The other day, I stumbled across this blog post by Greta Christina which addressed her response to the generic question of why atheists seem to be so angry at religion. It's a good post and I encourage you to read it.
But I figured I'd post my own answer to that question (although far more generically than Greta). After all, I do call my blog the "Angry" Astronomer. So why am I angry?
Overall, I'm not. I'm actually pretty laid back. For the most part, I'm more angry and frustrated at my homework than religion. The difference is, my homework doesn't really affect anyone besides me (and possibly the graders and professors). And even so, homework isn't going to be around the rest of my life.
In contrast, the effects of religious thinking have enormous bounds that effect everyone and everything we come in contact to, has done so for thousands of years, and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the future.
So even though at present time I'm more concerned about that whole graduating thing, it's ultimately not as important as the effects religion has.
What most people asking the "why are atheists so angry" question don't quite realize, is that most atheists have very little against religion and mystical thought here and there in general. This is an obvious generalization as I also know a select few atheists who do have a vendetta against religion due to the serious emotional (and in a few cases physical) harm it has caused them, but overall, we just don't care what you think.
If you want to imagine a magical sky daddy created the universe 4.3 billion years ago, or 6,000 years ago, or even last Thursday, fine. No problem there! We'll laugh at your insistence on knowledge in the complete lack of any sort of supporting evidence, but whatever. You're entitled to your beliefs.
And even if you're a complete nutball that truly believes in Last Thursdayism, that doesn't mean that you're a complete nutball in every other aspect. As is frequently noted by religious people, many of the greatest minds in history were religious. And I have no problem with that.
But what this goes to show is that non-empirical thinking can be compartmentalized. In other words, you can believe in fairies, but that doesn't mean that everything is about fairies. As long as you can keep the non-rational stuff where it belongs, there's no problem.
The trouble comes when that compartment leaks, or worse, is intentionally opened like a Pandora's box. Suddenly, we have people going around insisting that "belief" in something makes it instantly credible and worthy of time, money, resources, and human lives.
Let's pretend for a second that religion doesn't unjustly consume an inordinate amount of all these and instead, look at some other things. Even if religion wasn't, the benign acceptance of the principle that religion endorses ("belief" = credible), spills over to other areas.
Historically, this has been disastrous. The belief that consuming mercury was good for your health certainly didn't help anyone. Especially Qin Shi Huangdi who took mercury pills and ended up going insane.
But magical thinking didn't stop hurting humanity thousands of years ago in China.
Today, that tradition is carried on with pseudoscientific garbage like What the #$*! Do We Know and The Secret. After endorsing that nonsense on her show, Oprah then had to go back and tell one woman not to throw her life away by trying to imagine her cancer away.
The belief that parts of the tiger's body can be used as an aphrodisiac (as well as for other mystic treatments) has, until recently, largely contributed to the near extinction of this species.
Magical thinking continues to kill today in Africa when people buy into the myth that their HIV can be cured by raping virgins. Not only does this lead to the transmission of deadly diseases which infects over 30% of the population of some African countries, but the emotional scarring that goes with these despicable acts.
It should go without saying that non-empirical based thinking isn't just silly; It's dangerous.
And not only is religion nothing but non-empirical, magical based thinking that has historically done great harm, it goes one step further. Religion codifies nonsense. It encourages people not to think, not to question. It says it's ok to cling to and do things based on irrational belief.
As such, it makes me exceptionally angry that an institution that promotes dangerous thinking is not just tolerated, but welcomed. Humanity is better than this. Yet the majority of Americans is perfectly content to buy into a perilous fantasy world. And as history as shown, they can do serious damage to the rest of us.
So again, while silly, unfounded beliefs here and there aren't particularly harmful, when that compartmentalization begins to break down and affect people in general in exceptionally harmful ways, then there's a problem. And it makes me even angrier that those people perpetuating the problem refuse to admit there's anything wrong!
But until the religious community starts taking a good look in the mirror and realize the damage they're helping along, I, and I'm sure other atheists, free-thinkers, humanists, rational-theists, and others, will continue to denounce the injustices.
And perhaps have some hot tea too...