May 18, 2010

Atheist Anger and Using it Effectively

Angry Penguin
Angry Penguin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
My last post on this topic, Atheist Anger and Getting Past It, was misinterpreted by some as suggesting that I was telling atheists they should get over their anger. That would be awfully hypocritical of me since that is not remotely close to what I have done or what I have been advocating since I started writing this blog. No, the prior post was designed to open the discussion and encourage readers to check out Godless Girl's post that inspired it in the first place. In this post, I'll pick up where I left off and explain how my experience and my conclusions differ somewhat from that of Godless Girl.

I used to be angry to the point where it caused me problems. It wasn't just that I was bitter or hostile; I did some stupid things that accomplished nothing more than ruining relationships and making my life more difficult than it needed to be. I have made considerable progress since that time in learning how to manage my anger effectively, channeling it toward productive goals.

I no longer feel angry toward religious people simply because they believe their preferred brand of nonsense. In fact, I find that the sort of religious person who makes no attempt to push his or her beliefs on others and is focused on living his or her own life gives me little reason to be angry at all. Moreover, I am generally able to refrain from rolling my eyes, making faces, or running away whenever religious people begin to converse about aspects of their religion. I am far more likely to feel like an anthropologist investigating a primitive culture than I am to get mad.

At the same time, many things do continue to make me angry on a regular basis and probably always will. Like most atheists, I have plenty of valid reasons to be angry. Violations of church-state separation, priests sexually assaulting children, and prideful ignorance remain hot-button issues. They have every bit as much potential to make me angry as they ever did. And you know what? I'm okay with that. In fact, I find this sort of anger to be very beneficial in motivating me to act.

Godless Girl wrote about how contact with believers helped her feel less angry toward them. I'm not sure if I ever experienced the sort of widespread bitterness toward believers she describes. Nearly all of my friends, co-workers, and associates are Christians. It has always been that way. While I don't feel angry toward them, I do continue to wonder how a decent and reasonably intelligent adult could possibly continue to cling to ancient superstition. Spending more time with this has not changed that in the least.

Where I part ways with Godless Girl is when she says, "These days, when someone wants to pray at a function I don’t fume inside." My reaction would depend heavily on the type of function. To the degree that this results in a church-state violation, I am going to get upset. If it was just a social function, probably not so much. However, even in the latter case, I'd probably get up and leave. Not so much out of anger, mind you, but I see no reason to participate in such lunacy.

I also cannot relate to Godless Girl's statement about no longer feeling like she's "fighting for my reason for existing against some malicious population who hates me." That sounds nice, but I still feel that way. I recognize that this might have something to do with being in Mississippi, but this is how I feel more days than not.

My experience has been different in other ways too. Unlike Godless Girl, I never went through a period of intense anger at myself for being duped by religion or at my parents for indoctrinating me. Much of my anger today centers on how atheists are treated in our society. I guess I see it more as an issue of civil rights and social justice than as any sort of resentment about my own experience.

Rather than wanting my anger to melt away, I'm more focused on challenging myself to use it more effectively. It still derails me from time to time. I can admit that. But I see the goal as being one of learning how best to harness the energy, passion, and drive that can come from anger toward effective action rather than getting past it.

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