About This Post
This video is important enough that I have embedded it in my post Religion, an Overview (Oct 2018). Greta Christina’s presentation has an important enough of a message that I wish to to maintain it for posterity, just in case the video is eventually removed. This video was important just because I use it in my post, but, also because it has moved me too, as a non-believer – specifically as an Agnostic Humanist.
So, herein, I have added the video for you to watch through YouTube if you have not done so already. I have also created a captioned transcript of her amazing speech below too. I have taken the liberty to add headers, paragraphs, lists, images, and other things to help make the transcript readable, and a more accurate experience. I will also strip out some of the repetitive ums and such too for better reading.
About Greta Christina
Greta Christina is a well known queer author, atheist, feminist, blogger, writer, and speaker.
- Greta Christina’s Blog (Type Pad)
- Greta Christina (Wikipedia)
- Greta Christina (The Humanist)
- Greta Christina (Twitter)
- Greta Christina (Facebook)
- her follow-up book on this topic: Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless. (Greta Christina, 2012)
I. The Video
You can watch the video below: Why Are You Atheists So Angry? by Greta Christina from Skepticon 4 in 2011 (48:17) or read the transcript in the next section.
II. The Transcript
[muted applause and celebration from crowd] All right. Is that better? Is that good? Alright, good. [an unheard question from crowd and laughing from crowd] Buy the pictures. Buy the calendar. Okay, alright.
So, why are you atheist so angry? This is a question on a lot of people’s minds these days. In the last few years the atheist movement has moved into overdrive. We’ve become much more visible, much more vocal, much more activist, much better organized, and much less apologetic. And, this increased visibility is putting atheist’s anger into the spotlight, and a lot of non atheists are really baffled and disconcerted at what they see as a sudden torrent of atheist anger from apparently out of nowhere. I know, if only they knew. [mild laughing from crowd] And, frankly, a lot of atheists ourselves are not sure what to do with this atheist anger – either: with the anger itself or with the perception of our movement as a fundamentally angry one.
And, so today I want to talk about atheist anger. I want to talk about whether this perception of the so-called “new atheist movement” is a fundamentally angry one. Whether that’s even an accurate perception. I want to talk about why many atheists are angry. I want to talk about whether or not that anger is valid. And, I want to talk about whether this anger helps or hinders our movement.
A. Angry Atheists?
Okay, so, first of all, I need to point out not all atheists are angry about religion. Now, most atheists I’ve known do have some anger about some of the specific ways that religion plays out in the world, but the atheist movement, the atheist community is very diverse and one of the things that we differ about most is how we feel about religion. You know many atheists would be perfectly happy to co-exist with religion as long as religion was happy to coexist with us. Other atheists have a more confrontational attitude towards religion. [pointing to herself with her right arm, laughing from crowd] Yeah, they, or perhaps I should say we, we think that there are qualities in the very nature of religion that make peaceful coexistence unlikely, and we are actively engaged in trying to persuade people out of it. In fact, one of the things that I find most interesting about this whole angry atheist image that the current atheist movement has is that atheists are often seen as angry and confrontational, disrespectful, and intolerant, and bigoted simply for existing, and simply for being open about who we are.
When atheist groups simply put up billboards saying “You could be good without God!” or “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone!” people go cuckoo bananas. It’s actually, ironically, one of the things that make those the billboard campaign so successful is that they generate a lot of media attention because people go nuts about them. If you go – a really good source for this is, if you go to the Friendly Atheist blog [celebration from crowd] I know, Rock on Hemant! Hemant, on the Friendly Atheist blog keeps a record of the different atheist billboard and bus ad campaigns and people’s responses to them. And, the frequency with which people just really freak out about them, or even vandalize them; or try to get them taken down, succeed in getting them taken down, succeed in getting it stopped altogether. It’s really astonishing. And, so when you hear all this talk about all these angry atheist, it’s really important to remember this. You know, yes, absolutely some atheists are angry about religion. Many atheists are angry about religion. [wildly pointing at herself with her right arm, laughter from crowd]
But, this image that people have of the atheist movement is this raging mob with torches and pitchforks who want to burn down all the houses of worship and personally dig up Jesus Christ, so we can crucify’em all over again. [laughter] Really, I know! That would be awesome! [more laughter] But, you know, but really this image of us is not warranted. It’s really important to remember that atheists get pegged is angry and confrontational simply for existing and simply for being open about who we are. And, I also think it’s really important to point this out, those atheists among us who are angry about religion – it’s not like we’re angry all the time. It’s not like we’re in a constant state of rage.
I mean, I definitely can proudly count myself as an angry atheist, and yet most of the time I’m not an angry person. Most of the time I’m actually a very happy person. Ask anybody I know. There’s lots of people here who know me pretty well. Ask them “Is Greta in a constant state of rage all the time?” or “Is Greta is actually absolutely in a pretty good mood most of the time?”. You know, really to assume that that me or that Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers or any other famously “angry atheist” is angry always because the only writing that they’ve read of us is our angry writing about religion. It makes about as much sense as assuming that the only thing Roger Ebert ever does in his entire life is go to the movies.
B. Things That Atheists ARE Angry About
But, there are things about religion that I’m angry about and that other atheists are angry about, and I do think that that anger is valid. A lot of people are asking these days “Why are you a atheists so angry?” and a lot of these people seem to have never considered the possibility that a lot of atheists are angry because we legitimately have things to be angry about. [crowd clapping] So, I want to talk about that little bit. I want to talk about why, specifically, many atheists are angry, or rather, because I don’t in fact presume to speak for the entire atheist movement, I want to talk about why I’m angry. And, based on my experiences in writing and speaking, a lot of my anger is anger that a lot of atheists share.
1. Reasons 1 to 20
- I’m angry that according to a recent Gallup poll only 45% of Americans would vote for an atheist for president.
- I’m angry that it took until 1961 for atheists to be guaranteed the right to serve on juries, testify in court, or hold public office in every state in this country. I mean I was born in 1961, it wasn’t that long ago, and in 1961, the year I was born, my parents who were non-believers were not guaranteed the right to serve public office, serve on a jury, or testify in court in every state in this country, and that pisses me off.
- I’m angry that atheists in the United States are frequently denied custody of their children explicitly on the basis of their atheism, and that’s not in 1961, that’s not the year I was born that’s happening now. Judges deny custody of children to atheists explicitly because they are atheists.
- I’m angry on behalf of the atheist bloggers in Iran who told me that they have to blog anonymously, because if they’re discovered they’ll be executed.
- I’m angry that school board’s all across this country are still, 80 plus years after the Scopes trial, still having to spend time and money and resources on the battle to teach evolution in the public schools. [boisterous clapping] School board’s, in case you haven’t noticed, are not exactly loaded with time and money and resources. And, the time and money and resources they’re spending fighting this stupid fight is time and money and resources that they’re not spending teaching.
- And, in a similar vein, I’m angry that science teachers in this public schools often don’t teach evolution even when teaching it is permitted and, indeed, required by their school because, or they either: don’t teach it or they give it only a cursory mention, because they don’t want to start angry arguments with fundamentalist parents of kids. You know, they don’t want to start a controversy. I mean, evolution is the foundation of the science of biology. Biology literally does not make sense without it. And kids who aren’t being taught the theory of evolution are being deprived of one of the most fundamental ways that human beings have learned to understand ourselves in our place in the world.
- I’m angry that people are dying of AIDS in Africa and South America because the Catholic Church convinced them that using condoms makes baby Jesus cry. [boisterous clapping]
- I’m angry at preachers who tell women in their flock to submit to their husbands because it’s the will of God, even when those husbands are beating them within an inch of their lives. [clapping from the crowd]
- I angry that the belief in karma and reincarnation gets used as a justification for the caste system in India. [clapping from the crowd]
- I am angry that people, that people, people who are born into poverty and despair are taught that it’s their fault, that they must have done something really bad in a previous life and the misery that they were born into is their fault.
- I’m angry that people in Africa are being terrorized, driven from their homes, maimed and tortured and killed over accusations of witchcraft. [short bout of clapping] Not of the Middle Ages, not in the 1600s, today. Actual, literal witch hunts are happening today.
- I’m angry that so many parents and religious leaders terrorized children with vivid traumatizing stories of eternal burning and torture to ensure that they will be too terrified to even question religion. [clapping from the crowd]
- I’m angry that children get taught by religion to hate and fear their bodies and their sexuality, and I’m especially angry that girl children are taught to hate and fear their femaleness, and that queer children are taught by religion to hate and fear their queerness. [clapping and whistling]
- I’m angry that in fundamentalist Mormon polygamists cults girls are raised from birth to believe that they will be tormented for eternity in the afterlife if they don’t marry whatever man they are told to marry by their preacher, in most cases when they’re teenagers, in some cases as young as age 13, in some cases younger.
- And, I am angry that in the non-fundamentalist, non-polygamist, entirely mainstream Mormon church, girls are raised from birth to believe that they will be tormented for eternity in the afterlife if they don’t marry, bear lots of children, and be obedient to their husbands.
- And, that queer children are raised from birth to believe that will be tormented for eternity in the afterlife if they do not suppress and deny their sexuality. [clapping]
- And, on a related topic, I’m angry that in Salt Lake City, Utah 40% of all homeless teenagers are gay. Most of them kids who have been kicked out of their house by their Mormon parents. Yeah, it’s really great family values you guys got there.
- I am angry that in public taxpayer paid high schools around the country, and this is in the United States, atheist students who are trying to organized clubs, something they are legally allowed to do by the way, are routinely getting stonewalled by school administrations. [clapping] Talk to, If you want to find out more talk to JT Eberhardt and the Secular Student Alliance people, they will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about it, because it sucks.
- I’m angry about the girl in the Muslim family who was told, and this is in her school in her public taxpayer paid school, by her teacher, by her public taxpayer paid teacher, that their red stripes on Christmas candy cane represented Christ’s blood, that she had to believe in and be saved by Jesus Christ as he’d be condemned to hell, and that if she didn’t convert there was no place for her in his classroom. Yeah.
- I’m angry, okay anger is not the word here, I am enraged at priests who rape children and tell them that it’s God’s will. [clapping]
2. Reasons 21 to 44
- I’m angry at the at the Catholic Church that consciously, deliberately, repeatedly, for years acted to protect these priests who rape children, and deliberately acted to keep as a secret. I’m angry that they placed the church’s reputation as a higher priority than – for fuck’s sake – children not being raped. [loud clapping and whooping]
- I’m angry about 9/11. And I’m angry that after 9/11 happened, people of Middle Eastern descent were attacked and their businesses were vandalized because they were Muslim, or because they were believed to be Muslim even if they weren’t. And people blamed ALL Muslims for the attacks. [clapping]
- And, that after 9/11 happened Jerry Falwell blamed 9/11 on – let me get this list right: pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians, the ACLU, and the People for the American Way. That covers pretty much everybody here, right. It sounds funny because it is funny, but it also makes me furious. I mean this theology, this whack-job theology, this theology of this wrathful God who’s exacting revenge against pagans and abortionists by sending fundamentalist Muslims to fly an airplane into a building full of secretaries and investment bankers. I mean, this was not some fringe theology. This was not a theology held by some bizarro out there with a dozen followers picketing funerals. This was a theology held by a powerful widely respected religious leader with millions of followers.
- I’m angry that the Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan, these magnificent monumental works of art over 1,500 years old were dynamited by the Taliban because they were idols, [clapping] and because idolatry was considered to be affront to God’s law.
- I’m angry that little girls are getting their clitorises is cut off because their parents religion teaches that it’s necessary. And, I’m angry that many people try to defend religion against the charge of female genital mutilation by saying “Oh, that’s not what the religion really teaches. If you look at these original, what the original text says, this is being misinterpreted.” Like I care. [loud celebratory clapping] The reality is, the reality is that the Islamic religion as it is actually widely believed and practiced, and not just the Islamic religion, but other religions as well. This teaching is not restricted to Islam alone. That religions as they are actually believed and practiced in the real world, teach that little girls clitorises have to get cut off. And, I am enraged that people respond to this by defending the religion and not the children. [clapping]
- I’m angry about honor killings. I’m angry that in Islamic theocracies women who have sex outside marriage, women who date outside their religion, women who spend time with male friends, women who disobey their male relatives are executed.
- I’m angry that in Islamic theocracies women who have been raped can be and are executed for the crime of adultery.
- I’m angry that the ones who only get beaten and imprisoned are the ones who get off lucky.
- I’m angry that in Islamic theocracies girls as young as nine years old can be married against their will.
- I’m angry that when a nine year old girl in Brazil was raped, the doctors who performed an abortion on her and the family who approved the abortion were excommunicated by the Catholic Church. And, I’m angry that there was no excommunication for the man who raped her. [clapping]
- I ‘m angry that in 13 states in the United States childcare centers operated by religious organizations don’t have to adhere, by law, do not have to adhere to basic standards of Health and Safety and don’t even have to be licensed.
- I’m angry that children in these childcare centers have been harmed and have even died because of poor or non-existent staff training, because of grossly unsafe conditions, and the operators are immune from prosecution.
- I’m angry that seriously ill children needlessly suffer and die because their parents believe in faith healing or believe that medical treatment will anger their God. [clapping] And, I’m angry that that in 39 states in the United States these parents are protected from prosecution for child neglect. [light clapping]
- I’m angry about what happened to Galileo. [laughing, then loud boisterous clapping] Still, I am still angry. I realize it happened in 1633. I’m still mad. [laughing] And, I am angry that it took the Catholic Church until 1992 to apologize for it.
- I get angry when religious leaders opportunistically use religion, and people’s trust and faith in religion, to steal, to cheat, to lie, to illegally manipulate the political process, to take economic advantage of their followers, to take sexual advantage of their followers, to generally just behave like the scum of the earth. I get angry when this happens over and over and over again. I get angry at the fact that when you open up a newspaper and you see a headline that says “Religious leaders are the opportunistic lying, stealing, cheating, scumbag” that our reaction is “Yeah, must be Tuesday, so what else is new.”. [light laughing]
- And, I get angry when people see this happening and still say that atheism is bad, because without religion people would have no basis for morality or ethics, and would just do whatever they wanted. [loud and boisterous clapping and whistling]
- I am angry that when my dad had a stroke and went to a nursing home the staff asked my brother is he Baptist or Catholic. And, I’m not just angry on behalf of my atheist dad. I’m angry on behalf of all the Hindus, all the Jews, all the Muslims, all the Wiccans who got asked that question. I’m angry on behalf of the Lutherans, and the Episcopalians, and the Presbyterians whose families got asked that same question. That question is enormously disrespectful not just of my atheist dad, but of everybody at that nursing home who was not Baptist or Catholic.
- I get angry when religious believers make arguments against atheism and make accusations against atheists without having bothered to talk to any atheists or read any of our writings. You know, I get angry when they trot out the same old you know “Atheism is a nihilistic philosophy with no joy or meaning, and no basis for morality or ethics.”, when you know, if they spent ten minutes in the atheist blogosphere with your discover countless atheists who experienced great joy and meaning in our lives and are intensely concerned about right or wrong. I mean, I realize that it’s a really a great hardship to type atheism into Google and hit enter, you know, but you know if you’re going to be a bigot can you at least take that much trouble, you know.
- I get angry when believers say that the entire unimaginable hugeness of the universe was made entirely for the human race when atheists by contrast say that humanity is infinitesimal eye blink in the vastness of time and space, and then religious believers accuse atheist of being arrogant. [light laughing then loud boisterous clapping]
- I’ve been angry when believers argue against atheists by saying that we’re intolerant, mean, superior, whiny, angry without making an argument for why we’re wrong and why they’re right.
- I get angry that I have to know more about their damn religion than they do. [really loud celebratory clapping and whistling] Believers will say the most bizarre, inaccurate, fucked-up shit about their own religion, about the tenants and text of their religion, and I have to correct them on it. And, I have to do the research on it. I mean that night that I spent six hours combing through the Gospels finding all the places where Jesus actually did talk about Hell because somebody was arguing my blog “No, Jesus never mentioned hell. That’s this made-up idea that they made up later.” It’s like, that’s six hours of my life I am never getting back. [laughter] I have things to do. You know I could have been watching Project Runway, ya know. [laughing]
- I get angry when believers treat any criticism of their religion as insulting and bigoted. I get angry when they treat the very fact that we treat their religion as an idea, a hypothesis about the world in the marketplace of ideas that can be questioned and criticized, as the most horrible form of intolerance.
- I mean I get angry when they accuse atheists of being bigoted for saying things like “I don’t agree with you.” [laughing] “I think you’re mistaken about that. What evidence do you have to support that.”.
- I get angry when believers respond to some of these offenses or all of these offenses by saying “Oh, well that’s not the true faith.”. You know, “Hating queers and stifling science, and you know stifling questions of dissent, that that’s not the true faith. People who do that, that’s not true Christians, it’s not true Jews, that’s not true Muslims.” I mean, as if they knew, as if they had a pipeline to God I mean, as if they had any reason at all to think that they know for sure what God wants and the billions of other people who disagree just clearly got it wrong.
3. Reason 45 – The Threats
I’m angry that when I wrote the piece on my blog about atheist and anger I got comments telling me quote:
- “It’s a pity your mother didn’t have an abortion.” [gasps]
- “I hope some guy bombs your house, bitch.”
- “Oh, just kill yourself, okay.”
- “What you need is to get laid not with lesbian toys either, you need a strong man with some big junk, and a strong will to set you straight.” [slight horrified laughter] Yes, the rape threats are a little more upsetting than the death threat for some reason. They’re more personal.
- “I fucking hate every single person who posted here and if there was some magical button that I could press which would annihilate your collective existence in an instant I would push it one thousand seven hundred and twenty eight times.” I don’t know why that number but. [laughter]
- “You’re a fat, ugly whore. Your anger doesn’t impress me. Go drink bleach.”
You know, okay, yeah it’s funny, but also this is really pretty fucking scary, you know. And I’m really angry that writing my atheist opinions, I mean, yes, granted, angry opinions, but opinions where I was actually pretty careful to distinguish between criticizing people and criticizing ideas. And, in any case, opinions expressed on a blog that people were free to read or not as they liked. I’m really angry that doing this resulted in me fearing for my safety and my life. [clapping]
4. Reason 46 – Believers’ Lack of Self-Awareness and Self-Reflection
But, perhaps most of all perhaps most of all, I get so angry, I get sputtering inarticulately pulse-racingly angry when believers chide atheist for being so angry. “What, why do you have to be so angry all the time”. You know, you know “All that anger is so off-putting.”, “If atheism is so great, why are so many of you so angry?”. You know, but because here’s the other thing I’m angry about, I mean, all this anger that I’ve been ranting about today, this barely scratches the surface. And, I could write an entire book about everything about religion that angers me. Other people certainly have. I could write… [inaudible comment from crowd] I’m on it. I really, but really I could write an entire encyclopedia about everything about religion that gets me angry and I would still not be done. And it, I’m really angry that that’s true. And, yet atheist anger about religion is just assumed to be a sign not that there’s something wrong with religion, but that there’s something wrong with us. [clapping]
C. Religion is Uniquely Capable of Causing Terrible Harm
1. Definition of Religion
Now, I’m going, I know I want to be fair here just for a second. Many people will hear this litany of grievances and they’ll even agree with with most of it or even all of it, and they’ll still defend religion against it. They’ll argue that these evils aren’t religion’s fault. They’ll argue that people do terrible things to each other for all kinds of reasons. People come with all kinds of rationalizations for the terrible things they do. You know, religious believers will make this argument and, in fact, many atheist will make this argument, and they will have a point. You know, religion is very far from the only motivation for human evil. It’s very far from the only excuse that we give for it. But, I would argue that religion is unique, and I would argue that the things that make religion unique are exactly the same things that make religion uniquely capable of causing terrible harm.
We have to agree here on a definition of religion and I realize we could be here all day arguing about that, so for the purposes of this talk I’m going to stick with a very pragmatic definition based on how religion commonly plays out in the real world: “Religion is a belief in supernatural entities or forces that have an effect on the natural world. The belief in entities or forces that are invisible, inaudible, intangible, and otherwise undetectable by any natural means.”. Now, we can debate whether that’s really the best definition of religion, but for the purposes of this argument that’s the definition I’m using. You know, it might not be what religion means for this handful of modern theologians who have essentially abstracted religion out of existence, but that is undeniably what religion means. [slight laughter] I know. You know. As religion is… I don’t even want to go there – Karen Armstrong – shoot me now. You know.
This is what religion means for the overwhelming majority of people who believe in it. And, here’s why it is so uniquely capable of causing harm. Okay, so again “Religion is a belief in invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangible entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die.”. It therefore has no reality check and it is therefore uniquely armored against criticism, against questioning, and against self correction. It’s uniquely armored against anything that might stop it from spinning off into extreme absurdity, extreme denial of reality, and extreme grotesque immorality. You know. This belief – unverifiable supernatural entities, the thing that uniquely defines religion, that makes religion what religion is, that is exactly what cranks up its capacity to do harm to an alarmingly high level because there’s no reality check.
Any other ideology or philosophy about the world, you know it’s eventually expected to pony up. You know, it’s eventually expected to prove itself true or correct itself, and modify it, make itself more true, or fall by the wayside. You know, with religion, that is emphatically not the case, because religion is a belief in the invisible and the unknowable, and it’s therefore never expected to prove that it’s right. It’s never even expected to show good evidence for why it’s right. This capacity to do harm it can spin into the stratosphere.
2. A comparison to Political Ideology
I want to make a comparison here to show my point. I want to compare religious belief with political ideology. After all religion is not the only belief that’s armored against criticism, it’s not the only belief that ignores, that leads people to ignore evidence in favor of their settled opinion. That is a human trait. We all do that all the time. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we don’t. And, very contrary to the popular atheist saying – religion is not the only belief that inspires good people to do evil things.
Political ideology can do that very nicely. You know people committed horrors to perpetuate Soviet Communism which was an ideology that many of these people sincerely believed was best. And, horrors were committed by Americans in the last Bush administration in the name of the values of democracy and freedom. But, even the most stubborn political ideology will eventually crumble in the face of it – what’s the word I’m looking for here – not working. [quiet laughing] You know, people can only be told for so long that under Communism everybody will eat strawberries and cream, and that, you know, and no an unrestricted free market the rising tide will lift all boats. You know, a political ideology makes promises about this life and this world. And, if they’re strawberries in the cream and the rising boats aren’t forthcoming, eventually people notice. You know, that the 2000 election, the 2008 election was really good evidence of that, as is the current Occupy Wall Street movement. [clapping and whistling] People, people can and will rationalize a political ideology for a very long time, but ultimately the proof is in the pudding.
3. There is NO Pudding
Religion is different. With the religion, the proof is emphatically not in the pudding. With religion the proof comes from these invisible beings, these inaudible voices. You know, the proof comes from prophets and religious leaders who supposedly hear these inaudible voices and are happy to tell the rest of us what they’re saying. It comes from these religious texts written hundreds or thousands of years ago, again, written by religious leaders who supposedly heard these voices. It comes from the feelings in people’s heart, you know, it’s like I just feel God in my heart conveniently telling me whatever I already believe or what I want to believe. And, the proof comes in the after life after people are dead and gone, and can’t come back to tell us about it. So, again, with religion, even if the rules and promises that are supposedly made by God, aren’t working out, even if it’s clearly “Gee, this is not happening.”, the followers will still follow them because the ultimate judge and judgment are invisible. You know, there is no pudding. There’s no proof. There’s no expectation that there be any. In fact, in many religions the idea that you should expect proof, you know there’s this idea that you should expect evidence for your beliefs, that idea is blasphemy in many religions. And, so therefore there’s no reality check when religion starts to go to really bad places.
So, it drives me up a tree when people insist that religious wars or religious bigotry and religious violence and religious hatred and so on, it really drives me up a tree when they say that’s not religion’s fault. You know, no, of course not, it’s a fault of religious reader leaders, you know, greedy selfish power-hungry religious leaders, you know who manipulate the people. Or it’s the fault of the people, you know. It’s a fault of the religious followers, you know, they’re driven by fear and ego and tribalism. They don’t understand the true meaning of God. Or else the wars and violence and hatreds, and so on, you know, they’re really about something else. They’re really about land. It’s really about money. It’s really about power, and so on.
I mean of course religious wars and hatreds and so on, of course they’re complex, of course they’re human, of course they have a lot of causes feeding into them, but to deny the role that religion plays in religious conflicts – it’s a textbook example of ignoring the elephant in the room. I mean it’s like looking at an enormous steaming pile of shit, of elephant shit in the room, and saying “My goodness! Where could all this elephant shit come from? It must have been brought here by a greedy, selfish, power-hungry elephant trainer!” You know. “Elephant? I don’t see any elephant here! In fact, it’s bigoted and intolerant of you to suggest that an elephant could have caused that pile of elephant shit. [laughing and clapping] How dare you!”.
And, so when people say that is not fair to blame religion for the terrible things that’s done in its name I must passionately beg to differ. And, when you look at this litany, when you look at the rant I was ranting earlier, this litany of religious harms if you look at them closely you’ll find that every single one of them has at its core this unique nature of religion, the thing that makes religion different from every other human activity. Its fundamental unverifiability, and it’s fundamental lack of any sort of reality check. So, I think it is entirely fair to blame religion for the terrible things done in its name. What makes religion unique is what makes religion fucked up. [slight laughing and then loud clapping]
D. Anger and Social Movements
1. Is Atheist Anger Useful?
And, I think I think that our anger, I think the Atheist anger about it is completely justified. But is it useful? Does anger about religion help or hurt our cause? I will acknowledge, and I will freely acknowledge that anger is a difficult tool in a social change movement. It’s even a dangerous one. Anger can make people act irrationally. Anger can make it harder to think clearly. Anger can make people treat potential allies as enemies. You know, anger can some fuel tribalism. And, in the worst case scenario, anger can lead to violence. You know, anger can screw-up. And, very contrary to popular opinion psychological research shows that expressing anger does not make people calmer and less angry. This is a myth, there’s this myth about “Oh you, if you get your anger out you’ll feel better. You’ll be venting it.”. That’s not true. Expressing anger actually makes us angrier. Part of why I’m up here today. [laughing]
And, so I, but seriously, I don’t want to be cavalier about anger. Anger is a difficult tool and it is one that we need to be careful with. But, all that being said, yes, I think that anger in a social change movement is not only valid, but valuable and necessary. Why? Because anger is always necessary, because anger has driven every major movement for social change that I am aware of. Anger has driven the labor movement, the Civil Rights movement, the queer rights movement, the feminist movement, the environmental movement. Every single one of these movements has had as a tremendous driving force a tremendous amount of anger. Anger about injustice. Anger about mistreatment and brutality. Anger about helplessness.
We need to be very clear about this. Anger is not violence. Anger is not bigotry. Anger is not hatred. I’m not in favor of any of those things. But, that’s not what anger is. Anger is emotion indicating displeasure and antagonism with a state of affairs. Anger is one of the ways that we know that things are not okay, you know. Anger is how we know that people are being hurt unnecessarily. Anger is how we know that there’s injustice in the world. And, anger is how we notice not just in our heads but in our hearts. And, anger is what motivates us to do something about it. You know, I’m thinking about Julia’s talk earlier it’s like we can’t make decisions unless we’re motivated by something, and that motivation often is anger. I mean really, seriously, why else would people bother to mobilize social change movements. Social change movements are hard, you know. Wasn’t there a Barbie doll where you pull the string and she said “Social change movements are hard!”. [laughing]
You know, really but they are. They take, they take time. They take energy. They take work. Sometimes they take serious risk. They take risk of losing your family, losing a job, you know. They take risk of personal actual physical safety. You know, we wouldn’t be bothering to do social change movements if people weren’t really furious about something. So, when people tell atheist not to be so angry they are in essence telling us to disempower ourselves. They’re telling us to lay down one of the single most powerful tools that we have at our disposal. They’re telling us to lay down a tool that, as far as I know, no social change movement in history has ever been able to do without. It, you know, they’re telling us to be polite and diplomatic when history clearly shows us that polite diplomacy, which is in fact effective and I don’t dismiss it, that polite diplomacy is much more effective when it’s coupled with passionate anger.
I mean in a battle between David and Goliath, they’re telling David to lay down his sling shot, you know. “I don’t know, just gnaw Goliath on the ankles or something.” Let’s get, really effective method of social change. [Greta leaning over a little bit and making gnawing actions and sounds, audience laughing] And, in fact when believers tell atheists not to be so angry or not to be so vocal about our anger it’s very difficult to avoid the conclusion that this disempowerment is exactly the point.
2. Atheism is Doing Well
The Atheist movement, in case none of you have noticed, is doing rather well. [light laughing] Take a look around you. [loud clapping]. We’re actually doing extraordinarily well, especially considering that we’ve really only been seriously mobilized in the last few years. You know, we have made astonishing strides in visibility in a very short time. We’ve gone, we went from being on pretty much nobody’s radar to being a major topic of conversation, a major topic of op-ed pieces, and magazine articles, and, you know, talk shows, and a major topic of conversation at dinner tables and water coolers around the country and around the world. You know, we went from being 0 to 60 very, very fast. Many of our books are best sellers. Our lobbyists have met with White House officials. The President of the United States openly acknowledged us in positive ways. Those are things that to my knowledge have never happened in the history of this country.
And, rates of religious non-belief are going up at a very rapid rate. [loud clapping, whistling, and whooping] Across the United States, and not just across the United States on average, but in every single one of the 50 states in this country the fastest growing religious affiliation is none. [clapping] And, this trend is especially true among young people, which is arguably the most important demographic for any social change movement. Clearly we are doing something right. Clearly, our anger, among many other factors of course, but clearly our anger has been very effective, and it’s been very effective at drawing attention to our movement from the outside, and it’s been very effective at mobilizing and motivating people from inside of the movement. And, clearly this has a lot of people seriously freaked the fuck out. [laughing]
3. Advice from Believers on How to Run a Social Movement
As a blogger, I have received a great deal of advice from believers on how atheists should run our movement. I got all comments and emails all the time from believers saying “This is, you know, it’s like, you just might want a little, little word of advice on how you should learn your movement.”. It’s very difficult to avoid the observation that this advice is almost always in the direction of telling us to tone it down, telling us to be less confrontational, less visible, you know. I have almost never seen a believer advise the atheist movement to speak up more loudly and more passionately. You know, to not be afraid of offending people if we think we’re right. You know, take to really be willing to get in people’s faces about things that they don’t want to think about. I’ve gotten a lot of advice from believers on how atheists should run our movement and it is almost always in the direction of politely suggesting that we shut up.
Maybe I’m being cynical here. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. [laughing] Oh, and again, when you look at the history of social change movements you see the same pattern again and again. It was true of the women’s movement, the labor movement, the Civil Rights movement, the queer movement. As soon as a movement starts to get some real traction, as soon as the movement starts to get some real power, opponents start fear-mongering about how angry they are. They start fear-mongering about you know the angry blacks, the angry women, the angry communists in the labor movement, the angry queers. They’re going to turn into this uncontrolled raging mob and they’re going to tear up your city, or else they start concern trolling about how “Oh, anger just alienates people and the movement needs to be sweet and diplomatic.” and, you know, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”. I don’t need flies. [laughing]
And, really I do not think this is a coincidence. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we are being advised to lay down our anger, one of the most powerful tools that any social change movement can have, right at the time that we are beginning to get some real power.
E. The Final Point – An Anger Driven By Compassion for Others
And, there’s one, before I finish, there’s one more really important point I want to make about all this atheist anger and that’s, that most of it is not about harm that’s being done to atheists. Some of it is and that’s totally valid. There’s real bigotry and real discrimination against atheists and is absolutely legitimate to be angry about that. But, when you look at the things that make so many atheists angry about religion, you know, when you look at my ranting litany from earlier, you realize that most of it is not about harm that’s being done to atheists. Most of it is about harm that’s being done to believers. It’s anger on other people’s behalf.
You know, atheists are not angry because we’re selfish. We’re not angry because we’re whiny. We’re not angry because we have no joy and meaning in our lives. We’re not angry because we have a God-shaped hole in our hearts. [laughing], you know. Atheists are angry because we have compassion. We’re angry because we have a sense of justice. We’re angry because we see harm being done to people, terrible, horrible harm that’s being done to people, and, our hearts go out to them. Atheists are angry because we want to see this stop. Atheists are not angry because there’s something wrong with us. Atheists are angry because there’s something right with us. [loudest clapping whistling and whooping]
Thank you. I think I’m running out of time here and, so, I want to leave you with a couple of quotes. Here’s the first: “The supreme task is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force.”. And here’s the second “I have learned through bitter experience the one supreme lesson: to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmitted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transformed into a power that can move the world.”. These aren’t from Richard Dawkins. They’re not from Christopher Hitchens. They’re not from PZ Myers. They’re not from any other famously angry atheist. They’re not from Malcolm X. They’re not from Betty Fordan (not sure). They’re not from Abbie Hoffman. The first is from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the second is from Mahatma Gandhi. [clapping] Leaders, leaders who today are held up as icons of peaceful diplomatic, love thy neighbor activism. Leaders who, at the time they were leading, were not held up as icons of peaceful diplomatic, love thy neighbor activism. Leaders who, at the time they were leading were seen as dangerous radical threats to the stability of society, and who only today are held up as these paragons of sweetness and good manners. Who only today are being shoved in the faces of atheist activists, of activists of all kinds, who are seen as being too confrontational and too intemperate, and too angry.
So, the next time somebody asks you why are you atheists so angry remember that. Don’t just remember Galileo. I know. [laughing] Don’t just remember honor killings. Don’t just remember the gay kids who are taught that they’re going to burn in hell. Don’t just remember the women who are being beaten by their wives and the preachers who are telling them to suck it up. Don’t just remember people cheated and stolen from by religious frauds. Don’t just remember the kids being raped by priests and the Catholic Church that’s covering it up. Remember the words of King and Gandhi. Remember that anger can become a transforming force. Remember that anger controlled can be transmitted into a power that can move the world. And, remember that the people who are trivializing our anger, however concerned, however well-meaning, are trying to take that power away. Don’t let them. [loud sustained applause, whooping, and whistling]
Thank you. Thank you so very much. We don’t have time for Q&A, but I’m going to be around. I’m going to be at the pub, you know. So, thank you so much. This is awesome. You all rock!