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Why Are Believers So Hostile Toward Atheists?

Atheists get labeled as offensive and bitter when we express anger, when we express hope, morality and meaning. What are believers scared of?

Is there anything atheists can say about our atheism -- or even just about our lives -- that won't make people look at us with revulsion?

Two recent stories in the news/blogs/opinionosphere have made me vividly aware -- not for the first time -- of the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" position of non-believers in our culture. In one piece, atheists were called out for being negative and confrontational, and readers were informed that we're angry and bitter all the time because we have no hope of life after death. In the other piece, non-believers were called out for sharing the positive, joyful aspects of our lives and the ways we find meaning and hope even in the face of death... and for failing to mention God when we do.

I know. It makes my head spin, too.

The first trope is the more familiar one. You've probably heard the tune before -- even if you haven't heard this particular rendition. In a blog post for the National Post newspaper in Canada, Father Tim Moyle mused on why so much atheist opinion he'd seen was so very angry... and opined that atheists are angry because we're bitter and hopeless about mortality. He wrote:

Atheists tend to see the state of their personal world as being limited to the best they can achieve. Life's injustices will never ultimately be surmounted and they are limited to a 'what you see is what you get' assessment of life's trials. Believers know that things will be better. They know that following the teachings of the church can bring them closer to that promised ideal in the here and now, and that any justice denied them by the events of their personal lives as a result of their fidelity to God will be theirs to enjoy in the life to come.

It is easy to understand how this fuels the anger that many atheists feel. When one must content themselves with an atheist creed that necessarily means they will never experience ultimate justice, peace or love; they cannot look past the annihilation in death.

No wonder they're so grumpy.

The second trope is somewhat less common. But alas, not that much. When Elizabeth Edwards died recently, and issued a farewell statement shortly before her death expressing her deep and abiding sense of hope and meaning and the value of life, right-wing Christian commentator Donald Douglas responded with venom and horror, accusing her of bitterness and nihilism because her statement expressed her gratitude to her family, her friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope... and didn't mention God. He said:

Clearly Elizabeth Edwards wants to put her faith in something, be it hope or strength or anything. But not God. I wonder if it's just bitterness, that she's been forsaken by more than just her estranged husband --- that she's been forsaken by Him. And imagine if she'd have become First Lady. Americans generally expect outward expressions of faith in our presidents, Christian faith especially, and thus in our First Ladies as well. The Democratic base obviously doesn't care, as we can see in the "wow factor" expressed by the author at the American Prospect. Being anti-religion is cool, so Edwards' non-theological theology gets props from the neo-communists. Still, at her death bed and giving what most folks are calling a final goodbye, Elizabeth Edwards couldn't find it somewhere down deep to ask for His blessings as she prepares for the hereafter? I guess that nihilism I've been discussing reaches up higher into the hard-left precincts than I thought.

Yes, yes, before everyone jumps in to correct me -- I know. Elizabeth Edwards wasn't an atheist. She was more of a weak deist, believing in a god who created the universe but didn't intervene with it on a day- to- day basis. But my point still holds. Even though she did have some sort of belief in God, she didn't talk about it in her farewell statement... and Douglas therefore felt entirely comfortable trashing her on her deathbed. Actually, the fact that Edwards wasn't an atheist makes my point stronger. This knee-jerk hostility towards insufficient godliness will apparently get aimed at anyone -- atheist, deist, believer, whatever -- who fails to express the right amount of piety and gratitude towards God. Even when they're freaking dying from cancer already .

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