Nothing

“Just look at these pennies,” said roguish Dan

To his sturdy companion Roy;

“My mother gives me a penny a day

Whenever I’ve been a good boy”

“I wouldn’t be paid just for being good,”

Said Roy, with a toss of his head;

“I’d just as soon, and a little rather,

Be good for nothing,” he said

I was never paid for “good grades”.  A lot of my friends got so much for a B, more money for an A.  They got paid if they got enough gold stars on a chart, or if they walked the dog every day.  The joke was that I had to be “good for nothing”. I never paid my own children for doing well at school.  I wanted them to know they were doing well for their own welfare, not mine.  I just wanted to pass on to my children that being “good for nothing” was really just being good because it’s the right thing to do.  It really means in the end  being “good for yourself”.  You will be happier and more successful if you decide it is worth being good simply because you know it’s the right thing to do.  If you are only good for gain, you stand to lose everything.

When I say “Atheists are good for nothing”, I mean it as my highest compliment.  It’s how I was raised and how I raised my children.  It’s something I admire in almost every atheist I know.


One response to this post.

  1. It is an interesting phrase, all the more so given that its more obvious meaning must be overcome to arrive at the one you intend. But it probably belongs more in an essay such as this one than a signature line. Short of context, I would never have suspected your actual point.


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