How to Get Past the Anger

Photo by tommy_pariah (flickr)

On reddit, droosa asks:

I got to thinking about anger towards religion and religious people. I’ve had periods of vindictive, spiteful anger and other periods of peaceful disagreement. The angry times tend to drain all areas of my life and unfortunately it seems to be cyclical.

So, redditors: How do you transition from anger to something less taxing?

I’m not feeling very practical about this issue. I’ll leave that up to the guys who say, “I await death. Til then, masturbation and video games.” Who can argue with a wank and a Wii?

Anger and cynicism are big issues for me. I’ve spent a long time feeling buried by my resentment and bitterness towards believers, religious leaders, and all of that bullshit. I know I’ve written a thousand tweets and dozens of blog posts about how silly and frustrating I find religion–specifically Christianity. At my worst, I couldn’t even talk to some believers because I assumed the worst and sneered at the idea of what they’d say about prayer or God’s will or some other vacuous superstition.

These days, when someone wants to pray at a function I don’t fume inside; if a friend invites me to church or talks about what she learned in her small group, I don’t roll my eyes and sneer. I don’t feel like I’m fighting for my reason for existing against some malicious population who hates me.

So why do I feel so much more comfortable today?

For me, relationships have been the key. The more I grow close and friendly with people of other ideas, the better I tend to act and feel towards others who hold those ideas–even if they are delusions or born from ignorance.

For instance, I was terribly angry right after leaving faith because I was also angry at myself for being so…duped and taken in. I pushed my anger at this gullability onto those who indoctrinated me. This resentment bounced off onto everyone who indoctrinates others and teaches religious lies… and the cycle continues outward. After a while, I was just plain bitter!

But as I’ve been growing closer to some dear friends who are devout and passionate believers and have connected with them on a fun, peaceful, understanding level, the differences we have sort of melt away. I’m left realizing that my anger is my own struggle. I can have peace and happy relationships with these folks; religion and discord don’t have to be apart of it.

I’m also convincing myself here, you understand. I need to keep taking my own advice.

My point comes down to this: Love people as individuals. See them as more than just “those believers” or “those superstitious weaklings.” Who are they? Why do they have worth and dignity? It’s hard to be angry at people when you understand why they are who they are. Motivations matter, and they come from somewhere. Is it a need for love? A thirst for activity an community? Conformity and social expectation? Depression and fear?

Have understanding, and you won’t need to have so much anger.

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23 Comments


  1. I have a real problem not automatically thinking that religious people are by definition stupid, it is something I have had to work on recently especially since my wife to be is religious. Atheism as far as I can see from my experience leads down this path and it is a dangerous one if we are not careful, we need to remember that people who believe in god are not stupid, misguided, maybe. Wrong, certainly ;) but not stupid. Getting angry about them being wrong helps nobody and can kill off some great friendships before they begin.

    • I hope you (and I!) are able to get past those kneejerk reactions. I know others have them about atheists, too. It’s so hard not to get on our high horses about how much “better” one side might be than the other. And who can possibly respect someone fully after thinking of them as worthy of such condescention? This is something I definitely need to keep working on.

    • The question is, will she marry you because she loves you, or because she’s trying to save you? The first reason is legitimate; the second is not. Speaking from experience, alas.

  2. I agree with you all the way up until I think about all the people who still suffer from oppression or outright persecution by religion; women, gays, trans, other religions… Perhaps it is not the person in front of me who is actively oppressing someone but by their identification with the oppressor they are putting their weight in it’s corner and so are complicit in the crime.

    ‘Religion’ as an abstract concept is not what causes social isolation and oppression; the people that buy into the story, that says to be exactly like them is the only moral way to be, are doing it.

    Their mindless conformity hurts people. Individuals need to be held responsible for harm caused by their own intellectual laziness. For the sake of every woman taught to think of herself as property; every gay person isolated and ostracized and told that they are evil; every book that’s been banned, every person forced into or to stay in abusive relationships; every person who has suffered through their lives unable to express themselves; religous people should be held accountable individually for the non-sense to which they lend their support.

    • Very good points! I recommend people read this again because it hits on the other side of this issue: What is productive anger and how can we adress actual problems and injustices best?

      I of course didn’t get into this side of “righteous anger” and speaking out against wrongs. It’s worth an entire separate post, so I’m glad you brought it up.

      It’s really the cynicism and bitterness that keeps us from relationships that I want to resist. I don’t think being a loving, peaceful person keeps anyone from speaking up for what’s right. At least… it shouldn’t.

      • actually, being a loving, peaceful person does keep people from speaking up for what’s right. i would like to agree with you (believe me, i really, really would b/c anger IS draining), but that isn’t really possible. oddly, for precisely the same reasons you cite. i am a peaceful and loving person–but religion, and the lack of thought that leads the religious to vilify (even obliquely) the people i love the most, and the othering that religions practice, and the stranglehold that religion has on the people i love who are religious, all demand the same type of anger westboro baptist has against gays–though i would say those people are not justified, and we are (yes, i know they make the same argument, but so what? some people claim the holocaust never happened).

        i would prefer everything be nice and amicable, but that is just a form of appeasement. justice, especially social justice, places a burden upon us to not allow religious bigotry of any sort-so one must fight, or one is complicit–and i (for one) won’t be complicit or complacent.

  3. Fantastic post and the responses too. What you wrote and okfine responded are the basic definitions of my thoughts and cyclical frustration/anger cycles when it comes to the faith. My friends show me it’s possible to co-exist happily with believers but then when it comes to basic human rights and respect for different life styles and choices and orientation and their eyes glaze over from single minded religious indoctrination spewing from their mouths… the rage. It returns. Now I just take it as at comes and separate out the reacts as is appropriate. Anger at the bullshit, relaxed and accepting of individuals. When a conflict in the two arise, deal with it as it comes with the view that education, discourse and debate does more than me screaming about ignorance and the like lol.

    <3
    .-= Her Idealisticness's last blog ..What he said ^_^ =-.

  4. I often fall into the trap of writing off all believers as stupid. I can generally get away with this because most of my friends are all atheists or agnostic, or never talk about religion (Yay Canada!). As a result, there is no cognitive dissonance for me, namely loving somebody who I define as stupid. But I still realize the problem with labelling people. I try to instead just label them as delusional. It may or may not be an improvement, but sometimes I am jealous of their ability to delude themselves. I would have far more peace about my current lack of employment if I thought some “God” had a plan for me and that I would get the right job at the right time for a good reason. Even writing that, I wish I could believe it. But I know that moving from the enlightenment of atheism back to the delusion of religion would be impossible for me. I suppose I am lucky because I have been an atheist my whole life, I just didn’t have a name for it until I was older.

  5. Like you I have been on both sides of the fence. When I was in the church I went to Bible college and met a lot of very clever people who believed fully in the whole salvation deal but had deactivated their faculty for critical thinking. Also it seems we are hard-wired to believe in something supernatural and to belong to a group. This seems to be especially strong in young adults; the age when I had my born-again experience.

    At first I was angry at the wasted time and for the hurt I had done to innocent people but later became grateful for some of the things I learned in my sojourn in the land of woo. I learned to love philosophy, theology and the left wing amongst other things.

    I no longer have any anger or contempt for the average believer because I was one and most pastors are genuine if misled but there is an obdurate cadre of politically motivated Church leaders who persecute and fleece the weak and needy and deserve only to be despised . For them I wish there really was a hell.

    I now enjoy talking to believers (mostly online Germany is pretty secular ) even sometimes teasing them with things like Acts 4:32 – the early church was a communist plot.

  6. Great post! I’ve struggled so much with this! Not only have I found myself judgmental and angry toward the very people I was once aligned with, but I still occasionally find myself angry with God even though it was all smoke and mirrors and there’s no one up there hearing me rant!

    I love my Christian friends for the people they are. But it’s a tough balancing act to feel free from the very chains they continue to willingly wear.
    .-= WayPastDueToo’s last blog ..I Just Go By The Bible =-.

    • I’ve struggled so much with this myself as well. It’s been a true challenge for me.
      True believers are the cannon fodder for dangerous ideologies, so in a very real sense they themselves are potentially dangerous. However, I cannot bring myself to interact with the majority of them in an angry or condescending way. To me, they are the enemy, but in the same sense that an enemy combatant is an an enemy. I still acknowledge their humanity and that they are, in all probability, good and loving people.
      I remember once conversing with a former member of Amal (Lebanese militia, means “Hope” in Arabic) while at a gun and knife show back stateside. Years before, we were fighting each other, now we can talk about what we have in common. Not only have I been on both sides of the aisle in regards to belief and non-belief, I was raised both Muslim and Christian simultaneously. It gave me a tactical edge in understanding what we are up against, but now it also gives me insight into other mens’ hearts.
      Anger is best reserved for those who deserve it. Most believers don’t deserve our anger.
      .-= The Godless Monster’s last blog ..*VIDEO*Feeding the Trolls 2 from The Thinking Atheist =-.

  7. “I’m left realizing that my anger is my own struggle.”
    I agree absolutely.It comes down to being proactive in your interactions with the world as opposed to being reactive.
    Long ago I took responsibility for my own emotions and learned to embrace my anger as part of what I am.
    Anger can be a good thing if you know how to control it and use it effectively. It can be your worst enemy if allowed free reign.
    .-= The Godless Monster’s last blog ..*VIDEO*Feeding the Trolls 2 from The Thinking Atheist =-.

  8. Interesting post. I don’t think I’ve tried to get rid of the anger. Oh, not toward individuals who are close to me by blood, marriage, or friendship. I turn a blind eye to their religiousness. But my anger toward religion as an institution and a set of mental blinders has remained.

    And why not? Given the harm religion continues to do at every level, from individual up to international, anger is the only reasonable attitude.

  9. It’s important to remember that religion/philosophy/worldview (whatever you want to call it) isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. And everyone’s journey is different because everyone starts in different place.

    As is evident from the previous comments, there are plenty of atheists out there who once adhered to those faiths that get you so frustrated now. It took time and contemplation and introspection to get where you are now, and hopefully that contemplation and introspection hasn’t stopped, and never will.

    If you find yourself getting mad at somebody because of their religious beliefs, just remember that they’re simply in a different part of their journey — and with a different map — than you are. You both hope to arrive at the same place, Truth, you just disagree on how to get there. It’s hard to get mad at somebody just because they have a bad map.

    And thus ends today’s extended metaphor.
    .-= 4theist’s last blog ..4theist: When the last scene of his life flashed by, he looked back at the footprints in the sand and said "What the hell am I doing on the beach?!" =-.

  10. I’m with Godless on this one, having had to learn to embrace my anger as part of me. I was not brought up in a religious home, but I can attest to the general cultural pressure being intense. My anger comes in situations involving proselytizing; I feel I need them to get their obsessions out of my face. If someone insists on assaulting me with their delusions, I react rather bluntly, because I no longer wish even to discuss their crap as if it is a new idea (after 2000+ years of people thinking about it).

    I get along with the people I get along with, and have quite a few close friends who are into some kind of woo.

  11. 4theist: There is no path to reality.

  12. I have found that the idiom “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” is generally true.

  13. Anger often results from being hurt. Acknowledging the hurt is a path to working through the anger.
    .-= Andrew Hall’s last blog ..Where Is Mohammed? – Part 2 =-.

  14. Anger is a good thing-it makes you think-but you can not let it override your rationality.If you don;t have anger the rest of the food chain will eat you up…There seems to be a word that is missing on all these blogs that simply explains these believers and no-one uses it..Its called “brainwashing””If you tell someone that red corvette is blue enough times by enough people and do it from the time of their first wobblie steps thats what they believe..A long time ago some witchdoctor finally figured out he couldn’t have a god everyone could see or hear he needed one that only he could see or hear and if you gave him food or trinkets he would talk to god for you…Fast forward to the future and now they call themselves priests -pastors-etc and if you give them money,cars,houses.he will talk to them for you.You should stay angry and fight them..A liar is worse than a crook or murderur because a good one can get someone to do both.Problem is if you don’t get angry at your “christian”friends for lying you just might be getting sucked into their evil againLOOK OUT.

  15. @Tango I disagree. Anger is not constructive and is a negative emotion. It just robs you of joy, and energy. It doesn’t help to be angry.

    What helps is to look at the other person’s perspective. You may view his/her religion as irrational, but you’re not him/her. He has the right to decide what gives him meaning to his life – it’s his life, and it’s his responsibility. In the end, we never knew what experiences he had in life, and what his mindset is. For all you know, he could’ve suffered great disappointments in his life, and needs religion to give him hope. Nihilism, atheism, and anything else wouldn’t cut it for him. All we can feel is compassion, not anger. Anger comes from not understanding the other person. If you understand someone, you can’t help but LOVE them.. not be angry at them.

  16. I have, thus far, managed to leave religion behind without having anger towards those who are still convinced that it is real. I also am able to realize that they are not just stupid, uneducated people. I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t stupid or uneducated for the last 15+ years (before that I was, but I was a child) that I spent in Christianity with my doubts and questions (I would imagine most people during that time thought I was “super Christian” and very strong in my beliefs. Many still think that, though if they really examined things they would know it not to be true.)

    I do get quite annoyed, and I often feel sorry for those who do truly believe the things religion teaches.

  17. According to my personal experiences, most of us do get over this anger with time. We gradually realize that maybe those whom we’d been angry with are somewhat justified in sticking to their beliefs. For instance, I can’t bereave my mother of her beliefs by explaining things to her in her olden age when religion is perhaps her greatest support. I just can’t. I can’t see her hopes, the meaning she had found in her life for so many years, be laid bare to her as a lie. We also need to understand that happiness, joy, humans in themselves are more important than purporting or even practising an ideology.
    And yes, relationships help in this regard.

Trackbacks

  1. I like being angry, thanks | The Good Atheist
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