From Anger to Activism

“You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with the wave of a magic wand! They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away, I need my pain!”
Captain Kirk, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

In memory of Ricky Ransome, who never got to testify;
and with thanks to my friend Peter
who asked me for the more generic details of this story.

Image by KCB1805 from Pixabay

One common criticism of atheists by religious folk is that “You’re just angry at God” – opening up a litany of distractions, deferrals, and false equivalences. It seems that some religious people simply seek to recontextualise the discussion so that the presumed reality of their God remains central to the conversation, or maybe they want to imply that atheists are somehow being dishonest about their motives for declaring their non-belief. Generally speaking, however, the ‘being angry at God’ argument is silly, because people who don’t believe in a God cannot be angry at him.

And yet I was angry at God once – a few decades ago. That was how I became a born-again atheist – and how this life experience rebooted my passion for activism onto a higher level. And as I will explain towards the end of this story, maybe I am still angry at God – but not in the way people might think.

I had grown up in a church family, and my parents had been relatively progressive, humanitarian, and encouraging of reading and critical thinking. After leaving home for my first job, I ended up living out of town, and despite the concerns of my parents, this led to my becoming involved with what I would nowadays call a cult – a group created by a self-proclaimed prophet who declared that he had been anointed by God with a special mission for his followers to uphold. There, amidst the many excesses and abuses I witnessed and experienced, I was forced to undergo gay conversion therapy that naturally failed to ‘cure’ me.

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

I remember being called into a meeting with one of the group’s leaders, who demanded to know if God had cured me of my homosexuality, and the smirk on his face suggested that he expected a positive answer. I recall how quickly his confident smirk turned to a face of ashen anger when I told him that, after much earnest praying and begging for change, I had been forced to conclude that I was still gay because that was the way God had made me. The group subsequently denounced me (and a gay friend, who ironically, I had met in the same group, and who later became my first boyfriend), placing us on the same overnight bus to leave that country town forever. We arrived in Melbourne on 13th September 1987, and began a new life. It seems that while being ghosted, we lost the Holy Ghost. But freed from religiosity, we finally found reality.

The immediate after-effect was one of anger, bitterness, and a sense of betrayal – primarily by my friends and trusted leaders, but ultimately at the God who had allowed this to happen. I was advised by some people to forgive those involved, so I could move on – but I quickly decided that I would never forgive – because to do so would somehow give moral assent to the leaders of that group inflicting similar damage upon others. But we all understand the difference between climb-the-clocktower-with-a-rifle-and-take-out-the-town anger and what might be termed righteous anger – using your sense of moral outrage to motivate you to act in ethical and peaceful ways to confront injustice (the sort of anger that often inspired me to write letters for Amnesty International, and to join a Holocaust survivor friend in undertaking varied campaigns for human rights).

Ultimately, I learnt to walk away from the religious gaslighting and manipulation, and started to be true to myself, free from worrying about a hellish afterlife or needing to live up to the demands of religious others. Even a Christian friend observed after my deconversion that I was happier than I had been in years. Ironically, anger helped me to discover happiness.

Photo by Liza Summer, https://www.pexels.com/photo/emotional-black-woman-yelling-and-touching-head-6382714/

In Praise of Anger

We all associate anger with a loss of impulse control, lashing out physically or verbally (possibly even violently), and the saying or doing of things that we could regret later. Such behaviours can never be endorsed or excused. But the Australian Psychology Association asserts that anger can also be expressed in healthy and positive ways:

“Although anger is often seen as a harmful emotion, it can be a healthy emotional response when expressed assertively and respectfully. Sometimes anger can be helpful; it can motivate a person to take positive action to change a situation for the better or to achieve his or her goals.”

History is full of heroes whose anger has inspired positive change in the world. Rosa Parks stated that her bus boycott was motivated by anger:

“She said her anger over the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till and the failure to bring his killers to justice inspired her to make her historic stand.”

Martin Luther King’s teenage anger at having to give up his seat on a bus helped to inspire his later human rights work:

“Martin Luther King, Jr. realized that non-violent resistance offered a way to channel anger into positive forms of protest.”

Even militant activist Emmaline Pankhurst used a variety of politics and ‘suffragette outrages‘ to promote equality for women.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Playwright and author Larry Kramer, whose definitive HIV/AIDS activism helped to change the world and save possibly millions of lives, is well known not only for his activism but for the rage that fuelled it – which serves as a role model for others still today, because choosing to angrily ACT-UP can change the world.

Nelson Mandela recounted how a child crying over the death of a sparrow mellowed his anger at apartheid and helped prepare him for a lifetime of non-lethal civil rights protest and political leadership.

In Australia, we see activists like Eddie Mabo and Kon Karapanagiotidis who turned their lives containing anger and struggle into beacons of hope for others.

Clinical psychologist Bertram Rothschild notes that it is our human (humanist) responsibility to ourselves and to the world around us to: “… accept responsibility for our emotions and behaviors and not accuse others – – whether human or supernatural – – for our reactions”. A more grounded summary of this idea was given to me by my heart surgeon, who commented to me before heart valve transplant surgery (a topic that somehow seems curiously metaphoric for a discussion about anger in my life) that we cannot change the hand that life has dealt us, but we can change how we respond to it. This wisdom challenges us all in at least 16 ways to use anger as a motivation for self-improvement and optimism when confronting injustice in what some would posit is an increasingly angry world. We can turn from being bitter into being better.

An extension of this approach is to also direct compassion towards others, particularly those who might be victims of the perceived danger that angers us in the first place. I know many people who express anger in healthy and socially constructive ways: they visit refugees or others in detention, they participate in street protests or form delegations to meet politicians and try to address injustice, they write submissions to government inquiries, they run fetes selling second-hand books and donate the proceeds to charity, they give out food or offer spare bedrooms to homeless people.

I invite everyone to consider a social issue that makes them angry and find a way to channel that anger constructively towards positive change.

The Personal is Political

On a personal level, my own rage regarding my 1987 injustice motivated me to read more widely in search of answers, and I began to see the world through a non-religious lens. My rage eventually gave way to enlightenment, and I woke up one day realising that I no longer felt emotionally turbulent because I no longer believed in God – hence no need to feel angry at a character I now consider to be as fictitious as Spock or Spiderman – and who is perhaps nothing more than a theoretical idea which explores human nature: balancing our ideals and principles against our frailties and faults.

Politically however, I still see the ongoing detrimental effects of religion upon the lives of LGBT+ people and others, from Uganda to the USA. This week, the world also pauses to reflect upon the anniversary of an act of religious terrorism that killed thousands of people and ultimately changed our world. It is here that this theoretical construct called God is effectively a Rorschach Test for saints and sinners alike, being used daily to not only motivate great acts of compassion, but also to justify all kinds of evil, bigotry and intolerance. So while I am happy to let the average religious person live and let live – they are, after all, well intentioned people simply trying to get through life like the rest of us – I remain committed to challenging injustice wherever I find it – including those who demand the ‘religious freedom’ to hurt others.

More recently, I have been involved in research about certain forms of religious abuse against LGBT+ people, often leading me to recall my 1987 experiences, which had impacted both my life and that of my first boyfriend. I remember Ricky Ransome, now long deceased, who was also left angry by those experiences, but whose righteous rage had helped to encourage me in my activism. He had indirectly contributed to my somewhat small but deeply personal involvement in helping to change the law, and I think this would have made him quite proud. From a non-religious perspective, contributing to a community groundswell to help ban a form of torture or to prevent religious-based discrimination is perhaps the best type of immortality that he (and I) might ever want.

As for anger? I have spent some decades living in contentment, but with a continuing passion to address injustice – especially any that might be rationalised by religion, race or rhetoric. We can all move from anger to atonement.

The author thanks Phil Ransome for his consent to use Ricky’s name and photo.

©2023 Geoff Allshorn

The Tragedy of Religion

By guest blogger Miriam English for International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief (22 August).

The great tragedy of religion is that those who are trapped within its falsehood honestly believe it is a great and beautiful truth, that it can heal the world and enlighten people, and that it is the purest source of morality. These people are not stupid, nor are they intentionally wicked. Many are fine, upstanding people who genuinely want the best for those around them. Some have extraordinary minds, and have used them for the betterment of mankind.

Sadly, if they could step outside the deception woven into their minds, they would see the cruel contradictions of religion.

Opposition to abortion comes mainly from religion, yet the religious people are by far the greatest propagaters of it. Divorce is denounced by religion, but it is primarily the religious who avail themselves of it. Religious people believe their god promotes love, but they use their god to hate others, and are far more intolerant than non-believers. They insist that they value life, but murder statistics show they kill more people than the non-religious do. Disease, especially sexually transmitted disease is more common among religious people. Life spans are shorter. They are less educated, especially the women. Poverty is worse. Infant mortality is higher. In virtually every way you can measure, being religious is worse. If there really was a god then these things would preferentially afflict the godless, rather than the true believers.

The contradictions in religion are breathtaking in their number and their invisibility to the religious mind. God is loving but is willing to torture forever those who are not convinced by bad evidence. Most of the bible is forgery and contains hundreds of mistakes and contradictions, yet is somehow the unerring word of god. The great and good morality of religion somehow never noticed that slavery is deeply evil.

Even simple logic breaks the notion of a god. If a god can lie and do evil then he’s not perfectly good, but if he can’t then he’s not all-powerful. Injustice abounds, but any god that allows that can not be perfectly just. A god that can make something that’s completely indestructible, even by him, is by definition not all-powerful, but if he can’t make such a thing, then he’s also by definition not all-powerful.

Some of the most wealthy and powerful people are religious. And how do they wear it? They propagate hate and division. They try everywhere to prevent love among people who happen to be gay. They ally themselves with white supremacists, Nazis, and kleptocrats, excusing and encouraging corruption and racial vilification. They look the other way while pedophiles stalk children from inside the protection of their own ranks. For more than a thousand years of the Dark Ages religion controlled Europe, and what did it bring? Corruption, ignorance, superstition, poverty. Today the places that religion dominates most strongly are marked by brutality, violence, ignorance, and hate. Wherever religion gains power, human rights decline.

Yet the religious person can see none of this; they are blinded by their embrace of this devastating mind virus. To merely question their belief is seen by them as dangerously wrong — a betrayal of their god. There is no easy way for the honest religious person to unlock the chains that bind and enslave them. But increasingly, they are freeing themselves. The older generations, not so much, but the younger generations are breaking out of their servitude and breathing the fresh air of reality.

As the power of religion wanes everywhere, the world is improving. Rates of violence are declining. Extreme poverty is being eliminated, and along with it, starvation. War is gradually disappearing, and what war continues is becoming less deadly. Disease is being eliminated and we are becoming more prepared for new diseases that might appear. The population problem has been solved and the world birthrate is now around replacement level and set to drop below that. Because older generations continue to linger as newer generations reach childbearing age population still increases, but that growth is slowing, and soon actual population numbers will decline for the first time in history (despite religion frantically pushing for more births and trying to eliminate contraceptives). Education is spreading to everybody (including, crucially, females) even while religion tries to retard it with religious anti-science schooling. The internet has made it possible for potentially everybody to access Wikipedia — the greatest encyclopedia and knowledge resource in all of history. The internet has delivered Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, iBiblio, LibriVox, and many other great free libraries. It has given worldwide access to educational videos on almost any topic that can be imagined. Blogs and forums have sprung up where people can gather and discuss things and solve problems. It has been said that the internet is where religion goes to die.

So, is the way clear now? Is the danger over? No… not by a long shot. Religion is still a great threat. Religious extremists are working hard to undo democracy by capturing political power, with the aim of imposing theocracy once more. They would happily plunge us all into a new Dark Age. We need to prevent this happening. We will probably win against them, but our success is not guaranteed. There is much to be done. Attempts to pervert justice and democracy must be resisted.

We must use empathy and kindness as we spread knowledge and understanding so that we may help religious people break free.

I know it’s difficult when they attack us and our tolerant secular society, but try to always remember: they are not the enemy. Religion is.

Originally published at The Alternative Independent Media Network on 22nd January 2019.

Reprinted by permission of the author.

This blog ©2023 Geoff Allshorn

Kalam’s Cosmological Claptrap

I am often astounded at the level of ignorance and scientific illiteracy among many theists. This surprises me because I attended university as an undergraduate with many intelligent Christians who thought somewhat critically and evaluated evidence. Sadly, they do not appear to be the norm.

Many theists – particularly those who can be found on YouTube debating Chris Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Tracie Harris, Matt Dillahunty and others – often seem to fall back upon their holy scriptures and religious privilege as an insulation against having to do the ‘hard yards’: reading, research, evidence-based analysis and nuanced critical thinking. My own conversations are further evidence to me of this common laziness borne of religious privilege and an undeserved veneer of respectability often afforded religious ideas by default.

Using Kalam’s Cosmological Argument is one example. Arguing that things exist, therefore they must have been designed – because you can think of no better explanation – is lazy and intellectually dishonest. It is akin to those who once argued that witches must exist because the world is clearly designed by magic.

Sorry theists, but arguing a faith-based assertion appears to leave your arguments open to lack of evidence or deep reasoning. If you want to proselytise and debate people, then at least have good reasoning behind your arguments.

Below is one example of a ‘discussion’ that I shared earlier this year with some theists who bore academic religious qualifications, and yet appeared unable to think outside of very narrow mindset parameters. I include their comments here (somewhat modified for ethical reasons though the content/intent remains unchanged) because the moderator of the discussion thread appeared to become annoyed with me and suddenly deleted the whole thread – although luckily, I had backed up samples of these discussions.

This portion of the conversation centered around the book ‘God is Not Great’, written by Christopher Hitchens. GA.

= = = =

From Thomas* (*not real name):

Hitchens was very intelligent, but he ignored the obvious evidence of God before his eyes. Looking around, you can see evidence that all furniture, buildings and things were made/designed by a mind. More obviously, all the living things/systems that you can observe (plants, animals, man) are infinitely more complex than these lesser objects – and so if all the lesser things were designed by a mind, the greater systems (living things) must have also required a mind to design them. This Mind we call God. When I read Hitchens’ book as an example of fine literature, I sought to understand the mind of its creator. To think what I read was chance lettering would have been insanely [sic]. I advise you to do the same when looking at the world around you, seek the grand designer. May the good Lord bless your research as you seek the truth.

Response by Geoff:

With respect, what a load of non sequitur baloney. If you propose that increasingly complex things always require a creator, then who created your creator? Was your god created? Who is your god’s god? Was he also in turn created? And does this mean that there is a long ladder of deities, each one complex enough to create everything else further down the ladder? And does your god worship his god, or is he an atheist?

If you want to argue that your god does not need a creator because he is god, then you present a case of special pleading to cover the inherent fatal flaw in your own argument.

You suggest that evidence of some intelligent designer is before our very eyes – if it was that obvious, everyone would see it and believe, in which case faith would be obsolete (faith only exists to prop up a lack of evidence).

It’s time to stop lazy, superstitious thinking – cherry picking false analogies that appear to confirm your own pre-determined ‘facts’ – and to start thinking logically and critically. Physical and biological complexity are explainable through the processes of natural laws: physics, cosmology, biology, etc. If you argue that complexity debunks natural laws, then you don’t understand science.

In using fine literature as an analogy to suggest that the Universe must have been designed by an intelligent designer, you ignore the reality that 99.99999999999999999999999% (repeating decimal) of the Universe is hostile, dangerous and lethal to life as we know it. Your intelligent designer must be lazy, incompetent, incredibly wasteful and negligent, or malicious. Furthermore, your inference that planet Earth is somehow just right for us actually inverts the reality: life evolved on Earth to fit its physical parameters, not the other way around. Another purveyor of fine literature, Doug Adams, wrote the analogy of an intelligent rainwater puddle sitting in a pothole and thinking to itself that the pothole must have been intelligently designed because it was just right for the puddle.

You imply that your imaginary god is the only thing that enables your reading of Hitchens’ book to differentiate between intelligent communication or chance lettering. I submit that science and natural laws are the only thing that differentiate my reading of your writing between the same parameters.

May the ultimate reality of science bless your research and temper your worship of the god of the gaps.

From George* (*not real name):

Like Hitchens, your god is science. You have an arrogant mind to dismiss God. If you truly believe that your ancestors were apes, it’s no wonder that you have tried to rationalize God away. One day, you will stand before God. Are you ready to face your creator?

Response by Geoff:

@George, you are a great ape. Get a Grade 8 science education.

Maybe also do some middle-school debating and learn about false equivalence, straw manning, and other fallacies. Science is a methodology that is predicated upon evidence and rational conclusions; whereas religion is a mindset that is based upon wishful thinking (faith) and ignores its own lack of evidence. The two approaches are not equal, and science is not a religion that requires a deity. Science does not require worship nor veneration; it revels in scepticism and exploration. Your superstitious claim to have ultimate answers is not equal to my attempt at open questioning. We are not the same. Please stop playing the game: “I know I am, but what are you?”

As for your theological threat, I quake no more pondering your imaginary god’s wrath than you do worrying about Zeus or Thor or Quetzelcoatl or Allah or Vishnu or Ra.

Besides, if there were a Judgement Day, I would love the opportunity to castigate a god who (according to your Bible) endorses slavery, the subjugation of women, the murder of adulterers and LGBT people, and for whom people with eyeglasses or disability or tattoos are unfit to be in his presence. What a disgusting, stone age monster.

But on Judgement Day, perhaps you can ask him why he invented COVID, Black Plague, childhood cancer, smallpox, HIV/AIDS, earthquakes, the 2004 Asian tsunami, botfly and Cancrum Oris. Not to mention his genocide of the world in the Noah’s Ark story. Some perfect designer he turned out to be. I could never worship a deity who has killed more people than Hitler and Atilla the Hun combined. Cheers.

©2023 Geoff Allshorn

Creating Heaven on Earth

“They say in Heaven love comes first
We’ll make Heaven a place on Earth.”
Belinda Carlisle, ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’, MCA, 1987,
Written by Rick Nowels and Ellen Shipley.

Image by Cheryl Holt from Pixabay

About fifty years ago, I was a geeky (and closeted gay) teenager living in a family that identified as members of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. My father was an elder, and my mother – although equally intelligent and capable – was consigned to women’s duties that were deemed to be fitting given the church’s sexist attitudes. Dad was involved in the discussions between elders of three churches at the time: Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congregationalists – who ultimately agreed to form a new church, the Uniting Church in Australia.

I recall Dad expressing frustration over the many meetings that he attended as part of these talks. He recounted arguments by those debating what would happen to expensive church property after the merger, for example: would individual churches keep the property and revenue from private schools, or would these resources be merged and shared?
Often, questions about sharing money were asked in ways that would appeal to the better angels of their nature: “What would Jesus want?”
But the common response was more cynical about keeping it for themselves: “Jesus has nothing to do with this.” – A reply that frustrated my somewhat idealistic father.

Even though I was still a young lad, I also found such hypocritical selfishness to be disillusioning to my naive childhood faith. Here were people publicly proclaiming their belief in a religious figure who, for them, represented lofty ideals – but when it came to walking the walk, they turned away from his principles. Five decades later, I see the same hypocrisy in many religious people today: televangelists, megachurches, homophobes and transphobes, cathedrals dripping with opulence while beggars starve in the streets outside. And their homes – like their hearts and minds – so often remain fortified and insulated against welcoming strangers and sharing their abundance.

This lack of hospitality created another philosophical quandary in my young life – religious folk proclaiming that sodomy was homosexuality and therefore an abomination; whereas the Bible itself explicitly explains the abomination of Sodom: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy” – Ezekiel 16:49 (ESV). How many religious people gorge themselves upon their promiscuous materialism and overflowing cups of plenty, while refusing to extend little more than tokenistic breadcrumbs of hospitality to the stranger, the refugee, or the homeless – thereby practicing the true sin of Sodom? By contrast, how few of them open their empty megachurch buildings at night, offering their sanctuaries to those seeking sanctuary? Or donating spare rooms in their manses or parishioners’ homes to those needing shelter from the storms of life? Or gift lovingkindness to victims of domestic violence? Open their hearts and homes and families to members of our wider human family?

Such blindness to their own ethical double standards, and their willingness to seek scapegoats by blaming LGBT+ people for imaginary sins as a distraction, helped to sow the seeds of doubt in my young mind regarding the ethics of religion.

Any philosophy that presumes to explore profundity, deep meaning, or significant cosmic consequence, should concentrate on important matters instead of intellectual detritus. Even today, whenever I walk past a religious street peddler who is distributing religious tracts to passersby, I want to ask them (as I wanted to ask them when I was ten years old): why aren’t they using their time and resources to feed the poor or save lives?

Image by Anja?#helpinghands #solidarity#stays healthy? from Pixabay

Do theists want to prove their god exists? Then they should go out there and change the world. Stop navel gazing and self-indulgent debating of meaningless rhetoric. Stop showing off your imaginary piety on street corners or from the top of pulpits; get out and walk the walk. Feed the poor. Solve poverty and inequality and systemic injustice. Cure cancer and HIV and a hundred other medical problems. Abolish guns and cluster bombs and nuclear weapons. Resettle sixty million refugees. Solve anthropogenic climate catastrophe. Educate people out of their racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, cultural white supremacy and tribalism, and their worship of gluttonous capitalism. Provide universal shelter and safety. Establish a universal basic income. Provide free and universal education and health care. And what about the orphans and widows and prisoners?

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

Tear down the divide between western society and the so-called ‘developing world’ – a form of apartheid that is more global than the Berlin Wall, more genocidal than Hitler or Atilla the Hun, and more unethical than the white supremacist attitudes that permitted a division between slaves and slavers.

Build a better world today instead of waiting for some imaginary afterlife. It is not only immoral to ignore the approximately 14,000 children under five who die every day, but it is also akin to people in the 1930s who looked away and chose not to see the Holocaust happening before their eyes. You say you are pro-life? Then get out there and stop killing people through your wilful neglect.

Instead of waiting for some presumed miracle from elsewhere, work hard to be that miracle here and now, today. Be the answer to your own prayers or aspirations. Whatever higher ethical principle you claim to follow, let that principle live today in your life and works.

None of these actions will, in themselves, go one splinter towards providing evidence that a god actually exists, but they will help to demonstrate that maybe a form of heaven is possible, and that maybe certain ethics and aspirations are worthy of some consideration. Are theists promoting a culture that worships death, or one that promotes life, and a more abundant one at that?

These same questions could also be asked of atheists and humanists.

©2023 Geoff Allshorn