Okay. There is absolutely no way I can reply individually to everyone who commented on the Atheists and Anger post. The size of this thing took me by surprise. It’s still taking me by surprise. So please accept my apologies for this mass reply.
First, I want to say to everyone who sent the love: Thank you so much. You have no idea. I’ve spent the last two days either bouncing off the walls with joy… or sitting at my computer on the sofa with tears in my eyes. I’m sorry if that sounds sappy, but I’m feeling sappy, so suck it up. The fact that this piece touched so many people, inspired so many people… that is huge. That is why I became a writer. That is the meaning of my life. Thank you for letting me know.
And I’ve learned a lesson about commenting on blogs. I have a tendency to not bother commenting to a post when all I have to say is “Attaboy” or “You go, girl!” or “Thank you.” Especially when there are already dozens or hundreds of comments in a thread, and other people have already said what I was going to say. But I’ve read every single one of these comments, and I was touched by every “Attaboy” I read. So now I know: Even if all I have to say is “Attaboy,” I should say it anyway.
Now my replies to the critics. I suppose I shouldn’t bother, I suppose I should just let it go and focus on the love. But I seem to be constitutionally incapable of letting unfair or inaccurate accusations just slide. So here are my replies to some of the critical comments’ common themes.
No, I’m not.
The new, “improved” Typepad comment format is hard to navigate, and on behalf of Typepad I apologize for that — but all the comments are there. As of this writing, I haven’t deleted a single comment in this thread. Not one. Read this more detailed explanation; it has instructions on how to navigate the comments format.
(BTW: In the future, if you want to complain that a blogger is deleting your comments, you might want to provide an email address or a URL, or even email them off-blog, so they have the option of contacting you and letting you know if your “censored” comments are really just a technical glitch.)
Actually, I’m not a very angry person. Not most of the time. Generally speaking, I’m a very happy person. Ask anyone I know. I’m usually good-tempered, cheerful, optimistic, easy to please, and inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt unless they prove that they don’t deserve it. My life is full of joy and pleasure: I’m very conscious of how fortunate I am; and I make sure to savor my life… especially since I think it’s the only one I’ve got.
There are, however, things I’m angry about. And I think my anger over those things is valid. I spent 4,650 words explaining why I think my anger is valid — and why I think anger in general over injustice and mistreatment is not only valid but useful and necessary. I’m not going to explain it again here.
I basically wrote this piece because I got very, very tired of hearing believers ask atheists, “Why are you so angry?” when the answer seemed perfectly obvious to me. I wanted to answer that question once and for all, so I wouldn’t have to answer it anymore. (And from the response I’ve gotten to the post — the godless commenters who are saying things like, “I’m bookmarking this page so I can point to it when people ask me why we’re so angry” — I’m apparently not the only one.)
But it’s not like I’m running around smashing plates and going “Rrrr! Rrrr! Rrrr!” all the time. It is possible, even healthy, to be a generally happy and upbeat person, and still sometimes gets angry about things. To assume that because I vented my anger in one blog post, I therefore must be spewing rage every second… that’s a little bit silly, don’t you think?
I must respectfully beg to differ. Anger, when it’s directed at a real cause of mistreatment or injustice (towards yourself or towards others) is healthy, and it can be a useful, constructive motivator to change things.
Ask any therapist.
What hurts is repressing anger.
Anyway, see above re: me not being angry every second of every day. Really, I’m not. Thank you for your concern, but it’s not necessary.
Again, I must respectfully beg to differ. The whole second section of my post was about why I think anger is valuable and necessary in any social movement. And I’ve written at greater length on that point elsewhere.
And as commenters in the rant have pointed out, even the social movement leaders who generally get tagged as the non-angry, peaceful, “good cops” — Martin Luther King, Gandhi — were very angry indeed. They just channeled their anger in constructive ways. Which I think is a grand idea. But acknowledging that anger and expressing it is an important part of that process.
This is actually a fair question, and I’m just sorry it got raised in such a troll-y way. So I’ll answer it as if it hadn’t.
(a) I was trying to focus on things that I had some personal experience with. I was writing emotionally, and the Christian theocracy is what I have a lot more personal experience with… and thus a lot more personal anger about.
(b) I was trying to keep it… well, not short, obviously, but less than novel-length. My piece could easily have been 100 times longer than it was. It barely scratched the surface. I knew when I hit Send that I would be missing stuff, important stuff even… but I had to cut if off somewhere.
But if I were writing the piece all over again now, I probably would include more references to non-Christian religious atrocities. Because I am angry about those things. I am angry about burqas, and clitoridectomies, and women being executed for adultery, and karma/ reincarnation being used as a justification for the caste system, and the horribleness — on both sides — in Palestine, and the destruction of the ancient Buddha statues in Afghanistan by the Taliban, and the atheist blogger in Iran who commented in my rant that he could be executed for his blogging. And more.
They just didn’t happen to be in the 1% of things that anger me about religion that made it into my post. That was a mistake, and I acknowledge that.
Actually, I’m not.
I was very, very careful in this post to say “I’m angry at people who do (X),” or, “I get angry when (Y) happens,” or, “I’m angry about (Z).” I said that I was angry about specific aspects of religion, specific ways it plays out in the world, specific things people do because of their religion.
I never said that the things I was angry about were universal to all religious beliefs or religious believers. Not once. Read the piece carefully. You’ll see.
But the stuff I’m angry about is not a case of a few bad apples. I’m sorry, but that’s just flat-out wrong. Do you really think that 55% of Americans refusing to vote for an atheist is a few bad apples? A national public health and sex education policy that’s based on what does and does not make baby Jesus cry? The Catholic Church’s official policy of opposing condom distribution, in Africa and everywhere else? The fact that until the year I was born, it was the law in many states that atheists couldn’t vote or hold office or testify in court?
Perhaps you missed the part of my rant that said, “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.'” The stuff in my rant may not be true for you and your church or enclave or whatever. But it’s still important, still widespread, and still worth being angry about. And I still think it’s messed-up to dismiss it as a trivial aspect of religion simply because it isn’t universal.
You’re trying to piss me off now, aren’t you?
Did you read the part in my post about the whole “true faith” thing and how messed-up it is? Did you read the part about nobody having a pipeline to God, about how you have no more reason to think that you’re practicing religion the way God wants you to than anybody else does?
Okay. Deep breaths. Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean…
Look. The whole “Jesus was a cool guy who just gets misinterpreted by those organized religion fascists” thing is kind of ignoring the actual content of the Gospels. If you believe that the Gospels are a more or less accurate representation of what Jesus said, then you have to acknowledge that Jesus said some pretty fucked-up things. Including a whole lot of stuff about how people who didn’t believe in him and follow him were going to burn in Hell for eternity.
And again: You don’t have any more reason to think you have the true faith than any other believer does. I’ve written about this at greater length elsewhere, as it’s a topic that particularly frosts my cookies. You can quote chapter and verse, but so can the people whose interpretation of the faith you disagree with. That’s sort of the nature of chapter and verse; it can be used to support just about any interpretation you can come up with.
And besides, see above re: Even if the way you practice religion is reasonably cool, the fact remains that there are widespread, systematic practices of religion that aren’t so cool — and the fact that you don’t agree with them doesn’t make them not religion.
In this entire 4,650-word rant, I used the word “hate” exactly three times… and it was all in one paragraph. It was the paragraph that said, “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.” In the entire rant, the only times that I used the word “hate” was to speak out against it.
I never once in the entire post said that I hated anyone. I said I was angry. There’s an enormous difference.
That’s possible. But I don’t think we have any way of knowing that yet. Godlessness has only fairly recently become a remotely acceptable option in human society (and in much of the world, it still isn’t).
But we do have one experimental petri dish. I offer as a counter example: Europe.
Many European nations are now more than half atheist/ agnostic. And those nations seem to do fine. Better than countries with a high number of believers, in fact. And while I think the cause and effect actually works the other way around (greater social health leads to more godlessness, not the other way around), the fact that there are flourishing countries with a godless majority puts the kibosh on the whole “religion is a basic human need” theory. These countries aren’t perfect, they have their problems; but no more than we do in the U.S., and in many ways a whole lot less.
Besides, I think that the “We educated people don’t need religion, but the great unwashed hoi polloi do” trope is not only untrue, but classist and insulting. Read this brilliant piece by Ebon Muse on Daylight Atheism about atheist janitors… and be sure to read the comments from the atheist janitors themselves.
Um… I spent 4,650 words explaining why I care. I care because people’s beliefs lead them to do harm to other people, and to themselves. I care because far too many believers aren’t living and letting live. I care because the whole “faith trumps evidence” aspect of religion makes it uniquely resistant to self-correction… and uniquely resistant to dissent.
Of course people are entitled to believe what they want. It’s a right guaranteed in the Constitution, and it’s a right that I treasure passionately. But nowhere in the Constitution does it say that the right to believe what you want means that nobody should ever argue with you, or point out why they think you’re mistaken. Somehow, the very good concept of religious tolerance got turned into the very bad concept that nobody should say anything critical of any religion, ever.
Yes, people have a right to not vote for atheists. They also have a right to not vote for blacks and Jews. Does that make what they’re doing okay? Does that mean that we shouldn’t try to change their minds? Does that mean that we shouldn’t be angry about it?
Mostly, I’m writing. I’m a writer. That’s what I do.
And I don’t think that’s trivial. If my writing, and other godless writing, can change people’s minds, or inspire people to speak out and come out of the closet, then that’s not trivial.
I do other things as well. I donate money. I write my Congresspeople. I pay attention to these issues when I vote. But I totally suck at joining and organizing and anything that involves interacting in person with more than six other people at a time. I don’t even like parties unless I know half the people there. I’m a loner. I’m a rebel. Don’t try to change me, baby.
So mostly, I’m writing. I’m a writer. That’s what I do.
No, it isn’t. And no, I’m not.
It simply isn’t the case that atheists are 100% convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that there is no God. I’ve never once met an atheist who thought that way. Contrary to popular belief, atheism isn’t a faith in the non-existence of God. Atheism is… well, it’s somewhat different for different people. But for most atheists I know, it’s more or less the position that God is an extremely unlikely hypothesis, not supported by evidence or reason; and that in the absence of any convincing evidence, it’s reasonable to discard it as a hypothesis. It’s the position that the Christian/ Judaic/ Muslim God is about as probable as Zeus or ThorâŠ and that if you’re a non-believer in those gods, it makes sense to be a non-believer in Jehovah/ Yahweh/ Allah, too. And Buddha, and the Hindu gods, and the Wicca Goddess. Just while we’re at it.
And it’s simply not the case that I don’t offer any reasons why I don’t believe in God, and that I just take my disbelief on faith. I’ve written extensively about the reasons I don’t believe in God, or a soul, or an afterlife. You’re welcome to read them if you like; they’re here, and here and here and here (that’s a three-part piece), and here, and here, and here, and here, and here and here (a two-parter). And just generally sprinkled throughout my posts and comments on the blog.
As have other writers. If you want a really good source of “why I think religion is a mistaken and harmful idea about the world” arguments, I suggest you visit the brilliant Ebon Musings website (sibling site to the equally brilliant Daylight Atheism blog). He has the most thorough, best-argued, most solidly supported collection of arguments against religion that I’ve seen, and when people ask me why I don’t believe in God, half the time I just point them to his site.
But give us some good, hard evidence that we’re wrong, and we’ll change our minds. (Please, though, for the love of all that is beautiful in this world, read Ebon Muse’s Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists and How Not to Convert an Atheist before you do. And please remember that Scripture and your personal experience do not count as evidence.)
In other words, I have given reasons why I don’t believe.
I just didn’t do it in this post.
Again, I have to say: If you’re basing your conclusions about my entire life philosophy on one ranty blog post, then isn’t that just a little bit silly?
Now you’re definitely trying to piss me off.
Okay. First of all, see above re: me not being angry all the time. And re: occasional anger being a healthy part of life.
Second: Do you honestly think I’ve never heard this before? Do you think that, in my 45+ years on this planet, and my 2+ years of being an atheist blogger, that nobody before has ever said to me, “Everything in your life would improve if you just accepted Jesus Christ as your person savior”? Yes, I’ve read the Bible (much of it, anyway). I was a religion major in college, for goodness’ sake. I’ve considered the possibility that Jesus might be my personal savior. And I’ve rejected it. Please. Come up with something new.
And third… do you really think there are no angry Christians in the world? I see angry Christians everywhere. America is full of Christians who are full of anger — hatred, even — for homosexuals, feminists, liberals, sex educators, pornographers, and so on. (In other words… for me.)
Look at the comments in this blog post. Look at the person who said I shouldn’t be allowed to vote or serve on juries; the people who said I was angry because I was a lesbo bulldyke; the person who said they wished my mother had had an abortion and I should burn in hell. Christianity is clearly no cure for anger. Christianity often serves to fan anger’s flame.
Oh, and P.S.: I’m not a man. Hence the “being angry about not being able to marry my girlfriend” part. I’m just sayin’, is all.
Tonight: a nice sex post. I promise. I wrote this damn rant to get it out of my system and move on, and instead it’s completely taken over my life. It’s wacky.