Ask Richard: Call-Out: Quotations Needed For a Gift to an Atheist’s Religious Father December 5, 2011

Ask Richard: Call-Out: Quotations Needed For a Gift to an Atheist’s Religious Father

Dear Richard,

I have an idea and I need advice. I am 26 and living on my own, not far from my parents and grandparents. I have been an atheist for a little over a year now and told my family about nine months ago. They took it very well – my parents are fundamentalists who spent many years in full time ministry, but they were respectful of my hard work and research and have sometimes asked questions about what made me go from devout Christian to atheist. The thing is, everyone in my family is seriously damaged by the destructive beliefs that have been passed down for so many years.

My dad especially was harmed by religion in many, many ways, and it is amazing to me what a strong and brave and good person he is to be able to deal as well as he has with the enormous crazy-making pressure all these years. He has always struggled with thinking of himself as a terrible, weak, unlikable person and now he is worried that he did things wrong causing me to abandon faith and go to Hell. I know he can see a lot of difference in how much happier I am now, but I know he and my mom are both really sad about it. I was trying to think of some way to encourage him/cheer him up a little every day and for Christmas this year I was thinking about making him a poster with a picture of me and some favorite scenes of his, like Hubble telescope pictures and nature scenes, etc.

The thing is, I want to put one or more inspirational quotes on the poster. There are SO many fantastic quotes I’ve found since I’ve become an atheist (Symphony of Science!) but I don’t want to do something that seems like I am trying to subtly influence him away from faith. I want something that gives him hope/warm fuzzy feeling/makes him feel like a good person, etc. Basically, fun quotes and concepts… He loves astronomy and math and hiking/bicycling/outdoor sports and non-Evolution related science things (yes, I know – we talk about that at other times, but I want to give him a fun gift not one that makes him uncomfortable every time he sees it) and philosophy and stuff related to languages. I am sure a lot of you guys on this blog have quotes that you love and want to share with others and if you could help me out by posting them, even if you aren’t sure it’s what I’m looking for, I would SO appreciate it. I am stuck at this point, kind of overwhelmed trying to choose among the bazillions of options out there.


Dear Rapunzelly,

What a tender, caring gift. I admire your loving kindness toward your father. Your heart is very sweet.

Your dad sounds like an interesting and complicated guy. Parents who have self-defeating traits, and yet who are also bighearted, loving, and patient with others, parents who have pain that might pull them in toward themselves, and yet are still outgoing and curious about the world around them make the best parents, because they help us to be more kind and accepting of our own complicated, conflicted, and painful traits, and to be more kind and accepting of others as well.

I’m assuming that you would like some quotations that are positive, uplifting, or inspirational in human and humanistic terms, but which neither attack nor support your father’s religious views. It sounds like the desired effect is to help him to feel better about you and his relationship with you when he looks at your picture, but you want to do so without contradicting your own convictions by agreeing with his religious beliefs.

This blog is visited by many very smart, knowledgeable, well-read, and well-educated people. I’m sure that several will have quotations and ideas along the lines you described to suggest to you.

I think that in addition to one or more quotations from wise and articulate people in literature, science and the arts, you should also include something directly from your heart to your dad’s heart. In your own words, or taking whatever fits from my words here, perhaps you could say something like this:

Dad, thank you for being the strong, brave, and good man you are. I admire your good example, and I want to be like you in those ways. Thank you for accepting me for who and what I am, and for the way that I see things, even though we see some things differently. Despite those differences, despite your doubts and fears, you have continued to give me love and respect without restraint. For that, I will be grateful my whole life, and I will try my best to always give others love and respect without restraint, despite whatever differences they and I may have. There is no lesson more precious that you could ever have taught me. Thank you!

If that’s too heavy or serious for your poster, there’s no obligation to use my or anyone else’s suggestions. If you’re comfortable with showing us, we would definitely enjoy seeing your creation when it’s done.

Okay, my dear readers, please dig into those deep intellectual pockets of yours, and please donate some pearls of positivism for Rapunzelly and her dad. I thank you in advance.


You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

"The way republican politics are going these days, that means the winner is worse than ..."

It’s Moving Day for the Friendly ..."
"It would have been more convincing if he used then rather than than."

It’s Moving Day for the Friendly ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Jenea

    Carl Sagan’s Cosmos (streaming on Netflix) is a goldmine of naturalistic but inspiring material.

  • Anonymous

    I had the same thought — Sagan’s awe and love of the natural world should be inspiring to everyone, not just us skeptics.

  • Griffin

    I would recommend using a non-religious quote from someone who is known to be religious, which shows your willingness to be inspired by what is good, regardless of its source.  For instance, you might use a line from Ralph Waldo Emerson, such as: 

    ‘Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.’  
    ‘Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.’
    ”The ancestor of every action is a thought.’

  • Pale Blue Dot…?

  • mike

    Consider again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone
    you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being
    who ever was, lived out their lives. … It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience.
    There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than
    this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility
    to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale
    blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
    — Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

  • Luvbug31301

    Character is higher than intellect. A great soul will be strong to live, as well as strong to think. Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • Tim

    If you want to quote wouldn;t it be better to stick to something not religious AND not humanist/naturalist.  Safer option would be simply a quote to say how much you love him.

  • Garren openID

    If you want to be subversively humanist, you could quote the best bit in the Bible:

    If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.  

    1 Corinthians 13:1-3

  • Anonymous

    I have to agree that Carl Sagan is a virtual mine of beautiful quotes. Here’s one:

    ” We are one species. We are star stuff harvesting star light. Our lives, our past and our future are tied to the sun, the moon and the stars. Our ancestors knew that their survival depended on understanding the heavens. They built observatories and computers to predict the changing of the seasons by the motions in the skies. We are all of us descended from astronomers.”

    A shorter version of the same thing:

    Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can. Because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.

    There’s a beautiful Richard Dawkins quote, though maybe just coming from Dawkins is too much for him:

    We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

    There’s a classic Newton quote:

    If I have been able to see further, it was only because I stood on the shoulders of giants.

    As a scientist, this Asimov quote is one of my personal favorites, because it really rings true:

    The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” but “That’s funny…

  • I like this quote:
    “it is amazing to me what a strong and brave and good person he is”
     — Rapunzelly

     or paraphrased:”It’s amazing to me what a strong, brave, and good person my dad is.”
    –[your real name]

    as always, jmho

  • walkamungus

    “When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all.”
    — biologist E.O. Wilson

  • TychaBrahe

    “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” — TS Eliot

    “MY heart leaps up when I behold. A rainbow in the sky: So was it when my life began, So is it now I am a man,. So be it when I shall grow old, Or let me die!”  — William Wordsworth 

    “In the midst of winter I discovered ther was within me an invincible summer.”  — Albert Camus

    “Nobody climbs mountains for scientific reasons. Science is used to raise money for the expeditions, but you really climb for the hell of it.”  — Edmund Hillary

  • Rhamantus

    “Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.” -Carl Sagan

  • wob

    Neil deGrasse Tyson

    “Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. That’s kinda cool! That makes me smile and I actually feel quite large at the end of that. It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.”

  • Erik Cameron

    Does your dad have any catchphrases or witticisms he uses that could suffice?

  • TheBlackCat

    We live in deeds, not years: In thoughts not breaths; In feelings, not in figures on a dial. We should count time by heart throbs. He most lives who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best. -Aristotle

    Outside intelligences, exploring the Solar System with true impartiality, would be quite likely to enter the Sun in their records thus: Star X, spectral class G0, 4 planets plus debris.-Isaac Asimov

    Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.
    -Isaac Asimov

    May every young scientist remember and not fail to keep his eyes open for the possibility that an irritating failure of his apparatus to give consistent results mayonce or twice in a lifetime conceal an important discovery-Patrick Blackett

    How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.
    -Niels Bohr

    We all agree that your theory is crazy, but is it crazy enough? -Niels Bohr

    There was a young lady named Bright,
    Whose speed was far faster than light;
    She set out one day
    In a relative way,
    And returned home the previous night.
    -Athur Henry Reginald Buller

    The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time…The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time. -Tom Cargill

    As an adolescent I aspired to lasting fame, I craved factual certainty, and I thirsted for a meaningful vision of human life – so I became a scientist. This is like becoming an archbishop so you can meet girls. -M. Cartmill

    If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run – and often in the short one – the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative.
    -Arthur C. Clarke

    It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have
    seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars. -Arthur C. Clarke

    The first man of science was he who looked into a thing, not to learn whether it furnished him
    with food, or shelter, or weapons, or tools, or armaments, or playwiths but who sought to know it for the gratification of knowing. -Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.-Roald Dahl

    Remember, if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the precipitate! -Eric Desch

    It’s not insane if you can pull it off. -Jason Donald

    In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time. -Leonardo  da Vinci

    It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let
    things happen to them. They went out and happened to things. -Leonardo da Vinci

    And that is it through the D’s in my quote collection.  unfortunately most of my quotes are cynical rather than inspiring.

  • TheBlackCat

    Woops, something really weird happened with the formatting there.

  • It seems that the crux of the matter is that some evangelicals have a narrow notion of God and believe they can basically replace God with a simple If-Then-Else statement.

    If you believe, accept Jesus as your savior, and repent then you will go to heaven; otherwise you will perish in hell.

    What these evangelicals need is a larger concept of God – one that empowers God and gives God more freedom to do things outside of that simple If-Then-Else statement. A God with ample power and freedom to send even a lowly atheist to heaven if He wanted to.

    So if you want to press the issue using actual quotes from the bible, then you could look through some from this link

  • TheBlackCat

    Oops, missed one:

    The important thing is
    this: to be ready at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we
    could become.-Charles DuBois

  • Anonymous

    “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”  – Buddha

  • ANuRa

    “Le paradis terrestre est ou je suis” (Paradise is where I am) – Voltaire

  • Drew M.

    I’m a big fan of Winston Churchill:

    A man does what he must – in spite of personal
    consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that
    is the basis of all human morality.

    A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

    –Winston Churchill

    I know you wanted to stay away from religious stuff, but the Dalai Lama has so many good ones:

    Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.

    If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

    It is very important to generate a good attitude, a
    good heart, as much as possible. From this, happiness in both the short
    term and the long term for both yourself and others will come.

    Dalai Lama

  • These are all such a wonderful quotes, it makes me really happy to read them. Does anyone happen to have any great ones from women? 

  • ANuRa

    My favourite:

    “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” – Simone de Beauvoir

  • Drew M.

    One of the most famous quotes ever was written by a woman, but attributed to Voltaire:

    “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
    -Evelyn Beatrice Hall

    Eleanor Roosevelt is a rich source:

    “Remember no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

    “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

    “Hate and force cannot be in just a part of the world without having an effect on the rest of it.”

    “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

    —Eleanor Roosevelt

  • Rosemary Carlton-Willis

    To see a world in a grain of sand,
    And a heaven in a wild flower,
    Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, 
    And eternity in an hour.
    – William Blake

    These I name: swallow, hawthorn, rain:
    But meaning traces its bird
    Swift between grey and green
    Mystery unbound by word.
    – Kathleen Raine

error: Content is protected !!