Why am I such an angry Atheist?
This is what religion means for the overwhelming majority who believe in it, and here is why it is so uniquely capable of causing harm:
Religion is the belief in invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangable entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgements that happen after we die. It therefore has no reality check. And it is therefore uniquely armored against criticism, against questioning, and against self-correction. It’s uniquely armored against anything that might stop it from spinning off into extreme absurdity, extreme denial of reality, and extreme grotesque immorality.
This belief in an unverifiable, supernatural entity; the thing that uniquely defines religion, that makes religion what it is, that is exactly what cranks up it’s capacity to do harm to an alarmingly high level, because there’s no reality check.
In any other ideology or philosophy about the world, it’s evenually expected to pony up. It’s evenually expected to prove itself true, or correct itself and modify it and make itself more true, or fall by the wayside. With religion, that is emphatically NOT the case. Because religion is a belief in the invisible and the unknowable it’s therefore never expected to prove that it’s right, and it’s never even expected to show good evidence for why it’s right, this capacity to do harm can spin into the stratosphere.
I want to make a comparison here to show my point. I want to compare religious belief with political ideology. After all, religion is not the only belief that’s armored against criticism, it’s not the only belief that leads people to ignore evidence in favor of their their settled opinion. That’s a human trait, we all do that. And very contrary to the popular atheist saying, religion is NOT the only belief that inspires good people to do evil things. Political ideology can do that very nicely as well.
People committed horrors to perpetuate Soviet Communism, which was a political ideology that these people sincerely believed was best, and the horrors that were committed by Americans in the last Bush administration in the name of the values of democracy and freedom. But even the most stubborn political ideology will eventually crumble in the face of it not working. People can only be told for so long that under communism everyone will eat strawberries and cream, and in the unrestricted free market the rising tide will lift all boats. A political ideology makes promises about this life and this world, and if the strawberries and cream and the rising boats are not forthcoming, eventually people notice. The 2008 election was good evidence of that as is the current Occupy Wall Street movement. People can and will rationalize a political ideology for a very long time but ultimately the proof is in the pudding.
RELIGION IS DIFFERENT.
With religion, the proof is emphatically NOT in the pudding. With religion, the proof comes from these invisible beings, these inaudible voices. The proof comes from prophets and religious leaders who supposedly hear these inaudible voices and are happy to tell the rest of us what they’re saying. It comes from these religious texts that were written thousands of years ago, again, written by ancient religious leaders who supposedly heard these voices. It comes from the feelings in people’s hearts, you know, like I just feel god in my heart conveniently telling me what I already believe or what I want to believe, and the proof comes in the afterlife; AFTER people are dead and gone and can’t come back to tell us about it.
So again, with religion, even if the rules and promises that are supposedly made by god just aren’t working out, like if they’re clearly not happening, the followers will still follow them because the ultimate judge and judgment are invisible. There is no pudding, there is no proof, there is no expectation that there be any. In fact in many religions, the idea that you should expect proof is blasphemy. So therefore, there’s no reality check when religion starts to go to really bad places.
It drives me nuts when people insist that religious wars, religious bigotry, religious violence, and religious hatred and so on…it drives me up a tree when religious people say that’s not religion’s fault. No! Of course not! It’s the fault of religious leaders, you know, power hungry selfish greedy religious leaders who manipulate the people. Or it’s the fault of the people…it’s the fault of the religious followers..they’re driven by fear, ego, and tribalism, you know, they just don’t understand the true meaning of god….or else the wars, the violence, the hatred, they’re really about something else, it’s really about land or it’s about money or power…
Ok, of course the wars and violence and hatred are complex. Of course they’re committed by humans, of course they have a lot of causes feeding into them. But to deny the role that religion plays in religious conflicts? It’s a textbook example of ignoring the elephant in the room. I mean, it’s like looking at an enormous steaming pile of shit, of elephant shit in the room, and saying, “My goodness, where could all of this elephant shit have come from?. It must have been brought here by a greedy, selfish, power hungry elephant trainer! I don’t see any elephant here, and it’s bigotted and intolerant of you to suggest that an elephant caused that pile of elephant shit. How dare you!”
So when people say it’s not fair to blame religion for the terrible things that’s done in it’s name, I must passionately beg to differ.
And when you look at this littany of religious harms, if you look at them closely you’ll find that every single one of them has at it’s core this unique nature of religion, the thing that makes religion different from every other human activity; it’s fundamental unverifiability, and it’s fundamental lack of reality check.
So I think it is entirely fair to blame religion for the terrible things that’s done in it’s name. What makes religion unique is what makes religion FUCKED UP! And I think that Atheist anger is COMPLETELY JUSTIFIED. But is it useful? Does anger about religion help or hurt our cause? Well, I think if used carefully, it is not only helpful in this climate of social change, but necessary. Why? Because anger is always necessary. Because anger has driven every movement of social change that I am aware of. Anger has driven the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, the environmental movement….every single one of these movements has had as a tremendous driving force, and tremendous amount of anger. Anger about injustice, anger about mistreatment and brutality, anger about helplessness.
We need to be very clear about this. Anger is not violence. Anger is not bigotry. Anger is not hatred. I’m not in favor of any of those things, but that’s not what anger is. Anger is emotion indicating displeasure and antagonism with a state of affairs. Anger is one of the ways that we know that things are not ok. And anger is what motivates us to do something about it. so when people tell Atheists not to be so angry about religion, they are basically telling us to disempower ourselves. They’re telling us to lay down one of the single most powerful tools we have at our disposal. They’re telling us to lay down the tool that as far as I know, no social change movement has been able to do without. They’re telling us to be polite and diplomatic, and don’t get me wrong, we need to be polite in diplomacy, but diplomacy is much more effective when coupled with passionate anger. And it’s working.
Right now, in all 50 states, the fastest growing religious affiliation is NONE. Rates of religious non-belief are rising at a very rapid rate. Clearly, we are doing something right. Clearly our anger (among other things) has been very effective. And clearly this has a lot of religious people freaked the fuck out. But what they don’t understand is that most of our anger is NOT about the harm that’s being done to Atheists, most of our anger is about the harm that’s being done to believers and the fear mongering and indoctrination of innocent children of religious parents. Atheists are not angry because we’re selfish, we’re not angry because we’re whiney, we’re not angry because we “have no joy or meaning in our lives”. We’re not angry because we have a god-shaped hole in our hearts….Atheists are angry because we have compassion. We’re angry because we have a sense of justice. We’re angry because we see harm being done, horrible harm to people in the name of religion, and our hearts go out to them. Atheists are angry because we want to see this stop. Atheists are not angry because there’s something wrong with us. Atheists are angry because there’s something right with us.
“The supremest task is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I have learned through bitter experience that the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger. And as heat conserved is transmitted into energy, even so are anger controlled can be transformed into power that can move the world.” – Ghandi
These leaders who I’ve just quoted, today are held up as icons of peaceful, diplomatic, love thy neighbor activism. These leaders at the time they were leading, were NOT held up as icons of peaceful, diplomatic, love thy neighbor activism. Leaders who were, at the time they were leading, were seen as dangerous, radical threats to the stability of society, and who ONLY today held up as these paragons of sweetness and good manners. Who only today are being shoved in the faces of Atheist activists and activists of all kinds who are seen as being too confrontational and too intemperate, and too angry.
So the next time somebody asks you, “why are you Atheists so angry?” remember that. Don’t just remember the gay kids who are taught that they’re going to burn in hell, don’t just remember the women who are beaten by their husbands and the preachers who tell them to just suck it up. Don’t just remember the people cheated and stolen from by religious frauds, don’t just remember the kids who are being raped by catholic priests and the catholic church that’s covering it up. Remember the words of King and Gandi. Remember that anger can become a transforming force. Remember that anger controlled can be transformed into a power that can move the world.
And remember the people who are trivializing your anger, however concerned, however well-meaning, are trying to take that power away. Well I won’t let them.