By Derek Kusa, University of Michigan
Furious keystrokes dissolve into a lilting melody, the accompaniment to a building march. The fury rears up once more and the cycle repeats before Billy Joel castrates it by reminding his audience that “there’s a place in the world for the angry young man.”
As far as I, a self-identified angry young man, have been able to gather, that place is almost certainly the page, the pulpit, or that bedazzling harmony of the two: the Internet.
While I won’t digress too heartily on why exactly the Internet is a breeding ground for noxious, petty argumentation (anonymity? trolling?), I will at least say this: the beauty of a freely accessible sounding board such as this is that there will almost always be a receptive listener.
So, if you’re feeling receptive, listen…er, read…as I try to figure out why angry young men and women might be, as Mr. Joel sings, so proud of their scars and battles.
Why So Angry?
I first noticed my righteous rage boiling up when investigating those dinner-conversation no-nos, politics and religion. Now, I’m a politicking neophyte, and so I’ll leave that, for now, to the more edified. It seems, then, that we’re just going to have to settle for religion, though the two have regrettably strong ties. I know, I know, they say you shouldn’t discuss these things in mixed company, but they also say to wait a half-hour to swim after eating. Well, sometimes you just want to swim, cramps be damned.
Why Call it Rage?
As an avowed atheist having been raised by parents raised under separate umbrellas of Christianity—one the son of Catholics—the other the daughter of a Methodist reverend, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been brought up without religion. I’m thankful for that, at least, in the sense that I have a discerning eye. Instead of finding all but one religion a silly waste of time, I find them all to be so (albeit unequally). Well, let me take that back: at best, religion is a silly waste; at worst, it is a malignant force employed by manipulators for mobilizing the more easily led. That latter point is step one of the rage.
Step two comes from the social untouchability of religion: to lambast religion is often seen as exceedingly rude, and can break strong ties if one isn’t careful. To lambast atheism, however, is a favored pastime in some circles. We all know what I’m talking about here. It’s perfectly accepted by many to indignantly declare that there is no evidence for evolution, that “we didn’t come from chimps” (a fundamental misunderstanding if there ever were one), that because we don’t know the explanation behind some phenomena that “God, god, or gods did it,” that because an atheist doesn’t believe in a deity that they are certainly bereft of moral fiber.
Before I continue, I’ll make sure that you, dear reader, don’t take this to mean that all religious folks have these inane views: the fact that some do, however, is altogether unacceptable. Why should those who believe in an inscrutable immutable be above the criticism that falls so vehemently upon those who stake their worldview upon reproducible facts? The answer I’ve heard startlingly often is, “I was raised to believe what I believe, so there.”
Why Call it Righteous?
Let me begin by paraphrasing Richard Dawkins as saying that there is no such thing as a Christian, a Muslim, a Jewish, a Buddhist, an insert-religion-of-your-choice child. No baby is born that believes the world was created two lines before light even showed up, inarguably poor conditions for building something so sophisticated (how did He even read his designs?).
And yet, some find it not only acceptable but necessary to impart upon this new child some very counterintuitive traditions. To rob inquiry in such a way, to advise implicitly against questioning observations with a sweeping “God did it” or perhaps more accurately “it’s God’s fault,” is in my mind one of the greatest atrocities that one person can commit (let’s ignore for now the grand atrocities committed by God and his followers in that holiest of Christian holies, The Bible).
The second of many points I can make to this section is how often the accusation of arrogance is leveled against atheists. What could be more arrogant than claiming to have the explanation for all things proximate and ultimate? What could be more arrogant than being so steadfast in a belief system that some of the very tenets of that system are to “go forth and multiply,” and to “spread the gospel,” especially when we consider that the first means to bestow your religion of accident to naïve children and the second applies to those who either disagree or are unfamiliar with that particular set of theistic traditions? I struggle to find an answer.
Qualifications or: OK, But What Changes Now?
Very little changes now. These are angry young thoughts. They’ve been stewing in me only for the greater part of a decade. But they’re here, and that’s enough for me now.
I don’t intend for what has become a rant to change many minds. It generally breaks down that people agree with this diatribe, or they are its targets. But if any reader has newly considered these ideas, I hope that you at least weigh the pros and cons of what you’ve just read.
Also, if I pick on Christianity, it is because it is the religion with which I am most familiar. Rest assured, if I had the same depth in Judaism, Islam, Voodooism, or any other religion, I’d question it as thoroughly.
Finally, there are few answers to be found in the above. I understand that, and perhaps, if the audience is there, I can come back and propose some. For now, however, that where religion is concerned, I smell a great pile of fish produced from the ether. That, or Jesus—I never can tell.