Why atheists are angry

March 29, 2011 | By | 27 Replies More

Greta Christina explains why so many atheists are angry.

[Note:  I had originally linked to a site that claims that someone other than Greta Christina had written it.   Greta wrote to tell me that this was incorrect, and I have now linked to her site and attributed this writing and these ideas to her.]

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Category: Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (27)

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  1. Pretty much sums it up for me.

    A few years ago, I received one of those viral emails around Christmas time from a member of the extended family. It was one of those purported "letters" written by a celebrity (in this case Ben Stein) in which he read riot about the "cause" of Katrina—because we have "disinvited" god out of our classrooms and public offices, the prayers to protect New Orleans and held in the aftermath went unanswered. It was a vile, contemptuous piece of evil, all the more so because it was written in a tone of self-assured pity.

    And of course it was a fraud. I decided not to let it stand. I did some research, found the sources from which it had been cobbled together, and added a little bit of my own ("What, because some people over there don't pray, god drowned all these people who did pray over here?") and zipped it back to her, hoping she would find it instructive.

    Instead, I had sent her a "nasty" email. She as incensed. When I asked how she figured that I was dismissed with a wave of the hand and a "you don't understand" bit of sophistry. All I was left with was a "well, please don't send me that crap anymore."

    The fact that "they" (and we all know someone who fits that sobriquet) have such a smug, unassailably privileged attitude about it makes it ten times harder to be heard. This, of course, isn't just a religious problem, but with god on their side it's certainly a tougher row to hoe.

  2. Jim Razinha says:

    Wow.

    I am sure I have thought or felt in my life every point she made.

  3. Tim Hogan says:

    All that anger does nothing to serve humanity or relieve suffering. Being "right" and angry simply means that others are "wrong" and you sacrifice the possibility of being present to the vast relatedness of all humanity and of humanity with the universe. All that anger cannot be healthy. Let's us go have a beer and debate the virtues of Rolling Rock versus Schlafly's Pale Ale!

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Tim: How about you convince those theists who are rude and thoughtless to quit pissing on non-theists in the ways described in the article. Then maybe the non-theists will be in a better mood for that beer..

  4. Tim,

    With all due respect—bullshit.

    The injured party, being the minority, is always expected to roll over and pretend its not being kicked in the groin by the majority who seem to have no idea that they're actually doing the kicking. Until someone gets good and angry and in their face, they just keep going along, blithely assuming all is right with world, and you (the minority viewpoint) are just a party pooper lacking the proper appreciation for the wonderfulness of the world as seen by the majority's eyes.

    The believer's position is taken as the default "normal" position and anyone who raises an objection is a mole in need of whacking. Anger is very useful in letting the whacker know that the whacking is, just maybe, wrong and in any case if you keep it up you're likely to get whacked back.

    There is no fairness in this when the religious side always believes itself to be the correct one and it prides itself on its tolerance by not scourging, whipping, or burning the nonbeliever. The atheist endures all this in the name of civility, but like a bully who can only see his own advantage the rest of the believing community takes this endurance only as what's due because, after all, we're in the minority and wrong.

    Again, this is one of those instances where all the self-righteous backpatting must be shown for the hypocrisy it is and the justification for all that bonhommie taken away. Until believers understand that what they believe has no place in judgments of others and their worth (but then, what's the point of belonging to club if you can't feel "saved" or, in fact, better?) then this kind of anger is to be expected and not altogether unjustified.

  5. Roger Pepitone says:

    Most of that was written by Greta Christina, not Brian Ellis.

  6. Hi. Greta Christina here. Brian Ellis is not, in fact the author of this piece — I am. "Atheists and Anger" was published on my blog on October 15, 2007. You can see it here:

    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christina

    I'm glad you like the piece, and I'm fine with having you link to the piece, and even excerpt parts of it. But the piece is copyrighted. Please revise your post to link to my original post, and not to this apparently plagiarized version of it. (And can you please let me know where, exactly, Brian Ellis originally posted this? I'd like to make sure it isn't being incorrectly represented as someone else's work. Thanks.)

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Greta: I'll make the change. Thanks for your note because I do want to make sure that I attribute correctly.

      I believe that I found this particular piece on Reddit.com a few days ago.

  7. Tim Hogan says:

    The bullshit meter has maxed out where someone says that because another (Tim) is a theist, they (me) must necessarily participate in the fetid activities complained of by atheists (Erich and others).

    I am responsible for and accountable for my own actions (Tim's), not those of which some might complain about others (whether theists or atheists or whatever).

    I am also responsible for cleaning up my own messes, not those of others which some in their opinion believe I hold some responsibility.

    You are entitled to your opinion but, not to be wrong on the facts. If my personal conduct is offensive or oppressive, call me on it. If there are instances where my friend or companion is offended by the conduct of others around me, school me in how this is so, and I will support them in reforming the situation. I call out others for their prejudices and conduct and have told some (even family members!)to leave my home or presence if they cannot refrain from offensive conduct.

    I reserve the right to call others on their bullshit and welcome your own responses. I long ago promised myself that commenters could say anything to me or about me here at DI and I would remain committed to relatedness to this community and its members, period.

    I still want to have that beer!

  8. Tim,

    I don't hold you accountable—but to step up and attempt to suggest that a situation in which you do not participate can be ameliorated by a beer and a conversation seems to be on the one hand and absolution of bad behavior and on the other a chastisement that those thus injured have not reason to complain.

    There was a time in this country when being a Catholic could get you the same treatment as being an atheist and sometimes worse. It wasn't acceptable behavior then and it's not now but I never expect a Catholic aware of the abuse to shrug shoulders and buy the tormentor a beer. I suspect a lot of anger went into the struggle to achieve civil equity, a lot of justified anger.

    Part of where I take exception to your formulation is that the tormentors have any interest in coming to terms. This is ideological bullying. You are clearly a better person than those to whom I refer.

  9. Michael says:

    I'm with Tim. Anger accomplishes nothing but more anger. It's a downward spiral, and the responses to this thread are a perfect example. Positive things happen from positive actions, negative things from negative ones. Look at this country. Look at all the negativity, in politics and religion, especially, and look where it's taken us. Don't get wrapped up in it and add more.

  10. The first step in diffusing anger is in admitting there is a cause and reason for it and taking that seriously. Patting the air and repeating "Now, now, anger doesn't solve anything" is both true and pointless.

  11. Tim Hogan says:

    Does the anger of atheists serve them in their goal of acceptance and respect?

    I want to know where is the atheist Gandhi?

    Where is that person who will directly take on the bias and bigotry of the majority and peacefully advocate mutual respect and civil discourse about the discrimination suffered by atheists?

    When that person comes forth, let me know so I may join her or him and seek to promote respect for atheism and to reject dicrimination against atheists.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohandas_Karamchand_

  12. Ben says:

    I AM THE ATHEIST GHANDI.

  13. Tim,

    There may be dozens of them working right now, but given the environment in which we live, they might just keep that aspect of who they are quiet. But just off the top of my head, if you must have a name, I'd say Bertrand Russell. Or Carl Sagan. Just to name two men who were eloquent, stood for principled positions, advocated peace before all else, and were quite publicly atheists.

    As to what anger might serve…sometimes anger serves to provoke courage. That's not useless.

  14. Jim Razinha says:

    You know, most people that go through "the change" pass through the militant phase and just go on living in a harmony. Some never make it out, and still others just like it there.

    I said I have felt or thought pretty much all of those points. But I'm not angry all the time (or very much, really)- nor are most non-believers. That's a misconception implied by the laundry list compiled by Greta. Or Sam Harris in Letters to a Christian Nation.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Jim: I characterized "the change" as passing through the Malcolm X phase to the Martin Luther King phase of nontheism. I've come a long way in the past five years, not that I don't sometimes get pissed when some know-it-all fundamentalist Christian asserts that the Earth is 6,000 years old and that I'm going to hell because I don't believe in his imaginary beings. http://dangerousintersection.org/2010/07/11/mendi

  15. Jim Razinha says:

    Erich, I don't want to misrepresent myself (or others) – when I see the crap cited in that long list, I do get mad. Mostly because they are not one time isolated incidents, but rather a systemic disregard for others and not only recurrent, but increasing daily as this country retreats further and further from the Enlightenment of the 18th century that bore the government we have. Check out Huckabee pushing David Barton's revisionist lies (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mwGYr0OWzw – forced at gunpoint? joking? maybe, but entirely wrong, wrong, wrong for a wannabee to be saying). And South Dakaota using taxpayer funds to pay for (religious) counseling – the only "counseling" allowed by their new Dark Age law is provided by religious groups against abortion.

    I just don't carry the anger all the time like some seem to think is the case in this comment thread. I never really was militant – just earnest in debate – because the stuff never stuck despite year after year of church every Sunday. But most deconversions result in some sort of militancy as the people come to see how they've been hoodwinked.

  16. Kevin says:

    Regardless of what you believe in, I think it's more important that we all learn to get along with each other regarless of our beliefs/philosophies, etc.

    My brother is a New Age type Hindu/sikh, whatever. I personally do not share his beliefs (I'm a Christian) but he's my brother and I will always love him.

    The same goes for my neighbor and several friends that I meet at the coffeeshop downtown. They are Wiccans, agnostics, pagans, nudists, gays, transsexuals, pot-smokers, bikers,etc. etc. and of course some of my fellow Christians.

    I just want to know that I love you all. Peace

  17. Dan Klarmann says:

    As a second generation atheist, I didn't start out being angry. But I get that way each time the Moral Majority and their descendants start pushing laws like the current wave of Theocratic flag waving here in Missouri: “In God We Trust” Signs Going Up in Missouri Public Buildings. These are signs being posted on government buildings, no less.

  18. Jim Razinha says:

    I recall a bumper sticker:

    The Moral Majority is Neither.

  19. I used to have a t-shirt of my own design with an American flag and the saying "The Pilgrims Came To America To Escape The Moral Majority."

    Now, I kinda see the irony in it.

  20. Michael says:

    Mark: "Patting the air and repeating “Now, now, anger doesn’t solve anything” is both true and pointless."

    I don't really think so. The only way to grow is to remember that some things you have to face up to and do yourself, because no one is going to do them for you. Getting beyond anger is one of those things. You can still want change, and work for change, and not be angry. Think of the people you've wanted to work for, and those you've enjoying working with; if you want support for what you want to happen, you should try to be one of those people.

  21. Tim Hogan says:

    Ben, Erich has my contact information and may put you in touch. I want an alive atheist Gandhi.

  22. Ben says:

    I believe that there is no God. I'm beyond atheism. Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy — you can't prove a negative, so there's no work to do. You can't prove that there isn't an elephant inside the trunk of my car. You sure? How about now? Maybe he was just hiding before. Check again. Did I mention that my personal heartfelt definition of the word "elephant" includes mystery, order, goodness, love and a spare tire?

    So, anyone with a love for truth outside of herself has to start with no belief in God and then look for evidence of God. She needs to search for some objective evidence of a supernatural power. All the people I write e-mails to often are still stuck at this searching stage. The atheism part is easy.

    But, this "This I Believe" thing seems to demand something more personal, some leap of faith that helps one see life's big picture, some rules to live by. So, I'm saying, "This I believe: I believe there is no God."

    Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life. I'm not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it's everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I'm raising now is enough that I don't need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day.

    Believing there's no God means I can't really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That's good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.

    Believing there's no God stops me from being solipsistic. I can read ideas from all different people from all different cultures. Without God, we can agree on reality, and I can keep learning where I'm wrong. We can all keep adjusting, so we can really communicate. I don't travel in circles where people say, "I have faith, I believe this in my heart and nothing you can say or do can shake my faith." That's just a long-winded religious way to say, "shut up," or another two words that the FCC likes less. But all obscenity is less insulting than, "How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do." So, believing there is no God lets me be proven wrong and that's always fun. It means I'm learning something.

    Believing there is no God means the suffering I've seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn't caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn't bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future.

    Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-O and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have.

    -Jillette

  23. Ben says:

    (Re: Atheist Ghandi)

    "They have another old criticism of the Gnu Atheists: we have a shocking deficiency of martyrs."

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/04/no_god

    "No gods, no masters…and NO MARTYRS"

    "Say what? We're supposed to build our movement on corded stacks of dead atheists, preferably ones murdered by torture, or Hoffmann and Berlinerbau will not take us seriously? I can't think of a better example of the blinkered brains of our critics. Religion, especially Catholicism, loves to dwell on torment and death and finds validation, even, in the agonies of the faithful; why, God must be really, really important if his followers will throw their lives away for him."

  24. Looo says:

    I see atheists as people to be loved more because they were so robbed of love as a child. Their anger is deep, and strong, but they’re also deeply hurt. Anyone who has been hurt will understand this.

    Many atheists are angry because of unresolved anger with their childhood. That deep seeded anger due to the betrayal/neglect or abuse of one’s parents at such a young age leaves them scarred for life, never able to believe that a God would actually care for them. (Study basic childhood psychology and you can easily see the connection) Atheists see God as hateful, because their own upbringing was absolutely hateful, through no fault of their own. I know an atheist very closely, and he was deeply neglected and wounded as a child, left alone to cry with no one to hold him, no love, nothing. Now he is a grown man who is emotionally stunted (can’t be any serious relationship) but absolutely intelligent. Many atheists seem to have high IQs, but terribly low EQs. He doesn’t even know why he is the way he is, he can’t even verbalize anything about his emotions to hopefully dig his way out of his past, his hurt, his wounds.

    I read up on Piers Morgans childhood (was interested because he is so deeply angry with anything God-related). Morgan’s childhood sounded really rough. Seems to fit in line with the theory posed above.

    Atheists can’t understand the things written about in the Bible because the Bible talks about relationships. Man’s relationship to God, and man’s relationship to each other. An atheist’s ability to understand and be in any healthy relationship was robbed from them as infants and young children due to abuse and neglect.

    Don’t believe it when someone says they are christian just because it came from their mouths. No real christian would ever hold up a sign that says “G– hates f–s” That’s just the religious fanatics, not the real church. Church (institution) is filed with hypocrites. Judge by the fruit of their lives, not by the words out of their mouths.

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