I'm angry that I have to know more about their ****ing religion than the believers do. I get angry when believers say things about the tenets and texts of their religion that are flatly untrue, and I have to correct them on it.
I get angry when believers treat any criticism of their religion -- i.e., pointing out that their religion is a hypothesis about the world and a philosophy of it, and asking it to stand up on its own in the marketplace of ideas -- as insulting and intolerant. I get angry when believers accuse atheists of being intolerant for saying things like, "I don't agree with you," "I think you're mistaken about that," "That doesn't make any sense," "I think that position is morally indefensible," and "What evidence do you have to support that?"
And on that point: I get angry when Christians in the United States -- members of the single most powerful and influential religious group in the country, in the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world -- act like beleaguered victims, martyrs being thrown to the lions all over again, whenever anyone criticizes them or they don't get their way.
I get angry when believers respond to some or all of these offenses by saying, "Well, that's not the true faith. Hating queers/ rejecting science/ stifling questions and dissent... that's not the true faith. People who do that aren't real (Christians/ Jews/ Muslims/ Hindus/ etc.)." As if they had a ****ing pipeline to God. As if they had any reason at all to think that they know for sure what God wants, and that the billions of others who disagree with them just obviously have it wrong. (Besides -- I'm an atheist. The "They just aren't doing religion right" argument is not going to cut it with me. I don't think any of you have it right. To me, it all looks like something that people just made up.)
On that topic: I get angry when religious believers insist that their interpretation of their religion and religious text is the right one, and that fellow believers with an opposite interpretation clearly have it wrong. I get angry when believers insist that the parts about Jesus's prompt return and all prayers being answered are obviously not meant literally... but the parts about hell and damnation and gay sex being an abomination, that's real. And I get angry when believers insist that the parts about hell and damnation and gay sex being an abomination aren't meant literally, but the parts about caring for the poor are really what God meant. How the hell do they know which parts of the Bible/ Torah/ Koran/ Bhagavad-Gita/ whatever God really meant, and which parts he didn't? And if they don't know, if they're just basing it on their own moral instincts and their own perceptions of the world, then on what basis are they thinking that God and their sacred texts have anything to do with it at all? What right do they have to act as if their opinion is the same as God's and he's totally backing them up on it?
And I get angry when believers act as if these offenses aren't important, because "Not all believers act like that. I don't act like that." As if that ****ing matters. This stuff is a major way that religion plays out in our world, and it makes me furious to hear religious believers try to minimize it because it's not how it happens to play out for them. It's like a white person responding to an African-American describing their experience of racism by saying, "But I'm not a racist." If you're not a racist, then can you shut the hell up for ten seconds and listen to the black people talk? And if you’re not bigoted against atheists and are sympathetic to us, then can you shut the hell up for ten seconds and let us tell you about what the world is like for us, without getting all defensive about how it's not your fault? When did this international conversation about atheism and religious oppression become all about you and your hurt feelings?
But perhaps most of all, I get angry -- sputteringly, inarticulately, pulse-racingly angry -- when believers chide atheists for being so angry. "Why do you have to be so angry all the time?" "All that anger is so off-putting." "If atheism is so great, then why are so many of you so angry?"
Which brings me to the other part of this little rant: Why atheist anger is not only valid, but valuable and necessary.
There's actually a simple, straightforward answer to this question:
Because anger is always necessary.
Because anger has driven every major movement for social change in this country, and probably in the world. The labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women's suffrage movement, the modern feminist movement, the gay rights movement, the anti-war movement in the Sixties, the anti-war movement today, you name it... all of them have had, as a major driving force, a tremendous amount of anger. Anger over injustice, anger over mistreatment and brutality, anger over helplessness.
I mean, why the hell else would people bother to mobilize social movements? Social movements are hard. They take time, they take energy, they sometimes take serious risk of life and limb, community and career. Nobody would ****ing bother if they weren't furious about something.
So when you tell an atheist (or for that matter, a woman or a queer or a person of color or whatever) not to be so angry, you are, in essence, telling us to disempower ourselves. You're telling us to lay down one of the single most powerful tools we have at our disposal. You're telling us to lay down a tool that no social change movement has ever been able to do without. You're telling us to be polite and diplomatic, when history shows that polite diplomacy in a social change movement works far, far better when it's coupled with passionate anger. In a battle between David and Goliath, you're telling David to put down his slingshot and just... I don't know. Gnaw Goliath on the ankles or something.
I'll acknowledge that anger is a difficult tool in a social movement. A dangerous one even. It can make people act rashly; it can make it harder to think clearly; it can make people treat potential allies as enemies. In the worst-case scenario, it can even lead to violence. Anger is valid, it's valuable, it's necessary... but it can also misfire, and badly.
But unless we're actually endangering or harming somebody, it is not up to believers to tell atheists when we should and should not use this tool. It is not up to believers to tell atheists that we're going too far with the anger and need to calm down. Any more than it's up to white people to say it to black people, or men to say it to women, or straights to say it to queers. When it comes from believers, it's not helpful. It's patronizing. It comes across as another attempt to defang us and shut us up. And it's just going to make us angrier.
And when believers tell passionate, angry atheists that extremism is never right and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle, they're making a big, big mistake. Not just because they're making us want to spit in their eye. They're making a mistake because they're simply mistaken. Read this piece from Daylight Atheism on The Golden Mean. Read the quotes from the abolitionist movement, the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the American Revolution. And then come tell me that the moderate position is usually the right one.
And you know what else? I think we need to have some goddamn perspective about this anger business. I mean, I look at organized Christianity in this country -- not just the religious right, but some more "moderate" churches as well -- interfering with AIDS prevention efforts, trying to get their theology into the public schools, actively trying to prevent me and Ingrid from getting legally married, and pulling all the other **** I talk about in this piece.
And I look at atheists sometimes being mean-spirited and snarky in blogs and books and magazines.
And I think, Can we please have some goddamn perspective?
Because the other thing I'm angry about is the fact that, in this piece, I've touched on -- maybe -- a hundredth of everything that angers me about religion. This piece barely scratches the surface. I know, almost without a doubt, that within five minutes of hitting "Post" and putting this piece on my blog, I'll think of six different things that I'd wished I'd put in. I could write an entire book about everything that angers me about religion -- other people certainly have -- and still not be finished.
Are you really looking at all of this **** I'm talking about, a millennia-old history of abuse and injustice, deceit and willful ignorance -- and then on the other hand, looking at a couple of years of atheists being snarky on the Internet -- and seeing the two as somehow equivalent? Or worse, seeing the snarky atheists as the greater problem?
If you're doing that, then with all due respect, you can blow me.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled attempts at civility.
Addendum: If you're having trouble commenting, seeing your comment, or reading the other comments on this post, please read this. Thanks.
Addendum 2: I've written a reply to the most common themes that are coming up in the comments here. If you're going to comment on this post, you might want to check it out first.