Vocal Criticism of Religion
This is another post in my series on atheism- and this one addresses anti-theism and some of the most prominent vocal atheists in print today. The other posts on the history of atheism and cultural acceptance of atheism can be found here and here!
Some atheists go beyond their own lack of belief, and are actively and vocally opposed to religion- these people are known almost interchangeably as militant atheists or anti-theists. Those who hold more extreme views differ from other atheists in that they tend to be actively hostile towards religious theism. As Julian Baggini states in Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, “To be hostile in this sense requires more than just strong disagreement with religion – it requires something verging on hatred and is characterized by a desire to wipe out all forms of religious belief.”
To be labelled an anti-theist is not necessarily a derogatory term- despite its negative connotations- and many prominent atheists consider themselves anti-theists. Such people may consider it their moral duty to oppose religion and advocate science and reason in its stead. This is due to a belief that theism is harmful to every aspect of society- such as politics, culture and the individual- and that it should be vocally opposed in order to reduce the harm it causes.
Christopher Hitchens- British-American author and journalist- is one of the most prominent militant atheists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In his 2001 book Letters to a Young Contrarian, he self-identifies as an anti-theist: “I’m not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful.” Hitchens- as with many militant atheists- advocates free expression and scientific discovery and regards religion as an authoritarian belief which destroys independence and freedom.
Renowned biologist and author Richard Dawkins holds a similar view to Hitchens, and also is vocal about his own anti-theism. In The God Delusion, Dawkins denounces believers in the God of the Old Testament- whom he calls a “genocidal egomaniac”. He promotes the idea that cosmology and evolutionary biology should be evidence enough to prove beyond reasonable doubt that life on Earth came about naturally- specifically; without the involvement of a divine being. Dawkins does not deny the possibility of the existence of such a being, but he maintains that any such assertion is irrelevant as there are an infinite number of things one cannot disprove. In his own words; “There’s an infinite number of things that some people at one time or another have believed in , and an infinite number of things that nobody has believed in. If there’s not the slightest reason to believe in any of those things, why bother?”
However, not all atheists in print identify as militant atheists- philosopher Sam Harris rejects not only the term “anti-theism” but also “atheism”. His argument is essentially that the idea of openly identifying as an atheist is both unnecessary and a liability. However, he is still vocal in his criticism of religious faith- he feels that the taboo which exists against questioning religious beliefs is a major detriment to society and prevents a more progressive approach towards the issues of spirituality and ethics.
 (April 1949- December 2011)
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