By, Adam K. Fetterman
Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Chrisopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris, and atheists in general, have a reputation of being arrogant and angry. It is likely that some atheists deserve this reputation, even some mentioned above. However, the evidence for the reputation are often misunderstandings, mischaracterizations of context, and most often “heard it from someone else”. For example, one of the most prominent atheists, Richard Dawkins, is often characterized as an angry and inflammatory prick. He may in fact be such a person, but most of the evidence is unfounded, such as out of context quotations, and again, word of mouth. Therefore, any atheist looking forward to an entertaining tongue lashing by purchasing one of his publications may be disappointed, not by the content, but by the lack of “prickishness”. The same goes for many atheists. Ask any atheist how people react to him/her saying they do not believe in a god or defending their beliefs, and you will often hear they are accused of being rude or insensitive. All the while, think of how often one hears a religious individual referring to their faith (e.g. thanking God, asking for prayers for the sick, “blessing” people etc.). So why is it that atheists get this reputation and not the religious?
Terror Management Theory (TMT) is a social psychological theory explaining that since humans have awareness of their mortality, they have bouts with existential terror and this is reflected in their behavior. According to Greenberg and Kosloff (2008), when someone has a differing worldview, one may respond with increased prejudice, stereotyping, and anger. They indicate that this is because worldviews (including religion) are vital to managing existential threat, and they must defend them in any way possible. Atheists are a noted minority. They, therefore, challenge widespread worldviews and compound it by challenging a specific worldview (i.e. religion) that is a particularly strong way people deal with existential threat. It is likely that this is the reason atheists have gained their reputation, regardless of if they are. That is, it may be the way the religious deal with perceived threat.
-To Christopher Hitchens: May the science of medicine keep you with us for many more years.
Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett: Evangelical atheists? By, Reza Aslan – Washington Post: Guest Voices
TMT and it’s effects on prejudice, stereotypes and anger:
Greenberg, J. & Kosloff, S. (2008). Terror Management Theory: Implications for understanding prejudice, stereotyping, intergroup conflict, and political attitudes. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2, 1881-1894