Sunday, March 13, 2011

Response to "Why Are Atheists So Angry?"

On March 10th, Rabbi David Wolpe, a well known Jewish apologist who has appeared in debates with Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins among others, published an article on the Huffington Post website entitled Why Are Atheists So Angry?  This was the second such atheist-bashing article to appear on the Huffington Post website in as many months.  I emailed the Rabbi in response to his article (which can be found here:  Here is that email
Dear Rabbi Wolpe,

I am writing in regards to your recent article on the Huffington Post website entitled Why Are Atheists So Angry?  I myself am an atheist and I frequent the Huffington Post website, but I am attracted mainly by your writings.  I am actually an avid follower of yours; despite not sharing your views on the existence of a god and the value of organized religion.  I have read your book, Why Faith Matters and watched many of your debates and other videos on YouTube. I find your style of communication to be both effective and engaging.  

I was, however, rather distressed and disappointed in your most recent article.  While there are, to be sure, many atheists who are frustrated with religion and its promoters, I hardly think it is fair to paint with such a broad brush and castigate all atheists as 'angry' based only upon comment sections on a website.  It seems like such a sweeping generalization should have come with a caveat that most, or at least not all, people whom you have interacted with who lack religious faith are not angry people. 

In fact, I would go further, and say that perhaps nonreligious people like myself are, on balance, less angry than some who do have faith.  Did you consider as you were writing the article the images of protests in the Islamic world from a few years ago after cartoons of the prophet Muhammad were published in a Danish newspaper?  Call atheists angry all you want, but I sincerely doubt any of us have ever held up a sign that says, "SLAY THOSE WHO INSULT CHARLES DARWIN". 

In the article, you mention your previous post about talking to children about god.  While it is true that some of the comments left on that article were over-the-top, perhaps some of the criticisms were valid.  After all, wouldn't a better way for parents to approach the subject of religion simply to be to tell their children, when asked, that different people believe in different gods and others don't believe in any, and that when they are old enough, they can make up their own minds?  It seems to me this would be better than teaching ones children that there is a god or teaching them that there is not.  Parents have the responsibility to teach children how to think, not what to think. 

You have done great work communicating your position on religion through various mediums to secular audiences.  I wonder, is insulting and generalizing about that same audience the best way to continue that work, or were you simply letting off steam? 

There are lots of crazy, angry people on the internet.  There are angry Democrats, angry Republicans, angry Christians, angry Jews and angry Muslims.  But we do not elevate our discourse on any subject by taking the worst of a single group and painting the whole demographic with that brush.

Thank you and I look forward to your response,

Ben Doublett

EDIT:  Within a few hours, I received the following response from Rabbi Wolpe

Dear Ben,

Thanks for your response and your kind words.  I intended to convey my surprise not at atheists the world over, but at those who responded on HuffPo and other religion sites.  If you look at my comment on the article which I posted yesterday, I noted that the responses to this article were thoughtful and measured.  In case you can't access it, this is what I wrote:

"This has been an interestin­g experience for me. The comments I read (I grant I have not read them all) have been much more thoughtful­, much less abusive, than the posts I mention above, for which I thank the posters. Three brief points:
1. As one who was for many years an atheist, a devotee of Bertrand Russell, and who has publicly debated with mutual respect (I hope) with Christophe­r Hitchens, Stephen Jay Gould, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker and others, I am neither angry at the idea of atheism or disrespect­ful of it.
2. What I question was why the atheists who posted felt it necessary to seek out religion articles, (they are easily avoided by HuffPo users) for not argument, but abuse. Those who doubt this should check the posts on the previous articles mentioned. There were considered and wise comments as well, but a very high percentage of hot anger.
3. Judaism, and the Hebrew bible, are far less condemnato­ry of atheism than of idolatry. And pride of place is given to the exhortatio­n to lead a good life, even above belief. I still maintain that it is dogmatic to discount the supernatur­al, just as it is for believers never to entertain the possibilit­y that there is no God. But kindness and goodness come first: To all who share that, believers and atheists and everyone in between, I offer my respect and appreciati­on."

  I strongly disagree about teaching children about all religions and having them make up their minds, which I think unrealistic and impractical, but that is a discussion for another time.  Curiously, I didn't think my article was either insulting or antagonistic, but I suppose this is very much a question which side of the street one inhabits.
  In any case, you are certainly right; there are too many angry religionists, and some of them are within a whisper of advanced weaponry, which scares me as much as it does you, and should everyone.

 Once again, I appreciate your comments --

Best Regards,



  1. I see he misrepresented your statement about telling children there are many religions to teaching children about all religions.

    Unrealistic and impractical? The way he words it, yes. The way you worded it, no.

    My parents had the attitude that all of their children could learn about religion on our own and make up our own minds about it. It is very practical. And atheism is not a given under those circumstances because I am the only atheist of six of us. One is actually a minister.

  2. It's a perfectly sensible premise. It is your objection that is unintelligible and reflective of your false presuppositions. You are trying to maintain a belief in an entity that possesses (at least) two self-contradictory traits. I can't really address your objection any further, because it is, as I said, unintelligible.