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Dr. Darrel Ray is an atheist, humanist, and psychologist. He is the author of The God Virus, and specializes in issues relating to religious deconversion. [ more ]
If you have an issue relating to religion but no one to talk to, ask Dr. Ray. He doesn’t promise that he has all the answers, but hopefully he will be able to provide insight and experience that will be beneficial for both you and for the many other young people in similar situations.
No Im An Atheist

 

Dear Darrel,

I told my friend recently that I felt like I was heading towards becoming an atheist, and she said that atheists are angry people, and that I was too nice a person to be an atheist. There does seem to be a lot of anger on atheist blogs and forums. What do you think?

From Dr. Ray

I actually write about this question in my book, The God Virus, because so many people accuse Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and others of being angry.

I meet hundreds or thousands of atheists every year at my talks around the U.S. and the world. The overwhelming majority of these atheists I meet are some of the nicest, most caring, intellectually curious people you will ever meet. Maybe I am just finding the nice ones, or only the nice ones come to my talks, but I think that atheists are just like other people: they have the same problems, the same concerns, and the same aspirations as everyone else.

I can assure you that your niceness is no obstacle to being an atheist; and atheism is no threat to your niceness. If you continue to critically examine religious claims and decide that you are an atheist, you will continue to be exactly the same person you already are in every way, except that you will no longer believe in a supernatural deity.

That is not to say, however, that there are no angry atheists. I am, to some extent, an angry atheist. But, in large measure, we are not angry in the way religionists portray us. We are angry in the same way that feminists are angry at misogyny, or Civil Rights advocates are angry at racism, or Gay Rights advocates are angry at homophobia. It is natural that a passion for equal rights, when met with a mean-spirited and irrational resistance, can produce anger in those of us who are active in the fight for equality.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth century women who campaigned for the right to vote were beaten, jailed and severely persecuted for wanting legal equality with men. The dominant patriarchy often accused the suffragettes of being angry.

During the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, white bigots often asked, “Why are blacks so angry?” Meanwhile the idea of integrated schools or interracial marriage made racists practically foam at the mouth in fury.

We see the same thing in the Gay Rights movement. Gays and Lesbians are accused of being pushy and angry just because they want their equal rights.

As atheists, we are experiencing similar obstacles as all of these other minority groups. We simply want equal rights, and in asking for those rights, we get accused of being angry. Your friend is simply buying into the myth that those in power tend to believe about every minority group when they demand equal rights.

Christian ministers get in the pulpit every Sunday and rail against atheists, calling us all kinds of names and blaming us for everything from the latest school shooting to the lack of morality in our government. Their scriptures call us “fools” (even when their scripture also says not to call people “fools.”)

I would strongly recommend you read Greta Christina’s book, “Why are You Atheists So Angry: 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless.”  It is an excellent explanation for what we really are angry about, and it is not what the religionists think.

We are angry at the way religion abuses and hurts people, especially women and children; how it tries to inject itself into our political system and into women’s healthcare; how it blames and judges people for just being human. After reading Greta’s short but powerful book, you can ask yourself, “Are these things that are worth being angry about?”

Religionists get angry when their religion is questioned. They get angry when we don’t want to participate in their rituals. They get angry when we point out how much Christians are favored in our culture. If you ask them if they are angry at the secular world, many will quickly answer, “Yes, I am angry that they took prayer out of the schools. Angry that they try to force us to take down religious Christmas displays on public property; Angry that they make children question their faith by promoting evolution over creationism.”

The very existence of atheists makes religionists angry. Many say we should move out of the country. It is common for atheists to be disowned by our families, friends or business associates. There are many places on Earth where being an atheist will get you arrested, executed or lynched.

So my answer is: atheists are humans, just like anyone else, and cruelty and injustice make us angry because we empathize with those who are being oppressed. We care about these issues because we know that we need to work actively towards making the world a better place.

But in our daily lives, I think it is a gross and untrue caricature to say that we are angry people.  Take some time and meet atheists and humanists in your local community, both the passionate activists like myself, and those for whom their atheism is a simple and unremarkable fact of life. I am sure that you will discover that by and large we are a friendly, welcoming, and optimistic bunch, and that you, as a kind and caring person, will fit right in.

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