It is a common criticism leveled at atheists that somehow, somewhere, atheists are angry at God. Some Christians think that because something may have gone wrong in an ex-believer’s life, which caused them to question, that they hate God. As many atheists know, this accusation is flat out false, even for people who have stopped believing due to negative events in their life. This is because if we actually were angry at God or hated him, we would need to acknowledge that he exists, which we do not by definition. So even if people are disaffected by experiences had in the Christian religion and become atheists as a result, we do not hate God because then we would not be atheists.
Clearly, atheists are not some monolithic group. We do not think the same. I have sharp disagreements with other atheists on some subjects, even those related to religion. Some atheists are not angry at all. They are apathetic on the subject of religion and their lack of belief in God. On the other hand, some atheists are angry. Some are angry for the same reasons that everyone else is angry. Others appear angry at religion, which seems to be the group that gives credence to the theory that atheists are angry at God. However, being angry at religion is not the same as being angry at God because being angry at a belief system, especially a perceived false one, is not the same as being angry at a deity that we supposedly “know” exists.
There are many reasons why atheists, particularly ex-theists, are angry at religion. First of all, ex-believers may be angry because they feel lied to for having dedicated years of their life and even sacrificed for something that turned out to be false. People with the level of devotion commonly held toward their religions do not like to find out that their belief systems are false, because their religion is part of their identity, and because they have significant investment in their religion. The loss of a genuine faith can often be traumatic, and it is widely known in ex-theistic and atheistic circles that deconversion often leads to anger. User Hammurabi of the ex-christian.net forums has a pinned topic about the phases of deconversion, which supports this idea. People may have invested much of their time and their life in their faith and made important life decisions on it. Some may have been emotionally abused by their faith for years, either through fear of hell or other manipulation. People may be literally physically harmed by their faith, or know others who have, such as people who died from refusing medical treatment based on religion. Jehovah’s Witnesses often die from refusing blood and organ transfusions, for example. It makes people angry to find out this was in vain when they lose their faith. Cases like this often make ex-believers go on their own personal crusade against religion, which is why some of the most aggressive and passionate atheist activists are actually former believers. They literally treat atheism with the same zeal as they spread their former faith, and may be just as, if not more,aggressive than they were as believers in spreading their ideas.
Consequences in one’s life such as discrimination when coming out as atheists often give people even more reasons to be angry at religion; it’s not always easy being nonreligious in a world dominated by religion! If one goes to Reddit’s r/atheism, it is not uncommon to see stories of people coming out as nonbelievers, only to be met with opposition and adversity. It saddens my heart whenever I see families torn apart or relationships strained because people do not believe in the same religion as others. Over my two years of subscribing there, I have seen numerous stories of people being kicked out of their homes, abused, or even sent to special re-education camps for their newfound lack of belief. It is not uncommon for people to lose friends and even family after coming out as an atheist, and to be discriminated against in a lot of different ways. Atheists are seen as about as trustworthy as rapists by some believers. They are also the least likely group to be elected into office on a national scale. Many people do not want us to marry into their families. In some parts of the world, daring to not believe in God can even get one killed.
Some angry atheists take their anger to the next level, and campaign against religion on the political stage. There is good reason to do this, especially here in the United States. In the U.S. Constitution, it states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Despite this, people constantly want to use the government to further their beliefs, which can lead to some pretty bad results. As discussed in my previous blog post, religious fundamentalism leads people to trust their Bible over reality. This leads to strange things like people believing that the world is young and that evolution did not happen. Not only that, but people want to teach others their beliefs in our religiously neutral public school system. This kind of anti intellectualism finds its way into more pressing issues like global warming. Rush Limbaugh, for instance, claims that one cannot believe in God and believe climate change is caused by human beings, because of incompatible cosmologies. While I do not necessarily disagree with this fact, coming at it from the atheistic side of it (why would a personal god create a world we could destroy?), the fact that people will take their belief in God to such harmful levels is troublesome. It has also been found that belief in the second coming of Christ is also correlated with lack of willingness to act on global warming. In Alabama recently, state officials have shown intent to ignore EPA regulations for coal because they see it as a gift from God or something to that effect. These beliefs are dangerous, and in the long term, could literally do great harm to our way of life, the human species, and the planet itself. This is the harm religion has the potential to do, this is why atheists get angry at religion, and why we believe it is going to harm us all in the long term.
Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today has identified four different views of God, and how they may affect political views. From a rational perspective, these religious views often, but not always, spell out no good for a rational public policy. It has been found that twenty eight percent of people believe in an authoritative God who must be obeyed, and who will punish us if we do not. These are the kinds of believers that are likely encouraging social conservatism, and focus on issues like gay rights and abortion. They literally believe that if we do not act on such issues in accordance with God’s principles that God will send storms to punish us. This is scary as these people are not operating in consisten physical reality. We cannot focus on real issues in America, and often have to stand up for people’s rights on what should be non-issues in a progressive twenty-first century society. These stands take political and humanitarian resources away from real issues like global warming and the economy, all because people literally believe God will punish us if we do not abide by bronze age pre-scientific approaches to morality.
A further twenty one percent believe in a god who does not interact with this universe, but will judge us in the afterlife. This is a dangerous belief as well because it makes people submissive. These believers are often the poor and downtrodden, and they are told that God will avenge them in the afterlife, which prevents them from taking actions in this life. Would it not be great if these people actually did something productive like campaigning for social change rather than waiting until we die for God to take care of it (or at least adopt a theology that calls them to action like Martin Luther King Jr. did)? A further twenty two percent are theists who believe in a benevolent god and fight for social justice. These Christians generally are very moderate or liberal in their religious beliefs, and are actually encouraged by them to push for a better world. While I still think their beliefs in god are incorrect, I have to at least respect them for channelling it in a positive way. The remainder of the population are either atheists and agnostic, or people who believe in a distant, deistic style god. Even if these people believe, they act like atheists in practice, so at least they are not holding back social progress. Regardless of the positive benefits belief in God may present for some of the population, it is disturbing that roughly half the country has a conception of god that is destructive or at least inhibitive to the political discourse of the United States in various ways. Religious belief harms social progress and deprives us of the world that we deserve. We atheists often want rational governance, and heavy enforcement of the concept of separation of church and state. People often fear what atheists would do if elected to office, but from our perspective, we just want policies that are based on evidence, reason, and (hopefully) the improvement of the human condition. Screw us, right?
That being said, no, atheists are not angry at God because we cannot be angry at something that doesn’t exist. However, that doesn’t mean that many of us are not angry. Atheists have a lot of reasons to be angry. The ex-believers among us feel lied to and feel like we threw away years of our lives pursuing something in vain. Daring to profess a lack of belief in this deity, regardless of how rational, is met with severe discrimination and even death. Our political system is governed by theists who often have poor priorities and policies based on their religious delusions, which could cause great harm to our country, its people, and the world at large. The truth is, atheists want the same thing as everyone else: to live a good and happy life. However, religion can interfere with that in many ways. If the reasons above are not valid reasons to be angry, I do not know what is.