This morning I read the article Left Behind: LGBT Homeless Youth Struggle to Survive on the Street and it inspired a surprisingly intense emotion for me. Yes, there was depression over the situation and sympathy/empathy for those individuals whose stories were told. That’s not too surprising.
But what did surprise me was an intense anger. A very sudden, very extreme flame up of anger. And specifically anger at religion. No, not just religion; anger at American christianity.
First off, some background:
I am an atheist. This is an intellectual position based on my researching of some major religions—protestant christianity in particular since that was the religious tradition I was raised in—and my general understanding of the nature of reality, logic, and basic reasoning. I have investigated the “evidence” presented for the existence of specific deities and for the existence of deities in general and found it severely wanting. The reasonable reaction to a claim unsupported by sufficient evidence is rejection of that claim. Ergo atheism.
I am also increasingly an anti-theist. Simply put: I oppose religions and see them as a net bad thing for humanity. While I recognize there are some good things that can come out of religion—art, community, beneficial traditions, encouraging service to others, giving comfort to individuals, etc.—I think the harm religions cause to individuals and society as a whole—religious wars, genocide, sanctioned slavery, torture, murder, rape, the mutilation of children’s bodies, the stunting of individual’s critical thinking and curiosity, the subjugation of women, the encouragement of fragmentation, the fostering of feelings of superiority over some and personal inferiority complexes in believers, etc.—far outweigh these potential benefits.
However, as much as I can point out reasons and physical evidence that support the position of anti-theism (intellectual positions), it would be dishonest to deny that my position owes a lot to emotions borne from my experiences. Personal experiences—which cannot help but be colored by personal perspectives and biases—and emotion-based reactions are never good things to base such far-reaching conclusions. Experiences and emotions can often drive behavior and override the intellect. It’s not good, but that is reality of the human condition. My reality is that a lot of my anti-theism is emotional and based on experiences I’ve had with American christianity.
Circling back to the link above, I have had a pair of second-hand experiences with the reality of LGBT youth being rejected by their families. Being rejected by their religious families on religious grounds. Being rejected by their christian families who cited the bible and its “christian love” for their rejection.
These friends were, on the one hand, first institutionalized and then later kicked out onto the street while still in high school, and on the other hand, not turned out onto the street, but forcefully shunned from the community he had known and loved his entire life.
These are admittedly not first hand experiences, and for that I am forever grateful to my family. I am grateful to my family who, when I explained at age 12 that I didn’t believe the bible or in its god and didn’t want to go to church anymore, they said OK and we did other things with our Sundays. I am grateful to my family who, when I “came out” at the end of high school as “not straight” and then later in undergrad as gay and then later again in grad school as asexual, were supportive and loving, even if they didn’t (and in places, still don’t) understand.
The experiences of my friends are not first hand experiences, but in the first situation I was there interacting with my friend when she was experiencing it, and—until she disappeared onto the street where I didn’t know where she was—I was there trying to help her cope with the experience. My other friend’s experience happened before I knew him and was related to me after the fact, but the wounds that being excommunicated from the community that helped raise him created were still there and still very apparent in his life.
The key component is that my friends were being hurt. That hurt was directly caused by their christian family members because of their christian ideals. Christianity was deeply hurting my friends. I don’t like things that hurt my friends.
That very primal (tribal?) reaction is, I think, one of the core embers that keeps the emotional fire against religion, and specifically American christianity, burning in me. The fact that literally hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of other people share the painful experience my friends suffered only fans that ember into flames again, rather than just smoldering in the back of my memory.
Being a die-hard Star Wars fan, my own words here remind me of the Jedi warnings against allowing emotions to get too strong. There’s also something parable-esque I vaguely recall about the uncontrolled fire consumes everything. Add to this the aforementioned element of it being less than ideal to have emotions fueling personal positions.
In my reading of this article, and the subsequent flare up of my emotional fire against religion— and specifically American christianity—I think I have recognized the ember for what it is. Now, having discovered the spark, the question is what do I do about it, assuming I can do anything?
It seems an appropriate goal would be to put out the proverbial emotional fire in my antitheism to leave nothing but the solid, fact-based intellectual reasons for my position. I have no expectation that my position of antitheism will change given the aforementioned reasons, but I should endeavor to remove or at least diminish the emotional element from it.
But should I? And even if I should, how does one douse the ember that is experience-borne emotion?