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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?

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So it makes absolutely no sense to look at atheists expressing anger about religion... and assume that we must therefore be bitter and hopeless, despairing over the finality of death, and cut off from everything that is good and true.

And I hope I don't have to explain how flatly, laughably nonsensical it is to look at non-believers expressing their strong sense of morality and meaning, transcendence and connection, hope and joy... and assume that we therefore must be bitter and hopeless, despairing over the finality of death, and cut off from everything that is good and true.

So what's going on here?

Where does this assumption come from?

Why is atheist anger so offhandedly dismissed as nihilistic bitterness? Why is atheist happiness so offhandedly denied as logically impossible?

Why is it so important for so many believers to frame atheism as inherently joyless and hostile?

Some of this, of course, is just the standard-issue response to a social change movement. Think about shrill, shrewish feminists; violent and irrational black activists; hysterical queers: any time a marginalized class starts finding its voice and expressing its outrage, they're framed as either dangerous or trivial, and anything they have to say is automatically dismissed. Hegemony in action, kids! If a system of power is going to protect and perpetuate itself, it's not about to recognize the validity of any criticism against it. It's not even going to consider the possibility, even for a second, that this criticism might be valid. And religion has some of the best self-protective, self-perpetuating mechanisms going.

But I think there's another reason so many believers reflexively frame atheism as bitter and nihilistic.

It's because they have to.

It's because accepting the existence of good, happy atheists undercuts so many of the rationalizations for their beliefs.

For starters, the existence of good, happy atheists takes the utilitarian defense of religion and blows it to shrapnel. If you're arguing that religion is necessary for people to be happy and moral, then the existence of happy moral people without religion pulls the rug right out from under you. The utilitarian argument is ridiculous anyway -- it's like arguing that everyone should believe in Santa Claus because it makes kids happy and better-behaved during the month of December -- but even if you don't care whether the things you believe are true, and only care if they're useful, then the existence of atheists with rich, good, meaningful lives makes it patently clear that religious belief isn't actually all that useful. Which is why so many believers, faced with the reality of happy and moral atheists, simply stick their fingers in their ears and chant, "I can't hear you, I can't hear you, I can't hear you!"

But the existence of good, happy atheists doesn't just undercut the arguments for why religion is useful. It undercuts some of the most common arguments for why religion is true.

For many religious believers, one of the main pieces of evidence they have for God is the existence of happiness and goodness in their lives. They believe that God not only exists, but is the source of all happiness and goodness, even the very definition of happiness and goodness. And they ascribe every piece of happiness and goodness in their lives to the presence of God, and their personal relationship with him.

So when atheists come along and say, "Nope, no god in my life, no personal relationship with an invisible friend... and my life is both happy and good"? When atheists make it clear, through our words and actions, that we find plenty of meaning and morality and joy in this life and this life alone? It takes that "evidence" and completely pulverizes it. If we can live good, happy lives without a belief in God... then where does that goodness and happiness come from? Believers either have to conclude that God doesn't much care whether people believe in him... or they have to reject the goodness and happiness of atheists out of hand. And the latter is exactly what way too many of them do.

 
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