Those Darned Militant Atheists!

By Michael Hawkins

It has become almost a cliché to call an atheist “militant”. But it’s a term of derision which has no connection to reality.

The reasoning behind calling an atheist militant has nothing to do with what any particular atheist has said. It’s a term intended to trivialize and distract from whatever substance is being offered. This is a routine trick of theists and those sympathetic to religion (or, if sympathetic to faith and atheist, “faitheists”, as Jerry Coyne has dubbed them).

Of course, this goes beyond atheism. Negroes were uppity in the mid-20th century (and still are if you go far enough south). The homos are only being dramatic. The women-folk were just hysterical when they were fighting for their right to vote. The routine is a tired one.

But there’s more than trivialization that acts as the common thread to all these examples. It’s also the fact that the minorities in each and every case happen to be right. Blacks deserve equal rights. No good arguments exist against gay “rights” (which are really just the rights of all people – not the privileges of straight people). Women, too, deserve equal rights. And atheists, while maintaining rights largely thanks to Thomas Jefferson’s foresight, are right that there is no good evidence for the existence of anything supernatural.

Should, however, an atheist list out why belief in God is not well supported, or should he respond to arguments that purport to show otherwise, the discussion always devolves into the atheist being militant. PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Victor Stenger, Bertrand Russell – they all have substantial points that they make. And each one has been called militant (or, more often to his own curse, “strident”, for Dawkins) far more frequently than not.

In truth, the meaning of militancy is diminished when it is implored as a mere tool for political rhetoric and answer-avoidance. The Christian who shoots an abortion doctor is militant. The Muslim who bombs a café is militant. The Jew who demands, on religious principle, that an entire group leaves an entire area is militant.

The atheist who says all that is dangerous and false is not militant.

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