The claim is often bandied about that atheists are “angry”. The implication, presumably, is that life without God offers only a life of constant frustration and unhappiness (and, one imagines, damnation thereafter – wrath being one of the seven deadly sins), whereas belief in God is the road to tranquility and peace.
However, if this is the message that apologists intend to convey, they should look to their own flocks before accusing others of the sin of anger. Even casual acquaintance with our culture shows that atheists are not the only ones who are angry; far from it. On the contrary, there seems to be a very great amount of anger among theists as well. The clearest evidence for this is that whenever a person – be they a government representative, a journalist, a celebrity, or an ordinary citizen – publicly declares their support for atheism, or any other position hated by the religious right, a deluge of hostile, abusive, profane, and even violent hate mail is sure to follow.
Consider some of the vindictive e-mails that were sent to the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation after one of their spokespeople, Anne Laurie Gaylor, appeared on CNN. These e-mails were reprinted in the January/February 2006 edition of the FFRF newsletter Freethought Today, which is where I draw them from (all spelling and grammar as in originals):
“You make me vomit and sick and I pray to GOD that you go to hell.”
“Your a complete moron if you can’t seem to understand the constitution of the United States that scum like you are trying to debase. All you liberal bitch’s, along with the homosexual ACLU scum should be lined up against the wall.”
“Your closed-minded bigotry is so unrepentantly sub-human.”
“I bet you’re a drunken whore.”
“You Ms. Gaylor, and people LIKE you are the scum of America. Ane if you are going to appear on any more talk shows, I would consider some plastic surgery and perhaps some dental work!”
“People like you who interpret the bible wrong and try to sell this BS to people should be ‘stoned to death'”
Or consider the blog Molly Saves the Day, which in light of recent events in South Dakota posted an essay on how to set up an abortion clinic at home. Some of the comments sent to the author of that blog were stunning in the depth of their furious hatred and spiteful rage:
You are a fucking sicko. When you die, you will find yourself burning in the deepest depths of hell. Being Satan’s chewing gum next to Hitler and Judas will be nice, won’t it? And I’m no fucking conservative. The day a woman kills her baby with your procedure will be the day you are damned, you pagan bitch.
Or Michael Newdow, the atheist who filed a constitutional complaint over religious language in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance. The flood of hate mail and death threats against him was to be expected, of course; but more surprisingly, even some of the reporters who covered Newdow’s story were targeted. Writes Bob Norman of the Palm Beach, Florida New Times, in his article “First Pledge“:
…some extremist Christians… once again exposed their savage underbellies. They barraged Newdow with hundreds of death threats and hate mail. I know this not only because he shared many of them with the national media but because I received them too.
…A man who identified himself as Scott Sandlin wrote in the subject line of his e-mail: “YOU should be shot.” I’ve written about mobsters, rogue cops, dirty politicians, and all manner of South Florida hustlers in the past, but I’ve never been threatened like this. (emphasis added)
Even Judge John E. Jones III, a Lutheran appointed by George W. Bush, is not immune from the religious right’s bile. After a strong and incisive ruling against the Intelligent Design movement in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case, Judge Jones received so many hostile and threatening e-mails that the U.S. Marshals Service put him and his family under round-the-clock protection.
And finally, the death threats and hostility directed against Michael Schiavo in the right-to-die case that captivated the nation last year scarcely need recounting. Even William Rice, a Southern Baptist pastor who opposed Schiavo’s position, wrote that he was “truly saddened and embarrassed by the level of harassment and vitriolic nature of so many comments that purportedly come from people of faith”.
Clearly there is a great deal of anger seething among the partisans of the religious right, anger which their religious beliefs not only have not quelled, but have actually intensified. These theocrats regard their religion as a license to force their opinions of how society should work on everyone, to make all people everywhere speak, act and believe as they prefer, and people who stand in the way of achieving this goal are almost always met with a torrent of bitter hatred, venom, threats of violence, and other mental sewage. If, as the apologists tell us, religious belief leads to peace and satisfaction, why does it not seem to have worked on a substantial group of people? It crosses the line into hypocrisy to assert that atheism is bad because atheists are angry, when there is so much anger and hatred simmering in the minds of many believers. Following a brilliant suggestion from a letter in the March 2006 issue of Freethought Today, I propose that these outbursts of anger from the religious right be called “filth-based initiatives”.
I am not suggesting that anger is always a bad thing. When directed to the right ends, aimed at injustice and inequality, anger can be a powerful force motivating people to work for the good and abolish these evils. Though anger does not dominate most atheists’ lives, we would have to be heartless not to feel anger when we read about the cruelties and injustices that are still being wrought the world over in the name of religion. Reading about and witnessing these things should make any reasonable person angry. The difference is that this anger is motivated by compassion – we want to see justice done and people happy, and when this is not the case, we are naturally angered that these evils are being inflicted.
The anger of the religious right, on the other hand, does not seem to be motivated by concern for the well-being of others. Instead, the driving force behind it appears to be their own desire to impose their will on others, and their resentment when they are prevented from doing so. As their tirades make clear, they despise the people who oppose them, and want to see those people punished, hurt and humiliated. Indeed, many of their doctrines, especially the idea of Hell, seem to be nothing more than elaborate revenge fantasies. This is the kind of anger that religious evangelists are right to condemn, but it is not to be found among atheists.