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.