The best response is probably something like "Thank you." You have to appreciate the intent behind the remark even if you don't believe in God. If it was said sarcastically, however, anything is fair game. But why verbally spar with someone who meant it as something of a greeting? Or if he believes it is just an empirical fact, you could respond with, "Tell me something I don't know..."
Because as far as I could see, there's only a couple ways of looking at this:
1. If "Jesus loves you" was declarative, as in a fact, then it's just like walking up to someone and saying "The grass is green." It would be condescending because of its redundancy, if anything. But...
2. If "Jesus loves you" was said as a cultural gesture, or a greeting, similar to "Good morning", then the content of the statement doesn't really matter. Because "Good morning" shouldn't be taken literally; someone saying "Good morning" isn't literally saying "The morning is good", he is addressing you as an opening of a conversation. Similarly, "Jesus loves you" shouldn't be taken for its content, but the gesture -- what did the speaker mean?
3. If the speaker knows that you are atheist, and says "Jesus loves you" as an off-handed, sarcastic remark, then perhaps you could get into a debate with him about his faith.
But in my opinion, it would be rather immature to debate someone over a relatively innocent remark, especially when this person meant nothing by it whatsoever, just because you (or someone) feels marginalized, even if you feel he is being presumptuous. There are better times to start an argument. Don't fall into the overly aggressive "angry activist" stereotype.
"...meant nothing by it whatsoever"
I would debate that part.
I would say 90% of the time it is #2 (as I described in my previous post), a skeptical greeting. He is testing the waters to see if you share his faith. Once you understand that, you could affirm ("Thank you for reminding me."), negate ("I don't believe in God."), or just return the greeting ("How are you?"). But if you respond with a witty remark or go into debate mode, I'd say that's jumping the gun. That's just my opinion.
When someone says, "Jesus loves you", what is he really saying?
When someone says, "Jesus loves you", what is he really saying?
If it is a person I've never met, and they are going out of their way to talk to me, I assume that they are trying to say that, "The love of Christ is missing from my life."
And my reply (in my mind anyways) is "Are you fucking crazy?"
To an elderly person, "Thank you." To someone I don't know or in a non-conversational setting, a nod and a slight smile. If conversation seems appropriate, I might explain that I'm not a theist. But I would never, NEVER give some of the rude, insulting responses given here. This is why people hate atheists, and they have a point. Rudeness is never classy. I won't call myself an atheist because of people like these.
@ Jerry Wesner We may be rude, but to deny being an atheist when you do not believe in gods would be like my denying that I am Irish though I am, because the Irish are too argumentative and tend to sing aloud in public. Jerry, maybe if you are polite, and say you are an atheist, you may improve our poor reputation among the loving and courteous christians. I, though, will continue to sing out loud in public. (and I clearly remain argumentative!)
A lot depends on the attitude of the person making the remark. Sometimes Christians are offensive with their needs to proselytize and you need a response that stps them before they get started, but if the comment is meant generously and does not seem to be leading to an all out attempt at conversion, you might let it pass. Never are you called on to dissemble or to sacrifice your dignity to their beliefs.
Jesus mows my lawn.
Just tell them the truth: there is no historical evidence soever that anyone named Jesus Christ ever existed; that he was an amalgamation of dozens of prophets roaming around the mideast at the time, and that bits and pieces of dozens of death-and-resurrection deities went into making him. Admit that a rabbi named Joshua may have lived at the time, but only Saul-Paul of Tarsus and the Mithraicist Emperor Constantine could come up with Jesus, giving Reb Yeshua an occidental name borrowed from Hindu mythology (Christ = Krishna). I could go on but this will do.
As you probably can tell, I collect quotes and one that I have found appropriate in the context of your remarks is from the book by Albert Schweitzer, who was himself a believer:
The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, and died to give His work its final consecration, never had any existence. He is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism, and clothed by modern theology in an historical garb.
This image has not been destroyed from without, it has fallen to pieces, cleft and disintegrated by the concrete historical problems which came to the surface one after another, and in spite of all the artifice, art, artificiality, and violence which was applied to them, refused to be planed down to fit the design on which the Jesus of the theology of the last hundred and thirty years had been constructed, and were no sooner covered over than they appeared again in a new form.
The Quest of the Historical Jesus, Chapter XX Results.
Being Jewish, I never hear "Jesus loves you." But I have been told "God loves atheists." Subtext: even if you don't believe, he's still there, loving you, you undeserving unbeliever. I try to keep it light with something like "Oh, really? How do you know? Did he email you?" (I might add that in the Bible, God does not love atheists and has many awful punishments in store for those who stray from his commandments.)
Any other suggestions?
The legend of Jesus rising from the dead and ascending into Heaven is a good story when archeologists can't seem to locate his grave site. If they found his grave site and there were bones in it then he wouldn't be divine, which many of the Christian religions didn't think he was until it was voted on in the Council of Nicea. He became universally (?) divine by a vote so that pagans who believed in demi-gods would accept him. In exchange for their acceptance of Jesus the Council took their holy days as universal holy days.
Man created god in his own image and this imaginary god's son walked among us? He loves us, especially children who he lets die by the tens of thousands each and every year? Best wish me that Jesus doesn't know about me.