Militant Atheism

Militant Atheist

Courtesy of atheistcartoons.com

 

I’ve noticed that the term “militant atheist” is being used more frequently lately, particularly after reading through the threads about the review of Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future at Pharyngula and at The Intersection.

The term “militant atheist/atheism” is a rather stupid one because it implies that atheists are violent, which they are not – well, not the ones that I know, anyway. I can’t recall any news reports of atheists strapping explosives to themselves, or of atheists crashing planes into buildings. No, it seems the term refers to those of us who question religion or, as has happened to me, just merely admitting that one is an atheist can bring about accusations of being a “militant atheist”.  *sigh*

The links to the threads above also made me question whether one should take an accommodationist stance or a more confrontational view when dealing with religion. I still haven’t found the answer. It’s difficult, especially when dealing with family and friends, after all we don’t want to hurt their feelings. Yet, on the other hand, I no longer want keep quiet about my atheism just because someone may find my lack of belief offensive. Why is it considered “militant” to question people about something that, in some cases, makes very little sense?  Is religious belief so fragile that it cannot stand up to scrutiny or criticism?

Recently, I was attempting to have what I thought was a fairly straightforward discussion about someone’s spiritual point of view. This person doesn’t believe in god, but in a Universal Spirit – which after some questioning, turned out to be god anyway, just with a different name. The only differences were that this person didn’t believe that the bible was in any way god’s word and that Jesus had not existed, otherwise everything else was the same. After a few more questions, this person ended the conversation by saying that I was making things too complicated. Perhaps I was. I had learnt that the Universal Spirit was the creator of everything and I wanted to know who had created the Universal Spirit. Was asking an obvious question “militant”? I don’t think so.

Just like there are Evangelical Christians and Islamic fundamentalists, I’m sure there are “evangelical” atheists, I just haven’t  come across any in my social circle or on the web. But, by just questioning someone’s beliefs does not make me a “militant atheist”.

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8 responses to “Militant Atheism”

  1. James says :

    I feel the same way you do on where you draw the line when discussing atheism. I have family members who spend a lot of time talking or hinting about their christianity (I often see notices on Facebook that “XXXX became a fan of [Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour]” and a lot of similar comments along the way). I will not start a discussion with them about their belief.

    On the other hand, I do not shy away from a conversation with anyone about my beliefs. For this reason I got myself invited on an Alpha Course next week, even though I repeatedly warned the host that it probably wasn’t a good idea on his part. In the last few years, if anyone at all asks me what I believe I tell them all about it with a swelled chest of pride any evangelical christian would be jealous of.

    Speaking of evangelical atheists, it is true that I have not met any in person, but I have no doubt that Richard Dawkins is an evangelical atheist, as were a few other notable people in history. They go out and actively promote atheism, while you and I would bring it up only if the conversation drifted in that direction. I’m totally confused by the label “fundamentalist atheist”. How would anyone even define that? And, like you, I’m also not so sure that we even understand what “militant atheist” means, especially the people bandying the term around like a finger of judgement. What are they implying?

  2. Michael Meadon says :

    Well, I know more than I few people who self-identify as militant atheists. (I have been known to do so on occasion). I dislike the term “fundamentalist atheist” quite a bit more — it makes no sense whatsoever.

    I say if they want to call us militant for questioning their beliefs, then so be it. Militant we are. (And militant economists… militant skeptics… militant pretty much everything).

  3. Owen Swart says :

    I think you make a valid point about the use of the word militant, as opposed to “strident” or “outspoken”.

    “Militant” conjures up images of darkened, smoke-filled rooms lined with stacks of AK-47s and improvised explosive devices, where secret plans are being concocted to overthrow governments and slaughter innocents so as to further the atheist agenda.

    To my knowledge, no such militia exists. Although it may feel as if we’re at war some of the time (I can certainly relate to that feeling).

  4. The Skeptic Blacksheep says :

    Hey there James,

    Nice to hear from you again :-D

    It is difficult treading that fine line with friends and family. My immediate family knows that I’m an atheist and I’m very comfortable discussing atheism with them, even though I’m the only atheist in the family. However, when I’m with my in laws I do keep quiet and won’t discuss religion, especially with my Mom in law. The reason being is that she has had more than her fair share of grief in life and plus I love her dearly and I wouldn’t want her to think that I am in some way “belittling” the comfort she finds in her faith. Does that makes sense?

    I’m such a twit, I forgot about Richard Dawkins being an evangelical atheist! I do think that, as atheists, we do need people like him to speak out for those of us who find it difficult to do so. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with everything he says or does, but there are still some people who have misguided ideas about what atheism is, and I don’t think being outspoken is a bad thing.

    Hi Michael,

    I say if they want to call us militant for questioning their beliefs, then so be it. Militant we are. (And militant economists… militant skeptics… militant pretty much everything).

    I agree! Another term I dislike intensely is “New Atheist”.

    Hello Owen,

    Although it may feel as if we’re at war some of the time (I can certainly relate to that feeling).

    Yes, particularly when religious people feel it necessary to impose their beliefs on everyone else.

  5. Geezer says :

    You are forgetting Atheists don’t believe there is a God. Therefore no one has the right to tell them what to do. And because there is no God – they can do whatever they want – and all man’s laws are only relative. So Atheism can’t lead people to do ‘good’ things. But because no one can tell an Atheist what is ‘good’ – we can’t say it is ‘good’. Neither can we say anything is ‘bad’. What we can say is that we can do anything. Feed a person. Kill a person. Give a gift. Steal a car. Have a baby. Abort a baby. Watch children starving – feed them – or if an extreme atheist, do nothing in response. Without a creator – no one can tell us what we should and should not do. We can all kill and love each other all the time. Does athesim really sound like bliss? Sounds like a joke with no punch line to me. (Not that my opinion matters to an atheist).

    • The Skeptic Blacksheep says :

      Why do you need someone to tell you what is right and wrong? Can you not think for yourself?

      I would never stand by and do nothing because I hold myself to a high set of morals and values, however, I’m sure all your praying and pleading to your non existant god will do so much more.

      And you’re right, your very narrow and biased view of Atheists does not matter to me.

  6. Owen Swart says :

    You’re correct that your opinion doesn’t matter to this atheist in particular.

    You’re also correct that, in general, atheists don’t derive their morality from the imaginary dictations of an invisible man in the sky.

    But here’s a question I have for you: what proportion of convicted criminals are atheists, as opposed to adherents to religion?

  7. The Skeptic Blacksheep says :

    From Owen Swart

    But here’s a question I have for you: what proportion of convicted criminals are atheists, as opposed to adherents to religion?

    Let’s add another question……
    @Geezer, how many Atheists took part in the Inquisition, the Crusades, or the Holocaust?

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