Q. With the recent publication of books such as "god [sic] Is Not Great," "The God Delusion," "Letter To A Christian Nation" and "The End Of Faith" by so-called "New Atheists" like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, atheism seems to have gone on the attack. Labeled "angry atheists" by believers, these authors and those who agree with them have been accused of not being able to get past their hate when dealing with religion. Believers also charge that many atheists regularly depict religious people as being evil, malicious and hypocritical, and that they use religion to either further their own agendas or enslave followers, among other charges.

Some atheists, on the other hand, believe that they're right to be angry and cite such things as the teaching of creationism in schools, the encroachment of religion into political life, the scandals involving high-profile Christian leaders and politicians, Islamic terrorism and the Catholic child-abuse scandal as valid reasons not only not to believe in God or Allah, but to be vehemently anti-religion as a whole.

Do you believe that atheism has become more "venomous," as one writer puts it? Are you worried that writers like Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins may "deconvert" religious people, or do you think the religious faith — whether on an individual or societal level — can survive such attacks? Do you know any atheists, and if so, could they really be described as "angry?" Do some of their points make sense?

 

Well, I guess if they're angry, then they're angry. It seems an exercise of limited value, when people disagree with you vehemently, to tell them that they're doing it wrong.

I am not worried that they will de-convert the faithful, or even the fence-sitters, in any large numbers. People are drifting quietly away from religion all on their own, without needing an angry leader to follow. Most people I know are not looking for more Big Controversies in their lives, and are exhausted by the mere thought of all that emotional drama.

But it is interesting to wonder where the anger is coming from — the usual laundry list of the Church's history of errors doesn't seem to explain the degree of emotion. Maybe it's just part of the general vitriol of public discourse in America. The tea party's angry, bloggers and commentators are angry, reality TV is angry; why can't the atheists be angry too?

But what a waste of anger, to simply shake your fist at the whole institution and condemn its very reason for being (believing in something that can't be seen), instead of calling for specific reforms. It's the interpersonal equivalent of screaming, "You suck!" instead of making a reasonable and reasoned request for someone to change a behavior or two.

There's plenty that can and should be changed in the Church. It's in an era of paradigmatic transition, reexamining itself at all levels of theology, practice and mission. Such a creative conversation is possible right now, between those inside and those outside the church.

But "You suck!" and "You suck too!" isn't the conversation we need to have.

The Rev. Amy Pringle

St. George's Episcopal Church

La Cañada Flintridge

 

Most of the atheists I know do not seem to be angry. In fact, the atheists I have met seem to be thoughtful people.

Can society survive the attacks of the so-called "angry" atheists? Of course! Also, many atheists have given more thought to their faith (atheism is a faith, by the way) than a lot of believers I know.

Atheists, I believe, actually provide a service for believers, because with their questions and doubts, they can actually help believers to think about their faith and then hammer out what they believe and don't believe. The ancient Greeks had a saying: "the unexamined life is not worth living." I would say the same is true of a person's faith: the unexamined faith is not worth having.

A couple of centuries ago Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, came up with the phrase, "God is dead."

A couple of decades ago I saw something funny that believers should appreciate (my apologies, atheists): "'God is dead' — Nietzsche."

That was followed by: "'Nietzsche is dead' — God."