The Virtue of Anger in Atheists

Rational anger is a valuable emotion.  Yes, anger can be rational.  Thoughts and emotions are inseparable.  Anger based on correctly understood (reasonable) injustices, violence and suppression can efficiently motivate, enliven and stir us to action against these enemies. Religious folks are often oblivious to the rightful place of anger directed at their faiths.  Three years ago, when starting this blog, I was a bit less sympathetic to this position, but exposure has changed my view on both the use of anger and the many dangers of not using it to address the problems of religion.

Greta Christina will soon be self-publishing a book on this called: “Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things that Piss Off the Godless“.  The book will be based on her blog post “Atheists and Anger“.

Of course I also believe, however, that much anger can be irrational and directed at the wrong enemy.  I look forward to her book and suspect I will agree with much of it — she is an excellent thinker and writer.  I will post again when I hear of the publishing.

Question to readers:

  • Do you agree that “anger” can be a useful emotion that sometimes should not be suppressed?
  • What pisses you off about religion?
  • What pisses you off about atheists?


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

20 responses to “The Virtue of Anger in Atheists

  1. I like Christina and remember reading that post on atheist anger. She has a great blog, I think.

    Anger has never been very useful for me. I try to keep it under control, but of course fail sometimes.

    Actually, I like religion. What I hate about it is unwarranted dogmatism.

    And I like atheism and atheists as well. But I don’t like it when some of them display an attitude not unlike the dogmatically religious.

  2. @ Doug B,
    Anger is very dangerous for some people, and underused in others — such is the complex nature of our minds.

    I agree that both atheists and theists can have unjustified anger. Discernment is difficult.

  3. Hi Sabio,

    a very good remark about “rational anger”. I just have published an angry post (in german) on my blog about the ‘official’ stance of german buddhism in regard of sexuality. I am at once asked where my compassion is. Why am I so angry? I look forward to Greta’s text.


  4. Hi Matthias
    Thanks. Indeed, in Buddhist circles, “anger” is bad. Many Buddhist are ironically pissed off at Atheists. Is there a chance your German post will be translated (by you) into English?

  5. Paul Sunstone

    The biggest danger I see in anger is that some folks nurse it. I’m not much in favor of nursing ones anger. I’d rather let it come and go, rather than try to drag it out.

    It’s easy to get pissed off about religion. Somedays, 90% of religion seems to be wilful stupidity along the lines of god says women must marry their rapists and driving a stake into a corner of a field will keep the soil from blowintg away. Another 9% of it seems to state the obvious. And only 1% or 2% seems to involve genuine and useful insights.

    It’s a bit harder to get pissed off about atheists. But, rightly or wrongly, I tend to do so in two circumstances. First, when I hear an atheist say “all religions are x” when only Abrahamic religions are x. Pretending to know more than you do know is cheap. And second, when I hear an atheist say believers are idiots. People in general — atheists included — are prone to stupid mistakes in their reasoning. It’s the human curse, and it often leads to tragedies. .Believers often believe stupid things, but that doesn’t mean they are stupid about everything.

  6. * Do you agree that “anger” can be a useful emotion that sometimes should not be suppressed?
    To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. 🙂

    The discernment of that timing, and the manner of execution of that anger, are very difficult to navigate effectively. Anger, used wrongly, simply serves to ossify the minds of the opposition, making them stand even more firmly against your cause. When you are trying to make people come to a natural conclusion for themselves, the last thing you want them to do is lose mental flexibility. So, in this case, if makes anger even that much more difficult to channel appropriately.

    But I do feel it has a use to motivate us to take the appropriate action, even if we stumble along the way in determining what that action should be.

    * What pisses you off about religion?
    Christina’s post contains a good sampling in that regard.

    * What pisses you off about atheists?
    When they act like there are no emotional and sociological needs people have met through religion. When they forget that they, too, still carry illogical beliefs in other facets of their lives.

  7. I agree with Buddhists view of anger. I hear that when they get angry, it is the most terrifying wrath you can imagine. But there is something purposeful about it, I wish I could remember the quote I read on that topic.

    There are all types in the religious community, but many use it to justify their shrill, ignorant views.

    I already wrote that post about what annoys me about Atheists, however there are some rational folks who call themselves atheist as well. Julian Baggini said it best when he stated that atheists think science is “on their side”. Science is in no one’s side, and it must remain that way.

  8. Stupid iPad autocorrect. “ON” no one’s side.

  9. I find anger is a product of my values of justice and compassion being violated. Someone intentionally hurts my kid, I feel angry. Someone discriminates against a friend or ignores her because she is in a wheelchair, I get angry.
    I am afraid of my anger, but I am finding it lets me love.
    As a woman I am especially afraid of my anger, but my atheistic anger is a result of loving those whom certain forms of religion oppress. To dull that anger is to deny the reality of harm.
    I do not want to destroy all religion, just abuse. I recognize that some forms of abuse are exacerbated by religion. I will not apologize for hating that. How I use my anger is my responsibility and can be helpful or harmful. That is hard to learn but it can’t be learned by denying anger.

  10. @ Paul Sunstone, The Wise Fool, Amelie and Prairienymph :

    You all wrote great comments and I totally agree with all your perspectives. Well said !!

    But that is no fricken fun, I much prefer controversy! Nothing feels better than getting some righteous anger going !! 😉

  11. Sabio,

    the text is very specific about one german buddhist magazine. So I will not translate it in this form. But perhaps I address the topic in a more general way.


  12. rautakyy

    Anger to me is a quite natural survival method. It has saved my ass and even life on occasion. It is a way for my emotions to give that extra boost to override natural compassion towards anything that seriously threatens me, or any innocent parties I am able to protect. In such a case anger is not only natural, but even necessary.

    However, I think hate is one of the “lowest” forms of emotion such as jealosy and even fear. And in no situation one should loose their own controll over themselves for hate. I think there are very few items in religions that reveal their gods and other entities are products of human imagination, than when these gods are presented as angry or feeling hatered.

    Hate is a very bad advisor, because it often leads to misscalculation of situations and especially to underrestimate ones adversaries. It also seems to put all compassion aside and without compassion, it is very difficult to make ethical choises.

    In internet conversations I have noticed, that both atheists and religious folk often missread sarcasm as representing hate. One can emphasise this or that aspect of a short comment by adding emoticons, but an angered person easily reads even such messages as hatefull.

    What pisses me of in religion is when (and that is far too often) it is used as an excuse for unethical behaviour. It is perfect for that since it very often incorporates the supreme source for morals, so it can and will override any compassion, or even reason. Also religions are far to often poised against information. They have these standard answers to the world, that are often quite outdated, but defended to the last as dogmas. Only with better information we can make more informed and therefore also more ethical choises.

    What pisses me of in atheists, and I am guilty of it myself, is that we much too often do not even try to understand the religious people. Their superstitions may be ridiculous, but we should show respect towards their beliefs just as we should respect the culture of other people none the less. That is, when their religious behaviour is not supporting any sort of unethical action.

  13. @ rautakyy,
    I agree with much of that. It is the “sanctimony” of religion that stops questioning and kills science and makes it hard to fight their crimes. All groups of people commit crimes but religions sanctify theirs in an attempt to put it outside the realm of reason and dialogue. Sanctimony is a huge enemy.

  14. exrelayman

    I’m not much of a fan of anger. It seems to me that anger, fear, and hate seem to be similar attributes of the functioning of the more primitive portion of the brain. Any of these emotions tend to disrupt a calm clear evaluation of the particular issue or situation involved.

    For instance, eradicate anger from homo sapiens, and how much would war still happen? I don’t claim to know, but surely it would be considerably less?

    So what particular good thing is accomplished by venting anger that could not be accomplished without it? The other aspect of this is that anger is a part of us from times primordial, and repressing it has a bad rap in psychological circles (though psychology is a slipperier discipline than the hard sciences).

    I do know that most of the really bad mistakes made in my life have involved decisions made when angry, so I have perhaps an inordinate distaste for it.

    As far as what ‘pisses me off about atheists?’, I guess I mistook the nature of this blog and am probably not welcome here. I am an atheist and recognize that some atheists can be unreasonable, as can some of any other class of people. But the formulation of the question did not address it in that way, so I presume atheists give offense here. It is not my nature to go to blogs with viewpoints contrary to mine and be troll like in extolling the opposing thought. But maybe I have over reacted out of anger about that?🙂

  15. •Do you agree that “anger” can be a useful emotion that sometimes should not be suppressed?

    I believe it can be useful if you don’t allow it to overshadow your cause.

    •What pisses you off about religion?

    The judgement that often comes along with it…

    •What pisses you off about atheists?

    I can’t necessarily say that what really gets me is inherent in atheists, but it is something I often see in atheists, as well as many other “groups”. I value the human ability to discuss ideas and beliefs. I think humanity would be much improved if we all took a moment to delve into the psyches of our fellow man. However, we do not have to argue. The point is not that we agree. The point is that we see another’s thought processes. Make your point, open your ears and your heart… relate… and move on. We get so defensive because we think someone else is attacking our beliefs. I tend to think of it as less of an attack and more of an exploration, check, and re-check of what they think about themselves and their beliefs. It does not reflect on me, therefore, it does not make me angry.

    I cannot say that I have never experienced this type of anger, but it has been a long time (read over 10 years) since I have felt this kind of anger. I think this kind of anger is born of panic… the thought that a foundation one has based a great deal of things on is being challenged. And many of us could not handle it if it were not true. Only with peace about our belief or non-belief can we move past the debilitating anger.

  16. CRL

    -Do you agree that “anger” can be a useful emotion that sometimes should not be suppressed?

    Yes, but that goes for every emotion. Genuine anger can lead people to pay attention, especially when it comes from a person who never expresses it.

    -What pisses you off about religion?

    That it can be used and abused as an instrument of great evil. That it can bind or prevent a search for truth, scientific, philosophical, or otherwise.

    -What pisses you off about atheists?

    When they (we) refuse to see that it can be used as an instrument of great good as well. When we let atheism become a religion and bind our search for truth, scientific, philosophical, or otherwise. And, yes, I find myself guilty of both of these sins, on occasion.

  17. @ exrelayman :
    The problem is, if you eradicate anger from only part of humanity, they may be annihilated. Sure, to the whole bunch at once — good luck with that! 🙂

    But I agree with your hesitations as well of those of others, nonetheless, I think that the energy of Anger is useful — we need to direct it properly and efficiently, that is the trick. As others implied, we need to be the master of anger, not its slave.

    As for your last paragraph, I am sorry, I could not follow your allusions — I need straightforward accusations or I may misunderstand or remain clueless. Thanx.

    @ Jessica :
    I am obviously not as argue-averse as you. I think such a thing is a matter of temperament and culture. You’d love Japan, they hate arguments.
    I think even when you are peaceful about your own belief system, you can get usefully angry and the injustices of others.

    @ CRL :
    Well said, I agree with you on all that. I too am often guilty.

  18. James

    Myself, I think that anger (as distinct from rage, hatred, etc.) isn’t an inappropriate or ‘bad’ emotion at all, and I find many people’s aversion to it somewhat puzzling. Anger is one of our emotional traits that serves the function of – exactly as some others have written above – getting us off our asses in the face of what is threatening or harmful (to say ‘injustice’ is already to be prejudging things in a way that I’m not sure is useful). It takes us from a healthy self-regard (and regard for others who are important to oneself) to action. I mean, without compassion for oneself, there could not be anger for (rightly or wrongly) perceived mistreatment.

    Albeit, I have One Huge Caveat: consistently nursing anger is a bad thing – it is bad for one’s health and one’s relationship with the outside world. Not that this is peculiar for anger, mind you – there are ways in which every emotional disposition is, when taken to extremes, unhelpful for human well-being. As I alluded to above, persitent anger can undermine one’s relationships with other human beings, etc.

    I don’t actually have a problem with ‘religion’. This probably because I am not reacting to my religious upbringing, because I didn’t have one – nor did my dad, nor his parents, and though my mom did it was Church of England (which hardly counts). Religions arise from an ineliminable human impulse shared by virtually every human, even atheists. I do, however, have issues with particular manifestations and channelings of this impulse (even, yes, atheist ones!) – so the simplest question is to ask me what I think about a particular religious tradition!

    As for atheists… boyo, there are definitely some things that many of them do/say/think that bothers me. And I say this as someone who would classify as atheist (but I refuse the label for philosophical reasons).

    Primarily, I despise the self-satisfied belief that they are more ‘rational’ than religious people, as though their own Weltanschauung wasn’t also based both upon ultimately untestable metaphysical axioms and their own personal emotional needs. Something about living in glass houses… Also, I take issue with the silly strawmen of god(s) that they rail against (N.B. I know that this is what many rank and file believers belive in, and I agree that these are ridiculous) and thereby think they’ve disproven theism. Russell’s teapot, the flying spaghetti monster, the angry invisible unicorn on the dark side of the moon: these are all cute examples, but I don’t actually see how they disprove the god (gods?) of Augustine or Anselm (or the Tao or Dharmakaya, for that matter). But most of all, I detest how *some* seem to lose all sense of proportion and good manners around religious people who *are* minding their own business – seeing it as sport to try to do psychological harm to inoffensive religious believers. Just ’cause you’re angry doesn’t make it right to hurt others.

    Well… that might set off some discussion. I’m actually a bit surprised that I had more to say about atheists, given that I mostly agree with them. Huh.

  19. Sabio, you said:

    The problem is, if you eradicate anger from only part of humanity, they may be annihilated. Sure, to the whole bunch at once — good luck with that!

    Not that I think you’re wrong, but it’s the same logic that keeps the weapons manufacturers fat and happy.

    Do you agree that “anger” can be a useful emotion that sometimes should not be suppressed?

    Yes, I accept your premise. But anger has degrees. It’s not an all or nothing proposition. At what point does mild agitation become harmful? Discernment is a necessary ingredient.

  20. @ Paul Gerhards,
    I agree, anger can be very dangerous.

    @ James,
    I agree with most of your points about anger. If you are still following this thread and are interested, I could supply links to short posts showing are shared frustration with some atheists.

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