Believers Behaving Badly

By Wendy Thomas Russell | June 13, 2013 | 4 comments

6566308_70169157ef_zBillboards like this one amuse me so. I mean, really, what’s not to love? You have prejudice, hypocrisy, hyperbole, stupidity, nonsense and rage all rolled into one! A perfect blend of asshole. But, when looking at this particular message, I can’t help but wonder — what’s the deal? What is Rev. Briggs’ problem?

There may be any number of specific problems, of course (and I haven’t ruled out Irritable Bowel Syndrome), but generally I’ve found that when people spew anti-atheist sentiment, generally one of two things is happening:

Either they fear us, or they fear for us.

The latter is clearly the more benign of the two options. Those who fear for us are kindly believers who see their religion as the only road to happiness, now and eternally. Thinking of us walking alone (in, say, wet sand) makes them sad. Thinking of us in the fiery pits of hell makes them sadder. Many feel strongly that God or Allah or Yahweh is guarding the gates to heaven, and they don’t want to see good people turned away. Those who know us and love us personally may worry about the social implications of non-belief; they don’t want to see us stigmatized — or our families stigmatized. Those who fear for us are not trying to be mean. They pray for us. And, although that may be irritating to some, mostly that just means they want nice things to happen to us.

The second group, those who fear us, obviously don’t know us. (Dudes, we are so nice! You wouldn’t believe how nice we are!) They misunderstand our motives and our beliefs. Maybe they think we condemn their God (Rev. Briggs sure does), or that we embrace their Satan, or that we don’t think believers should believe. Maybe they think we are selfish and out to do bad, amoral things in the world. (Because, you know, doing good things for the sake of doing good things is just plain silly talk.) Also, they may be scared to contemplate a life without the promise of an afterlife, and don’t need us “going all negative” on them. In all likelihood, we are threatening because we stand in the way of their own peace of mind.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. (Thank Jesus it’s a blogger’s prerogative to leave you hanging.) I guess I just think that, as we move through life as doubters and disbelievers, maybe it helps a little to see what lays beneath all the raw emotion. The message we see on, say, a West Virginia billboard belies something much deeper. It doesn’t make the message okay. (Or any less hilarious.) But I do think picturing Rev. Briggs as the fearful man he is, rather than the hateful idiot he seems to be, makes me sympathize with him, at least a little. And I think that’s important. Because if we try to see the humanity in our challengers, maybe someday they’ll try to see the humanity in us.


  1. jon says:

    How many people recognize that you, despite your well-stated beliefs, realize the irony in you thanking Jesus for the prerogative to leave us ‘hanging’ in your post. I love your writing and style… thank you for your pragmatism and honesty.
    – A fellow (?) agnostic

  2. Derek says:

    I hypothesize that the aggressive ones are in the “fear us” camp and it has two two primary roots.

    For some it’s simple xenophobia. We think in ways that are so foreign to them that they just default to a fear and dislike response.

    For the majority though I think the issue is that we cause doubt and doubt triggers a fear reaction. There is a long and storied history of doubt in christendom. They try to turn it into an article of faith but in the end it’s the result of cognitive dissonance between faith and evidence. As happy, well adjusted, moral atheists we embody that dissonance. Our very existence undermines many of the core tenets on which people like Rev Briggs have built their entire life. His only choices are to fight us or see his entire worldview, life’s work, income source and purpose come crashing down.

    As we become more visible and more common this will increase until a new generation of christians emerges with a new theology that (at least in part) resolves this dissonance.

  3. Melissa says:

    “There may be any number of specific problems, of course (and I haven’t ruled out Irritable Bowel Syndrome)…”

    LMAO Love it!!

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