Am I an "Angry Atheist"?

By Michael Edmonds 26/05/2011 14


Ken Perrott’s recent piece on confronting accomodationism got me thinking about the debates that occur about how best to explain atheism to others, particularly when dealing with those from a religious background. One of the terms I often come across to refer to those who are quite forthright in their atheism is that of an “angry atheist.

From the way most right wing/religious commentators talk about angry atheists one would expect to see them running around burning down churches, protesting at funerals or gunning down religious worshippers. Yet, I have seen no such events reported on the news, well at least not perpetrated by atheists.

So could I be an angry atheist? Well, I certainly see myself as an atheist. I see no reason to believe in, or evidence for, the existence of a god or gods.

But am I angry? I think people who know me would say not. I try to see the joy in life every day, to treat others with empathy, let reason guide my behaviour, and believe that the world would be a better place if people were more understanding of others. Very seldom do I get angry.

When it comes to religion, I’ll happily attend ceremonies such as weddings and funerals out of respect for the beliefs of friends and family. And when religions emphasise compassion and caring for others I see more similarities with my beliefs than differences.

However, if you use your religion to impose your views on my life do not expect me to stay silent.

If you treat your religious texts like a ‘pick and mix’ at the supermarket, don’t expect me not to ask what you are thinking.

If you support the teaching of creationism in schools, don’t expect me not to challenge your flawed interpretation of science.

If you teach humility and compassion, yet tithe your poorest members to provide lavish lifestyles for your ministers, I will get annoyed.

If you claim that gay marriage will destroy the family, while perpetuating bigotry, misogyny and abuse in your own families, I will get angry.

If you believe adhering to archaic, erroneous and callous policies on contraception is more important than protecting the lives of thousands of people, I will get angry.

If you fight to keep gays and lesbians out of teaching, yet remain silent about the sexual, physical and mental abuse in religious teaching institutions, I will get angry.

So yes, perhaps sometimes the term ‘angry atheist’ does apply to me. But it is not a permanent state. Life is too short to be angry all the time. Anger does have its uses, and I will use mine constructively — to oppose you politically, legally and socially when you attempt to impose your beliefs on others. I will not attempt to beat you, shoot you, picket funerals, or harm those you love. These are not the tools of atheism.


14 Responses to “Am I an "Angry Atheist"?”

  • “These are not the tools of atheism.”

    Oh really Michael? And who exactly are you speaking for? Yourself, or all atheists?

    Sounds to me like you “pick and mix” your morality based on your perceptions of justice. But what basis could a deterministic being (Provine…) such as yourself possibly have for determining the behavior of others — let alone yourself? We do just dance to our DNA, right?

    I agree that you should get angry with a lot of the things you mention. However, it is the arrogant tone of the Dawkins-esque clones that is most concerning.

    (It may surprise you, but the Bible says “…in your anger, do not sin…”. Yeah, there is a good place for anger.)

    In my opinion, and Huxley’s too, atheism frees you to behave as you please. So sure, you can be Mr. nice guy. Or you can be Mr. Hitler. Both are equally compatible with atheism because both are equally meaningless. Indeed, atheistic morality is ontologically grounded in mid-air.

  • Rob, How ironic that I talked about “angry atheists” yet your response seems so very angry.
    I base my morality on reason and empathy. You might consider this “pick and mix” and in a way it is. But it is a pick and mix based on what I learn from science, philosophy and psychology.

    Do you disagree that many modern followers of religion do not pick and mix their beliefs from their religious texts?

    I stated that “I will not attempt to beat you, shoot you, picket funerals, or harm those you love. These are not the tools of atheism.”

    You replied with “Oh really Michael? And who exactly are you speaking for? Yourself, or all atheists?”
    I speak only for myself, however, if you would like to provide an example of recent atheists who have carried out any of the actions I mentioned above please do so. I can certainly give recent examples of theists who have behaved as such.

  • @ Rob
    These are not the tools of atheism.

    I will not attempt to beat you, shoot you, picket funerals, or harm those you love.

    These things have all been done by theists to atheists, or even to others theists with differing beliefs. All have been done in the name of ‘god’. Never mind looking to the past, look around at the world today and check and see where the violence is coming from. Who is fighting against equal rights and who is anti-science? They are those who believe that we should all follow the rules laid down thousands of years ago, rules that have not all translated well to evaluate the changing world.

    I think you’ll find that rather than secular “morality ontologically grounded in mid-air”, you’ll find it grounded thoroughly in the present rather than the past.

  • Perhaps my response is angry, but as I said, “in your anger, do not sin…”

    I suggest you judge my comments based upon my arguments and not appeal to emotion.

    The 20th century
    The bloodiest century
    The century of atheist rulers

    “These are not the tools of atheism.”
    “I speak only for myself”

    So which is it Michael?

    I can appeal to a book for my morality. What do you appeal to? Feelings?

    “…what I learn from science, philosophy and psychology.”

    “Science” tells us we are animals. Well….. Tom cats rape every day, but you probably condemn rape. Much of philosophy tells us everything is meaningless, yet you probably think life has meaning. Psychology can only be based ultimately upon chemicals for that is all we are, right?

    If you think I pick and mix my beliefs from religious texts, then you are displaying a fundamental ignorance of how people like me think. In theology that would be called eisegesis.

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

    Any serious Christian would be appalled that we could approach the Bible by reading our feelings or beliefs into it. Serious scholars attempt to purge themselves and their studies of eisegesis, and seek instead to exegete the text. That is where our beliefs must come from.

  • “I think you’ll find that rather than secular “morality ontologically grounded in mid-air”, you’ll find it grounded thoroughly in the present rather than the past.”

    And that argument my friend is a category mistake…

  • Rob,

    Science tells us that we are so much more than animals. We are sentient, we have amazing powers for reason. Why not use this to contemplate morality rather than rely on faith?

    You appeal to a book for your morality. How do you know it is the right book?

  • “They are those who believe that we should all follow the rules laid down thousands of years ago, rules that have not all translated well to evaluate the changing world.”

    Why don’t you atheists just pluck up the courage and point the finger directly at the religion you are referring to instead of hiding behind phrases like “all religions”. Stop making generalized statements about religion and provide details and evidence.

    Smart people categorize; dumb people lump things together. “Religion poisons everything” is just plain dumb. It is as dumb as saying science is evil because scientists invented nuclear weapons.

    “…look around at the world today and check and see where the violence is coming from.”

    According to the Bible — the violence comes from the evil in our hearts. The evil is in all of us. You and me. In my darwinist days I could easily relate to this because of tooth-and-claw survival of the fittest. Would you agree?

  • “Science tells us that we are so much more than animals.”

    Could you provide some citations? I would like to see some empirical evidence to support this claim…

  • “You appeal to a book for your morality. How do you know it is the right book?”

    Oh, I just take it on faith Michael. You know, close your eyes and pick a book from the shelf…

    But seriously, there are plenty of reasons. Christianity is an historical faith. Christians don’t believe the Bible based upon feelings. It is solidly rooted in history and can be demonstrated as such. Sure, it is probably impossible to prove everything in there but that is the nature of history.

    As an example, the book of Acts in the New Testament is historically impeccable. The physical resurrection of Jesus in the gospels is the best explanation of the historical data. Yeah, this has been debated (e.g. Anthony Flew debate Gary Habermas on this a few years ago).

    Back to you…

  • @Rob

    We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.”

    I know I shouldn’t but I just can’t resist. I promise not to make a list of the ways in whcih Acts contradicts itself, and the rest of the Bible, and actual history, if you can guess who that quote is from.

  • Rob

    “If you think I pick and mix my beliefs from religious texts, then you are displaying a fundamental ignorance of how people like me think.”

    Then perhaps you could confirm that you follow the writings of the bible word for word? Or perhaps you view some of the bibles contents as metaphors? If so how do you decide to interpret it? Given the many versions of christianity how do you know your interpretation of it is correct?

    “It is solidly rooted in history and can be demonstrated as such. Sure, it is probably impossible to prove everything in there but that is the nature of history.”

    So, the Bible is accurate because it is historical, but because of the nature of history, it can’t all be proven to be true???

    I don’t even know what category of erroneous “reasoning” to classify your “argument” under.

    “Acts in the New Testament is historically impeccable”

    Perhaps you might provide a citation to prove this?

    “Why don’t you atheists just pluck up the courage and point the finger directly at the religion you are referring to instead of hiding behind phrases like “all religions”. Stop making generalized statements about religion and provide details and evidence.”

    Probably because most atheists see most religions as problematic in that they attempt to impose their “morality” which is based largely on faith in ideas from historical documents for which there is no reliable evidence that the are anything more but the musing of human beings. If you want specifics then I personally take issue with the dubious morality put forward by the more fundamental christianities, including Catholicism.

    Why don’t you have the courage to admit your religion is based on faith and stop trying to prove it. Accept that your religion is based on your faith in something that is physically impossible to prove.

    “Could you provide some citations? I would like to see some empirical evidence to support this claim…”

    The Empathic Civilisation by Rifkin and the Moral Landscape by Harris suggest to me that human beings are far more than animals. Our capacity for altruistic behaviour also tells me that we are much more than animals.

  • I can appeal to a book for my morality.
    Could you explain why you need a book to spell out the ‘right’ morals? As Michael says, why that particular book? And why are its instructions ‘right’ as opposed to instructions that other books may give?
    NB Hitler was not an atheist, as his own writings make clear. In fact, the feeling that he & his were doing god’s will is perhaps exemplified in the motto of the SS: Gott mit uns…

  • I think even Richard Dawkins would agree that humans are more than animals. Once human brains and minds had developed sufficiently to allow us to think about abstracts, we were able to develop moral codes, and override the dictates of our selfish genes. We could be altruistic for reasons divorced from the propagation of our DNA sequences. We could develop aspects that could be described as “spiritual” without invoking the supernatural.
    The Bible (and out of respect I’ll give it a capital B) is indeed a wonderful book. It may be a bit dicey on history, but it shows the intellectual development of one tribe of people, which in many ways reflects the moral development of humanity as a whole. It contains some wonderful poetry. Many atheists would be happy to accept the Sermon on the Mount as their moral code after it had been demythologised to remove the supernatural elements. But those who claim that the Bible is the infallible word of God (another capital out of respect for some readers) do it an immense disservice. When it is judged by this standard, its obvious historical and moral contradictions lead to it being ridiculed. Accept it for what it is, a fascinating of writings by sometimes highly intelligent men writing in the contexts of their respective times.
    Is any of this relevant to the topic?