Militant Atheists and associated nonsense..

I see TED has stepped away from the Rupert Sheldrake talk at one if its TedX events.. Then Deepak Chopra and various folk object, etc – atheistsand we finally have a response HERE, that defends TED. I am not a great Fan of TED talks really, but they seem on the ball here. Whatever you think of Sheldrake’s interventions in Philosophy of Science (and I don’t think much of them, but that’s another matter), the claims he does make for actual phenomena don’t seem at all well supported..

However, as the comments at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-anderson/ted-censorship-consciousn_b_3115145.html show, this is a bunfight where everyone seems to argue from set positions, and little on no progress is made. So I think I’ll stay out of it..

However, I just wanted to note another thing that seems widespread, but which is also very annoying. The term ‘Militant Atheist‘. The term is everywhere and seems misleading. I suspect it is often intentionally so.

Sure – many new atheists may be assertive and combative. Some are idiots. Richard Dawkins seemed to have been guilty of misogyny and there seems to be worrying Islamophobic tendencies in some New Atheist circles. I talk about some of my concerns with how contemporary atheism characterises religion in the book:

Since Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, it seems like the talk in the virtual and fleshy public spheres has been

dominated by an interaction by two ever more shouty choruses. Gathered on one side, we have the serried ranks of atheists and their long-standing sub-corp of the collectively minded known as humanists. Across a chasm of mutual, wilful misapprehension from them are gathered the (largely Christian) hosts of Theism’s defenders. I want to suggest here that this debate has become ever more futile, distracting and shrill. Given the largely nihilistic tone of my existential world view, one might expect me to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Dawkins, Dennett, et al – and I have felt that draw. However the polarising, simplifying nature of the arguments rehearsed leaves, I believe, a substantive middle ground untouched. Further, both sides are ever-more prone to treating religious faith merely as a matter of correspondence-theory metaphysics. Colleagues will know, and readers can surmise in safety, that I am not the world’s greatest fan of Theology – but it’s as if the discipline has never existed. You’d never know that reflective, intelligent, humane and critical people had actually given the nature and content of religion some sustained and rigorous inspection already.

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Many theists and atheists seem to have got rather caught up on a propositional account of religion – which I’ve spoken about elsewhere at

length, so much so that some aren’t even sure about the term atheist, and others think it needs a ‘+’. Fine – we can argue about how well or badly various atheist accounts fully engage with various religious traditions, thinkers ideas…

Ok - but I wanted to pause here and think of the use of this term ‘Militant Atheist’. Of course , there have been past instances of Atheists standing violently against religion – though in some cases it’s arguable how much their atheism, rather than their being totalitarian despots, or statist communists, or whatever it is, drove their violence and crimes. And yes – we need to recall that in the cases of religious violence too: people may have complex and mixed motives. But….  Despite all this, it is dishonest to style the current wave of blog-writing, argumentative, book-publishing, seminar-holding, bus-sign displaying atheists as ‘miltant’.

When we talk of miltant Christians or Muslims, or Buddhists, whether we are wholly correct in our details, we are referring to people who carry out acts of violence in the name of their alleged-faith-commitments. Do atheists call for the closure of churches, by force? Do they call for religions to be outlawed? For violence against places of worship? While we may find an example on the web (isn’t that true of everything?) – generally they just don’t.

Many ‘new’ atheists may be misogynistic, or Islamophobic, or muddle-headed, or overly sarcastic, or bombastic. Some are respectful and subtle, and wise. But, taken in the round, they are not militant. To talk about Militant Atheists as if we mean, in this context, by ‘militant’ the same thing as we mean by ‘militant’ when we say ‘Militant Christian’ (for example) is just misleading…

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5 comments

  1. I think the term is meant to be an exaggeration, and a play on ‘militant christians/muslims/whatever.’ I also think it’s one of those terms that got used a couple times and then caught on by people not really thinking about its usage. I would like to see the term ‘antitheist’ used more to distinguish between those who simply do not subscribe to theism, and those who are bent on disproving or dismantling it.

    1. Interesting..

      I think it can be used in that sense, and is sometimes used by atheists who want to add some ‘edge’, or emphasise how strongly they feel. My concern is the way it often gets used by Theists..

    2. I like the term antitheist, not heard that before. It usefully distinguishes athiesm:”absence of belief in god” from the rarer position of antitheism: “negative view of theism”. I am an antitheist on that definition: i don’t just “not believe in god”, i think belief in god is a counterproductive belief. I have a strong position but that doesnt make it an aggressive position.

  2. I also note the same misleading misuse of terms when the Right talk of ‘Militant Homosexuals’ – as at http://www.conservapedia.com/Militant_gays

  3. I think it also tends to get used to self-describe by atheists with a sense of irony …

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