Blogathon for SSA Week: Secularizing "Good Angel/ Bad Angel"

SSA week Page Banner

This post continues my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week! From now until 9pm PDT, I will write one new blog post every hour. Plus, for every $100 raised during that time, I will post one new picture of our cats! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 2:01 PDT: 433 Donors, $70,118.02
As of 3:02 PDT: 436 Donors, $70,488.02

I’m working on purging religious language out of my vocabulary. Unless, of course, I’m talking about religion. It’s not a huge deal, I’m not going to beat myself up if I slip, and I don’t particularly care if other people do this or not — this is just a personal preference. But when I’m expressing secular concepts, I’m trying to use secular language. For instance: when people sneeze, I say “Gesundheit” (it’s German for “health”) instead of “Bless you.”

The last time I wrote about this, I was looking for a secular alternative to “Preaching to the choir”: the one I liked best from all the suggestions was “Cheering to the pep squad.”

So now I’m looking for a secular alternative to “Good angel/ bad angel.”

You know — that trope where there’s a good angel and a bad angel sitting on each shoulder — or, often, an angel and a devil — whispering in your ear advising you to do the right thing or do the wrong thing. As in, “I know we’re both frazzled, but I’m trying to be a good angel — let’s go to the gym, we’ll feel better.” Or, “You want me to order the chocolate decadence mousse cake so you can have a bite, don’t you? You’re being such a bad angel!”

Does anyone have suggestions for some secular alternatives to this phrase?

If you like this post — or indeed, if you don’t — please donate to the Secular Student Alliance!

Blogathon for SSA Week: Secularizing "Good Angel/ Bad Angel"

13 thoughts on “Blogathon for SSA Week: Secularizing "Good Angel/ Bad Angel"

  1. 4

    Orange juice and tequila shot? Hmm. Not anthropomorphic enough.

    The letterman and the greaser? Too ’50s, and gendered?

    The cop and the robber! No, robber’s too limited in vice scope.

    If we just want to strip away a layer of metaphor, we could go with the id and the superego. And of course, the “bad angel” isn’t always wrong, per se.

    The Applejack and the Pinkie Pie? Ooh, the Bert and the Ernie! Or should we stay away from copyright entirely?

  2. 8

    I don’t think I’d bother trying to come up with an equivalent for this one. The whole concept is based on simplistic binary thinking — black and white, good and evil. It’s just the kind of thought that permeates religion, and helps to make it such a destructive force. Real life is full of shades of grey, and while there really are often conflicting impulses driving our decisions, for any given issue, there’s no reason to limit them to two, or necessarily to classify any of them as purely good or evil.

  3. 11

    I was going to mention superego / id, but others already have.

    You might want to try characters from fiction/movies/cartoons (see below):

    1. Lisa Simpson / Bart Simpson ?
    2. Spock / Kirk ? (not so sure this one works)
    3. Superman / Lex Luthor ?
    4. Wonder Woman / Baroness von Gunther ? (too obscure?)
    5. Lara Croft / Jacqueline Natla ?
    6. Scrooge / Tiny Tim ?

    Yeah, this is hard. Some of these characters have a belief in religion / mysticism / “woo”. How about selecting your antithesis in real life?

    1. Greta Christina / Ann Coulter ? (Potential libel suit? Fuck it, it’s Ann Coulter.)

  4. 12


    I agree that the original plays too much into the good/evil dichotomy. In real life, there’s very little “evil”; mostly it’s selfishness, although it is possible to go too far the other way as well.

  5. 13

    I think of shoulder angels as more of a cartoon trope as anything that has an actual religious significance, so it doesn’t really bother me. But, at least in regards situations such as the example, it’s inaccurate. There’s nothing EVIL about having a piece of cake, but it might be detrimental to your goals. So the conflict isn’t between good and evil so much as it is between short-term and long-term benefits. With that in mind, how about the Ant and the Grasshopper?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *