You’re a Militant Atheist! (lolwut)
For most of 2012, I identified as not only an atheist, but an anti-theist because of my distaste for the practice of religion in general. Many of the atheists I’ve met are similarly distraught with the damage that religion can do to people, cultures, and the progress of science. Upon looking closer at this term, I’ve found that it actually doesn’t describe my views–or necessarily the views of the atheists who share my sentiments.
However, there is a gleeful term which I will be proudly wearing from now on: Militant Atheist.
Many nones join me in saying “What the hell is a militant atheist?” whenever the term gets thrown around. It’s nearly as extreme as Bill O’Reilly calling Dave Silverman a fascist. Conservatives who use these terms willy-nilly are showing their embarrassing ignorance to both the denotation and connotation of the phrases.
Merriam-Webster defines ‘militant’ as 1: engaged in warfare or combat, and 2: aggressively active (as in a cause) : combative. None of the atheists I know use warfare to further our cause, nor are they aggressively active or combative. Well, unless you count a thrill for debates as combative, then I know some of those. ;D
So, the people who call us “militant” have already gotten the denotation wrong. As for the connotation: when rational people say someone else is being militant, we’re generally referring to, for example, Muslims who shoot a bus full of children with the intent of hitting a fifteen-year-old peace activist. Calling someone ‘militant’ implies that they’re using military or combat means to further their goals. We’re talking about extremists who are willing to use violence to silence others. If you know of a single atheist that fits this description, point me to them so I can kick them in the crotch.
Then what do conservatives mean when they call us ‘militant’? After dismissing the accusation as stupid over and over, I decided to actually look for an explanation. And who would know better wtf conservatives are thinking than Conservapedia?
Militant atheism is a term applied to atheism which is hostile towards religion. Militant atheists have a desire to propagate the doctrine, and differ from moderate atheists because they hold religion to be harmful. Militant atheism was an integral part of the materialism of Marxism-Leninism, and significant in the French Revolution, atheist states such as the Soviet Union, and Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. The term has also been applied to political thinkers. Recently the term militant atheist has been used to describe the New Atheism movement, which is characterized by the belief that religion “should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.”
If you hold that religion is harmful (which it is) and that it should be countered, criticized and exposed (which it should), then you’re a militant atheist. That’s got to be every single non-theist I’ve met via my involvement in the atheist movement, and most of them would baulk at the use of this word to describe them because the feelings it generates are very negative.
When I identified as an anti-theist, I associated the word with being against religion. However, that isn’t what the word means. An atheist is one who is without gods, but an anti-theist is someone who is against gods. To lay claim to this title is a wound to my skepticism. I can’t say “there isn’t a god” because I don’t have evidence that there isn’t. What I can say is that there isn’t any evidence to suggest the existence of a god.
Be that as it may, I’m still staunchly opposed to religion, the good and the bad. There are the obvious problems like endorsement of slavery and rape, and more tangible evidence like the Crusades. However, if someone believes because it makes them feel better–or even if they become a better person as a result of their belief–I still don’t think that’s justification for belief in the supernatural. It just doesn’t make sense.
Since I’d be a bad skeptic if I claimed to be an anti-theist, I’ve got to find another term. “Militant atheist” is fantastic because it’s absolutely ridiculous to use that terminology to describe what we do, but the meaning they intend is exactly right. I’ll be happily and casually using this phrase from now on to describe myself, connotation be damned.
Featured image from an adorable comic from The Oatmeal