The power and limitations of anger

The power and limitations of anger September 9, 2014

HulkIn my office, beside my computer, is a Hulk action figure. Ignore for a moment what this might imply about my maturity and let me explain why I like him: He’s angry, and so am I.

My ire, however, is rather limited compared to the Hulk’s. I’m not angry at the entire world, only part of it—the part that trapped me at home and taught me lies and trained me for a lifetime of soft feminine submission. I am angry at Christian fundamentalism. That anger no longer extends to Christianity the system, or indeed to any other religion, and as a result I’m something at odds with many of my fellow atheists.

I’m not going to rehash the saga of my experiences with religious abuse. At this point, I’ve talked about it so much that my life is threatening to devolve into nothing but an itemized list of wrongs. Suffice it to say: I’m experienced. From educational neglect to exorcism, I’ve seen religion at its worst.

I’ve also seen religion at its best. Religion provided me with my earliest lessons in social justice and even on my Hulkiest days I can’t ignore that. Or, rather, I don’t. It would be very easy to ignore it, but that would be wrong. Not just ethically wrong, but factually inaccurate, too. If I’m going to tell people I’ve made the logical choice about God, then I’d like to keep making logical choices about the rest of my philosophy, too.

People of faith supported me when I filed a Title IX complaint against my Christian alma mater. They came to see me when I was in the hospital, in agony, with potentially life-threatening complications from a rare genetic blood disorder, and they didn’t proselytize or tell me that my suffering is God’s plan. They simply held my hair back while I vomited because I was too sick to speak.

They advocate for abused and neglected homeschooled children. They condemn fundamentalism. They support my employer’s fight for separation of church and state. They are queer. They are people of color. They march in Ferguson and they organize to make sure another Ferguson doesn’t happen again.

And atheists do all of this, too.

Here are some other things that atheists do:

They send me misogynist abuse on Twitter because I talk about women’s rights. They accuse me of “being in bed with theocrats” because I seem too soft on religion. When I criticize tactics, they subject me to hours of harassment, which intensifies when they think I don’t respond to that harassment quickly enough. When I mention I’ve encountered abuse from atheists, they tell me that I’m just “concern-trolling secularism.” I’ve had friends turn on me, and lost allies, all because of petty fights over ideological purity.

People of faith don’t have a monopoly on mercy, and they don’t have one on abuse, either. The truth is the only thing that separates atheists and theists is belief or lack thereof in God. That’s it. So when I tell you that I’m not angry at religion, but that I am angry specifically at fundamentalists—and yes, even atheists who refuse to acknowledge the real and living complexity of human belief—that is why.

Anger can be a useful thing; even the Hulk learned that. So for as long as I’m angry—and that might be for a very long time, indeed—I’m going to channel that anger as constructively as I possibly can. I’m going to make sure that I’m angry at the right people and engaged in the right battles.

As for allies: I’ll take them where I find them. I don’t care if you go to church, or if you’ll spontaneously combust if you cross a church’s threshold. If you care about justice, you’re with me.

Just do me a favor and ignore the green skin.

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