How Religious Bullying Makes Atheists So Angry: One New Atheist's Story

I thought I saw an atheist, with fur and pointed claws,
And wicked teeth for chewing up Judeo-Christian laws,
I ran, and tripped, and fell to earth, then hid behind a log—
It caught me, though, and licked my face—of course, it was a dog.

I thought I saw an atheist, though cleverly disguised
Not giant and reptilian, but human, normal sized,
It looked to be engaging in productive, useful labor;
But no, this was no atheist—this person was my neighbor!

(Excerpted from Digital Cuttlefish‘s completely delightful, longer bit of verse “I Thought I Saw An Atheist”.) 

A bright, young, very friendly atheist (who I know in real life and of whom I am very proud) has been in touch with me the last 8 months frequently to discuss his insatiable philosophical curiosity and his burgeoning disbelief, and to get my pointers on debates he has been having within his highly religious, tightly-knit minority community. With his permission, I reproduce his remarks to me last night anonymously:

I just came out as an atheist to my mom. That certainly did not go as well as I hoped for. Apparently I’m a close-minded stubborn person who had the devil come to me at night and put these ideas in my head while I was sleeping. Really. That’s what she said.

Honestly, I feel good that I told her the truth. But I also feel pretty bad. It’s not a good net feeling as of right now. Only because I feel pretty lonely, in the sense that, everyone who I’ve tried to talk about this to (and the whole time open mindedly SEEKING reason to believe, and willing to look into every angle they proposed and examine it thoroughly, have all by the end of the conversation called me stupid, unreasonable, close minded, even a demon.

And these people, make up the majority of my friends.

They’ve all begun to speak to me condescendingly, word is getting out that I’m a “dangerous” person to be friends with. Hey, I told my friend of 10 years a few weeks ago that I was an atheist. She completely cut off all communication with me: de-friended on facebook, no response to my texts or calls. Pretty much everyone I grew up with, all my friends, all think I’m an evil person.

While I’m glad I got it out, the actual net feeling, as of now, isn’t a very good one. All they’re doing is making me starting to hate everyone who believes in this. These are some of the most discriminatory prejudiced people I’ve ever seen…

“If you’re not like us, fuck you.” How is that any different than the KKK or Nazis?

That’s how I’m beginning to feel about the whole religion honestly. I feel like if i saved one of their lives a few years ago, then later told them I was an atheist, they would completely disown me and null every good thing I did for them as a friend.

That is how the anger starts. That is why, even if sometimes atheists go over the top and get all frothy, they deserve to be heard. After I replied to him that I was sorry that he had to go through this and assured him that this is why we atheist activists are so passionate about building community (which some of us, like me, did not have at all when we went through coming out to our family and friends and being alienated), he wrote:

At this point, I’m glad I at least “belong” to something now, you know? I can find comfort that others go through it also and understand. You’re the only one at this point who understands my point of view, and I’m grateful.

Of course, the religious bullies and those “moderate” atheists who like to bully other atheists for being gauche enough to trouble ourselves over religion would love to twist those words and say, “See! He wants to ‘belong’ that makes him a religious zealot as bad as a fundamentalist! Atheists don’t belong to GROUPS? What will they do? Sit around and chortle condescendingly over the non-existence of the silly gods of the unwashed hoi polloi?!?!”

Or maybe they’ll just accuse me of corrupting the youth. I could totally dig that.

Jason summed up the atheist’s predicament really well the other day:

atheists [need] to fight to be allowed to do the exact same outreach that religious folks do with impunity today. It’s a matter of privilege — the majority has the privilege to say they exist, because they’re in the majority and know it. They also have the privilege to say really stupid and hateful things about the minority via the same medium (e.g., via ad campaigns that smear irreligous folks), and there’s not enough of the minority to kick up a large enough stink over it to make a difference. Meanwhile, we make one billboard that says “hey, you can be a good person without religion”, people lose their shit.

His longer piece on this topic, How dare we advertise our existence!? deserves to be heard out, too. My own strongest statement on this topic was my post Who Cares About Atheists? and an overview of my views on the topic is What I Think About The Need For Atheist Solidarity and Activism. And our fellow Freethought blogger Greta Christina’s classic on the topic is, of course, Atheists and Anger. And Richard Wade helps countless atheists and their religious friends and families with enormous gobs of compassion. I asked him about what atheists like my young intelligent free thinking friend here should do with all the anger that they receive for their atheism during my interview with him about anger in families divided over religion.

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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