Atheists and Religionists: What would you do?

Atheists: if someone put a gun to your head and said, “Pray to God for forgiveness or I’m going to blow your head off!” would you do it?

Christians: if someone put a gun to your head and said, “Say that Jesus is not the Son of God or I’ll blow your head off!” would you do it?

Those of other religions can extrapolate to their own situations. If someone threatened you with immediate death, and you had every reason to believe that they were 100% serious (not only that he’d kill you, but that he’d let you go if you do as he says), would you say something completely contrary to your beliefs to save your life? Do you believe your diety (if any) would forgive you for doing so?

(Apologies if this has been done before. I tried some searches, but couldn’t figure out a combination of keywords that didn’t swamp me with irrelevant threads.)

I’m an atheist, and you bet your sweet bippy I’d pray to God. By which I mean, of course, that I’d say the words, not that there would be genuine feeling behind it. I don’t believe in a diety that would be disappointed in my blasphemy, and I have no desire to be an atheist martyr of some sort. I guess that raises the question of what purpose martyrs serve, but for now I’ll leave it at that.

I’m Jewish, and I’d hope to have the courage to refuse. I know my history, and to do otherwise would be a disgrace to my forebearers, who held to their faith in York, the Inquisition, and elsewhere.

(On the other hand, I’m an Israeli - so I might just say yes, wait till he lowers his guard, grab the gun and blow the bastard’s brain out. Passive resistance can only get you so far).

I’m an atheist. Generally, I would say the prayer to save my life. But if the gunman is carrying a Sincerity-O-Meter with him, well, I’d be history.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m an atheist, but close enough I guess. Sure I’d say it! I don’t see why anyone, no matter how much they believe God doesn’t exist, wouldn’t pray to him to save their life. Seems perfectly logical to me.

In either case (and given the limiting parameters), I’d say whatever I was ordered to say. If an atheist, there is no deity to offend; if a believer, I would prefer to think that God knows the difference between statements made under duress and actual beliefs.

Besides, the person holding the gun is obviously a complete moron, for thinking that such a forced statement has any real meaning.

i would say whatever the idiot wanted. words do not alter physical of metaphysical reality.

the idiot better beware of me in the future tho. mars in scorpio can be mean and sadistic.

Dal Timgar

At that point, I would say just about anything. Not that it would matter. If Christians were to denounce Jesus because of a gun pointed at their heads, would it matter? Just words uttered under duress. Would God care? I don’t think so.

I know that Judaism, at least, has provisions where a person can commit an unlawful act if it will save a life of someone, even themself. For example, if it’s between starvation and a BLT, the piggy gets it.

So I would assume then that God would understand this as well. Besides, a ton of Jews resorted to a similar rejection of their faith when they had to go underground throughout many times in history to avoid persecution, the proverbial gun to the head if there ever was one.

I also think that according to Catholic belief that thinsg work about the same way. And I recall a Muslim saying the same thing as well.

I’m not sure about what Protestants think…

I’m with Alessan (though Christian not Jewish); I hope I would have the courage to refuse to betray my God. To betray Him in order to cling to this life is antithetical to my belief in eternal life with Him.


If it’s a BLT, then you’re correct. Praying to another god, however, is out, even at the expense of one’s life.

In short, Judaism allows a Jew to break any commandment to save one’s life with three exceptions:

  1. Idolatry ("Bow down/pray to my god or I’ll kill you!)
  2. Sexual immorality ("Sleep with Bob’s wife, or I’ll kill you!)
  3. Murder ("Kill Bob or I’ll kill you!)

However, I don’t think I could personally condemn someone who didn’t follow through. When a person’s life is on the line, he or she is capable of things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.

Zev Steinhardt

Atheist here. I would not pray to God for the same reason I would not have a conversation with Sherlock Holmes: It simply can’t be done, since one can’t have an actual conversation with a fictional character.

I would, of course, pretend to pray to God.

Heck, who knows? Maybe it would turn out that God does exist, and he’s flattered that I at least made an attempt, and promptly smacks the gun-wielder upside the head and tells him to be nice from now on.

The only forseeable downside would be if the gun-wielder could detect that I was only pretending.

I took the OP to mean denying the existance of God. Is trhat the same thing? I didn’t think so, which is why I assumed not.

A note from a Christian point of view:

If you are asked to deny Christ under threat of death and you refuse - [ul]

  • If the person threatening you kills you, you are a martyr. Pretty much iron-clad guarantee of heaven (!).
  • If he doesn’t, you are a “confessor”. Almost as good.[/ul]

Big discussion about this and related topics in the Church after the persecution of the Church under (I think) the emperor Diocletian.

Apparently it makes a difference what you say under the stated circumstances. Matthew 10:32.

At last! That class in Early Church History pays off at last!


P.S. By God’s grace, I would look him straight in the eye, tell him that Jesus loves him, and die quoting St. Stephen. “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”

Yup. Then, when the opportunity arises, I’ll get medieval on the moron and disable him until the cops arrive.

Not believing in an afterlife means you should do what you can to preserve the life you already have. It also means not relying on any imaginary god to disable psychotic religious nuts for you…

Blacknight summed it up pretty well. I would pretend to pray. Why on earth would I refuse?

This is a tough one for me – not because of the question, but because when somebody gets belligerent at me, my immediate reaction is to get belligerent back.

I’m afraid I would probably, without thinking, tell the gun-holder to do something anatomically improbable.

If I had my wits about me enough to respond appropriately, sure, I’d go right ahead and say some prayers.

I wouldn’t mean it, but I’d sure say it. I spent plenty of time in my youth mouthing prayers I didn’t mean to humor the family; I don’t see how doing it for someone holding a gun would be any more difficult. Actually, it would probably be easier – the threat is much less insidious.

::Fingers crossed that the situation never arises::


I am a Catholic, and to be honest, I’m not sure what I would do. I would like to believe that I would be strong enough to resist his demands…but my seeming inability to resist other some other temptations that have crossed my path don’t give me much optimism.

To be honest, though, I think it would be much easier for an atheist to do as the thug says, as there is nothing for him/her to gain from not doing it. The religious person does have something to gain from not doing it, and possibly much to lose if he gives in.

I think God would be somewhat understanding. After all, Jesus’ own Apostle denied him three times, and I think that we can all agree that St. Peter is not in hell, although I don’t claim to know for sure. And even during the Roman persecutions, the Church allowed people who had denied God and given sacrifice to Jupiter were allowed to come back if they were truly repentant. I think that’s the key thing. If you really truly regret it and do something to make up for it, I think God would understand. I’m not sure He’d be as lenient if you did it again, though.

Just my $.02

As a Discordian it would be my sacred duty to try and convert the assailant…“Did you know God exists and she’s a crazy woman?” :stuck_out_tongue:

Of course I’d pray to God. I’d pray to whatever this chump wanted. If all he needs to do is here some vague sounds come out of my mouth that he feels are representative of sincerity and metaphysical truth, then all the worse for him.

Black Knight said it exactly for me. I’ll say the words the nutcase with the gun wants me to say. It wouldn’t be praying, as far as I’m concerned, because I don’t believe anyone is listening. But I’d go through the motions in an attempt to save my neck. There must be something stupider than becoming a martyr for atheism, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

(Please note: I’m not saying that becoming a martyr for religious freedom is stupid - but in this case you’re not dealing with a repressive government, you’re dealing with one isolated fruitcake.)

As a Wiccan, I wouldn’t have any problem mouthing the words of whatever this looney toon asked for. Prayers and gestures made under duress (especially in a situation like this) don’t count.

Interestingly, I tried to imagine a situation whereby I would feel uncomfortable mouthing whatever this moron was telling me. I found it very hard to say “There is only one God and Mohammed is His Prophet.” Don’t ask me why, I don’t understand it myself. Something in my being says “this is very, very wrong, even done in jest or under duress!”