I am not an angry atheist. I am an atheist who has a great deal of respect for others’ practices and beliefs, provided they don’t expect me to share them. I’ve seen the solace that religion can provide, but I’ve also seen the hurt that has been caused in the name of religion. Like anything, it has many points, good and bad and many arguments can be made for and against. I am not here to fight my corner, for one very good reason: my corner is my own. I won’t try to extend it to encroach on yours or drag you kicking and screaming into mine. I feel it is important to make this distinction very clear: I am not anti-religious. Rather, I am anti-intolerance.
The reason I have to make that so clear is that I don’t want this to be a review that really just provides a soapbox for an anti-religion rant. I don’t care what faith anyone follows as long as they don’t hurt others – physically or mentally – in its name. Here’s the kicker: I would passionately and ardently argue that this applies to atheists too.
And there, I think, lies the source of my discontent about this book. It made many pro-atheism points, some of which had been fundamental in my own decisions about God and, as it was the religion I was most exposed to, Christianity. However, in the defence of an atheistic standpoint, it also made many anti-religion points. Well, that’s fair enough. I’m not opposed to debate, where it is sensible, productive and courteous. That said I am fiercely opposed to the idea of one person trying to convert another.
Perhaps it’s fair to say that my desire for tolerance rates more highly with me than my desire to proclaim my faith, or lack of. Therefore, when Greta Christina began to discuss “atheistic activism” I became incredibly uncomfortable. I am happy to explain to anyone why I don’t follow a faith and may be passionate about my reasons. There is a huge difference, however, between being passionate about something you believe in and passionately insisting it is the only thing anyone should believe in. So when Christina talks about activism, I feel profoundly uneasy. Isn’t that just another form of judgement?
The truth is, whether we judge someone based on their skin colour, language, gender, sexuality or religion, we demonstrate intolerance. The choice is whether you keep your views private and remain passively intolerant or if you take them out into the world. To me, the activism Christina advocates is just another form of active intolerance.
So, are we atheists angry? Some are, I’m sure. I do get a little angry when people make assumptions about me because of my lack of faith. My lack of religion has not robbed me of a moral compass or a sense of kindness. I also find it frustrating that when we share our reasons – so often based on logic and science – we are accused of being angry. I guess it does make you a little defensive. But am I angry? No. As I said, I am not anti-religion. To be an angry atheist would just demonstrate the active intolerance that irks me so much.
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins was a well reasoned book. There was a fair amount of passionate rhetoric and, yes, some anger. His anger was largely aimed at those who have lampooned him or those who have used religion as a basis to commit atrocious deeds. Yet, despite this anger, the book was a stunningly crafted argument about the reason he has taken his stance. I suppose you could argue that publishing that was a form of activism but I don’t believe so, any more than publishing the Bible is, or the Koran. When compared to Dawkins’ book Why Are You Atheists So Angry? really does come across as an aggressive rant. Good points are made but the book does little to denude the idea that atheists are foaming at the mouth in rabid fury.
Recently, someone asked me if I recited the prayers and sang the hymns for a church service, such as a wedding or christening. I replied that I did and was asked if it made me feel like a hypocrite. My answer was succinct. I don’t believe but that doesn’t stop me respecting the feelings of those who do. In times of love or sorrow, compassion binds us all. That isn’t unique to religion or atheism. We can always choose tolerance.
All in all, an interesting book that I’m glad to have read. Though I would probably recommend it to other atheists, I doubt I would spread my recommendations any wider. Thought-provoking books are always a good find. Books that incite us to try and change the beliefs of our friends and neighbours? A step towards intolerance…