Yet Another “Angry Atheist” Stereotype

There is something that each of us does not understand. Rabbi Gellman just can’t understand why atheists “are often so angry” and I just can’t understand why theists prefer to promulgate this tired canard at every opportunity. Gellman might as well have added how he can’t understand why blacks sing and dance all the time or why it is that blond women are so dumb. Like many before him, Gellman engages in a little armchair psychology on the angry atheist:

“…I am tempted to believe that behind atheist anger there are oftentimes uncomfortable personal histories. Perhaps their atheism was the result of the tragic death of a loved one, or an angry degrading sermon, or an insensitive eulogy, or an unfeeling castigation of lifestyle choices or perhaps something even worse.”

An insensitive eulogy? A lifestyle choice! What can you say? It’s almost laughable. Or perhaps Mark Twain said it best when he cautioned that it “is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” Or am I being angry for saying that? :) Hopefully someone will help the rabbi with a little reality check: nonbelievers are just as happy, fulfilled, and purposeful in our lives as are believers. We laugh, we play music, we raise families, are actively involved in our communities, and spend each day trying to contribute positively to the world. I’ll bet the rabbi knows a lot of good folks who just happen to be atheists — perhaps a neighbor or the friendly checkout clerk at the grocery store. He doesn’t know they’re atheists because they’re too darned friendly and not angry enough. (Once when I told someone I had known for some time that I was an atheist she was shocked and blurted out, “really? but you’re so nice!” Ah, how honest we can be with each other at times!)

Are there angry atheists out there upset over something or other? I suppose there must be but then again there are a ton of angry believers doing some incredibly stupid things too. The other day I read a story about several Muslim radicals in Syria who gunned down a school principal in front of several students while shouting “Allah is great!” Some lifestyle choice eh? Do yourself a favor rabbi. Get out and meet some of us! You might be pleasantly surprised.

Swinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience – Part 2
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  • Steven Carr

    Rabbi Gellman may have a point about unhappy experiences driving people to atheism.

    Perhaps some atheists are angry that people teach about a loving God, while excusing their God for inaction while 6 million of his chosen people were killed on an industrial scale.

  • Simon

    “nonbelievers are just as happy, fulfilled, and purposeful in our lives as are believers.”

    But believers can’t understand… well they can’t accept this. Of course they can’t. If they were to accept non-believers had equal happiness and purpose, they would be admitting their religion provides no advantages.

    They’ve been told (brainwashed), serving God brings advantages. If that turns out to be untrue – “Hey, I want my money back! This religion you sold me doesn’t work!”

  • PK

    I sent the following letter to the editors (and a similar one to Rabbi Gellman).

    * * * *

    I’m an atheist (whose family is Jewish). I don’t for a moment think Rabbi Gellman’s generalization about atheists being typically angry is remotely fair. Moreover, I think his generalization is a variant of the hackneyed theistic claim that atheists are necessarily immoral. Likewise, Christians used to assume that Jews are evil (because Jews killed Jesus), that Jews eat babies and so forth. I’m sure as a Rabbi he’s familiar with that sort of demonization. To make members of one’s own group feel more comfortable being in that group, an opposing group is demonized. That’s a very old tactic, and it’s self-defeating since the atheist can just as well throw out pop psychological, oversimplified generalizations about the theist. For example, there’s the argument that because of the theist’s fear of death, the theist uses religion as a crutch, and that the atheist is courageous enough to face up to harsh facts without deluding himself or herself, without yielding to a childish urge for eternal parental protection.

    But let’s put aside these pointless accusations, which lead to a stalemate and which are fallacious as arguments for theism or for atheism. Just for the sake of argument, I’d like to grant Rabbi Gellman’s point about atheists being typically angry. He says he doesn’t understand why atheists are often angry, but this is surely disingenuous. Surely he has the imagination to take up what he sees as the atheist’s perspective. Surely he can imagine believing there’s no afterlife, and thus no chance of seeing dead relatives again; no divine justice, and thus no guarantee that good people will be rewarded and bad people punished; no ultimate meaning to our lives other than our evolutionary function and whatever meaning we ourselves give; and no one to blame for creating people who are intelligent enough to entertain these sobering propositions. Is Rabbi Gellman serious when he says he can’t understand why a person with these beliefs would often get angry?

    He says that atheists “believe nothing” and therefore see the theist’s mission to be good and altruistic as “a red flag.” Well, here’s another reason for atheists to be angry. Use your imagination now, Rabbi, and follow this train of thought just a little further. Imagine you’re an atheist who necessarily lacks merely theistic beliefs, but who is surrounded by billions of theists, many of whom surely think as you do that atheists “believe nothing” and are offended or somehow worried about the theists’ constant attempts to be good and at least to do something with their lives. Imagine how frustrated and angry you’d be if you were surrounded by people who thought so little of you.

    Of course, the notion that atheists are typically nihilists who believe nothing is absurd on its face. Has the Rabbi heard of secular humanism and of metaphysical naturalism? Has he heard of science? Has he heard of secular theories of ethics, such as those of Aristotle, Mill, or Kant (virtue ethics, utilitarianism, and deontology)? Has he heard of secular political and legal theories? But just imagine–can you do this, Rabbi? can you stop with the demonizing for just a moment?–being surrounded with people who thought so little of you as to think you’re offended by the very attempt to be as good as a person can be! Would you always be able to restrain your anger?

  • Bacon Eating Atheist Jew

    I think the Rabbi is confusing anger with frustration, and what exactly makes non believers angry. As an Atheist I am frustrated when believers deny science and reality when it conflicts with their written word or their teachings.

    Does it frustrate me that people believe in the Ark and a Young Earth, and also dismiss evolution? Yes.

    This doesn’t bother me so much as long as it stays out of schools and the mainstream.

    And yes, broadcasting this ignorance in the mainstream and trying to get it into schools does make me angry.

    It is also frustrating that many religious people try to peddle the Exodus and the historical life of Jesus off as fact, when there is zero archaeological proof either occurred. It makes me frustrated to the point of anger sometimes when someone says I’m foolish for not knowing the proof exists depending on how long I stay with a believer on this topic.

  • bmk md

    1) Rabbi Gellman avoids any active proof of theism. He says not that there are good reasons to believe in a personal God, and no or inadequate reasons to reject theistic beliefs.

    2) Instead he uses ad hominim cricisms of atheists, the people, and deflects any consideration of comparitive morality of theists vs. atheists, or comparitive substantiation of theism.

    3) Atheists shouldn’t bite at such tactics.

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