Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Anger, Frustration, Disappointment and Disgust Spectrum

by Gary Berg-Cross
Speakers at the recent Reason Rally provided a bushel of views on current topics often from different perspectives and with different tones. At one end some focused on a positive, diplomatic tone making an easily palliative case for more reason in our affairs. This plays well in the mainstream media, or at least it can. Others employed a humorous-ironic approach that makes for good sound bites, but ridicule and mockery may make some religious fundamentalists more entrenched in their beliefs. Still others like, Greta Christina & new Atheist Richard Dawkins were at the more challenging end. They touch on anger and confrontation in part. These 2 contrasting soft, strategic-diplomatic versus hard-confrontational stances represent an important difference of opinion in the atheist/non-theist movement. It’s been evident on this Blog on discussion such as the God Virus, where Edd Doerr argued that we humanists need to work with a broad spectrum of people, some of whom bear assorted religious labels. From his experience a key to the long term vision of a more humanistic world is a more diplomatic approach since you will never persuade anyone to your point of view by ridiculing them or treating them with contempt. What he stresses is:
“found in these words: strategy, strategy, strategy, timing, sequence, framing, prioritizing. A bull in a china shop approach, like that of Madalyn O'Hair is what is really counterproductive.”
Matt Goldstein (Explicit Atheist), commenting on this blog, is more like the Dawkins and Christina end, which sees a need not to accept irrational beliefs. Dawkins has put it thusly: “It is not a good strategy to accept intolerance because it is widespread.” We can argue about things like intolerance without insulting
the believers. This comes across as a bit more reasoned than Rally organizer David Silverman’s loud, naked call for "zero tolerance" for anyone who disagrees with or insults atheism. His simple message is, "Stand your ground!"
It was interesting to see how the talks at the Rally (and later follow ups in the media such as Up with Chris Hayes) addressed these alternative ideas. Greta Christina, prominent atheist & LGBT issues blogger & frequent Secular Student Alliance and the Center for Inquiry speaker, takes a confrontational stance, but like Matt has some nuance. On NPR she said, “I’m not sure it is to atheists’ benefit to always present a kinder, gentler face.”
Her talk took, on what seemed a personal challenge to explain to the Public as a whole why exactly atheists seem angry and outraged at times. This was in effect an abstract from her new book Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off The Godless. Some in the media see this as a non-starter, but if they paid attention to her talk you can see that she argued smoothly and pivoted from a list of complaints to an explanation
for the deeper feelings - most non-theist’s “anger” is less about religious belief than injustice. She argued, in paraphrase, that the public misunderstands the basis of our nuanced motivation:
“We atheists aren't angry because we're selfish, or bitter, or joyless. We atheists are angry because we have compassion. We atheists are angry because we have a sense of justice. We see millions get harmed by religious culture and our hearts go out to them. We are motivated to do something about it. That’s not because there is something wrong with us, it is because there is something right with us. “
Dawkins, as always is eloquent (“Evolution is not just true, it's beautiful”), but like Hitchens feels it important if not necessary to take a strong stand and organize the troops against are real dangers that flow from some outrageous beliefs. He encourages people not just to take intellectual issue with religious teachings, and accept them innocently but to show "contempt" for it and to "ridicule" religious belief. But like Greta he deepens the ideas noting that:
“He doesn’t despise religious people. I despise what they stand for.”
By this he might mean some of the positions of interference and counter productivity that Greta lists such as fighting the teaching of evolution.
Certainly this debate and discussion will go on and there is merit in the contrasting positions. One point that I would make builds on Greta discussion on the roots of what she called atheist anger. I see it as more than an anger emotion. When some religious person uses words to an ancient book to castigate a group I have many thoughts as well as emotions. And there is a spectrum of them depending on what I think. I am disappointed of course and hope for progress over time. I may be terrified that people actually believe the things they claim to believe and the implications of this based on movements. I may be disgusted with their choices and mockery of things like evolutionary and climate science. Rather than angry I’m often just plain sad about the state of people’s epistemological affairs of perception pushing aside reality.

1 comment:

Don Wharton said...

Excellent post, Gary! As leaders of WASH we need to encourage the entire spectrum of responses to irrational beliefs. I love Edd Doerr's strategic vision and humanity. We also need the logical bite of the hard edged atheist anger which does not flinch from pointing out the harm caused by archaic lunacy.