An Open Letter to Rabbi Marc Gellman

Mark Vuletic

Dear Rabbi Gellman,

Like many atheists, I have taken note of your article on "Trying to Understand Angry Atheists." As you bear me no ill will, so do I bear you none; nor do I wish to condescend to you, any more than you wish to condescend to me. I am writing to you simply in the hope that it will help us to understand one another better, so that we might stand together where we really ought to.

Let me say that it is not surprising to me that you think many atheists are angry. Many atheists are indeed angry. Obviously, you have met a number of them, and they have made an impression on you. As in so many walks of life, the loudest voices, the ones easiest to hear over walls and fences, are the angriest voices, and they do the most to shape our impressions of our neighbors. I hope, however, that you will, in time, also come to hear the quieter voices of those atheists who choose neither Jesus nor Sartre; of those who believe not in "nothing," but only in everything that there actually is, and in nothing more; of those who acknowledge their animal roots, but also work for a future in which the full potential of humanity may be realized. They are there, if you listen.

But even with how loud the angry ones in my camp are, or how much louder the calmer ones get when they lose their tempers (I convict myself), it is difficult for me to understand why you seem to think atheists are in general angrier than believers. You point to the "good and pious" people who have sacrificed to make the world a better place, but seem to shrug off the bad and pious who have drenched the world in blood a thousand times over in the name of religious faith they sincerely held to and honestly believed. What hatred is there that can match the hatred of those who believe in their hearts that the merciful and compassionate almighty Sovereign of the universe Himself orders the death and damnation of the Christ-killing Jew, the idolatrous Saracen, or the crusader Christian (not to mention the infidel atheist)? As Nobel Laureate physicist Steven Weinberg said, "Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things—that takes religion." Ah, my apologies, dear Rabbi: I grow angry. But I do so not because I am an atheist. I do so because I am human.

Truly, hatred is a seed that flourishes in any soil: we need not try to cast the entire burden upon one another, as though we ourselves are pure. Instead, cannot those of us who would live in peace with one another acknowledge the humanistic ground we share, which transcends belief and atheism both? Can we not work to overcome our anger and suspicion, and stand on common ground against those who do not desire tolerance at all, but only murder? I hope that we can; there already is too much uncompromising hatred in the world for we, who want mutual understanding, to not find it.

First published: 2006
Last updated: 21 Mar 2008

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