The Thinking Atheist is one of my favorite podcasts to listen to. And Greta Christina is one of the most awesome people alive. So when I heard the most recent episode of The Thinking Atheist with her as a guest, I was thrilled. Naturally, conversation turned to her book Why Are You Atheists So Angry? and she talked about how anger is not only a necessary part of any rights movement but also a necessary part of any person's life and that most people experience anger out of compassion. The idea really struck a chord with me. And it's true! There have been times when I get so angry I want to spit, and it's usually because of somebody suffering needlessly. I would never have thought to call it anger from compassion, but it sums up that strange mixed feeling of wanting to "comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable," to borrow a bumper sticker phrase.
"Boys will be boys."
"We can't see everything that happens to every student in the school."
"I wish there was something I could do."
"Have you tried ignoring them?"
Hearing the same useless excuses I heard while being bullied makes me want to drive across the country, grab these adults and scream at them, "You are the adult! You are the one in charge here! DO NOT make yourself out as the victim just because you're in an uncomfortable position! If you can't handle conflict and deal with the bullies, then maybe we should find somebody else who can!" But, of course, that's not practical. There are far too many people in the world who deserve it. I can't personally confront every complacent, lazy administrator who allows suffering to happen unchecked. So I focus my attention on the ones who need it most. The kids who need a hug, a friend, and a safe space to be who they are without judgment. The reason I dedicate my education and future career to helping LGBTQ youth is because seeing somebody suffer at the hands of ignorant, hateful, homophobic, transphobic people makes me angry, but seeing people do nothing about it makes me even angrier. So I do what I can and hope I make a difference in somebody's life.
While my mind naturally links bullying to being queer because of my own experiences, today I thought about the experiences of Damon Fowler and other secular students like him. The appalling actions of his classmates, school administrators, and even his parents, all over his effort to uphold the constitutional right to freedom of religion everyone deserves at a public school graduation. I met Damon last year at the first North Texas Secular Convention. He has a good sense of humor and is fairly forgiving about the whole experience, considering. But seeing the evil that people do because of their Christian privilege while turning around and claiming morality can only come from their extremely problematic Bible fills me with rage. It's a rage that makes me want to expose what an awful tool for hatred and ignorance religion can be. But it's also a rage that makes me want to protect whoever might come after Damon.
It's so easy for people to trivialize anger. To claim that someone who is angry is being irrational, emotional, and can't make informed decisions. But I think anger at the current situation is the first step to changing it. Sylvia Rivera got angry and started a riot. Christopher Hitchens got angry and wrote God Isn't Great. Getting angry can change the world. I don't condone violence or bigotry, but there are countless productive ways to take the anger you feel from living in an unjust world and use it! I think Penn & Teller said it best in an episode of Bullshit on Anger Management.
And I might add that pseudoscience made Penn & Teller angry, so they made a show called Bullshit!