Jerry Coyne made a fairly angry paragraph about anger, and I want to reply to it. The post is here:
The section, basically, is a long list of the things that Coyne is mad at religion about. And as he says ” …our anger is a good thing.”
The biggest thing to keep in mind that Coyne really is talking about anger directed directly at religion for these things.
“I’m angry that millions of Catholic kids get permanently traumatized with visions of hell, and permanently riddled with guilt about “sins” like masturbation.”
I’m not sure here if the “millions” is supposed to be a percentage or reflect just all Catholics. I don’t think it matters though, because children get traumatized — unfortunately — while being taught things they need to learn all the time. Take a look at
and look at the long section for Public Service Announcements. We scare kids a lot teaching them how to avoid things that are bad. I’m not saying this is good or that we shouldn’t try to do it in a less traumatizing way. But these parents and, in general, those priests do think that Hell is a real thing that they’re teaching their children to avoid. The same thing applies to the guilt; we make our children quite guilty when they do wrong.
So what’s Coyne’s beef here? That Catholics scare their kids over things that aren’t real and make them guilty over things that shouldn’t make someone feel guilty. Thus, he’s mad at them for being wrong. But is anger over these sorts of things “a good thing“? Probably not, since they would quite likely think that some of the things that scare Coyne and that he’s willing to risk traumatizing his — or other — kids over are wrong, and certainly that some of the things that he thinks someone should feel guilty about are not things to feel guilty about. In short, from other angles he’s the one traumatizing and instilling guilt for things that shouldn’t. If they get angry at him, and he gets angry at them, aren’t we all just angry? How does that help in figuring out which ones are right?
But this isn’t about religion, or at least it shouldn’t be … unless Coyne gets angry about religion first – it being so obviously wrong and all — and then applies it here. That, however, would kill his idea that this is a reason to be angry at religion, which is what he’s using it to be. Either way, he either has to include non-religious disagreements of the same sort or accept that, really, he’s just angry at religion. Either way, it’s not ” … a good thing.“
“ I’m angry that priests, under cover of their own superior wisdom and spirituality, sexually victimize their flocks.”
Because no one else uses claims of authority or wisdom or position to do that, right? Oh, wait, that’s unfortunately not uncommon. Again, this isn’t something to get angry at religion about, except by using it to argue that religion gives these people undue authority. And yet, we could say the same thing about rock music or movies, since celebrity seems to confer authority, at times, on those people. So even that isn’t specific to religion. Yet again, Coyne seems to be angry at religion first, and then tosses out reasons to support that anger. This, it seems to me, is the prime problem with anger: it tends to always want to justify itself.
”I’m angry that mullahs are calling for their followers to kill innocent people, while other more “liberal” mullahs refrain from calls for murder but don’t decry those murders when they occur. ”
Ah … so he’s angry at one particular sect, and that justifies the anger against the general “religion”. Got it. And that doesn’t even ask whether this would be limited to religion in the first place.
“ I’m angry that thousands of Africans will die because the Pope and his priests won’t sanction condoms for their flock.”
No, those thousands of Africans will die because they’ve decided to sin — ie have sex out of wedlock — but then will use the excuse of sin to avoid using condoms. If those people stuck to committed relationships, there wouldn’t be anywhere near as much of an issue, and refusing to use condoms while participating in what is already a sin smacks far more of rationalization than of any legitimate religious belief. If these people actually followed the tenets of their religion as a whole, there wouldn’t be a problem. They don’t. How is that the fault of that religion?
And, again, one religion, not all of them.
“I’m angry that many religions see, and treat, women as second-class citizens, stoning them, swathing them in burkhas, or making them sit in different places in the synagogue and purify themselves in ritual baths during menstruation. ”
Well, of course, they don’t stone women for being women but, hey, what’s a little exaggeration among friends? And they do stone men, too, as far as I know. So moving on to the others, the problem again comes down to disagreement. Coyne thinks that those things injure the dignity of women; they think that those things preserve the dignity of women as women. I disagree with all of the above things and with that reasoning, but again all that means is that I think that they’re wrong. And I’m fairly certain that when we get into discussions of dignity as persons, I’ll disagree with Coyne on some of those (in fact, we’ll get into one later in this post; stay tuned!). What good will anger do? Again, we’ll all be angry at everyone else; that’s certainly not ” … a good thing.“
“I’m angry at the stupid dogmatism that’s behind creationism, and behind the idea that even if evolution might have happened, God did it all.”
So, Coyne’s angry about the dogmatism, but dogmatism is not limited to religion. He could be angry about people holding the idea of creationism or that God guided evolution … but that, again, would be anger at someone being wrong. And it seems that it would start, again, from Coyne being angry at religion as opposed to this being a reason for him to be so.
“I’m angry at the faithful who dispute global warming, or environmental depredation, because they think God gave us stewardship over the earth.”
But if they thought that God giving us stewardship over the Earth means that we have to take care of it properly and therefore we should oppose environmental depredation and deal with global warming — as some do — that would be okay, then?
There are many non-religious philosophies that would support the anti-environmentalist stance and many religious reasons to take the environmentalist stance. Again, he’s angry at religion, and picking out examples to justify that. And taking my Stoic leanings into account, I’d be very tempted to just sum that up with “He’s angry”.
“I’m angry at those people who oppose abortion or stem-cell research because of the absolutely stupid idea that a ball of cells is equivalent to a sentient person.”
People disagree with you, for reasons that may not be religious. Again, you think the idea stupid, they don’t. You think they’re wrong; they think you’re wrong. At this point, we’re heading straight into “blind and toothless” territory; if your anger is justified because you think them wrong they are justified in being angry with you because they think you’re wrong. And we get nowhere.
“I’m angry at the faithful who, on religious grounds, prevent suffering and terminally ill people from deciding to end their own lives.”
But if it wasn’t on religious grounds, it would be okay? This isn’t the example I mentioned above (it’s coming soon!) but some people do consider that to not show the proper dignity to people. Personally, I’m more concerned with pragmatics than anything else. But again it all comes down to either being angry at religion and searching for things to justify that anger or being angry with someone because you think they’re wrong. Neither, again, are good.
“I’m angry that one of the greatest pleasures of being human, the act of sex, is subject to insane restrictions and prohibitions by many faiths—especially when it’s between two people of the same gender.”
Here’s where the dignity disagreement comes in: it is ludicrous, to me, to consider sex “one of the greatest pleasures of being human”. There’s no reason to think that we, as humans, get any more pleasure out of having sex than animals do. There is nothing particularly human about sex. Sex in service of love, maybe, since we might be able to have a deeper intellectual understanding that allows us to experience a deeper form of love than animals. Or perhaps not.
But what makes us human is, in fact, our rationality and unprecedented ability to control and override our baser instincts and feelings with that rationality. The higher brain functions are what humans have more than any other species so far and are what make us uniquely human. In a sense, subordinating these sorts of feelings to practical advantage — only to have children — or to deeper relationships is the prime expression of us as ideal and ultimate humans. That very thing that Coyne thinks is so critical to humans and, one presumes, to their dignity as such I consider to be the ultimate expression of our dignity as humans.
So, while sex is certainly one of our greatest pleasures, it’s not necessarily the best expression of our humanity.
Should I be angry at Coyne, or he with me? And note that my view is far more Stoic than religious, so is he going to take them on as well, and be “angry”? Are philosophical differences worth getting angry over? How is he getting angry with me or me getting angry with him going to settle those differences, except by force?
(Of course, real Stoics wouldn’t get angry, or at least wouldn’t let that anger influence their actions.)
“And I’m angry that religious people try to suppress freedom of speech when it deals with religion, trying to prevent us from calling attention to all this damage.”
Of course, the fact that, say, making claims that gay marriage should not be allowed or that homosexuality is immoral has brought people before the Human Rights Commision in Canada and can be considered hate speech in Canada is completely different, right?
Of course, Coyne might think that that is as bad as what he says religions do, but that would be another nail in the anger coffin.
Ultimately, anger is not good. It makes you act irrationally and rationalize your anger, even when the target doesn’t deserve it or other things do, too. So why does Coyne think it good?
“Again, the proper response to religious stupidity, as it was to segregation in the South, is anger—persistent anger. Anger that remains until the kind of religion that forces its tenets and superstitions down humanity’s throat vanishes for good.”
I’m thinking that this reflects a “By the power of Grayskull” vibe, a Popeye and his spinach vibe, a vibe of “Your anger gives you strength”. That the anger reflects the caring and passion needed to oppose “religious stupidity” and make religion go away. The problem is that angry is a really bad passion to do that with, since it can often lead to extreme measures being taken and an unwillingness to listen to the other side and form any sort of rational compromise.
Try it. Get yourself all ramped up and angry, and list what “solutions” you came up with to the problem that made you angry in the first place. I’d be willing to bet that most of the time, in the sober light of faded anger, you’ll be shocked at them and consider them to be really stupid ideas. Anger, often, is in contradiction to reason; you don’t act rationally when angry. But it does make you act. And that, to me, is its greatest vice.
Say no to anger. Don’t give in to the dark side. It’s time to stop acting under the influence of anger.
Anger is not a good thing. Ever.