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Dan Matthews
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The irony of the angry atheist

03 June 2014, 12:12

When I was younger, I used to enjoy a good debate with atheists. I'd often spend hours in deep conversation with others who held differing views and the debate was always polite, considered and cordial even if it was somewhat heated at times. There was always mutual respect and, even if we could not agree on matters, we always accepted the other's right to hold that opinion. It was the golden age of true tolerance, where we could agree to disagree.

Today, things seem to have changed somewhat. There is a new kind of atheist I meet nowadays who has a closed worldview, and is intolerant of anything they disagree with. Something has made them angry, and they are on the rampage. This is the age of the Angry Atheist.

How do you spot an Angry Atheist?

Fortunately, an Angry Atheist is a creature of habit. They hold the view that they are supremely right, and that anyone who disagrees with them holds a 'lesser' view. Although maybe a little annoying, that superiority complex isn't so objectionable in itself and they are perfectly entitled to hold that view. However, the Angry Atheist prefers to denigrate those who dare to oppose them, and that is where they show their true colours. You will see it clearly in the language they use when describing those they disagree with. They use slurs such as 'bigot', 'ignorant', 'intolerant', 'medieval'. Of course, the Angry Atheist doesn't really understand what these words actually mean, and uses them in totally inappropriate and uncalled for circumstances. However, it gives them a feeling of 'righteous indignation' to throw these words at people in order to dismiss them and their arguments.

The favourite tool of an Angry Atheist in a debate is the argumentum ad hominem.?This is a logical fallacy where you don't debate the actual issue, but rather denigrate your opponent in a debate. In particular, there is one strand of the 'ad hominem' approach called 'poisoning the well'. In this logical fallacy, you apply an unfavourable label to your opponent in order to taint whatever they say. After this, you may debate the real issue, but everyone's mind has already been set against your opponent. Once you have labelled your opponent as 'from the dark ages', then anything they say is tainted to be outdated and irrelevant. Against this, your viewpoint seems modern and enlightened.

As an example, observe the responses to this study. Most of you reading this will be of a considered and balanced persuasion, whether atheist or not. You will see the reasonableness of what I have said, and will know this does not describe you. However, should an Angry Atheist read this, the bile will already be rising in their throat. Wisdom would state that they keep their own counsel. After all, attacking the messenger (another logical fallacy) only proves my point. However, the Angry Atheist is a creature of habit. They will not be able to resist attacking me, denigrating me and exerting the superiority of their own worldview at the cost of all others.

How do you deal with an Angry Atheist?

The first thing to remember with an Angry Atheist is that they are right. At least, in their own minds they are absolutely, totally, incontrovertibly right. As far as they are concerned, there is absolutely no way they are in error. In that way they are really fundamentalist. This means that there is no way to really debate or reason with an Angry Atheist. You can try, but there is nothing to be gained. You're likely to get character assassinated and achieve nothing. An Angry Atheist doesn't need a change of mind. They need a change of heart, because it's only after that they will be able to move forward to a change of mind.

The only time it's ever worth engaging with an Angry Atheist is to highlight the error of their closed worldview, so that others more reasoned can see it for what it is and make a rational judgement for themselves. Do not argue against an Angry Atheist from an opposing worldview, rather argue against an Angry Atheist with the logic and reason that they claim to hold so dear. Break down the terminology an Angry Atheist uses, and highlight the fallacy of using such words as 'intolerant' and 'bigot'. Look up the definitions to know what these words really mean. If you can separate an Angry Atheist from the comfort of their bluster and slurs, then you take away their teeth. For example, if you change:

"You're an intolerant bigot stuck in the dark ages"


"You're someone with a contrary worldview to myself who is holding firmly but gently to your beliefs based on centuries old tradition"

then suddenly it sounds like a compliment, not an insult! Remember at all times not to stoop to their level. The thing that differentiates you from being an Angry Atheist is simply that you understand what true respect and tolerance means, and that also means you need to extend it to them. Yes, maybe they are being objectionable, but they have a right to be objectionable. It may be hard to not feel the hurt as they will come against you with personal attacks, but look past their anger and see their arguments for what they are. Ultimately, many Angry Atheists use this bluster as a defence mechanism. They are insecure and maybe a little in fear, and by attacking you they feel safer. In response to this, be always gracious, always polite, always gentle. Highlight them for what they are by being the opposite. Yes, stand by your beliefs firmly, whether you be atheist, theist, deist or agnostic, but do so with dignity.

What is the Irony of the Angry Atheist?

In their crusade for their own, specific worldview, the Angry Atheist ends up becoming all the things that they claim to wish to see eliminated. They end up being totally intolerant of any worldview but their own. They end up willing to force others to follow that worldview, if not even encouraging it. They end up being the fundamentalist they claim to despise. They spew vitriol towards their opponents. Effectively, they become victims of their own mission. They end up being the only bigot in the room, even though they accuse everyone else of being one. It is truly ironic that as the Angry Atheist with the rallying cry of 'tolerance' has risen, so the golden age of true tolerance has died.

Have you ever encountered an Angry Atheist?

And so, dear reader, over to you. What experiences have you had with Angry Atheists? Have you been at the receiving end of an Angry Atheist in full flow? Maybe you were once an Angry Atheist yourself and have put those ways behind you? I would love to hear your experiences.

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