I want to talk about atheists and anger.
This has been a hard piece to write, and it may be a hard one to read. I’m not going to be as polite and good-tempered as I usually am in this blog; this piece is about anger, and for once I’m going to fucking well let myself be angry.
But I think it’s important. One of the most common criticisms lobbed at the newly-vocal atheist community is, “Why do you have to be so angry?” So I want to talk about:
1. Why atheists are angry;
2. Why our anger is valid, valuable, and necessary;
And 3. Why it’s completely fucked-up to try to take our anger away from us.
So let’s start with why we’re angry. Or rather — because this is my blog and I don’t presume to speak for all atheists — why I’m angry.
I’m angry that according to a recent Gallup poll, only 45 percent of Americans would vote for an atheist for President.
I’m angry that atheist conventions have to have extra security, including hand-held metal detectors and bag searches, because of fatwas and death threats.
I’m angry that atheist soldiers — in the U.S. armed forces — have had prayer ceremonies pressured on them and atheist meetings broken up by Christian superior officers, in direct violation of the First Amendment. I’m angry that evangelical Christian groups are being given exclusive access to proselytize on military bases — again in the U.S. armed forces, again in direct violation of the First Amendment. I’m angry that atheist soldiers who are complaining about this are being harassed and are even getting death threats from Christian soldiers and superior officers — yet again, in the U.S. armed forces. And I’m angry that Christians still say smug, sanctimonious things like, “there are no atheists in foxholes.” You know why you’re not seeing atheists in foxholes? Because believers are threatening to shoot them if they come out.
I’m angry that the 41st President of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, said of atheists, in my lifetime, “No, I don’t know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.” My President. No, I didn’t vote for him, but he was still my President, and he still said that my lack of religious belief meant that I shouldn’t be regarded as a citizen.
I’m angry that it took until 1961 for atheists to be guaranteed the right to serve on juries, testify in court, or hold public office in every state in the country.
I’m angry that almost half of Americans believe in creationism. And not a broad, “God had a hand in evolution” creationism, but a strict, young-earth, “God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years” creationism.
And on that topic: I’m angry that school boards all across this country are still — 82 years after the Scopes trial — having to spend time and money and resources on the fight to have evolution taught in the schools. School boards are not exactly loaded with time and money and resources, and any of the time/ money/ resources that they’re spending fighting this stupid fight is time/ money/ resources that they’re not spending, you know, teaching.
I’m angry that women are dying of AIDS in Africa and South America because the Catholic Church has convinced them that using condoms makes baby Jesus cry.
I’m angry that women are having septic abortions — or are being forced to have unwanted children who they resent and mistreat — because religious organizations have gotten laws passed making abortion illegal or inaccessible.
I’m angry about what happened to Galileo. Still. And I’m angry that it took the Catholic Church until 1992 to apologize for it.
I get angry when advice columnists tell their troubled letter-writers to talk to their priest or minister or rabbi… when there is absolutely no legal requirement that a religious leader have any sort of training in counseling or therapy.
And I get angry when religious leaders offer counseling and advice to troubled people — sex advice, relationship advice, advice on depression and stress, etc. — not based on any evidence about what actually does and does not work in people’s brains and lives, but on the basis of what their religious doctrine tells them God wants for us.
I’m angry at preachers who tell women in their flock to submit to their husbands because it’s the will of God, even when their husbands are beating them within an inch of their lives.
I’m angry that so many believers treat prayer as a sort of cosmic shopping list for God. I’m angry that believers pray to win sporting events, poker hands, beauty pageants, and more. As if they were the center of the universe, as if God gives a shit about who wins the NCAA Final Four — and as if the other teams/ players/ contestants weren’t praying just as hard.
I’m especially angry that so many believers treat prayer as a cosmic shopping list when it comes to health and illness. I’m angry that this belief leads to the revolting conclusion that God deliberately makes people sick so they’ll pray to him to get better. And I’m angry that they foist this belief on sick and dying children — in essence teaching them that, if they don’t get better, it’s their fault. That they didn’t pray hard enough, or they didn’t pray right, or God just doesn’t love them enough.
And I get angry when other believers insist that the cosmic shopping list isn’t what religion and prayer are really about; that their own sophisticated theology is the true understanding of God. I get angry when believers insist that the shopping list is a straw man, an outmoded form of religion and prayer that nobody takes seriously, and it’s absurd for atheists to criticize it.
I get angry when believers use terrible, grief-soaked tragedies as either opportunities to toot their own horns and talk about how wonderful their God and their religion are… or as opportunities to attack and demonize atheists and secularism.
I’m angry at the Sunday school teacher who told comic artist Craig Thompson that he couldn’t draw in heaven. And I’m angry that she said it with the complete conviction of authority… when in fact she had no basis whatsoever for that assertion. How the hell did she know what Heaven was like? How could she possibly know that you could sing in heaven but not draw? And why the hell would you say something that squelching and dismissive to a talented child?
I’m angry that Mother Teresa took her personal suffering and despair at her lost faith in God, and turned it into an obsession that led her to treat suffering as a beautiful gift from Christ to humanity, a beautiful offering from humanity to God, and a necessary part of spiritual salvation. And I’m angry that this obsession apparently led her to offer grotesquely inadequate medical care and pain relief at her hospitals and hospices, in essence taking her personal crisis of faith out on millions of desperately poor and helpless people.
I’m angry at the trustee of the local Presbyterian church who told his teenage daughter that he didn’t actually believe in God or religion, but that it was important to keep up his work because without religion there would be no morality in the world.
I’m angry that so many parents and religious leaders terrorize children — who (a) have brains that are hard-wired to trust adults and believe what they’re told, and (b) are very literal-minded — with vivid, traumatizing stories of eternal burning and torture to ensure that they’ll be too frightened to even question religion.
I’m angrier when religious leaders explicitly tell children — and adults, for that matter — that the very questioning of religion and the existence of hell is a dreadful sin, one that will guarantee them that hell is where they’ll end up.
I’m angry that children get taught by religion to hate and fear their bodies and their sexuality. And I’m especially angry that female children get taught by religion to hate and fear their femaleness, and that queer children get taught by religion to hate and fear their queerness.
I’m angry about the Muslim girl in the public school who was told — by her public-school, taxpayer-paid teacher — that the red stripes on Christmas candy canes represented Christ’s blood, that she had to believe in and be saved by Jesus Christ or she’d be condemned to hell, and that if she didn’t, there was no place for her in his classroom. And I’m angry that he told her not to come back to his class when she didn’t convert.
I’m angry — enraged — at the priests who molest children and tell them it’s God’s will. I’m enraged at the Catholic Church that consciously, deliberately, repeatedly, for years, acted to protect priests who molested children, and consciously and deliberately acted to keep it a secret, placing the Church’s reputation as a higher priority than, for fuck’s sake, children not being molested. And I’m enraged that the Church is now trying to argue, in court, that protecting child-molesting priests from prosecution, and shuffling those priests from diocese to diocese so they can molest kids in a whole new community that doesn’t yet suspect them, is a Constitutionally protected form of free religious expression.
I’m angry about 9/11.
And I’m angry that Jerry Falwell blamed 9/11 on pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians, the ACLU, and the People For the American Way. I’m angry that the theology of a wrathful God exacting revenge against pagans and abortionists by sending radical Muslims to blow up a building full of secretaries and investment bankers… this was a theology held by a powerful, widely-respected religious leader with millions of followers.
I’m angry that, when my dad had a stroke and went into a nursing home, the staff asked my brother, “Is he a Baptist or a Catholic?” And I’m not just angry on behalf of my atheist dad. I’m angry on behalf of all the Jews, all the Buddhists, all the Muslims, all the neo-Pagans, whose families almost certainly got asked that same question. That question is enormously disrespectful, not just of my dad’s atheism, but of everyone at that nursing home who wasn’t a Baptist or a Catholic.
I’m angry about Ingrid’s grandparents. I’m angry that their fundamentalism was such a huge source of strife and unhappiness in her family, that it alienated them so drastically from their children and grandchildren. I’m angry that they tried to cram it down Ingrid’s throat, to the point that she’s still traumatized by it. And I’m angry that their religion, which if nothing else should have been a comfort to them in their old age, was instead a source of anguish and despair — because they knew their children and grandchildren were all going to be burned and tortured forever in Hell, and how could Heaven be Heaven if their children and grandchildren were being eternally burned and tortured in Hell?
I’m angry that Ingrid and I can’t get legally married in this country — or get legally married in another country and have it recognized by this one — largely because religious leaders oppose it. And I’m angry that both religious and political leaders have discovered that they can score big points exploiting people’s fears about sexuality in a changing world, fanning the flames of those fears… and giving people a religious excuse for why their fears are justified.
I’m angry that huge swaths of public policy in this country — not just on same-sex marriage, but on abortion and stem-cell research and sex education in schools — are being based, not on evidence of which policies do and don’t work and what is and isn’t true about the world, but on religious texts written hundreds or thousands of years ago, and on their own personal feelings about how those texts should be interpreted, with no supporting evidence whatsoever — and no apparent concept of why any evidence should be needed.
I get angry when believers trumpet every good thing that’s ever been done in the name of religion as a reason why religion is a force for good… and then, when confronted with the horrible evils done in religion’s name, say that those evils weren’t done because of religion, were done because of politics of greed or fear or whatever, would have been done anyway even without religion, and shouldn’t be counted as religion’s fault. (Of course, to be fair, I also get angry when atheists do the opposite: chalk up every evil thing done in the name of religion as a black mark on religion’s record, but then insist that the good things were done for other reasons and would have been done anyway, etc. Neither side gets to have it both ways.)
I’m angry at the believers who put decals on their cars with a Faith fish eating a Darwin fish… and who think that’s clever, who think that religious faith really should triumph over science and evidence. I’m angry at believers who have so little respect for the physical world their God supposedly created that they feel perfectly content to ignore the mountains of physical evidence piling up around them about that real world; perfectly content to see that world as somehow less real and true than their personal opinions about God.
(Note: The litany of specific grievances is now more than halfway over. Analysis of why anger is necessary and valuable is coming up soon. Promise.)
Continue reading “Atheists and Anger”