I can’t begin to describe how tired I am at of seeing the label “militant atheist”. This meme has made the rounds ever since the surge in vocal atheism started a few years ago (maybe the meme has been around longer, but I never noticed it beforehand). But are Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, PZ Myers, Christopher Hitchens, et cetera really militant?
Sure, all the above mentioned atheists and many others, including myself, feel that humanity would be better off without religion, and we don’t censor our views. The high profile atheists have published a few books, written blogs, and have gone on lecture tours. But…what’s militant about that? None of these “militant atheists” have ever taken up arms against any believers. They’ve never committed acts of terrorism. They’ve never even advocated for bans on religious belief. No, all they’ve done is advocate an atheistic worldview to any who will listen and work through legal means to maintain a separation of church and state.
How is that any different from a Christian who seeks to gain converts to his faith and looks out for his religion’s best interests? When Brit Hume said on FOX News that Tiger Woods should abandon Buddhism and become Christian to receive forgiveness for his sins, was he being militant? Of course not. Sure, he was proselytizing from a wildly inappropriate forum, but he wasn’t being militant. He wasn’t using his faith to justify any sort of violent action. What about the Mormon Church sending millions of dollars to support the successful campaign to ban same-sex marriage in California? Sure, I feel the result was an outrage against civil liberties, but the Mormons were operating within their rights and they were certainly not “militant” about it, orchestrating a violent campaign to ensure their preferred outcome.
If you want to see people actually being militant about their beliefs, you don’t need to look far. Al-Qaeda is a perfectly obvious example since they have regularly killed innocent people in an attempt to achieve their ideologically-driven goals. Another example is the “militia” groups scattered throughout the US who favor and actively prepare for a violent overthrow of the US government. Without fail, you’ll find those groups justify their radical views through their Christian faith. Timothy McVeigh is just one such example. He was what one should consider militant. Nothing the “New Atheists” have done or said comes anywhere near the aforementioned examples.
So, I’d love to know what actually makes vocal atheists “militant”. My wild speculation is that so many believers have become so wrapped up in their faith that the mere existence of someone advocating views antithetical to their own must feel like a direct, personal attack. But that is not the case. I am not going to go out and try to violently end Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and so on. In fact, I find the idea repugnant. Freedom of and from religion should be an absolute right. So unless atheist terrorists start blowing up churches in the name of nonbelief, please stop calling us militant. We just want to make our views heard and respected in a free exchange of ideas, and there’s nothing militant about that.