Is it a good idea to get militant?

The movement to get atheists organized, which I would have liked to support, has taken on an exclusionist, victimized tone based on revenge. This doesn’t seem prudent, and smacks of confirming all the nasty things believers say about atheists. Why deny them their bedtime stories? They’re going to be there tomorrow; wouldn’t maintaining a working relationship be of value to a prudent, reasonable person? Is it so important to get them to deny god? Shouldn’t we be focusing on preserving rights to believe as we see fit?

Even those who’ve suffered under heavy handed Christian upbringings and education should realize the cyclic nature of revenge doctrines. I assume that’s what we’re shooting for.

I guess if we are planning on getting militant, if we’ve decide this is a war with only winners and losers, then we’d better figure out how to win. I personally believe it doesn’t have to be like that. But then i guess we’ve gotten to a matter of faith there. Blech.

Posted: November 13th 2007

flagellant www

I have to accept that the occasional comment on atheist websites is abrasive and rude about the religiosi and their beliefs. I understand this: it stems from frustration at the privileged position of entrenched belief and the contempt with which atheism has hitherto been regarded. One also gets very irritated by having to repeat the same argument, time and again.

I suffer from this exasperation sometimes but, nevertheless, I usually manage to keep my comments polite and to the point. However, one has to see that atheism is a very individual matter – there are no atheist churches and, if there were, I’d have no desire to attend one. Atheists tend to be more individualistic and self-reliant; the expression 'like herding cats’ has been used of attempts to organise them. You, yourself, exhibit this individualism with your questions but I wonder if your implications are quite fair.

Prominent atheist writers are invariably measured and careful about what they write. Their antagonists very often misrepresent them as 'shrill’, 'fundamentalist’, and 'militant’ but, if you listen to or read atheist writing carefully, you will see the strength of the arguments; the abusive terms are quite undeserved. There are many books seeking to refute atheism, but they invariably do this by misrepresentation.

If you want to know more about atheism, read books like Dennett’s Breaking the Spell and Dawkins’ The God Delusion. On no account pay attention to rival theistic summaries or criticisms because they are invariably mendacious. For evidence of theist mendacity, look here . The tone of the complaint, I would suggest, is not exclusionist, nor does it have a vengeful tone, born of victimhood.

I don’t want to deny the religiosi their bedtime stories (nor their comfort blankets) but religion is an activity for consenting adults in private; currently, it pervades ordinary life too much. Religions have too many rights and too much respect. The influence of these silly, sometimes nasty, people and institutions should be greatly reduced. For example, we want the rights for anybody, Mohammedans especially, to leave their religions, freely and without fear. You have to remember that no-one has ever been killed or persecuted explicitly in the name of atheism, whereas many have been tortured or put to death for religious reasons. 'Saving the person’s soul’, or some such nonsense, has often been given as the justification for extraordinary savagery.

Atheism, long respectable in Europe, is becoming acceptable elsewhere. To summarise: many intelligent theists seem to be falling back on explaining religion as metaphor/poetry. They are losing the 'literal truth’ argument. Moreover, people like John Selby Spong and Richard Harries actually welcome the sorts of questioning their beliefs are getting. We should carry on this rational criticism: it is certainly not militant.

Posted: November 17th 2007

See all questions answered by flagellant

John Sargeant www

Where do you get the idea of us being militant from? We may be passionate about how we feel towards religion because of its impact on reason and science. Not to mention human rights.

Yet “The God Delusion” mentions education teaching the bible – how else would you understand Milton? Hitchens mentions the “freedom of religion and none”. Dennett calls for children to be brought up knowing all religions, that it is essential in the world we live in.

There may be a battle of ideas going on. The result is important. Maybe some people do not like the style in which the argument is brought to bear – but it is being noticed and having an impact.

Posted: November 17th 2007

See all questions answered by John Sargeant

Russell Blackford www

I don’t see any militancy, if the word refers to acts of violence or attempts to cause unlawful harm to religious believers. What I see is a healthy increase in the level to which (some) non-believers are prepared to critique religious belief.

How that can possibly be a bad thing eludes me.

Most outspoken contemporary atheists are strong on the issue of people being accorded a right to believe as they wish. But that is meaningless unless it includes the right to act on your beliefs, as long as you don’t thereby harm others.

It wouldn’t be so important, or so urgent, to produce sceptical critiques of religion if religious believers were equally strong on that issue, but of course they are not. They typically attempt to force the rest of us to conform to their views of the world in a whole range of ways.

Accordingly, it would be more appropriate to chide the religious for their “militancy”. The Catholic Church, for example, is a far more militant organisation than any atheist group. It would be better to tell that organisation to cool things down, stop denouncing ideas that don’t accord with its view of the world, stop trying to get laws passed to enforce its specifically religious morality, and start trying to get along with others who disagree with it.

Until religious leaders renounce any claims to having the authority to tell us how to live our lives, there will be a problem. At least until they renounce all attempts to get the state to pass laws that force us to live our lives only in certain ways, we will need to fight back (though with words and ideas, not guns and bombs and knives). This will inevitably involve exposing just how dubious the religious doctrines really are, and just how little moral authority the religious leaders really have.

Posted: November 16th 2007

See all questions answered by Russell Blackford

SmartLX www

I want to address the word “militant”. More specifically, I want to strangle it.

Along with “fundamentalist”, “dogmatic” and “arrogant”, “militant” has become one of the qualifiers believers constantly throw at the word “atheist”, hoping they’ll stick. They say “militant-atheists” the same way a Confederate would have said “damn-Yankees”.

What they’re really describing is simple atheist activism. The only reason “militant” applies to atheists is that compared to what was going on ten years ago (in terms of visibility, almost nothing), the current public resurgence seems like a blitzkrieg. There’s nothing violent or even physical about it, and nothing of the sort is expected. By contrast, consider what is meant by militant Islam.

You assume far too much; I disagree that the tone is that of revenge. Organizations like the ASDN which specifically deal with cases of anti-atheist abuse or discrimination seek justice and compensation where the law warrants, not an eye for an eye.

I don’t want to destroy religion against the will of believers. I want two things: for atheism not to be a hindrance in our society, and to have each person want to examine his or her own beliefs rationally, for the first time if necessary, and see if they hold up. (In many cases I don’t think they would.)

I think the first thing’s easier.

Posted: November 15th 2007

See all questions answered by SmartLX


A similar question has already been answered.

Each non-believer can decide on the best approach for themselves. It is that simple.

Posted: November 15th 2007

See all questions answered by logicel


Is your atheism a problem in your religious family or school?
Talk about it at the atheist nexus forum