Alternate title: Why are we Angry, Atheists?
Perhaps the emotion atheists are most famous for. From Facebook groups like The Angry Atheist (and variants) to t-shirts, to the book Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless by Greta Christina, it has become our signature sentiment.
We all have seen it expressed in various ways, from the not-so-subtle “F–CK” GOD signs, to the pointed mockery of religious followers by the talents of The Thinking Atheist, or even the general anger we individuals may feel at the state of the world.
If you are reading this, you are likely old enough to remember 9-11. You have probably heard of female genital mutilation, honor killings, Jihad, child soldiers (See: A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah) and heard of the 19,000+ children that die every single day from preventable causes, causes that are not prevented due to wars and religious restrictions of treatment or reproduction. If you are reading this, chances are also good that you know that a huge amount of this suffering stems directly from wars, laws, and taboos created by religion.
We live in a society that is uncomfortable with this anger, and seeks to lock it up. And in America, this vast and culturally isolated nation, it is so very easy to distance yourself from the rest of the world and all the occurrences that make anger so very understandable. We are encouraged to ignore the plights of others, called hopelessly liberal if we want to try to help people who live somewhere beyond this magical patriotic border, and even the attempt to learn another language can be considered controversial.
There are bumper stickers everywhere that remind me of the hopeless turtle-tactics of many Americans: Duck inside your shell, pray, buy a Ford and a gun, pray, think America first, close your eyes, pray, tap your heels three times and say “America is the best, America is the best, America is the best!” And remember, say it in goddamn American English (preferably without dialing one)!!!
And we are the angry ones? While anger is frequently found in the atheist community, I feel analyzing why we are angry is essential– anger is a double edged sword that can either motivate us to discover or bleed us dry. To borrow a bit from the hilarious and intelligent Natalie Angier in The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science, we need to avoid cynicism, which is a largely useless state–we need to use our anger to become know-it-alls, not no-it-alls.
So let’s analyze the common sources of anger, both as one approaches becoming an apostate and those encountered afterwards:
Anger at God
First for me was anger at God. Anger is frequently our introduction to becoming an apostate. Almost holding hands with the gut-wrenching grief that initialized my path to atheism, skipping just a beat behind the tears, was intense anger. Anger that was truly overwhelming and deeply painful. Anyone who has taken this path to discovering the absence of a God understands the level of rage and sense of injustice it takes to truly, profoundly question God’s motives. At this point you still believe, and yes, you are indeed angry at God. This lasts only until our reasoning leads us to the discovery that God is simply not there to be mad at.
For me, this was healing. There was so much hurt, and so much confusion that was alleviated in that striking moment when I finally realized that there is no God. I realized that the anger was pointless–large numbers and nature will eventually strike us all.
I still think of the old parable of the scorpion and the fox; I cannot be mad at nature and statistics. Eventual tragedy is inevitable; it is their nature.
Allow me to add–this is very different from accepting God’s will, though the religious might mistake the two. God’s plan implies a purpose that we cannot in our lowly existence understand. Accepting life and statistics means understanding the random and inescapable impartiality with which life events can be dealt. It means not taking it personally, and in my case and those of many others, it meant the freedom from a horrid guilt that suggested perhaps I had done something wrong, and that others were being hurt to punish me for my sins.
I think many Atheists are in fact angry with God; but not in the sense that the religious would like to think. For those of the Harry Potter generation, I think our anger at God is similar to my ongoing hatred of Voldemort’s follower, Bellatrix. It is anger at a fictional character who symbolizes something to me. I would be crazy if I assumed Voldemort or Bellatrix was real, but those of my generation must still be as outraged as I am at her taking out one of our beloved Weasley twins.
Anger at the Church/Bible
I feel this is where many of us vent our anger in the world of apostates. The church has caused many of us to lose contact with family, friends and entire communities. Even those of us like myself (I have been very fortunate), who lose very few friends and family members after coming out of the atheist closet, experience sadness and anger at the church.
Because as much as I love my friends, I experience frequent anger at many of them who hold faith.
Currently, while the courts debate the arguments of Prop 8 and DOMA, I have friends posting Bible links justifying their support of segregating homosexuals, touting that obnoxious little “love the sinner, hate the sin” slogan. These are genuinely good people, whose loving nature is being drowned and distorted by the hands of a tragically obsolete scripture.
I have co-workers who deny themselves and their children the basics of science education, substituting genesis.
In a parenting forum yesterday, I was overwhelmed with anger and sorrow for the children of a mother who, in response to another mother asking how to handle her toddler’s temper tantrum, posted:
“You have to beat it out of them. Children throw tantrums because humans have a sinful nature. Children should obey parents because it is pleasing to the LORD.”
I am still appalled and chilled just typing this account of it. The Bible had one thing right–it really is the little children who suffer.
If any of the anger is justified, I really think this is it. The churches shove harmful doctrine down the throats of good people. Extremists start camps to brainwash children. This is more than simple faith; Church is religion with an Agenda with a capital A, and frequently that Agenda is not very nice.
Anger at ignorance/believers
A note: This will likely be my longest section, because I will seek to explain some things in a way that the life-long atheist can understand. Faith is nearly impossible to understand if you have not existed within it, but I will try.
I am always dumbfounded by how resolutely the faithful dismiss science and evidence. As much as I try to retain my laid-back nature, when I see my students pull out genesis homework in science class (a new form of church-endorsed ignorance; students are given creation homework they can pull out in science class whenever they don’t agree with the actual lesson being taught), I am outraged. How can their parents allow this?? The evidence of evolution is right in front of them. Medicine, Geology, Astronomy, Psychology, etc… IT’S ALL RIGHT THERE. There are books and empirical evidence and everything!
As an educator, I really do have an instinct to teach, so perhaps I take this a bit personally. I also genuinely love humankind. I think education is the single most important thing to give a person after food, water and shelter. It pains me deeply to see God praised for the accomplishments of science. But why? Why should I care?
Because when God is praised for science, people go read a Bible, not a science book.
See, when I have an interest in something, ever since my atheism, I go grab a book about that subject. I learn. In the future I can utilize that information. Before my atheism, I grabbed some candles, and did a fancy prayer of thanks. Afterwards, all that resulted in was scraping wax off my counters.
“In the age of information, ignorance is a choice.”
Lovely sentiment. But so, so hard. For those of you who have escaped religion, I don’t need to explain how hard it is to get your mind out of the pew. But for the benefit of those out there slinging insults like “Religitard” or “Creationshits”, allow me to explain why you need to turn down the heat. As the entertaining and enlightening Seth Andrews says in his book Deconverted: The Path from Religion to Reason, no one was ever “brow-beaten into an epiphany.” The louder you yell, the ruder you get, the less anyone listens.
As humans, we tend to make up our minds and stick to it. Being able to change your mind easily when new evidence proves your previous stance wrong is a rare and valuable gift. Be happy your neurons and synapses function in such a way as to allow you these mental gymnastics. But have pity on those who have been trained to stick to their guns even when they are out of ammunition and the mighty sword-pen is to their throat. Not only have the religious been trained to ignore reason, they have been instructed in refuting it. Additionally, they have been told that if they fail, they (and possibly their families) will burn for eternity. And I cannot explain how terrifying the concept of hell is.
This is a horrible trick, planted in them since their infancy, but it is one you must try to understand. Faith is like a virus or tumor, lodged deep within. It is insipid, linked to many of their essential functions, and worse, they love their little God-tumor. The pride and conviction of the religious must be handled with tact; like removing any disease, the God-tumorectomy requires skill and compassion. Attempts to rip it out with the blunt instruments of cursing, name calling and plain rude mocking just will just cause thick scar tissue to build up and resist the future excision.
Remember: You are the result of 4.6 billion years of evolution; act like it.
Take a moment to consider how much of their life has been built around this, and what they might lose: family, spouse, offspring, community, jobs… Consider how hard it is for the average person to admit they are wrong. Consider the pain of accepting that not only that there is no God, but worse- there is no heaven. There is no reuniting with the lineage by the pearly gates. Essentially, they will experience the death of all their loved ones AGAIN when they realize there is no afterlife. If you have never had faith, take some time to imagine it.
Do not be angry with these people–pity them. Try with tenderness and understanding to help them, if they will let you. Understand that you must protect yourselves from the religiously rabid, but also that you cried at the end of Old Yeller (for those of you who have not read/watched Old Yeller, do so).
Let go of this anger at the online religious trolls. There is little you can do for them except protecting yourself. In summary to this whole article: stop fighting the terminally religious–it will make you a cynic. We need to focus on finding an inoculation; and that inoculation is education.
Look deeply at your anger. Is it helping you?
Is it helping anyone?