A-faith, not Anti-faith

At times I can be very critical toward religious faith.  I am not shy calling out Nonsense dressed as Religion particularly when one faith demands exceptional privileges in the public square.

I’m also not reticent to call out fellow Seculars who like nothing better than making fun of faith and believers of any kind.  It makes me wonder if they know there are alternatives to being anti-religious, anti-faith.  You can be an atheist, secular, freethinker without being an AAA (Angry, Anti-religious Atheist).

Years of working alongside people of faith, building cooperative coalitions with them, developing collegial and personal relationships, I’m consistently sensitive to people I know and respect in faith communities (as well as friends and family who hold a faith position).  Including diverse voices and drawing on wisdom wherever it may come from, is a practice I learned throughout years of ministry and critical thinking.

I may not agree with some of their beliefs, but I know too many good people in churches, synagogues, temples and elsewhere to disrespect them.  Freethought is not the exclusive property of the faithless.

Now, reading yet another snarky meme from an AAA putting down people of faith, I’m once again disturbed by the apparent lack of depth and breadth evident in the cheap shots.

And, I’m getting more clarity about what’s really going on.

The current theory I’m testing (not judgments but observations):

♦AAA folks may come from very limited religious backgrounds (often narrow and strict traditions)

♦AAA folks may have rather limited religious education (Bible schools, restricted theological training, etc)

♦AAA folks may have quite shallow relationships (past and/or present) with people of faith (particularly people of diverse faiths)

♦AAA folks may have little or no experience working cooperatively with people of faith (especially ecumenical or interfaith activities such as operating affordable housing, shelters, collaborative chaplaincies, food pantries, educational forums, etc)

It’s not so easy to flippantly dismiss people you’ve worked beside while doing important community work.

When I hear mocking sarcasm or outright attacks on the integrity or intelligence of religious people I immediately think:

“This person has a very narrow view and experience.”

“Doesn’t this person have anyone in their life they care about or respect who believes in a god?”

“What makes them so angry and anti?”

(btw, I would ask the same questions of a person mocking and disrespecting secular people.  I have the same problem with an RRR: Raging Righteous Religious person.


What do you think of these observations and questions?  Does any of this ring true in your experience?

Categories: AtheismTags: , , ,


  1. Hello Chris. I concur with your conclusion in this insightful column today. Your experience, reading and need to collaborate in many areas with people of faith parallels my own. I also might add that the AAA group you identify (not an auto club HA!) also has much diversity. Some are young and fighting off the dogma so must be angry to stay the course. They usually change later in life. Some have been abused or at least traumatized by parents or relatives of faith. I am sure you have met these injured folks who need to strike back to gain a footing of respect. And final group may belong to an AAA type group and they go along to get along with their sub-group of Atheists. I usually listen and say I have much in common with the drive of your AAA group but it is not running over religion generally particularly good people of faith who are part of the solution. Thanks again for your insights as they are freshly written in a way that is easy for us to read and your views certainly overlap significantly with my own as a psychologist, chaplain and now a humanist contributor. Just sending my support and hoorays.

    • Your comment and perspective is noted and very much appreciated, Marty. I agree, we need to factor in those who have felt alienated by religious “communities” that weren’t much of a community in the first place. I understand the anger, and feel some myself (primarily disappointment). Yet, as I say and you affirm, there are so many good folks who are “part of the solution,” so we can choose to join with them and they with us, or we choose to push them away and belittle. Fundamentally, you get the heart of it when you say “I listen.” People of faith and freethinkers could all keep that in mind. Many thanks.

  2. My own next blog post:

    Here is my own personal theory, which is incredibly dismissive of those whose perspectives and experiences are different than my own, and for which I will offer no actual evidence at all, but which should not offend anybody else, because it is “just an opinion” and “I’m not judging you.”

    I am an open-minded, intelligent, well educated person. Therefore, everyone whose opinions are different than mine must NOT be open-minded, intelligent, or educated. I will therefore state as my central thesis that for anyone who disagrees with me, it is because:

    * They all come from very “limited backgrounds”, and are lacking the far more comprehensive experience that I myself have

    * They obviously are not as well educated as I am, and must suffer from their own ignorance, compared to my incredible knowledge

    * These poor souls have never had the deep, meaningful relationships that I have, they’ve had to live their lives with shallow, meaningless relationships with those around them

    * They have never cooperated with people who are not like themselves, unlike my own experience of cooperating with everyone, and thus qualifying me to comment authoritatively on those whose ideas and experiences are different than my own.

    I need offer no evidence to support these claims; and in fact, where the experiences of other atheists may contradict my opinions, I will simply dismiss or disregard those things, because obviously they are uneducated, inexperienced, pathetic people.

    In conclusion, please revel in the knowledge of how enlightened I am, compared to those who would deign in their ignorance to disagree with me.

    Please remember, I do NOT intend any offense by calling others ignorant, uneducated, inexperienced, or denigrating the quality of their relationships! So I sincerely hope that nobody will be offended or upset!

    • Sure, John, post that on your blog. Your angry response somewhat supports my “theory.” If you don’t see anything I have observed, I guess you don’t see it. btw, Linda asked me to write something for Rational Doubt. But I doubt you’ll find much to agree with, given the tone here.

  3. From a Humanist position, this post makes no sense.
    Anger is simply our reaction to injustice, which religions provide in spades.
    It Is not a stretch to say that those that take their beliefs most seriously are also the most dangerous, specifically because they are focused on the wants of God and not the needs of their fellow man.
    Those believers that do not take their holy book seriously are already on a path towards humanism so it is not hard to help them along.
    The Anger is justified, the Anti-theism is justified, the Atheism is justified.

    Your listed understanding of AAA is wrong and you need to rethink it, and embrace it.

    • There are many perspectives within humanism as well as atheism, and within religion. Hence, my perspective. Anger may be justified, but how it’s expressed may be questioned, which I do. And so far I do “embrace” my “theory.”

      • Atheism is only the lack or disbelief of the positive claim of Theism.
        What you do with that fact afterwards is subjective.
        Humanism starts with a warranted rejection of religion, while most of the world being Abrahamic starts with the acceptance of psychopathic behaviour as “normal”.

        There is no means one can speak the truth about the harms of religion without some snowflake being offended at the “hubris” of our disblief.
        After all, you are talking about major world religions based on the idea that hearing a voice telling you to kill your child should be revered as a model of submissive behaviour.

        Civilization starts with the death of Religion and an embracing of the tenets of Humanism it plagiarized.

  4. Atheism is only the lack or disbelief of the positive claim of Theism.
    What you do with that fact afterwards is subjective.
    Humanism starts with a warranted rejection of religion, while most of the world being Abrahamic starts with the acceptance of psychopathic behaviour as “normal”.

    There is no means one can speak the truth about the harms of religion without some snowflake being offended at the “hubris” of our disblief.
    After all, you are talking about major world religions based on the idea that hearing a voice telling you to kill your child should be revered as a model of submissive behaviour.

    Civilization starts with the death of Religion and an embracing of the tenets of Humanism it plagiarized.

    • Kerry, with your background I better understand your reaction to my post. Some of us have had horrendous experiences in our former religious communities. That should be taken seriously, and I do.

      Atheism may begin as a decision to turn away from theism, and you’re right each individual chooses what to do with that.
      I’m identifying those who take the most negative route. Fine for them, but some of us don’t need to accept that.
      Should all atheists be angry and anti all the time?

      Enter Humanism. In my view, humanism begins as a positive step. If it’s always seen as a negative, a rejection, then the constructive, progressive aspects never grow. Like it or not, the human community includes people of faith. I’m ok with that, and, I have my own ways of critiquing that.

      No one is saying we have to be afraid of offending any one. Throwing mud is too easy and accomplishes nothing.
      The example you use from one religious narrative doesn’t really address what I talk about in the post, yet it does confirm the part of my “theory” about how we can focus too much of our reactions on one religious tradition (or the Abrahamic).

      Not sure about generalizations about Civilization but religion has been and will probably always be one part of it. Let’s keep it in check though (separation of religion and state at least).

      • Thank you for writing this article. Given your moderate tone toward others, you might appreciate this from our own religious background. For many years we supported Ramallah Friends School in Ramallahm, Palestine. The Quaker teachers didn’t proselytize, helped many Palestinian young people get a quality education, worked for peace between Palestinians and Jewish people, etc.

        • Good to hear, and we need to hear more of these stories, the good side of religion’s contribution. . .especially the good “people” doing this kind of work in the name of (compassion, justice, peace, god. . .). Thanks.

  5. I understand the anger. For a lot of ex-believers, that are coming out of very restrictive religions, they have every right to be angry. They were told to believe lies, the courses of their lives and their options were limited by those lies, they spent large amounts of time and money in devotion to falsehoods, and often damaged their personal relationships in order to promote it. Once they see the man behind the curtain, absolute fury at what was done to them is a reasonable human response.

    And I think that for some people, expressing the kind of angry anti-religious stuff you are unhappy with may be part of what they need to do in their healing process. Some of them are dealing with lingering trauma and deep fears instilled into them by years of indoctrination. Even though they realize intellectually that religion’s not true, it takes a lot longer to rewire the emotional system to match. Just like with PTSD treatment, engaging with the old beliefs in a non-trauma-inducing way, in this case with humor and ridicule, is helping undo the old ingrained connections between religious ideas and fear. That’s important.

    Plus I think that some people, now that they have the freedom to make fun of religion, need to use that freedom to remind themselves that it’s really theirs. It reminds me of a video I saw of Penn and Teller meeting a newly de-converted Ultra-Orthodox Jew. They didn’t just congratulate him, they took him out to a restaurant for a shrimp cocktail and a bacon cheeseburger, the first ones of his life. And he found it really helpful and empowering. He’s not just technically allowed to break the religious rules, he’s actually breaking them on purpose to help him get over the indoctrination. For people who were never allowed to take religion lightly, or make fun of it in any way, posting silly anti-faith stuff is much the same thing.

    And I think it’s a phase that most de-converts get over eventually. They get through the initial rage, deprogram their limbic systems somewhat, settle into being comfortable with non-belief, and then come to a point of “OK, now what?” And then we can work with them on humanism, and inter-faith cooperation, and using their anger as a motivator instead of a weapon. But I think that often the healing has to come first, and some people need to be angry atheists for a while for that to happen.

    • Your reasonable response is appreciated. You state this very well. My post was not intended to say we shouldn’t be angry or even that we shouldn’t express that anger. This is why I like your sense that feeling the freedom to look back and poke at a past, restrictive tradition can be healthy, and that this can be an important stage on the exit path.

      My other concern (developed a little more in an upcoming Patheos essay) is to present a balance so that people clearly see their atheism doesn’t have to be anger-generated. As a freethinking humanist, I think the more positive, constructive approach to the world of faith is perhaps needed now more than ever. This is not to say some of us won’t express our sharp critiques (as I do quite often) but we can be mindful of maintaining relationships and open communication as much as possible.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful response.

      • “…to present a balance so that people clearly see their atheism doesn’t have to be anger-generated.”

        I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anybody say that their atheism comes from their anger, I think it’s more often the other way around. How they express their atheism sometimes is anger-generated, that’s for sure.

        I think of anger as a tool, and a good one. Once you’ve gotten past the initial blast of rage, anger can be reined in, focused, used to protect us from falling for the nonsense ever again, and used to motivate us to work for positive change. I can’t imagine that any of our great non-violent reformers weren’t carrying a deep internal core of anger at the injustice of the world.

        I’m not sure I want to have a “constructive approach” with the entire world of faith, too much of it is actively toxic. But I have no problem allying with specific believers when we share a common goal. And I like the idea of opening conversations with believers to find as much common ground and as many shared goals as we can. (I’m having an e-mail conversation with a JW right now. It’s very interesting.)

        • Yes, anger “can” be a useful tool. I’m not seeing that a great deal from the non-religious world though. Maybe I should have said anger-centered, since many seem quite focused on that. My whole post was really fairly specific on who I’m addressing: the “anti’s” who are constantly fighting mock and mocking “battles” against anything and anyone with faith. Nothing productive or constructive there. Do they need to vent? Fine, but if that’s it, I don’t see the point. See what you think about my longer essay on Rational Doubt this Thursday.

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