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What is our Anger About?

By Yak ~

I want to talk about anger. Just a short spin through these forums reveals a constant undercurrent of strong anger. I don't believe that our anger is misplaced, and I think it is definitely justified. Real or threatened loss, including betrayal and deception is a strong basis for anger. But, being both a mildly introspective non-theist and counseling professional, I have to ask questions about our anger.  

My questions are: (don't spit blood; read it through) Are we angry because we wish it (god) really exists? Are we really angry because we were told that there was a real "father" who actually "cared" for us, the way we had hoped as children? Perhaps like a dad who would back us up and soothe our hurts, listen and dispense wisdom when we were confronted by the vagaries and ugliness of life? But then, we inevitably discovered or finally admitted to ourselves that what we were told isn't true. In other words, we were deceived, got let down or betrayed. Of course, everyone eventually discovers that this divine conception isn't true, some taking longer than others to reach the point of discovery, but the discovery is made despite denials. Always.

There's a whole host of other ridiculous religious doctrines and convoluted teachings. Enough in fact to spark all the arguments we engage in on this site. Let's set those aside for this one and focus on the ones that are at the core of our disappointment: we were told someone/something cared for us but found that to be a lie.

I've been one of the most outspoken of us.  My own anger --even rage-- seemed unbounded, and I can say that my rancor has been powered to a large degree not by the philosophical arguments of divine non-existence, but by the profound disappointment of being let down. Yes, I do agree that the idea of the existence of such a being is deeply troubling, but I think the focus of our anger is more about "why don't you exist" and "why do the stories persist that build up a deep hope that is ultimately dashed" rather than about our philosophical notions. In short, when we got let down, we got hurt. Many of us experienced far more dire consequences of religion, and we recognize the validity of those horrible experiences. However, I'm looking into what appears to be a more universal common denominator that arises from the text in the thousands of posts that so many have shared on this site.

Being honest about the matter, my anger is constantly re-vivified each time I read about, hear or see some human who has been deluded, damaged or killed by their own beliefs in some kind of divinity, or through the beliefs of someone else. (I see such damaged individuals daily in my practice)

We have a deep, animal need to feel protected, heard, helped and comforted. This is normal and is especially and immediately relevant to us due to the presence of uncertainty and threat in our environment. From the time we are born, we're hardwired to look to someone to fill that deep need. We humans devised god(s) to fill that need and proceeded to build many stories to support it. Not surprisingly, when people began discovering that it didn't exist to help the way we had hoped and, as a way of trying to explain why terrible things happened around us and to us, we had to distort the story and make the "father" we hoped for into the mixed bag caring-but-uncaring, benevolent-but-malevolent, unconditional-but-conditionally loving "father" that is clearly taught by several world religions. While ultimately clumsy in its execution, it's an understandable attempt at making sense of the stark and the often brutal divergence between the story we constructed and our experience of reality.

So, we're back where we started.  But, due to distortions in the narrative, and the pain of our own unmet childhood need, we may wish it did exist but are faced with the universal experience that we, in fact, are on our own. Hence, our sense of loss at being let down.

Are we angry because we wish it (god) really exists? It makes me both sad and happy because this painful experience of realization, once accepted (and that is by no means a simple or quick task --can I get an amen?), actually means that you and I are growing into the humans that we actually are meant to be --frail but strong, feeling lonely but never alone because we have each other, and able to a greater or lesser degree to handle life's vagaries. When we begin to accept the universe around us as a world of wonder, replete with the entire spectrum of experiences, from good to bad, including happiness and suffering, life and death --we finally let go of the apron strings and learn to stand on our own. It's only then that we can truly see and engage with others around us and "get" that this is the way life is meant to be lived. We stop focusing on our dream of how it could be and can begin living in the reality of our situation.

Those who cling to their childhood, need it the strongest and refuse to relinquish it are, understandably, the loudest deniers and sometimes the most dangerous and damaging to themselves and others. It's a case of "the childish will run riot." Their "tests of faith" and odd notions of "divine judgment" and supporting doctrines are remarkably consistent with the thinking of children between the ages of 5 and maybe 9, a time of life when concrete, all-or-nothing thinking is normal. After that age of course, humans are geared to begin confronting the world with its unpleasantness and not knowing, not having a quick answer to every problem, and the reality of uncertainty, which is a hallmark of life. All-or-nothing thinking is no longer age-appropriate by then, but those who are the most afraid and needy will cling to it giving rise to the oft quoted maxim when referring to those who are still trapped by religion, 'never underestimate the power of denial.' For those of us who hung on to the untrue story the hardest and longest, our anger is the strongest because the loss seems the greatest. And that makes sense. However, we needn't hide behind our anger with lavish arguments; we need only accept and express our anger at our loss so we can finally let go of what are now unrealistic childish needs and begin living as whole, integrated adult humans. Our philosophical arguments can then turn into mind candy to be bantered about vigorously, but without the added internal sting of needing to assuage the deep betrayal that we feel because we realized that were told to accept a painful untruth. Arguing ideas is so much more fun and instructive when they're unclouded by pain.

I think the process of growing through the worst of our childhood need for someone bigger to  run to when we feel alone, hurt or uncertain is part of maturation. We're also learning to look within ourselves for answers and looking across to other humans for the understanding and the comfort we seek instead of looking "up" to someone who isn't there. We finally stop looking at the disconnected, static-distorted image of a divinity that fades in and out like on an old TV set and look around us and see life, ourselves and others clearly. We discover that we can talk with others and work through most of our problems or dilemmas. We discover that we provide the only protection we have. We move on. So. Yes. We get angry when we experience a real or threatened loss --and the realization that we do not now nor have we ever had a big daddy to turn to, despite being assured "he" was there, qualifies as a real loss, a legitimate reason for our anger.

But, and this is the lucky bit for us, this is a part of growing up and becoming a complete human. I'm glad to be human, only human, and that you are here with me, sharing this patently human adventure. I remember this happy fact when the noisy theists rehash their worn out arguments, trying to inflict guilt while exposing their own unmet needs and pain that they haven't found the courage to face and outgrow. They're afraid but still dangerous to those around them. They deserve our compassion, as we would have compassion for a frightened child who won't let go of the door going into the dentist's office.

I say in answer to the questions I started with: yes, we're angry because we were deceived. It is loss and justifiably so. So, let's be angry, take the time to work through it and get on with being grown up and free and let's do it together.

Your thoughts?