No Need for Anger, but Cause for Worry
“The knowledge exists by which universal happiness can be secured; the chief obstacle to its utilization for that purpose is the teaching of religion.” – Bertrand Russell
I am accused, sometimes, of being an “angry atheist.” Sometimes it is implied that I am some sort of misanthrope or closeted totalitarian. This is a serious misunderstanding that must be corrected. I do not go around bashing people for their beliefs simply because I am angry with what they believe. If a see a woman, say, in an elevator wearing a cross, I do not immediately start berating her about her beliefs. If someone makes a serious claim when not in possession of good evidence, then I honestly and openly engage in discussion and free inquiry.
What I do not do is become angry about people’s beliefs — I become worried. I am worried that medieval or Iron Age metaphysical ideas immersed in a culture that devalues critical thinking — and is armed with thermonuclear weapons — will unmake the human project of building a durable future for our species. I worry that if a piece of architecture is blown up in Jerusalem, the world may suffer massive, enduring dislocation. I worry that future generations will be indoctrinated to not question their deeply-held convictions about the nature of reality, and will be encouraged to act upon these beliefs in destructive ways. I worry about the psychological harm inflicted by beliefs on millions of small children throughout the world. These are some of the countless worries that run through my brain when I observe people believing the ridiculous.
I think that most people are not at fault for their own ignorance. It takes a crowd to lie to oneself sometimes. Authority figures blindfold their charges regularly. I should not be angry with (or feel higher than) people whose ignorance is not their fault. What I cannot stand are people who willingly blind others to perpetuate bogus beliefs. These are the people I am justified in being angry with. I worry about the ones who have been blinded, and I hope one day that they break free. I will try to help them toward this goal.