Dear Father Moyle
In your recent open letter to atheists you ask, “Why is it that so many in the atheist community cannot bring themselves to get past their anger whenever they engage in discussion about religion?” You complain that, “The language of many of [the] atheist contributions in public debate is laced with venom and dripping with sarcasm, ” and you wonder why comments from atheists so often depict the religious as being “‘malicious’ or ‘venomous’”. Maybe I can provide some answers.
In your letter, you explain that, because Christians and other religious people are oriented towards a “culture of life and light that ends with the gift of eternal life” venom is not a part of the theistic arsenal.
While you do pause to consider whether the sins of the Catholic Church and various clergy may play some role in our aggravation, you quickly brush this thought aside as if 2000 years of clerical transgressions matter little when compared with those halcyon times when the church stood as a ‘paragon of grace’ through its ‘faithful ministry’. Ultimately, you conclude, atheists’ irritability must be caused by our self-imposed nihilistic view of life. To be sure, we non-believers stew on the petty injustices of the Church because we don’t understand that all these sins will be sorted out later, in heaven. In contrast, all those happy, smiling Christians are so beatifically joyful, good-humoured and just plain Christ-like, because they they know any earthly injustices will be set right in the world hereafter. (Don’t worry about the children dying in the Sudan folks – God will sort it out later.)
To begin with, Father Moyle, if you really want to know why we atheists are cranky, may I direct you to Greta Christina’s blog post Atheists and Anger . Greta Christina provides a comprehensive laundry list of things you religious folk do that really annoy us. I shall follow, soon, with my own.
In your letter, you skip over the sins of the church and the clergy as if they were nothing more serious than an old village vicar nicking the odd glass of altar wine or shrieking, “Jesus, Joseph & Mary” when he stubs his toe. I really hate to give credence to your stereotyping of atheists as angry and sarcastic, but may I suggest that any human being who isn’t angry at some of the following sins of the church needs more than a quick confession and a few Hail Mary’s to save them.
It’s hard to imagine, I know, but we atheists get really upset that the Catholic Church’s prohibition on condoms results in thousands of needless deaths from AIDS in Africa and South America. Having no belief in an afterlife we find it outrageous that the church thinks it’s perfectly alright to sacrifice the lives, health and financial viability of vulnerable women and children in order to prop up a Papal proclamation.
We also get inexplicably annoyed when little children are frightened by stories of demons, hellfire and damnation.
Forgive us for being grumpy, but, for us, it’s a natural reaction when he hear of parents allowing their sick children to die agonizing and unnecessary deaths because they believe, quite literally, that prayers, not medicine will effect a cure.
Has it never occurred to you, Father Moyle, that we atheists get angry because you religious types give us a whole lot to get angry about?
My friend, Terry, recently spoke publicly for the first time about how he was savagely beaten repeatedly by his religious father who was simply doing as the ‘Good Book’ directed him. Spare the rod and spoil the child. This fifty-something man cried as he talked about his brutal upbringing in a family that put all their efforts into obeying the word of God.
“He who spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes” (Proverbs 13:24)
“Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell.” (Proverbs 23:13-14)
Just last night, a Facebook friend posted forlornly, “… no one lets an Atheist join in any reindeer games … :( ”
It turns out his whole family of warm-hearted Christians had gathered for a pre-Christmas celebration just 15 minutes from where he lives – but chose to exclude him because of his atheism. Perhaps he should be grateful that his parents only break his heart by excluding him from family gatherings. If they followed the Bible religiously, they’d be breaking his bones with a good stoning (as directed in Deuteronomy 21:18:21).
My friend Helen’s husband insisted that, in accordance with scripture, his family obey him as unquestioningly as he obeyed God. When his adult daughter wished to date someone outside the church, she was evicted. Helen was then instructed to treat her daughter as if she were dead. When Helen disobeyed this directive, she, too, was cast out onto the street. She is now forbidden from seeing her other children and has never met her grand-children.
Another friend, Bill, is in his late 50s. He is still so traumatized by sexual abuse by the Christian brothers at his Catholic school that even discussing it makes him physically ill. It may be true that those who abused him were not acting in accordance with the Church’s teachings, but the Church has consistently covered up such transgressions, leaving thousands of lives destroyed.
You complain, Father, about ‘grumpy’ atheists and their verbal spats with Christians. How do you compare this with the ‘grumpy’ Catholic nun who beat David Lane, a child with spina bifida, with a pair of scissors for the sin of telling a childish lie? How do we grumpy atheists compare with the good Christian carers at the Catholic orphanage whose treatment of one child was so appalling that, at 80, his single good memory of his childhood is that someone brought him a glass of milk, once, when he was six?
You might argue, Father, that these transgressions were human, and not the fault of the Church. And yet your Church consistently covered up physical and sexual abuse, your Pope enjoined those who reported sexual abuse to keep it secret. Now, thanks to Wikileaks, we know that the Vatican used its diplomatic immunity to try to thwart the inquiry into systematic sex abuse in the Irish church. Indeed, the whole self-protective machinery of the Catholic church, worldwide, has functioned to protect the church from scandal – even if that allows abusers to continue their assaults.
So no, Father Moyle, these things do not fade into insignificance when compared with those mythical times when the church has been a ‘paragon of grace’. I’d certainly like to know when these rare events occurred! Was it during the witch burnings or the Inquisition, or during the Crusades when the Catholic church was clearly the aggressor? Where was the Church as a ‘paragon of grace’ when Jews were being persecuted in Medieval Europe? Oh, that’s right, it was the Church that was driving the persecutions. But, there I am being sarcastic and grumpy again.
Did the Church display itself as a paragon of grace when the Vatican put its support behind Hitler – your clergy even acknowledging the Führer with the familiar salute?
Perhaps you claim that this Camelot of Catholicism occurred in more recent times with the work of Mother Teresa. Have you read former-nun, Colette Livermore’s account of her experience with the blessed mother? I think you should. As a nun with the Sisters of Mercy, Colette found herself, “in a situation where initiative was punished, intelligence was derided, and even saving lives could be punished if it involved a trivial breach of the regulations.” Colette notes that while the order had money – plenty of money – to buy essential medical and educational supplies, it wasn’t used for this purpose because poverty was glorified above saving lives.
Does withholding medical treatment from dying people make me grumpy, Father? You bet it does!
And finally, let’s look at those calm, polite, Christians you contrast against us cranky, venomous atheists. Here are some examples of Christian tolerance and charity for you. They’re all taken from the website Fundies Say the Darndest Things and are typical of the kind, generous and tolerant postings found on Christian websites:
- [Talking about an eleven year old girl who was raped and then buried alive] – god was sacrificing this child as a way to show others the light. much as he did his own child. what a beautiful gift he has given us.
- If u have sex before marriage then in Gods eyes u are married to that person if a man rapes a woman in Gods eyes they are married it sucks for the girl but what can we do lol
- I honestly don’t care about your rights. If it were up to me, all Atheists would be burnt at the stake and or cast into a river with weights tied to their ankles and or placed before the firing squad, etc etc etc.
- I’d like to make a movie about hell, or somebody ought to, that would be fun. Imagine all the noise and the stench and smoke and the abject squalor and the horrid awful incessant torture, a huge place constructed for a hundred billion hideous people screaming and moaning and gargling their own blood. Meanwhile church folks up in heaven laughing and calling down to the atheists “I told you so.”
And all the toilets in heaven flush into holy divine pipes, and all that poop is piped to hell, where it is heated to 500 degrees and dumped on the atheists. That’s basically what God will have going on for all eternity, and he’ll never get tired of it.
Also, Father, if you’re looking for grumpiness, maybe you should compare our vitriolic offerings against those of some of your fellow theists. For example, Jason, a member of Theology Web writes:
“Should we kill atheists for there body parts?
What do the other human persons here think?
No doubt someone will object, saying something obviously ridiculous like, but atheists are persons.
But clearly this is mistaken because anybody without a well developed belief in God is obviously not a full human person.
What could be more obvious than that?
How many full human persons do you know without a well developed belief in God. Obviously none, because if they were full human person they would have a well developed belief in God.
Now some people might object to killing atheists for there (and obviously it is there and not thier as they are not whos but whats) organs but think of all the full human persons that would benifit from the organs and the medical research that could be done on these non-persons.
How could anybody object, they are not human persons and if you think we should not kill them then that is just because of out dated ideas and because they must really just want people to suffer. For shame on you!
So what do people think?
Should we kill these atheist human non-persons for the benifit of fully human persons?”
[original spelling preserved]
While Jason explains later that his post was ‘in jest’, another poster, ‘Archimedes’, takes the proposition seriously:
I think Jason’s reasoning is ironclad. If one agrees that fully developed relationship with God is a requisite for personhood, then atheists and agnostics are not persons, and harvesting their bodies for organs is not morally any more suspect than (here it comes) abortion. Of course, the atheists will not consider a relationship with an imaginary being as a necessary component for personhood, but this question wasn’t directed to the cattle at all but rather to theists who agree with Jason’s premise…
Another Christian internet poster, David, says:
I think it’s time for another holocaust. This time, instead of Jews, how about atheists. We urgently need to round up all atheists in the world and lead them to the chambers. Our world would be such a better place.
Please, Father, spare us the remonstration that these people aren’t ‘real Christians’. They’re real all right and they take their teachings from the very same book you preach from – except they probably don’t cherry pick quite as much as you do.
So, yes, Father, we atheists are grumpy. We’re grumpy because theists are raping children then covering it up. We’re grumpy because you exalt a woman who had her own health problems treated at some of the finest and costliest hospitals in the West, but kept vital medical care from the poorest of the poor because she thought poverty was God-ordained. We’re grumpy because the Church’s teaching on condoms perpetuates HIV/AIDs and condemns devout Catholic women in third world countries to unwanted pregnancies, poverty and preventable diseases.
In Australia, atheists are grumpy because, in the name of God, vulnerable young women were lured into a Christian treatment programme for sufferers of depression and eating disorders where, instead of medical care, they were subjected to exorcisms.
We’re grumpy because some Australian pregnancy counselling services hide their Christian agendas and tell barefaced lies to their vulnerable clients about how abortions lead to breast cancer. A claim for which there is not one jot of credible evidence.
We’re grumpy that our elderly relatives cannot choose to die with dignity because your Church uses its money and power to enforce your views on those who don’t share them.
We’re grumpy because your Church’s view on homosexuals fuels homophobia and results in the suicides of teenagers.
We’re grumpy that after centuries of killing, raping, torturing, corruption, sexism and homophobia, churches accumulate massive wealth by accepting tax-exemptions based on the laughable assumption that they are a benefit to society.
I could go on, and on, and on, Father, but I think you may have got my message by now. Yes, atheists are grumpy and we find it very, very hard to remain civil when people, like you, try to defend an institution which is so stinkingly corrupt and evil that, were it not the Catholic Church, it would have been closed down years ago.
We know that Christians are not necessarily bad people (many of our family members are Christian) but we also know that these people prop up the institutions which cause so much hate and suffering.
Despite your intimations to the contrary, we also know Christians can be every bit as vitriolic, intolerant and hateful as we can – turns out Christians are human too. We atheists are reminded daily that faith in an after life does not preclude Christians from hateful, nasty, depraved, despicable, intolerant and discriminatory behaviour and invective.
As we have seen, faith in a supernatural deity doesn’t stop people from flying planes into buildings, or from blowing up abortion clinics, the London underground or a Bali nightclub. Faith didn’t stop a fervently religious theist from shooting a doctor in cold-blood as he stepped out of his local church. In fact, in all of these instances it seems, faith and a fervent belief in the afterlife, precipitated these evil actions.
So, in short, Father, if you’re looking for the cause of atheist anger, you need not look very far. Simply open the door of your Church, take off your theistic blinkers and take a good, hard look inside.
Pharyngula: Bad Diagnosis – PZ Myers responds to Tim Moyle
AlterNet: Why Religious People are Scared of Atheists by Greta Christina
Atheist Nexus Submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission – Freedom of Religion and Belief in the 21st Century – written and researched by Chrys Stevenson in collaboration with the Australian members of Atheist Nexus.
Catholic Bishop Castigates and Threatens Hospital that Saved Woman’s Life by Amy Newman, RH (Reproductive Health) Reality Check
Gladly gets madder than a bear with a sore head when people in glass churches throw stones! If you liked this article you might be interested in reading further from Gladly’s favourite online bookstore, Embiggen Books.
Letter to a Priest by Simone Weil
Hope Endures by Colette Livermore
The Australian Book of Atheism by Warren Bonett (editor) [with a contribution from Chrys Stevenson - aka Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear]
Holy Horrors: An Illustrated History of Religious Murder and Madness by James A Haught
Holy Hatred: Religious Conflicts of the 90s by James A Haught
The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse by Geoffrey Robertson QC