Rabbi Marc Gellman, a member of the infamous Goon Squad well known for anti-atheist bigotry, writes:
I think I need to understand atheists better.
Good start — but if he really meant it, I think he’d ask more questions and leap to fewer assumptions. But I guess it’s too late for him to learn new tricks...
I will admit to occasionally viewing atheists with the kind of patient sympathy often shown to me by Christians who can’t quite understand why the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection has not reached me or my people. However, there is something I am missing about atheists: what I simply do not understand is why they are often so angry.
Could it be due to how often people like Gellman display “patient sympathy” instead of treating them like full equals? Could it be due to how often people like the evangelical Christians like Gellman mentions decide that atheists should be converted for their own good? Could it be due to how often people like Gellman make assumptions and sweeping generalizations about atheists — like, for example, the assumption that they're often angry when perhaps they aren’t, or at least no more so than people like Gellman himself?
Or maybe it’s because people like Gellman has consistently defended the idea that atheists cannot have any reason to be moral — that is genuine hatred, and it’s hatred directed at atheists.
The Daylight Atheist writes:
I do not think that many religious people specifically intend to anger atheists, but Gellman must be aware that there are a great number of religious people who wake up each day thinking of new ways to evangelize, preach to, persuade and otherwise pester their neighbors, which works out to much the same thing. Personally I do my best to respond to conversion attempts with civility, but can an atheist really be blamed for feeling frustration and annoyance upon being bombarded with the same invasive and often obnoxious religious messages every day?
In my experience, evangelical Christians frequently include in their message the implication or the outright assertion that nonbelievers are selfish, bitter, immoral, greedy, cold-hearted, closed-minded, deserving of God’s wrath, and so on. Surely it is not difficult to understand why the targets of such a message, atheists who are ordinary people just like everyone else, might feel offense at being told such things. Sometimes, we just want to be left alone to live our lives in peace.
And furthermore, we find some religious beliefs oppressive because they are oppressive. Again, there are a great many religious people who wake up each day thinking of new ways impose their narrow-minded, hateful, even theocratic views on society in general. Again, as Gellman must surely be aware, there is a loud, determined, and well-organized segment of society composed of religious people who think that I, as an atheist, should be compelled to pay tax money to support their evangelical programs and pay for maintaining their churches; who want to deny women the right to control their own bodies by banning birth control and outlawing abortion even in the cases of rape or incest; who want to censor and stifle science and replace it with thinly disguised religious dogma; who would rather see young adults get STDs than teach them how to protect themselves; who want to rape and despoil the planet and wage war on the grounds that Jesus is coming back soon anyway; and dozens more outrages that I could list. What is the appropriate response to these injustices if not anger?
Instead of asking why atheists are “angry,” perhaps Gellman should ask why atheists are irritated. By asking that question, it immediately forces the question about who or what is doing the irritating, and this takes us right to the actions of so many Christians in America.
This must sound condescending and a large generalization, and I don’t mean it that way, but I am tempted to believe that behind atheist anger there are oftentimes uncomfortable personal histories. Perhaps their atheism was the result of the tragic death of a loved one...
I’m sure that Marc Gellman knows very well that it sounds condescending. I suppose I believe him that he doesn’t mean it to be condescending, but I also don’t think that he cares — this is what he believes and it doesn’t matter to him whether he’s treating atheists as inferiors or not. He and his partner in nonsense, Msgr. Thomas Hartman, have never shied away from an opportunity to tell atheists that they are inferior, that they don’t count, and that they don’t deserve the same level of respect and consideration which these two demand for themselves as Christian and Jew.
Imagine if I had written:
This must sound condescending and a large generalization, and I don’t mean it that way, but I am tempted to believe that behind theist anger there are oftentimes uncomfortable personal histories. Perhaps their theism was the result of the tragic death of a loved one...
Do you think that someone like Gellman would believe that I really don’t want to be condescending? Do you think that Gellman and other theists would insist that it is condescending to think that one’s professed reasons for theism (or atheism) aren’t genuine?
So we disagree about God. I'm sometimes at odds with Yankee fans, people who like rap music and people who don't like animals, but I try to be civil.
In the forum, Robert writes in response:
- Perhaps if Yankee fans had millions of 'Yankee Fan Outreach Centers' on every fifth corner of every town in the country?
- Perhaps if they showed up at his door occasionally to try to help him see the truth (that the Yankees are clearly the best team in baseball, how this should be obvious and if he continues to disagree he will be tortured for all eternity in the afterlife)?
- Perhaps if Yankee fans continually lobbied the congress to pass more and more laws favorable to Yankee fans, and got public schools to teach how the Yankees are the best team ever?
- Perhaps if the good Rabbi found he could not get married unless he was a Yankee fan? (because a Yankee player once said that only Yankee fans should be allowed to marry)
- Perhaps if he awoke in a world like this, he just might, after a few years, become a bit angry at Yankee fans?
A regular reader of this site sent his own, very personal, response to Gellman and has graciously allowed me to reprint it here:
Subject: Try Harder to Understand
I was disappointed--not angry, just disappointed.
As an atheist I don’t feel threatened by the idea of God at all, nor do I feel “angry with God.” I am fully aware of the difference between “God” and “God’s followers,” as well.
Specifically drawing from my own recent experience, the feelings and motivations you describe and connect with “angry atheists” more accurately reflect those of “angry fundamentalist evangelical Pentecostal Christians.”
Earlier this year my older brother, who has been a fundamentalist evangelical Pentecostal Christian for nearly two decades, finally decided that he ought to “disown” me.
As a 36-year old married father of two children (boy and girl) he is not particularly articulate, nor can he spell very well, but he broadcast the following message to our immediate and extended family via email:
don’t ever talk to me or my famly again. you have been dead for the last 7 year why start now.
Regarding the “dead”-part previously I was a fundamentalist evangelical Christian (Mennonite, not Pentecostal, though), but in late-1996 I “left the fold.” My older brother can’t count very well either.
The above email was sent shortly after he called me up on the phone, screamed at me about his looking forward to “being with Jesus” and my “being in Hell” and then hung up.
At first I didn’t know it was someone I knew who called--he was ranting and raging right from the beginning it was hard to make out what was being said. When he hung up I called him back just to confirm what he had said--and again he yelled so loud that at times I could make out just half of what he was saying.
It was during my call back to him that he sent out this second email to our immediate and extended family via email:
as I write this email andy is lising to Andy Roony. not at his will. He think that this can be fixed sorry, not! I will not play famly games, I do not want to know anything about him, every again.
During the phone call that I initiated my older brother and his wife put me on speaker phone and proceeded to give each other “high fives” as I implored them to calm down. I apologized for anything I could think of that may have offended either of them.
For approximately three minutes they purposefully left the phone off the hook in front of a radio that was tuned to Andy Rooney. I could make out that my brother and his wife were having a conversation, but not what they were saying.
But my calm and patience meant nothing to them. His wife, a life-long fundamentalist evangelical Pentecostal Christian was certain to warn me: “You had better stay away from my family!”
It was truly the most foul, hideous and disgusting interaction I had ever had with anyone. I have no regrets about my conduct during the phone calls with my older brother: I was calm, respectful and decent. In fact I do feel proud for having nothing to feel guilty about during this awful set of moments.
Just a month prior to all this religiously-inspired raging and anger from my older brother I had sent birthday gifts for my niece which were warmly received. Or so I thought.
Again, I am disappointed by this--not angry, just disappointed.
In my opinion it is wrong to attribute “anger” to atheists in the way that you do. Not because I believe all atheists are not “angry” in the way you describe, some certainly are “angry” in the dysfunctional way you describe, but because the dysfunctional variety of anger you associate with atheists is more accurately found in people from all backgrounds--including religious backgrounds.
Dysfunctional anger affects everyone, regardless of what exactly they believe or don’t believe about “God.”
What matters most is how they believe what they believe.
Gellman wrote back to say little more than “thanks” for the email, without any indication that the above author actually reached him. Gellman claims to want to better understand angry atheists, so why not take the letter to heart? Maybe this letter failed to reinforce Gellman’s prejudices about atheists, so he paid little attention to it.
Quick Poll: Is it true that atheists are generally angry?
- Yes, because they lack the love of religion and theism.
- Yes, because religious believers and theists can be so obnoxious.
- No more so than the average person in society.
- I don't know.
- I don't care.
Understanding Atheism & Atheists:
- Atheism 101
- What is Atheism?
- Defining Atheism
- Is Atheism a Religion?
- Who Are Atheists?
- Why Don't Atheists Believe in God?
- Questions About Atheism
- Atheism Myths
- Polls on Atheism
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