Quote of the day

>> Sunday, November 28, 2010

I'll acknowledge that anger is a difficult tool in a social movement. A dangerous one even. It can make people act rashly; it can make it harder to think clearly; it can make people treat potential allies as enemies. In the worst-case scenario, it can even lead to violence. Anger is valid, it's valuable, it's necessary... but it can also misfire, and badly.

But unless we're actually endangering or harming somebody, it is not up to believers to tell atheists when we should and should not use this tool. It is not up to believers to tell atheists that we're going too far with the anger and need to calm down. Any more than it's up to white people to say it to black people, or men to say it to women, or straights to say it to queers. When it comes from believers, it's not helpful. It's patronizing. It comes across as another attempt to defang us and shut us up. And it's just going to make us angrier.

-Greta Christina, "Atheists and Anger"

The thing is, I wouldn't consider myself an angry atheist. And strident atheists frequently annoy me. For that matter, I have issues with atheism as a "social movement." But even as someone who has relatively modest interest in the so-called "New Atheism," who has never been a member of an atheist organization and would be disinclined to join one, even so, I react to that idiotic question, "Why are atheists so angry?" much as Greta Christina does. I didn't think I was angry, but if I was, what of it? Why wouldn't I be? Shouldn't I be? I could think of all sorts of reasons to be.

The thing is, what Greta Christina is most right about, though she ultimately sort of glances off it in my view, is that people who ask "What are atheists so angry about?" and similar questions really aren't asking that at all. The people who ask that, as a rule (though I'll allow there might be rare exceptions) aren't really concerned with what atheists' grievances might be or why an atheist might be outraged; generally, what they're really saying is, "Shut the fuck up."

This is obvious, in part, because the question, "Why are atheists so angry?" frequently follows an atheist listing his concerns or issues or grievances, and not always in an angry fashion. "I am tired of civic institutions promoting religious belief by beginning a secular government event with a Judeo-Christian prayer," the atheist might say, and someone says back, "Why are you so angry?" What is the atheist expected to do if he is angry, repeat himself? "I'm not angry, I'm bothered by the fact they began a school board meeting with a prayer; it made me feel disenfranchised and unwanted in my own community and I'd imagine there were even some religious individuals who felt the same way, or would have if they were there, if they happened to be Muslims or Buddhists or whatever." And the likely reply is going to be, what? It's likely to be something like, "I don't see why you atheists are so sensitive and get so upset over everything." Well, our atheist just explained why he or she was upset, either you weren't listening, or, more likely, you don't care why the atheist was upset, you just want to belittle his or her opinions until he or she ducks his or her head and shuts up like a good little tolerated-when-ignorable inconvenience.

If you genuinely don't see why some atheists are angry, and are asking the question honestly and not as a "fuck you," all I can say is that you aren't paying attention. No, seriously: I mean, you may take it for granted that so many civic events bring with prayers or that the laws that remain on the books precluding atheists from public office aren't generally enforced, or that national leaders who fail to make a due showing of religiosity (whatever their beliefs might be) are barked at by baying dogs, and so on, etc., etc., ad nauseum--but this doesn't mean that people who are paying attention aren't entitled to feel a little miffed or even completely outraged. For that matter, don't assume that because there are some of us who have decided to choose our battles or who strive to be gracious or good-humored, that those who accept things with less equanimity (or even, I'll confess, less subservience) are somehow the extremists or margins or fringe (I may have reached a point after many, many years where I accept a blessing with humor and grace, but it doesn't mean I've come to be comfortable with the presumptuousness involved in the gesture). Perhaps, anyway, the problem isn't that some people are hypersensitive, but that your senses have been dulled.


Skatĉjo Sunday, November 28, 2010 at 3:25:00 AM EST  

What a strange coincidence to see you quoting Greta.

I used to hang out with her back in college (we were quite good friends, back then - not so much anymore, for some reason). I (obviously) follow your blog.

The circle is now complete. It's weird when two apparently unrelated parts of one's life suddenly just touch, out of the blue.

Eric Sunday, November 28, 2010 at 10:15:00 AM EST  

I imagine that it's the Internet variation of the whole "six degrees of separation" thing, though I don't know Greta at all, merely read the odd blog entry of hers when it comes to my attention.

I had a similar feeling discovering that a friend I met through blogging knew where my parents' small, relatively obscure mountain hometown was and drove past it on a semi-frequent basis.

What's really funny is that these coincidences are an ordinary part of human life and experience, but when we read a book in which something similar happens, we complain that it's "unrealistic" and "unbelievable" and so on and so on in that vein.

timb111 Sunday, November 28, 2010 at 10:58:00 AM EST  

"...even some religious individuals who felt the same way, or would have if they were there, if they happened to be Muslims or Buddhists or whatever." Or even Christians with slightly (or greatly) different beliefs.

I've noticed that a lot of prayers aren't "God help us act with wisdom", but rather "Help us see that this thing I want to have happen is your will".

Janiece Sunday, November 28, 2010 at 11:21:00 AM EST  

I think timb111 has it right. It's not about asking for guidance, but asking for help to impose one's will on another.

Sort of like organized religion, actually.

Thanks, Eric. I get...irked...when a majority tries to marginalize the feelings of a minority in order to prop up their unearned privilege. But you said it better.

Skatĉjo Sunday, November 28, 2010 at 1:12:00 PM EST  

Hey, Janiece!

I'm not QUITE as surprised to see you here as I was to see a quote from Greta. I think Eric's blog is how I found yours in the first place. :-)

Steve Buchheit Sunday, November 28, 2010 at 6:41:00 PM EST  

I think the problem is that they (the religious folk) don't understand what they're really doing and saying. It's a conditioned response without any real thought behind it, which is why they don't understand why the rest of us are offended.

Jim Wright Monday, November 29, 2010 at 2:01:00 AM EST  

Personally, Steve, it's my experience that they simply don't care if you're offended or not.

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