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Why Are You Atheists So Angry? My Talk at Skepticon 4

My talk at Skepticon 4, “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?”, has been posted on YouTube! In what I hope is both an entertaining rant and a rousing call to action, I talk about atheist anger. I talk about whether the perception of the so-called “new atheist” movement as a fundamentally angry one is even accurate. I talk about why — specifically — many atheists are angry. I talk about whether or not that anger is valid. And I talk about whether this anger helps or hinders our movement. (Take a wild guess as to what I say…)

If you wanted to see this talk but couldn’t make it to the conference, here’s your chance. I did a pretty darned good job, if I do say so myself: Skepticon inspires me to be my very best. Many thanks to Rob at Hambone Productions for the excellent video work, and for getting it onto YouTube so promptly. There are lots more Skepticon 4 videos already up on his channel, and I’ll be continuing to link to them over the next few days. Enjoy!

Comments

  1. Predator Handshake says

    I can’t watch this right now as my work computer doesn’t have speakers, but I wanted to say that I love the still frame that Youtube displayed.

  2. MayanFootballer says

    I’ve read a few of Greta’s articles during the last few months, but this is the first time I hear her speak. It’s totally amazing. Great talk.

  3. Loqi says

    I saw you give this talk for the Minnesota Atheists when you came to the Twin Cities. I was so impressed that I joined the group and made a donation. It’s fun to watch it again. Keep up the great work, Greta!

  4. Custador says

    I agreed with every single point you made, but I really wish when you said that genital mutilation made you angry, you had said that ALL genital mutilation made you angry, not solely female genital mutilation :-/

  5. Stonyground says

    I have read GC’s blog for quite a while, my only criticism would be that her posts are sometimes too long for my attention span and that may be my fault. This was a brilliant and enjoyable speech and I laughed and clapped spontaniously along with the live audience. I do have a few observations.

    I am pretty sure that anger is one of the seven deadly sins that are listed by the RCC. This one and the other six sins do seem to have been deliberately contrived to keep the sheep in line.

    When we nasty atheists come across a blog post that we disagree with, our comments tend to be about how we disagree and why. Threats of violence pretty much prove that you are wrong and have nothing to prove otherwise.

    On the subject of Jesus and Hell, it might be overkill to quote every single example in the NT. You could have just quoted one or two and then challenged the idiot to look up the rest for him/her self, while pointing out that it is your holy book and you haven’t even bothered to read it.

    When you mentioned Karen Armstrong you missed out Terry Eagleton. They really ought to be a couple. Eagleton is still a Marxist Twenty years after reality land has intruded on that particular fantasy.

    The end piece about atheists concern about the suffering of non-atheists was spot on. Christians love to tell us how they were persecuted in the first and second century and how they are persecuted now that their gay bashing has been made illegal. They like to ignore the fact that as long as Christianity has existed they have been gleefully persecuting each other.

  6. says

    I’m not an Atheist but I loved your video on YouTube. It was very educational and insightful and got me thinking about things I never thought about before, much love and support.

  7. sunnydale75 says

    Great job Greta. It’s been a long time since I agreed with *everything* someone said, but having just watched this video, I agree with _everything_ you said.

    Tony

  8. Gabrielle says

    Great speech. Even better than the essay it was based on. “We’re angry because there is something right with us.” Heck yeah!

  9. says

    I liked this talk so much that I watched your talk on “Atheism and Sexuality” from last year. I’m a new atheist, in the sense that I was a Christian of the Reformed Baptist variety approximately six months ago (ha), and finding such a massive online community of nontheists has been the most (and perhaps only) encouraging part of this whole process. LOVE your blog and videos.

  10. Jordan says

    About a year ago, I was a fairly ecumenical atheist. I believed that religion was a pretense for, but not a cause of evil things, and I secretly thought that atheists who blamed religion for 9/11 and the like were being rather shrill and unfair.

    And then I read that passage, the one about religion’s armor against self-correction.

    There is a particular, shivery feeling you get when you realize something you believe is dead wrong. It feels incredibly exciting, somehow humbling and empowering at the same time, and it’s something I think everyone should get to experience at least once in their lifetime. At the beginning of that paragraph I had one opinion, and by the end I had a different one. Your blog has done that to me more times than any other. So please, for the love of proverbial God, keep doing what you’re doing. You’re utterly fantastic at it.

    (By the way, I hope this doesn’t devalue everything I just said, but you do look hilarious in the Youtube thumbnail picture. Just saying.)

  11. Lawrence Louis says

    The following is an email I wrote you personally, but I felt I needed to share my gratitude for your excellent lecture with everyone:

    ——————————-

    Greta,

    I rarely write to people, about lectures that they, or someone on their behalf, have posted online. After watching wordsmiths like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris eviscerate religion with such wit and eloquence, most people don’t impress me. After all, how can anyone compete with three of the “Four Horsemen” of atheism? I thought, having watched hours of video from these men, and other high profile promoters of the secular cause, that no one could come up with anything more engaging or anything new. Boy was I wrong!

    I stumbled across your lecture at Skepticon, after being referred to it by The Thinking Atheist channel. It was one of the most engrossing hours in recent memory. You did a superb job at underscoring every reason I could think of, and many reasons I didn’t even think about, as to why we, as atheist, are justified in our anger towards religion. Every time you spoke, and adduced all these pithy insights, I felt as if you were giving voice to so many things that I have had bottled up inside of me, which I was either too afraid to say, or couldn’t say as adeptly as you did. I am glad we have such a strong, articulate, and well reasoned voice, such as yours, on our side of the fence. Please keep up the great work. Thank you.

    -Lawrence

  12. spectator says

    Final inspiring words from 2 deeply religious men.

    Haven’t atheists basically told religious people to keep their beliefs to themselves?

    Greta did a brutal job on so many straw men. Righteous anger at them is also a waste of time.

  13. JOhn. says

    Thank you for the thoroughly engaging and powerful speech. Even though I still have lots to work on tonight, I could not stop watching and more importantly listening. Sharing widely!

  14. mossy says

    “Atheists are not angry because there is something wrong with us, we are angry because there is something right with us.”

    love it.

  15. Liam Mitchell says

    Hi Greta. I saw a link to your talk on the AAI newsfeed on my facebook page & decided to watch it, and i just wanted to say it it really was fantastic, it just got better as you went along .. keep up the good work & all the very best from an Irish atheist. (it’s on the rise here too)

  16. daenyx says

    Brilliantly articulated. I wish I could have been there, but this is almost as good.

    I run into “helpful advice” not to be so angry a lot, from friends and family, whether believers or not, and it is so very frustrating to me. I get it about my atheism, my feminism, and my interest in LGBTQ equality. I will be saving this link for people who actually might care about the answer to why I’m so angry, and trying to remember your eloquence for people without the interest to watch the video.

    Thank you, so much, for being awesome.

  17. Ashley says

    I just want to say thank you. Thank you for such a perfect, appropriate speech that everyone should hear!

  18. Sastra says

    Well, I’m angry because I wasn’t at Skepticon to hear this speech in person.

    But putting it online has helped.

    When people used to accuse me/atheists/atheism of being “angry” when criticizing religion, I used to hasten to reassure the critics of criticism that no, no, not at all — nobody was angry. Dear me. Angry meant bad; angry meant wrong; angry meant ego-driven and closed-minded and removed from holistic peace and happiness. Watch me smile. See? No anger. We’re all okay, we’re all good.

    Not so good, really. I was simultaneously accepting their tactic of shutting down my passion and buying into a world view which identifies truth-seeking with a lack of critical thought.

    I don’t do that any more thanks, in good part, to you and the other prominent gnu atheists. I’ll now admit to being angry — and I smile. Big.

  19. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    spectator #17

    Haven’t atheists basically told religious people to keep their beliefs to themselves?

    Yes, and when goddists do so then we’ll shut up about it. But what are we seeing now?

    ● The whole Republican party is trying to show each one of them is more religious than all the others.

    ● Fundamentalists continue to push teaching myths in schools in place of science.

    ● Catholics, Mormons and other goddists work hard to prevent same-sex marriage because “God thinks what they do in bed is icky!”

    ● Abortions are harder and harder to obtain because the religious right is anti-abortion.

    ● Etc, etc, etc.

    Nope, don’t see the goddists keeping their beliefs to themselves. Instead we see them trying to enforce them on non-believers.

    Greta did a brutal job on so many straw men. Righteous anger at them is also a waste of time.

    Apparently you’ve been raised by wolves in a cave and only got to the real world in the past ten minutes. Greta didn’t slay a single strawman. She talked about actual instances of how goddism is hurting not just atheists but everybody.

  20. Rieux says

    The content was outstanding, perhaps even unparalleled—but am I the only one who thought the presentation (WRT specific aspects that a speech teacher would focus on) was less so?

    One issue is the high number of “um”s; I have the same problem, but I guess I found it disconcerting. The arm-waving, lip-synced “ME”s near the beginning kind of condescended to the material, it seemed to me. And some of the jokes read better on the (web)page than they did on stage, I thought; the Robin Williams-y pantomiming of David gnawing Goliath’s ankles, for example, felt rather out of place to me. That line works well enough as a tossed-off joke in “Atheists and Anger,” but as delivered on stage I thought it really pulled focus from the all-too-important point being made.

    The material is just so strong, so well done; I think Greta could let it work for her somewhat better, frequently by getting out of its way. Hopefully more experience on the SSA lecture circuit (said circuit being an institution our community is very fortunate to have, in several respects) will continue to give her a chance to hone her skills.

    Greta’s such an outstanding writer and rhetoritician—very possibly the best one we’ve got, “Horsemen” be damned—that it’s probably unfair to expect her to be just as fantastic as a public speaker. Fair or not, it’s what I’d like to see.

    (I also totally guessed King and Gandhi as the two quoted authorities. The quotations weren’t nearly punchy enough to be P.Z., of course.)

  21. Jurjen S. says

    It’s hard to shake the feeling that the “why are you atheists so angry?” JAQoff is a mixture of an [i]ad hominem[/i] mixed with an element of more general red herring: that it’s simply an attempt to divert the discussion away from atheists’ arguments by fixating on their emotional state, and to discount their arguments on the basis of their emotional state. I say “JAQoff” because it’s not an honest question posed in search of a factual answer; it’s a fallacy of presupposition intended to serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy, because if you repeat it often enough to someone who isn’t angry, they will be after you’ve refused to accept the answer “I’m not” half a dozen or so time, QED.

  22. Jurjen S. says

    Re: FGM, incidentally, I think it was Geraldine Brooks who pointed out in her invaluable book Nine Parts of Desire that, true, FGM did not originate with Islam, but when Islam took hold in north-east Africa (notably the areas that now form Somalia, Sudan and Egypt) it forbade the newly converted to do many things they’d been doing up to that point, and FGM was not only not one of things, but it was happily embraced by some of the mujehaddin who took the practice back to the Arabian peninsula with them. It’s more than a little lame to pretend FGM has nothing to do with Islam when a religion that claims that much control over its adherents’ daily activities as Islam does condones the practice for over 1,000 years!

    To draw a crude analogy: imagine if a Muslim were to accuse Christianity of being bad because of the atrocities committed during the Crusades. Do you think he’d accept as a defense that there’s nothing in any document from the New Testament to the Nicene Creed about slaughtering Muslims?

  23. Jurjen S. says

    Rieux wrote:

    One issue is the high number of “um”s; I have the same problem, but I guess I found it disconcerting.

    I noticed that, but it didn’t bother me, which is probably a legacy of my college days. Considerate instructors take frequent vocal pauses while giving lectures because it gives the students time to keep up with note-taking. And while I acknowledge that there’s a difference between a talk at a convention or a TED talk on the one hand, and a university lecture on the other, the presence of vocal pauses like that bothers me less than their absence.

    But then, I’ll happily admit that I just want to ply Greta with drinks, sit at her feet and listen to her talk about just about anything dear to her heart.

  24. Julius says

    A really nice talk!
    The one thing missing for me is the male mutulation on jewish boy’s.
    This is going on right now in Europe and USA. This needs to stop right away!

    When I speak to people about this question I always ask the same thing. Ask any grown up man if he would be willing to cut of a peace of is penis without pain medecine?
    No one would do it so how come that it is allowed on small children?

    This is the thing that makes me the most angry!

  25. Brian F says

    Great talk! I mean Sam Harris, Christopher Hitches level great talk. As good as I’ve heard! Clear, accurate, and inspiring. Thank you Greta!

  26. says

    This was our highlight at Skepticon. You fucking nailed it. I’ve been trying to spread this video far and wide across my social nets. My partner was disappointed that you didn’t have a book at Skepticon, and she’s not even an atheist!

    Oh, and your boots were killer again this year. Jealous.

  27. Jay says

    Greta, loved it. Was really great to see and listen to you speak. :)

    I have another thought that i have been considering lately which i haven’t seen anywhere else yet (doesn’t mean its not out there so forgive me if i have missed it). It is perhaps a little more aggressive than what i have seen so far and i would love to have some feedback from you or others on what they think.

    So far, generally speaking, we have been pretty lenient on religious followers. The ‘i respect the right for you to believe what you want to believe’ philosophy. Mainly we have attacked the institutions.

    I think we need to change that view. Religious followers, whether they understand it or not, are directly or indirectly responsible for giving religious institutions power, influence and wealth. The average Jane and Joe who go to the Catholic Church, give them some money, get married there, give them more money, have their kids baptised there, give them even more money and because the church then acts politically on their behalf they are directly supporting the protections of pedophiles and discrimination against women and homosexuals. They allow this institution to be sexist, homophobic and supporters of pedophilia because of the ‘sanctity of the church’. But what if there was a vatican spring? What if we encouraged the religious to get their churches in order?

    The talk could be titled “Why theists are directly supporting sexism, homophobia and pedophilia”

    And one of the key parts of the talk could be to ask the question, “what have you done to make it known in your church that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable?”

    I believe that if the religious start attacking their own institutions we may have greater success in change.

    I would love any feedback anyone has on this idea. Thanks. :)

  28. Brian Macker says

    I’ve moved from my Ipad to a laptop so I can actually type.

    Great talk, except, you know what gets me angry? Economic ignorance, straw man arguments, and false conclusions.

    Hillarious that you think OWS (a bunch of rich kids with state subsidized educations who are pretend camping and have cell phones and laptops) is evidence that capitalism doesn’t float all boats. Homelessness itself is the result of various government interventions like rent control, and self destructive behavior like alcohol abuse. Without property rights and free markets all those bums would be far worse off than they are, and even dead.

    You think that kids who nightly move home with their parents leaving the tents mostly empty is evidence on par with the atrocities of communism? Kids who are in fact flying the Hammer and Sickle flag, and wearing a mass murderer like Che on their T-Shirts? Communist ideologes are evidence against the idea that property rights and free markets “float all boats”.

    Do you even understand that “float all boats” is sort of equivant to phrases such as “survival of the fittest”? Sure the fit survive but that does not mean that it is all about “nature red in tooth and claw”. Fit behavior includes reciprocal altruism, and other unselfish behavior.

    “Float all boats” doesn’t mean that one ends up with a society where winos run corporate boards, or even have jobs.

    I suggest you start your education by reading a book like William Tuckers “Excluded Americans: Homelessness and Housing Policies”.

    The current economic crisis was and is caused by interventionist monetary policy, goverment subsidized loans, and other attempts at “fixing free markets” of problems that were caused by other governmental mistakes like legalizing fractional reserve banking.

    This crisis was directly predictable from economic policy and events going back to the Clinton presidency. I know because I predicted it using Austrian Economic theory. I even posted warnings about it to my fellow atheists on the Deja forums under the handle “Igtheist”. Of course, the economic leftist ideologes mocked me, twisted what I was saying because they had zero comprehension of economics, etc.

    Your complaints “capitalism floats all boats” sound exactly like creationist complaints about the evils of evolution based on the phrase “survival of the fittest”. No silly creationist, Hitler was not promoting natural selection by murdering Jews and people socialism found “unfit” for the good of society (like other early socialist eugenists).

    You have next to zero comprehension of good economic theory in exactly the way most creationists have next to zero comprehension of the Theory of Natural Selection. So please stay off the topic. It spoils things for me. Makes me angry at your ingnorance, and what is soon to become willful ignorance if you ignore what I have to say.

  29. Monica says

    My sincerest kudos. This talk eloquently captures everything I get angry about on a routine basis yet have never been able to put into words. Thank you so much.

  30. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Dear Brian Macker,

    Your libertarian economics is not mainstream. The Austrian School is considered a fringe group by just about every other economist. If you want, I can point you at discussions of real world economics so you can learn something besides the Von Mises Institute’s fantasies.

    Sincerely,
    An actual economist

  31. Scott says

    This was great; simply wonderful. Just a fantastic talk. I was a bit disappointed you mentioned female but not male circumcision, though.

  32. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Since Brian Macker hasn’t replied within 24 hours of my offer to teach him basic economics, I’m assuming he was just a drive-by libertarian whining about Greta not being an Austrian School economist. So you folks have dodged a bullet. No economics lectures from me.

  33. Mark says

    A really excellent speech. I have read your blog for about a year and admire your ability to think and express yourself so clearly.

  34. Brian Macker says

    Dear anonymous coward,

    ” The Austrian School is considered a fringe group by just about every other economist.”

    It is a fringe group. So what? None of you supposed mainstream economists saw this mess coming, and it was quite predictable.

    As an example of a mainstream economist let’s take Paul Krugman. He doesn’t even understand the difference between labor dollars and money, as is exemplified by his babysitting example. He advocated the loose monetary policy during the Bush administration and even asked for more of it.

    BTW, most of what mainstream economists are advocating right now are bad, and will make things worse. Thank’s alot.

    Bring it on. However I will insist that you use your real name so that you can’t weasel out of your intellectual ass whooping.

    Just because I don’t respond within a 24 hour period doesn’t mean anything. I’m not being paid to comment, and I just got done with a long comment over at Richard Carriers blog.

    Regards,
    Brian Macker

  35. Brian Macker says

    BTW, I’m not a libertarian. I also pulled 100% on all my economics courses in college. Not a single question wrong. I even took the bonus exams when given and scored 100% on those too. So I’m not needing a lesson in basic economics.

  36. KentJ says

    Greta,

    Brian Macker in posts 36 and 37 expresses political anger – albeit dressed in economic clothes. Despite his anger, he calls your talk “great.” From this I infer, perhaps mistakenly, that he is an atheist. However, I can’t see a religious believer thinking it was great.

    Regardless, his views do not appear to be reality based. “…OWS (a bunch of rich kids with state subsidized educations who are pretend camping and have cell phones and laptops)…” Huh?!

    So my question is, Greta, do you believe religion is the source of his attitude? You do blame religion for most of the unkindness exhibited by humans.

    Lest you get the mistaken idea that I am defending religion, I am an atheist. I have just come to the position that arrogance and avarice, more than religious beliefs, are the sources of most human ill will when they are empowered by in group allegiance. Though religion is a common parameter, though rarely the only parameter, marking who is in and who is out of one’s group, it is not the base source of, to put it gently, unkindness. I could be wrong. Perhaps religion of its own accord, irrespective of in group/out group dynamics, engenders evil. I don’t think so.

    Thanks for all the good work you do. Religion does need to be debunked and challenged. It just doesn’t need to be vilified.

  37. stephenfoster says

    I had to cringe when you spoke of the excuses, “that’s not the true religion…”, because only a short time ago that was me.

    Oh, my, what a relief.

    Thanks, Greta, keep hitting the nail on the head.

  38. says

    Really, really good talk! Just superb!

    PS. FYI, when I tried to log in here using Yahoo, it logged me in as someone else. Since I didn’t intend to hijack someone else’s identity, I just logged out again. (This is my home computer, not something anyone else uses.)

    I doubt if there’s anything you can do about it, but I thought I’d mention it, anyway.

  39. says

    Greta,

    I can’t even begin to say how grateful I am of all the work you do, the things you write and the amazingly well-structured arguments you make on every single case of religious and anti-atheist bias.

    I found this Skepticon talk of yours last year, back when the gelato incident was getting blogged about. For the first time, I found myself interested in the atheist blogosphere. I thought it wonderful that atheists could have such large events with so many great speakers. I first watched Hemant’s talk on math education (I can relate, as I’m a math student). Next I watched your talk.

    And you made me cry those tears I only get when I want to say “I can’t believe how damn absolutely right you are”.

    I spent the better part of last year struggling between agnosticism and atheism. I had been an agnostic for several years, acting upon some sort of intellectual humility. And, don’t get me wrong, it took me more than just a few months to finally call myself an atheist.

    But if I had to choose a single turning point in my path from agnosticism to atheism, it would have to be finding and watching your talk.

    Because it made me realize being an atheist means much more than just not believing in God.

    Because it made me realize atheists have legitimate reasons to be angry and outspoken, and they (we) have to become the voice of the rationality that religion can’t provide.

    And because it made me realize that being an atheist means caring about believers, about their thoughts, their biases, their worries, and, most importantly, the balance between their freedom to believe and other people’s freedom to not believe the same as them.

    And this is why I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thanks for making a Colombian agnostic into an atheist!

    I’m going to transcribe your talk, translate it into my native Spanish and post it on my blog, so that my fellow Spanish speakers can all know your fabulous ideas, and perhaps find atheism much as I did.

    Once again, thank you.

  40. says

    Readable FINALLY has one (OK, so I finally managed to stumble upon it)! An apparently decent transcript, that is.

    (the transcript on the video’s YouTube page is not very good. It is better than many autotranscripts, but still quite faulty in places – also sorry if the layout of this comment seems all wonky to you – I can’t figure out how to fix what my preview looks like)

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