Today I saw an article about Kevin Sorbo, who has clearly ridden the short bus past his stop and ended up going all the way to Crazytown, talking about Bill Maher and dismissing him entirely because he sounds “angry” and “hateful.”
Now, back in the day, Kevin Sorbo was famous for portraying Hercules, a totally pagan hero/demigod, on a really awful TV show (it spawned “Xena,” though, which I kinda liked, so I can forgive it). He never really got much of a film career after that; he was in a few really awful movies that were even worse than “Hercules,” and seemed poised on tiptoe on the edge of the radar map. At some point he realized that pandering to the Religious Right would help him out, apparently, and he began appearing in really awful Christian movies. His latest one, God’s Not Dead, has been ably torn to shreds already by our friends the Apostate and Dan Fincke (over at “Camel with Hammers”–or maybe it should be called “Tardigrades with Hammers,” considering his latest obsession over on La Facebook), and I definitely encourage you to take a look at what they’ve said about it because both pieces are amazing. The pandered-to Christian Taliban just adores this guy, and I can totally see why; he mirrors their ignorance, entitlement mentality, and vicious overreach so precisely that it looks like a studied and deliberate act. I’m sure their adoration is a big part of why so many Z-list celebrities from decades past are heading into similar pandering territory (I saw that Erik Estrada is doing the same exact act, and of course we all know about the Lizard Princeling himself, ex-rentboy Kirk Cameron, who still has a career solely because he figured out how to appeal to enraged, terrified, gullible, scientifically-illiterate fundagelicals).
Kevin Sorbo is very, very sure that Bill Maher, an outspoken atheist, is just angry with the Christian god, just like his own character, an evil nasty atheistic philosophy professor, is an outspoken atheist because he’s angry with the Christian god:
“I did Politically Incorrect a couple of times, and all I can do is feel sad for the guy, because I think he is a very angry and lonely man. Comedy comes from anger anyway. You know, what are you going to say when a guy talks like this? . . . I wonder what happened to him in his lifetime, because the atheists I have met, not all of them are angry. I’ve got some very good friends who are atheists and they just don’t believe, they simply don’t believe.”
Oh, okay. Some of his very best friends are atheists, so therefore he can speak definitively about a person he barely even knows to ascribe motivations and feelings to him to explain everything. And that does explain everything, doesn’t it? Bill Maher is just angry at his god. Clearly something terrible happened to him long ago and now he’s all mad. I wish I had a dime for every Christian who’s said something like this to me, right down to the faux sympathy and fake pity.
They do it to dismiss us and avoid what we’re saying. They do it to shame us into shutting up. They do it because they have not a scrap of evidence for their own claims, and they need us to quit saying so. If they had any evidence, they wouldn’t need to pick on our supposed feelings and motivations for speaking out against their religion or speculate about what’s happened to us in the past to make us disbelieve or sound angry.
So instead of providing a good reason for believing in their god, they instead try to slam us into silence by acting like we’re all just total liars who are totally lying about our disbelief. Their own Bible does actually mention that all people secretly believe in their god, so I know they come by the delusion for a reason, but it’s downright insulting to be treated like a liar when I say I don’t believe what they do. They think if they can just ferret out why I’m so “angry” at their god, then I’ll immediately realize how silly I was and reconvert. I’ve seen Christian websites and heard Christian speeches about how to approach outsiders and it all sounds so much like a conjob–figure out what their pain is, try to fix it, and voila, you’ll be leading that person in a Sinner’s Prayer before you know it!
So Kevin Sorbo does not address anything Bill Maher actually said about the shitty Noah movie that’s coming out. He doesn’t actually address Mr. Maher’s charges that his god drowned the whole world and has anger problems. He never says a word about the morality of destroying the entire world and then repopulating it with, as Mr. Maher points out, the exact same stock of people who’d messed it up the first time. You can see, in the clip I linked up there, Kevin Sorbo consider briefly how to respond, then go with silencing and accusations of “anger.” Of course, he should know that anger is not why most people are atheists; he even says he has oodles of atheist friends who aren’t angry at all. That he’d suddenly pull “anger” out of his butt to explain away Bill Maher’s atheism is a little curious and not even consistent with his own stated understanding of atheism. It’s like he’s saying that someone can be atheist as long as they’re not angry at all. The second someone sounds angry, their atheism is no longer valid and their arguments are automatically ignorable.
And the worst part? Kevin Sorbo is totally missing the point of why Bill Maher sounds so angry. It’s the reason I sometimes sound so angry. It has nothing to do with a secret belief in their god. You can’t be angry with or hate that which does not exist. Bill Maher is angry about Christian overreach and abuse, just like I am, just like many outspoken non-Christians are. He’s angry about Christians stomping on our Constitution, sneaking their abuse into law, trying to control outsiders like they do their own people, and lying to us about simple stuff like facts–just like I am, just like many outspoken non-Christians are. Our anger has absolutely nothing to do with the Christian god, and everything to do with Christian behavior.
I guess it’s easier to snark on our supposed hate for their god than to confront what’s really going on here. If they can dismiss us all that easily and airily, then they don’t have to come face to face with the simple fact that it’s so important for them to treat others hatefully that they are willing to ignore their own Savior’s most important commandment: to love their neighbor as themselves.
Yes, it’s often easier to convey a point if one can do it without anger. And we should remember to be civil and constructive even in anger, and direct our anger appropriately. But sometimes, damn it, anger is not only called for but necessary. Some of what Christians are doing to outsiders is really disgusting and terrible, and we need to be angry about it. Anger brings us the gift of action and movement.
Remember, love is as love does. It is not loving to silence critics. It is not loving to treat someone like a liar. It is not loving to dismiss their arguments because you don’t like their tone or feel uncomfortable with their anger. And if you’re the one who caused that anger, you don’t get to whine about it and demand your victim not express it, and dismiss victims who express anger at your behavior.
Scientists who combat creationists often get dismissed as “angry” or “hate-filled” toward the Christian god. But they don’t ever dismiss creationists that way. They certainly could; creationists themselves seem very angry at those who refuse to buy into their pseudo-science and preposterously false claims. Instead, scientists present evidence for why they know various scientific principles are true. I admire their kindness and wish Christians could take a page from their book.
So to the Christians reading this piece, I would counsel: be really careful about ascribing “anger” or “hate” to your ex-Christian friends or trying to armchair analyze them. While we are usually very angry about how snookered we were and how badly we were treated, you’ll have a tough time finding someone who is genuinely angry with or hate-filled toward a god s/he no longer believes exists. We stopped believing in your god because we realized that your god does not exist and that your religion is not a valid faith system for us, not because we were angry at him or anything else. Considering the stakes that this religion threatens, it’s insulting to imagine that a fit of pique could actually make someone quit a religion they knew deep down was true.
Christians need to get over their desire to psycho-analyze others. They’re really bad at it, for one thing. I had a Christian try to “cold read” me the other day on Facebook–and it was like dwelling in some bizarro land, listening to her try and try and try to find something that’d stick. No, I’m not angry at her god. No, I wasn’t really mistreated by any ministers. No, nothing especially horrible happened to me to make me disbelieve (that came after my deconversion). No, I didn’t want to “sin” and no, I didn’t leave the religion so I could sin in peace. No, I don’t actually care what other people choose to believe. It was almost funny listening to her try over and over again to figure out why she thought I was a non-Christian. She never did hit on the real reason why I stopped believing and left that religion: I just finally realized it wasn’t true. When I got tired of her guessing game and told her that, she vanished from the thread.
But she needed to put me into a box that she could label as figured out. She needed to categorize me in a way she could deal with. If she honestly came face to face with the reason I’d stopped believing, that’d have some pretty powerful implications for her own worldview. She isn’t the only one like that; Christians tend to believe that people deconvert for the dumbest, most insulting reasons. I almost wonder if they do that to stop themselves from looking honestly at their religion; when dissenters are demonized and dehumanized to that extent, it seems like it’d make Christians far less likely to want to head down Dissension Lane.
You know what’d be really nice to hear from a Christian that I never do seem to hear? “You seem angry. What is making you seem angry?” Instead of telling me why I seem angry, why don’t Christians ever ask me why I’m angry? Could it be they need me to be angry for reasons they can understand and manipulate?
When they get told exactly why I’m angry, because I’m just helpful that way, they never do ask, “Have I done anything to offend you or make you feel that way?” And I really wish they would ask that. No overreaching Christian ever has. Of course, if they did ask, I’d tell them if they had, and then if they had offended me it’d be kind of obligatory for them to make amends somehow or at least apologize. I mean, at least asking me if Christians in general had done something to make me angry, so they’d know to avoid making those mistakes in the future–that’d be something at least. But they never ask the really useful, pertinent questions.
Christians, when you dismiss someone’s disbelief as caused by “anger” or “hate,” or speculate about a disbeliever’s past, you are silencing that person and ignoring what that person has to say. Listen to the arguments instead. Respond to the arguments offered. And consider asking if any anger you do see was caused by your own (hopefully innocent) behavior or words.
If nothing else, it’ll surprise the heck out of your ex-Christian acquaintance. We’re so used to being told how we feel that we’ll never see that one coming.
We’re gearing up for a fun post or two about Cosmos and science denial, but there’ll be a brief interlude coming up about what it looks like when someone listens instead of talks. I hope you’ll join me.