I am engaged in a discussion over at Attempts of Rational Behavior where an asshat theist commented in a condescending and arrogant manner that the blog owner should get to know god the way he knows god before condemning religion. This was in response to a piece about the significance of 9/11 and how it influenced her emotional journey away from religion. I chimed in and, in my usual charming way, managed to offend the commenter, who called me “violent, unreasonable, uncivil, and inappropriate”. Go read the comments for the whole story. It’s a fun ride. He ends up by suggesting that I am going to strap explosives to myself and blow up a cathedral.
But that isn’t what I want to talk about. The exchange mentioned above led to an interesting conversation IRL (yes, I do actually speak to people in real life. Just not to you). This person I was speaking with was someone who knows me well and had a completely different take on what the asshat was saying. She felt that the commenter had some valid points and that I came across as extremely rude and offensive. Which kinda was my intent, but be that as it may, it upset her to think that people would read my comments and, not knowing anything else about me, think I was basically a giant asshole.
I made a valiant effort to explain the source of my anger and my loss of patience with the condescending treatment of atheists by theists. Unfortunately, I tend towards incoherent babble when trying to speak extemporaneously, and so I didn’t convey my points very well. So I’m going to babble about them here, hopefully more coherently.
My first point was that I interpreted the comments as being extremely condescending and arrogant and that I felt he was basically telling the blogger that they were doing it wrong, that she should just get to know god. As an atheist, we hear this crap all the time. One of the most basic techniques of the theists is to tell the non-believer that they just didn’t have enough faith, or that they didn’t really want jebus to come into their hearts, or that they went to the wrong church or listened to the wrong preacher on TV. Anything to turn the problem around and make it the atheists fault for not believing, rather than face the fact that they’ve provided absolutely no evidence to support their belief or to convince others to believe. This particular commenter couched this with all kinds of philosophical crap and intellectual-sounding lines, but the bottom line was that the lack of belief was the bloggers’ own fault. I get tired of that shit, and am going to smack it down whenever I run into it, probably quite uncivilly. ‘Cause that’s the way I roll, bitches.
My second point was that, in the real-life discussion, I felt that my right to anger was being questioned. I have lived my entire life unwittingly experiencing the benefits of privilege. I am a white upper-middle class male who, for most of his upbringing, identified as a WASP. Coming out as an atheist has introduced me to a whole world of discrimination and being treated as a second-class citizen that I’ve never directly experienced before. I am beginning to have a deeper understanding of what it is like to be part of a marginalized community. And I now realise that one necessary voice from those marginalized communities is the “angry” voice. Greta Christina expresses this much better than I can:
Because anger has driven every major movement for social change in this country, and probably in the world. The labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the modern feminist movement, the gay rights movement, the anti-war movement in the Sixties, the anti-war movement today, you name it… all of them have had, as a major driving force, a tremendous amount of anger. Anger over injustice, anger over mistreatment and brutality, anger over helplessness.
She goes on to explain why telling the marginalized not to be angry is effectively participating in the marginalization of that group:
So when you tell an atheist (or for that matter, a woman or a queer or a person of color or whatever) not to be so angry, you are, in essence, telling us to disempower ourselves. You’re telling us to lay down one of the single most powerful tools we have at our disposal. You’re telling us to lay down a tool that no social change movement has ever been able to do without. You’re telling us to be polite and diplomatic, when history shows that polite diplomacy in a social change movement works far, far better when it’s coupled with passionate anger. In a battle between David and Goliath, you’re telling David to put down his slingshot and just… I don’t know. Gnaw Goliath on the ankles or something.
My efforts to explain the similarities of the atheist movement with other communities wasn’t an attempt to portray myself as a martyr. Rather it was an effort to highlight the fact that atheists are a marginalized community and that it takes a certain amount of effort and energy to overcome the inertia of centuries and bring the issue to the forefront of public consciousness so that something can be done about it. Expressing our anger is a valuable tool in accomplishing that.
In addition, my verbal sparring partner also suggested that, by expressing anger the way I do, I was not helping the cause, that I was just reinforcing the true believer’s ideas about atheists. PZ Myers took on this trope a little while ago. In response to the opposition to the comparisons between the atheist movement and the feminist movement:
Try reading the literature of the feminist pioneers. They weren’t just rude, they were howling at injustice, they were breaking deep social mores, and they were abused, despised, and imprisoned for it — and they still are. Jebus. You think all women had to do to get recognition of their basic rights was to be polite? You think they got the right to vote by asking nicely? That soft voices and meekness are the answers?
I take it back. I should be embarrassed for us atheists. When I look at the history of feminism, I see a ferocity and a record of sacrifice that puts us tame godless people to shame. Maybe we need to get more outraged and outrageous.
I wholeheartedly agree. Twisted Sister had it right when they sang, “We’re not gonna take it!” It may be uncomfortable, it may be rude, it may even be aggressive, but it has to be out there. Otherwise we let them continue the status quo and keep us marginalized.
Here is some further reading by some bloggers who are much more coherent than I: