Why atheists are angry

Greta Christina gets angry, and funny, and magnificent. It’s a long talk but well worth your time, whether you’re an atheist or not; and if you’re about to bring up the usual objections like “Nonbelievers do terrible things too” or “What about Stalinism?” or “That’s not what religion is really about,” keep watching, as she addresses all these points. And, just as importantly, she makes a compelling argument for why anger is an absolutely necessary part of any social movement that wants to bring about real change.

(via Unreasonable Faith)

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4 responses to “Why atheists are angry

  1. Actually I would argue that discipline is far more important than anger. Indeed, if the last two decades have proved anything, it’s that anger is a bit overrated as a motivational force. For example, there was plenty of anger expressed by the Right over Checkgate–yet little followthrough when it came to voting out the politicians responsible for that scandal. More recently, we saw plenty of anger expressed by the Left about the intrusiveness of the TSA scans–but again, little effort to follow through with actual actions.

    Anger can be a powerful motivational force, that’s true. But one can walk into any prison in this country and find plenty of people who are full of anger. And many of the people there end up there because of actions born of wrath. Moreover, you can walk into any battered woman’s shelter and find plenty of people there who are victims of another person’s anger.

    Control is the key. Not anger.

    • Clearly, what Greta Christina means is “anger at injustice” — not the rage of a felon or a wife-beater. And indeed you’re correct that discipline and follow-through are necessary for transforming anger into action. But if no one is angry at injustice, then no one will do anything about it to begin with; if no one is pissed at the status quo, why bother changing it? Anger is a necessary but not sufficient condition for social change — but it *is* necessary. And people who argue that atheists “shouldn’t be so angry” are trying to take that necessary first step away.

  2. I grew up with a father and a middle brother who both had Type-A personalities. Both were ardent atheists and both had a lot to be genuinely angry about apart from atheism. I highly doubt my father would have gotten out of poverty if he wasn’t propelled so much by anger. Yet he himself used to discourage me from using anger alone as a motivational tool…perhaps because he himself knew so many angry young men growing up who never made it past the nearest jail cell. And indeed, I have three cousins who have gone to prison because of deeds they committed in the heat of anger, which gives me a special reason to become obsessed with the subject.

    I have no problems with atheists expressing anger. I just worry that, like most people on the left, their planning never leaves the “I’m mad as Hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” stage. It has become so fashionable on both the right and left to embrace anger as if just getting angry was a solution in itself. And, of course, as you said, it isn’t.

    In a way, I can sympathize. Heaven knows I’ve seen a lot of stuff during the last ten years that makes me angry. And not just for my own sake but for the sake of others who have no one to speak for them.

    But anger means little without action and followthrough. I saw the truth in this back in 2004 when so many on the left found it more fulfilling to engage in flame wars with Nader or Gore supporters rather than to go out and round up potential voters.

    I like to think a lesson has been learned since then. But in the meantime, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

    Best of luck, Bluejay. As always, you give me food for thought.

    • I don’t think we disagree on this, Tonio. :-)

      And if you’re curious, atheists (and secular allies) are taking social and political action, not just ranting and raving. Check out Enlighten the Vote, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Secular Coalition for America, American Atheists, and so on. And it’s worth noting that atheists aren’t just working on “atheist issues” but on human rights issues in general. The Foundation Beyond Belief, for instance, gives charitably to organizations working on a wide range of issues affecting everyone; and I’d suggest reading my previous post on atheists and humanists who have historically worked for social justice.

      To be honest, though, I think in the case of atheism just being visible and vocal in our anger does help. It lets closet atheists know that there are others like them. It gets society talking about atheism. It gets people more comfortable with the fact that atheists exist, that we aren’t lying murdering fornicating baby-eaters, and that, you know, maybe we have a point about the abuses of religion. To the religious, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens may just seem like they’re frothing at the mouth (an unfair characterization, but that’s another conversation), but they’re a lifeline for many and their arguments have entered the cultural mainstream and changed the conversation. The first step to change is to make people aware of the need for it, and to get them talking about it. That’s a good in and of itself.

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