My Thoughts on New and Militant Atheism

Atheism definitionAtheism, by definition, means an absence of faith or a disbelief in the existence of God. By this definition, I am most assuredly an atheist. But as followers of this blog will know, I also have a dislike for some of the attitudes and methods, respectively held and utilized, by a sizable minority of contemporary atheists within the so-called ‘New’ or ‘militant’ atheist movement.

New Atheists will sometimes complain that their branded title is a misnomer and that there is nothing ‘new’ about their atheism. But while atheism itself is not new, it seems to me and to many others, that there is something relatively new, at least in our contemporary culture, regarding the prevalence of religious antagonism and the alleged necessity for an organized commitment to rid the world of religion.

Over the last decade, this growing atheistic trend has attracted its critics and some rather unfortunate labels, including ‘fanatical atheism’ and ‘atheist fundamentalism.’ New atheists naturally abhor such labels, and counter that they are meaningless. They additionally claim that there can be no such thing as a ‘moderate’ atheist, since in their minds, the only alternative to an antagonistic and intolerant approach, would appear to advocate a position of passivity, where one does not seem in any way bothered by, or willing to confront religious injustices.

“… might it be that a non-fundamentalist atheist is one who does not mind that other people hold profoundly false and primitive beliefs about the universe, on the basis of which they have spent centuries mass-murdering other people who do not hold exactly the same false and primitive beliefs as themselves – and still do?” A.C. Grayling

So the argument goes, that any true atheist must be fundamentally opposed to religion, and presumably, willing to actively challenge it wherever it rears its ugly head. However, it seems to me that in hurriedly framing our definitions as such, we risk conflating several terms: 1) an ontological conclusion (e.g. the nonexistence of God), 2) a natural consequence (e.g. religious ideas cause universal harm), and 3) a moral imperative (e.g. we ought to contest religious thought at every opportunity).

Logically speaking, an absence of faith is just that; it does not necessitate an active promotion of said unbelief, nor does it imply that one ought to take positive actions to challenge the spiritual beliefs of others. Atheism might alternatively involve an attitude of dispassionate indifference. Why waste time and energy, one might reason, angrily debating about the existence of something that does not exist? From this perspective, one might curiously observe it as yet another one of the many strange and irrational beliefs that humans hold about themselves and the world they inhabit – there is nothing extraordinary about that, and perhaps no point in getting up in arms about it.  

Of course the necessary ingredient, for turning atheistic non-belief into a ‘militant’ style of rebellious engagement, is holding the additional view that religious unreason is categorically bad or evil (presumably more so than many other forms of unreason), and that one must therefore work to actively extract these dangerous delusions from society, by relentlessly challenging religious belief and the people who hold such views, wherever it is seen or heard. Note that this view is implicitly opposed to any kind of religious tolerance – it is understood that every religious belief ought to be challenged, regardless of whether it is held by a person with a casual adherence to their faith and who respects the rights and freedoms of others, or someone who is a religious extremist who habitually infringes on such rights. So while atheism at its basic level might be a matter of indifference with regard to action, militant atheism is prescriptive, has an active stance it implicitly wants to promote (discussed below) and a collective religious target it explicitly seeks to destroy.


Before continuing, I want to be clear that I do no deny that the world could be a better place without religion, that there are undoubtedly times and places where it needs to be directly challenged, and perhaps more rarely those occasions that call for an aggressive or antagonistic style of engagement. What I take issue with is the aggressive, sneering, and mocking tone employed by many New Atheists, not under exceptional circumstances that may warrant its use, but rather as the typical means of engagement with religious believers. In other words, I am critical of a sub-section of angry and intolerant atheists, who lacking respect for people who hold untrue beliefs, appear to take joyful pleasure in their aggressive ridicule and in the excited anticipation of humiliating their intended targets. This brand of atheist does more than rationally challenge religious unreason when it intrudes upon lives and personal freedoms. In many cases they actively seek it out, and have grown hyper-sensitive, not to anything that sounds irrational (a point worth noting), but rather spiritual. This hypersensitivity has apparently grown so robust, that in situations where human rights and values are secure from religious threat, many cannot seem to resist an opportunity to verbally attack and humiliate anyone suspected of holding religious views, or indeed in many cases, anyone who disagrees with them about their own strongly held convictions.

It is important to emphasize that most New Atheists seem to target religion, and not entrenched ideologies or dogmatic unreason more generally, as the ultimate evil that must be extracted from society – once complete, the implicit belief is that we could finally be optimistic about ridding the world of war, hatred, poverty, and so on. This perspective seemingly allows New Atheists to vilify religion as an absolute evil, while simultaneously treating science and ‘Truth’ as being absolutely good. It undoubtedly also plays a role in allowing people like Richard Dawkins to write and talk in such a derisive tone about religious believers, and for him to come to some rather strange conclusions:

“What a child should never be taught is that you are a Catholic or Muslim child, therefore that is what you believe. That’s child abuse.” – Dawkins, April, 2013

Gad Saad, subject of one of my recent critiques, seems to be in agreement:

“I concur with Dawkins when he proposed that targeting religious messages to children is tantamount to child abuse.” (Saad, The Consuming Instinct, p. 205-206) 

Sam Harris is also quite comfortable making rather categorical statements about religion:

“If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion.” – Sam Harris

Many atheist websites also trend toward absolute and polarized discussions, where religious intolerance is encouraged and anger is the primary emotion validated within its ranks. Religious believers are not uncommonly labelled as “stupid idiots,” “morons,” and often worse, while less aggressive atheists who challenge the attitudes of anyone among their ranks, are not infrequently dismissed as “tone trolls,” “accommodationist douchebags,” “closet creationists,” or “intellectual cowards.” A woman recently described her leaving the church and trying to find acceptance within the online community of atheists:

“I would say I felt exactly as welcome in movement atheism as I did at my Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, but that would be a lie. No one at St. Peter’s ever called me a stupid cunt because I disagreed with them.” – Melissa McEwen

Kenan Malik, whose work and quality of thought I deeply admire, and who I had the pleasure of meeting for coffee a couple of years ago during his first trip to Canada, recently provided some insightful challenges to what he describes as authoritarian atheism. Malik most alarmingly draws attention to examples where persons of religious belief are at times dehumanized in online discussions while supposedly rational and free-thinking atheists allowed it to continue unchecked. His arguments are spot on and his piece is certainly worth a read. 

For my part, I would like to look at the driving forces of militant atheism juxtaposed against humanistic values, meanings, and notions of legitimate rebellion, and within the broader context of the absurd and our shared human condition. In particular, I want to assess here whether the methods of the militant atheist are consistent with the motives that presumably initiated the call for rebellious action. We will first explore the two oft-cited though admittedly intertwined motives for the necessity of militant atheism: one is based on the upholding of some objective truth(s), the other is based on the upholding of some moral value(s). Though these two positions are indeed entangled, I will suggest that at times one side might be emphasized more than the other to different effects and logical consistencies.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Militant Atheist Arguments emphasizing ‘Truth’

Some militant atheists aggressively argue against religion based on it being untrue, inaccurate, and unsupported by scientific evidence. It is the holding of untrue beliefs, some argue, which often cause us to treat one another unjustly, propagate wars, limit freedoms, violate human rights, and so on. In other words, the undermining and debasement of humanistic values are thought to be caused by religious unreason. Therefore, in engagement with religious believers, the emphasis is placed on the importance of reason, truth, and objective scientific evidence.

“Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate the evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” – Richard Dawkins, Edinburgh Science Festival (1992). 

Presumably, if an atheist were solely concerned with truth or evidence, if they found it, he or she might be converted to accept the existence of God, and perhaps even the necessity of abiding by His religious doctrine and commandments.

“I would gladly accept the existence of God if I saw convincing evidence for it. I haven’t seen any.” – Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution Is True

Based on my reading of both Coyne and Dawkins, I know that even if God existed they might be inclined to reject Him – as would I, but we will get to that later. For now, we may briefly note that absolute truth may at times be overridden by another value(s). It also tells us that the best cause for rejecting the God of scripture might not be based on an absence of truth, fact, and evidence about God, although most still try to argue it as such.


Arguing from the angle of truth also raises some interesting questions. If the militant atheist sincerely believes that the problem is principally about their opponents not accepting factual truth or evidence, why do most appear to limit their confrontation to religion? People hold all kinds of untrue beliefs about the world – including ideas that are possibly more harmful to humanity than religious ones. For example, what about the irrational belief that Capitalism as it stands, is sustainable, causing us to continue foolishly consuming our limited resources without question, or the myth that the United States is still a Democratically elected Constitutional Republic (versus a Plutocratic one), allowing people to believe that their choices are freer than they actually are, or the myth that the United States is primarily a victim of terrorist attacks, allowing them to justify a “War on Terror,” while denying the fact that it has historically been an indirect supporter of terrorism?

What about faith in extreme left or right wing politics – should child indoctrination into such views also be labelled as ‘child abuse?’ What about the widespread brainwashing into our acceptance of consumer utopianism and faith in a symbolic self-esteem supported by monetary success and the relentless acquisition of materialistic things that we do not need? Should this be considered child abuse, perhaps even more so, since we seem to be propagating a sure path to the termination of their future access to basic life necessities?

If only to be consistent with mocking irrational belief, should we not use that same smug attitude to mock and intellectually challenge anyone who buys new clothes for example, not when they lose their functional value, but when cultural fashion dictates, since we know it to be an absurdity, an unnecessary drain on limited world resources, and in many cases it promotes the use of cheap labour and deprived working conditions in poorer countries?

Looking at the bigger picture, is it not equally if not more irrational and dangerous to try to maintain the current ‘American way of life’ when it is paid for by undermining poorer countries, stealing their resources, manipulating and undermining their governments, causing wars, and using other peoples like commodities in order to satisfy the unending desires of the North American consumerist while siding with transnational corporations and the stockholders they are responsible to?

Should we not also be concerned about the indoctrination into pseudo-scientific beliefs? Beliefs about human nature, for example, including the conviction that free-will does not exist, that we are driven by biological programs adapted to the Pleistoscene, or that mental disorders are caused by brain imbalances? Are these ideas not also likely to cause harm if they are permitted to influence cultural attitudes and social policies?

Why does the militant atheist, not seem to get equally upset, angry, and verbally hostile toward those irrational ideas and the people who hold them? Part of the answer might be that many militant atheists are like most of us – they do not bother to question them, and in some cases they hold to their ideological positions as steadfastly as the religious adherents they detest, though they would hardly believe it to be true.

“if Stavrogin believes, he does not believe that he believes. And if he does not believe, he does not believe that he does not believe.” – Dostoyevsky, Demons

The other part of the answer is that if someone were to be aggressively militant toward any untrue ideas, the whole of that person’s day would likely involve walking around, red-faced and angry, pointing, cursing, sarcastically mocking, antagonistically arguing, and accusing nearly the entire human race for its absurd foolishness and for holding so many untrue beliefs.

The point is to emphasize that irrational belief, dogma, and ideological indoctrination are not restricted to religion. Nor will they be solved by the eradication of traditional religions – in my view, and one that I do not have time to properly expound in this essay (though touched on here), the destruction of traditional religions will simply lead to their replacement by secular equivalents that serve some of the same underlying needs. Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, Freud, Camus, and a host of other brilliant minds throughout history have arrived at the same conclusion. Those who need to believe in illusion – arguably nearly all of humankind, will find it in some doctrine or another – whether it be a man in the sky, hope for some utopian future humanity, or nihilistic denial of reality. We do not need religion to be unreasonable; it would appear that we can get along being quite unreasonable without it.

Does that mean that we should leave religion be and not challenge it? No, I think we definitely should, but no less than other forms of unreason that have the potential to cause harm to humanity, and we might be selective about when we choose to do so. For example, I am fairly confident that if I were to become sarcastic and antagonistic toward the slightest hint of unreason encountered throughout my day, while doing my best to humiliate its source, I would be very busy indeed; I would also no doubt quickly alienate myself from society and from whatever friends I might have had.

“He who loves his friend loves him in the present, but the revolution wants to love only a man who has not yet appeared” (Camus, Rebel, p. 239).

“… if the revolution is the only positive value, it has a right to claim everything – even the denunciation and therefore the sacrifice of the friend” (Camus, Rebel, p. 162)

In short, I am arguing here that every instance of religious unreason need not be antagonistically humiliated or even challenged. It is also important that when we do challenge religious thought, we take care to emphasize what might be the most important source for our discontent, which in turn will inform our method. This naturally brings us to the other justification for a rebellious atheism, one not based on truth, but rather in the defense of some humanistic value.

Militant Atheist Arguments emphasizing ‘Value’

iStock_000003906452XSmallSome militant atheists emphasize arguments not based on reason, but rather some ethical, moral, or value-based standard. For instance, we ought to challenge some of the religious beliefs about homosexuality, since they are dehumanizing and discriminatory, attitudes toward contraception use, which may lead to increased prevalence of STD’s, AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, and even deaths, and attitudes that try to influence what should be taught in public classrooms, distorting and censoring scientific facts, and denying the right of a parent to ensure that their children’s education, paid by their tax dollars, is free from strong religious or ideological influences. 

Note that the emphasis here is not necessarily fact or truth, but perhaps some humanistic value, such as justice, freedom, and above all the value of human life. Emphasis on truth or evidence is important, but is in some ways secondary. This is a step in the right direction, and one that I advocate myself, admittedly, to varying degrees of success. A perfect illustration of the difference, between truth and value, is found in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, were a discussion ensues about how an all-powerful God can allow for the suffering of children – to which the Church typically responds: It is part of God’s larger plan, which we cannot possibly understand, and so we must submit to the mystery and to the Lord’s Truth. It is in this context that Ivan exclaims:

“If the suffering of children, serves to complete the sum of suffering necessary for the acquisition of truth, I affirm from now onward that truth is not worth such a price (Dostoevsky, p. 245).”

Read that last line again: “truth is not worth such a price.” Leaving no room for doubt, Ivan further affirms that he would persist in his indignation even if he was wrong. In short, Ivan would not accept that truth should be paid for by injustice and the death of innocents and would sooner accept eternal damnation than condone such injustice. As an atheist and a humanist, I find these kinds of arguments to be far more courageous, moving, and unifying. The point of course, is that some values are perhaps more important than truth, fact, or evidence. I can guess that some militant atheists would implicitly disagree, valuing the doctrine of scientific evidence first and foremost, while moral value is comparatively something of an afterthought, or perhaps viewed as being more useful as a tool to rationally argue against the existence of a just God.

However, it cannot be emphasized strongly enough that if the atheist iconoclast is to find justification for their rebellious destruction of faith-based ideas, in the defense of universal human rights and values, he or she must also strive to never forget what they are defending. In other words, having identified a value worth preserving (e.g. freedom, justice, and human dignity), we implicitly note a limit that we cannot justify crossing, by even ourselves:

“The rebel … limits himself, as a matter of principle, to refusing to be humiliated without asking that others should be (Camus, p. 18).”

It would seem to me that some militant atheists who denounce religion on the basis of tolerance and respect for the dignity of people, in many cases undermine those same values in how they habitually confront religious adherents with hostile ridicule. What’s more, they often seem to conflate the defense of an ethical value with argument about scientific truth, such that they verbally attack and humiliate people for their ideas and not just in situations where human rights or values are being violated.

Religion is instead given homogenous treatment. Indeed many militant atheists curiously treat religion as though most adherents actually follow the commands of what was written in the holy texts. Yet if that were true, the entire world would have by now become engulfed by absolute chaos and anarchy – things are not that bad. It seems to me that we should not concern ourselves so much with what is written in the holy texts, but rather what people claim to be written in the holy texts. The truth is that most religions change with time. More often than not, religious ideology will bend to sociopolitical and cultural necessity, not the other way around, as many seem to fear. Embarrassingly enough, the same can even sometimes be said of science, though thankfully to a much lesser degree, and with its effects being greater on some disciplines (e.g. human psychology) more than others (e.g. basic chemistry).

So let us not be overly concerned with what the holy book says, but rather what the people believe it says… in each instance, we might ask whether these beliefs lead to actions where human rights and values (e.g. freedom, justice) are being disturbingly undermined. In some cases the answer will be yes, in others, no. I would argue that this should inform our decision about whether or not we should take umbrage and rebellious action, not the mere holding of an untrue belief.

It is from this perspective that I question atheists who categorically equate religious teaching with child abuse. What does that even mean? If we were to accept this as a fair comparison, we might be tempted to criminalize or ban religious teaching, or remove children from the custody of their religious parents, but note that we could not do so without undermining the same justice and freedoms that we claim to defend. We must ensure that our approach does not undermine the values that at times give justification to our rebellious protest.

“It is a self-deception of philosophers and moralists to imagine that they escape decadence by opposing it. That is beyond their will; and, however little they acknowledge it, one later discovers that they were among the most powerful promoters of decadence.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power

It is curious how we manage to tolerate people who hold irrational views about politics, foreign policy, economics, and cultural traditions. Culture is in reality nothing more than some set of irrational illusions that we all subscribe to in varying degrees and forms. Yet we do not seem so bothered about those false ideas, and often manage to respect them.

So long as they are not infringing on our human rights, freedoms, or undermining cherished human values, can we not tolerate the existence of people who hold false ideas? If the answer from the militant atheist is no, then I would ask him/her to explain, in light of the above argument, how such a position could be justified. Failing that, I would at least ask them to be consistent enough in their value-based convictions, based on what seems to be a worshipping of truth, that they would have the same hypersensitivity to all forms of human unreason, while aggressively mocking and humiliating them with the same degree of repulsion.

Where does the Militant Atheist movement go wrong?

iStock_000005656024XSmallIn the above discussion, I tried to distinguish between aggressive anti-religious positions justified by an emphasis on truth, versus an emphasis on defending some set of universal human values. I tried to show, particularly in the context of our absurd human condition, that the latter approach is perhaps more defensible. However by no means does this lead to endorsing an absolute stance where religious belief is aggressively attacked wherever it is heard or felt.

It is my contention that the militant atheist position, in its rebellious movement to eradicate the slightest hint of religious thought from society, often embodies itself as an angry crusade emphasizing the need to challenge religious unreason first and foremost, and defending ethics or value second. As an aside, please note that I am not making a universal accusation of all atheists – I am simply observing a significant trend. Nevertheless, the consequence of this approach may at times lead to a hypocritical stance, where the ideas that militant atheists hold about the world (e.g. arguments about the non-existence of God), become more important to pursue than the values that were to be defended by evoking such ideas in arguments with religious adherents.

Framing the problem of religion as an absolute and necessary war of ideas that must be battled and won, rather than confusion or disagreement about values that must be universally defended, will change how we think and feel about it. If one takes the former position, as do many militant atheists, it will seem clear that lines must be drawn and absolute sides must be taken. This position thus allows them to accuse ‘moderate’ atheists (not moderate in their unbelief mind you, but moderate in their commitment to an all-out antagonistic rebellion against religion), as traitors – intellectual and moral cowards.

For the New Atheist, values are often subsumed by a worship of objective scientific “truth,” which causes the unfortunate misstep of believing, as some militant atheists do, that values can be determined by science. Sam Harris, for example, makes exactly this claim in his book The Moral Landscape (also see Malik’s superb critique). Indeed, it is worth noting that as part of the militant atheists movement toward their dreamt of revolution, there is at times a simultaneous undercurrent of persuasion in many militant atheist circles, for followers to adopt an alternative worldview – typically, some form of reductive evolutionary physicalism. This particular worldview is, in my opinion, often nothing more than a nihilistic secular belief system for atheists – though others will naturally disagree. However, it seems to me that many militant atheists do implicitly emphasize the necessity of somehow living ‘scientifically.’ It is thus unsurprising that many New Atheists find themselves accused of scientism. But to base a rule for human life on science, is to base an absolute value on an approximate knowledge. Something ‘definitively scientific’ is a contradiction in terms. Upon resolving this issue, one must furthermore argue why ‘science’ should be respected over other man-made values, including justice or freedom.


Framing the debate as such also changes the emphasis. ‘Truth,’ ‘reason,’ and scientific evidence, has in many cases become the end goal. Treated as an absolute and necessary end, the means are tacitly justified. The indoctrination of others into a particular scientific worldview becomes more important than maintaining respect for others or acknowledging the freedom for others to hold dissimilar views without treating them as inferior beings. This method thus changes how we view the ‘other.’ Not as a person with whom we share the same boat in this absurd existential condition, but rather as the enemy of ‘progress,’ in relation to our implicitly cherished worldview. After labelling the ‘other’ as a hostile enemy, it makes it that much easier to dehumanize them, which is precisely what Malik observed on Jerry Coyne’s blog:

Alexander Hellemans: “Imagine you would board the Paris metro, and there is a seat next to some person in a burqa, very fat, and you can’t see its face. Would you feel comfortable sitting next to it?”

Kenan Malik: “‘It’ is a person. We should not need reminding of the consequences of such dehumanization. Such comments turn up, of course, on many blogs (including mine). But have people become so loathful of religion that they no longer recognize the need to challenge such bigotry?”

Reason and truth must also note their limits. They must be willing to bow down the moment they begin to infringe on the rights, freedoms, and dignity, of the other person. Otherwise, we become absolute defenders of our own preferred worldview, and in our actions and attitudes, we risk undermining the very rights and freedoms that were supposed to be saved by our espousal of Truth and Reason. Again, the ideological commitment must not become more important than the human values it was employed in many cases to defend.

“The rebel undoubtedly demands a certain degree of freedom for himself; but in no case, if he is consistent, does he demand the right to destroy the existence and the freedom of others. He humiliates no one. The freedom he claims, he claims for all; the freedom he refuses, he forbids everyone to enjoy” (Camus, Rebel, p. 284).

At one point in his book, The God Delusion, Dawkins asks:

“If we have independent criteria for choosing among religious moralities, why not cut out the middle man and go straight for the moral choice without religion?” (p. 81).

I would agree with him, but I would in a similar way ask that if aggressive anti-religious attitudes are ultimately based on defending virtues or humanistic values, why not de-emphasize the importance of accepting the science-based truth arguments? In other words, defend those values without pushing to indoctrinate others into one’s preferred scientific fold. It seems to me that if you protest in the name of emphasizing these universal values, you might find yourself, many religious believers, and some more tolerable atheists, to be on the same side. We would thus be siding, not in a war of ideas – ‘religion’ versus ‘science,’ but with the underlying values that could be shared by any side, regardless of ideological orientation. There is nothing cowardly about that, and in fact it seems to me a matter of consistency.

Final Comments

At the present time, this is my best effort to expound my thoughts on some very complex issues involving religion and atheism. Before ending, I will answer some anticipated criticisms. No doubt a casual reader will want to dismiss me as an ‘accommodationist.’ But what would I be accused of accommodating? Yes, I will readily accommodate a person’s right to hold beliefs that I find to be untrue, and as long as they do not harm others, to maintain their beliefs without undue harassment or humiliation. However, I should be clear that I do not think religions should be given special status in society (e.g. tax breaks) and I advocate for the separation of religion from education, politics, and scientific endeavors. The difference is that I simultaneously accept its right to exist, and will try not go out of my way to universally disrespect or humiliate people who follow its doctrines, especially if they do no noticeable harm.

The imperceptive reader may likewise accuse me of advocating a position of passivity, where thoughts and feelings might be censored so as to not offend others. Since persons of faith often take offense to others challenging their beliefs, this could mean endorsing silent inaction. To be clear, I do not advocate complacency as a solution, unless I undermine the freedom of speech that I claim here to value. I believe we have a right to offend people, and we should not censor ideas or debate because individuals or collective groups take offense to them. However, I take issue with those who habitually abuse the right to offend, exercising it relentlessly and unscrupulously – that is, in common interaction with people who hold ideas that are different from one’s own. Again, it is in my mind a matter of consistency and of good taste – ensuring that one does not undermine a value that arguably affords one the right to resist. I do in fact advocate taking a rebellious stand, but only as it relates to the violation of particular values, including human rights and relative freedom and justice, and when possible, basic human respect and dignity.

I anticipate another criticism – that my argument is one made by someone trying too hard to make himself feel superior to both sides in the debate about religious or non-religious belief. However, this sort of criticism again assumes that there are two warring sides to be taken: a ‘religious’ side and a ‘scientific’ side. As an atheist, I will intellectually side with science and reason, but as a matter of rebellious action, I will take exclusive side with neither. Again, this means siding with the relative humanistic value we want to protect, not overarching ideology. My position therefore has nothing to do with feeling ‘better’ than those holding another – it is I think logical, and perhaps even a matter of consistency.

In short, I am advocating for a certain kind of dignified respect in how we typically challenge religious ideas and the people who hold them, reserving our antagonistic style or moral outrage when some important values, freedoms, or justices are at risk, while never forgetting what we are defending. Note that in many of these cases, we may find religious adherents to be standing with us – ready and willing to rebel against aspects of their own religious faith. I think there is something very powerful in that.


Now, I readily admit that this style of relative religious tolerance is easier to advocate where I live. I am, as far as I can tell, surrounded by good people who generally mean well and religious ideas typically do little to offend personal rights and freedoms. In other parts of the world, where religious thoughts are strongly tied to hatred, intolerance, and inequality (e.g. racism, homophobia, sexism), I can fully appreciate how this attitude can be made much more difficult. In these situations rebellious action is a daily concern, and tolerance of intolerance is all but impossible. It is up to each person to decide for themselves what part they are willing to play in defending the human rights and values that we all care about, and those living afar should do what they can to help those in less fortunate situations where injustices and restrictions on freedoms are commonplace. Still, even in these situations we ought to resist the temptation to declare all-out-war against religious belief, or resurrect some absolute doctrine or belief system to combat it. If we do, we may risk turning into the very thing we were fighting against.

“He who does battle with monsters needs to watch out lest he in the process become a monster himself.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

27 Responses to “My Thoughts on New and Militant Atheism”

  1. Mrs. Neutron Says:

    Some diseases just don’t have a cure. The absurdity of man’s condition, a feeling life manifest in unfeeling matter originally generated in the belly of a dying star billions of years ago, I fear is one of them. There are treatments. Not unlike the treatments of many terminal diseases historically, they can, as the saying goes, be worse than the disease.

    Militant Atheism is akin to trying to amputate a leg shattered by a bullet on some long ago Civil War battlefield. Indeed it may save the patient, but, it may also leave him unable to stand. Mercury may prolong the life of the syphilitic, but, the cost to his sanity is no small one. Time spent in study, observation and scientific experimentation have provided us with better treatments of both conditions. Yet even today amputation and drastic pharmaceutical treatments for drastic and devastating diseases still have their place.

    Where I live, in the buckle of America’s Bible Belt it is easy to take up sides with Dawkins, Harris, Hitchins and all the rest. I see and hear the bigotry and witness the horrible things young people, who happen to be born gay, into families who would rather see them dead than admit it, have to live with. It’s easy and tempting to say that eradicating the Bible Thumpers and their ridiculous beliefs, or, the Muslims and theirs, is the only cure. But, in the end, it’s no cure at all. In the end it’s just gas poured on the fundamentalist fire. You simply don’t talk, argue or belittle a person hypnotized into thinking he is a chicken OUT of thinking he is a chicken because he CHOSE to be hypnotized in the first place. He has his reasons. You may not understand them, or, agree with them, but, he has them and they give him something that he needs.

    None of this is to say that incurable disease, like the existential absurdity of man, can’t be treated. A scientific study of its nature in and of itself can be a big step toward making it something we can all learn to live with. Multiculturalism, with all its problems, is almost forcing many of us to come to grips with the fact that religious beliefs are but “techniques”… thousands of techniques that exist as a testament to the fact that we are a species that is forever condemned to invent order out of unfeeling chaos. Bullshit our way into something that at least appears sane to us.

    I can’t help but hope that continual exposure to different brands of bullshit will, over time (and I hope we HAVE the time) have a blunting effect on some of the sharper and more dangerous edges of our most prominent religious dogmas. An evolution, if you will, of highly dangerous bullshit into a brand of universal bullshit that is still functional, but, far more benign. The way deadly bacteria, if they are to survive long term, must not kill their host outright if they are to be successful, but, seek a way toward some sort of symbiosis instead.

    How can we ever accept, let alone appreciate, the absurdity of our condition as humans without observing and trying to understand its myriad manifestations? How do we ever get beyond it and forward toward living anything called “The Good Life” without accepting man for what he is?

    If we have a future it isn’t bananas winning out over oranges. It’s learning how to live with and appreciate a healthy fruit salad! Eradicating fruit, like eradicating bullshit is simply out of the question. We would all die of some sort of existential scurvy.

    It’s like the old joke Brad. Like the guy who brought his brother to the psychologist complaining that he thought he was a chicken. When the psychologist said, “I can cure your brother.” He quickly replied….

    …YES! But, we need the eggs.

    Great read
    Be well
    Mrs. N.

  2. Brad Says:

    Thank you as always for your very thoughtful comments.

    The great tragedy of our existential disease, born from our intuitive awareness of a unique and absurd human condition, is that few of us know that we are infected, let alone knowing what with, and fewer still have the psychological fortitude to never forget what ails them while resisting the never-ending temptation to escape their dilemma. Struggling to resolve the tension by some absolute, utopian, or heroic ideology, risks treading down the path of ruin – it typically ends in the desecration of the only values capable of justifying our existence in the context of its absurdity.

    The question that I wrestle with, the one capable of keeping me up at night, is wondering how we might balance the above with our collective desire/need for illusion.

    “Multiculturalism, with all its problems, is almost forcing many of us to come to grips with the fact that religious beliefs are but “techniques”… thousands of techniques that exist as a testament to the fact that we are a species that is forever condemned to invent order out of unfeeling chaos. … I can’t help but hope that continual exposure to different brands of bullshit will, over time (and I hope we HAVE the time) have a blunting effect on some of the sharper and more dangerous edges of our most prominent religious dogmas.”

    Well said. I absolutely agree, and I hope that you are right!

  3. Simon Ashton Says:

    For me, what I see, is the majority of New Atheism as nothing more than the targeting of another social group by way of a denial of the ontological mortality/self relation. This is an inauthentic un-repression device manifesting as a hostile denial, mis-directed in aggression against others.

  4. Simon Ashton Says:

    Ok, so more of a full read rather than a scan, its an excellent piece Brad, i wish more would engage in this level of analysis, sadly though the Fundies are everywhere and on all sides. Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens are complete jokers in my view, I read Dawkins’s “God Delusion” whilst on a long weekend in the beautiful city of Istanbul, that place is like mega awesome for religious architecture, that book is shite, total shite and I speak as someone with a biological sciences degree. There is prejudice that is manifesting from the need to align oneself to “truth” and “objectivity” its a real big problem I think. If these nutters had any sway about how we should organise things they would have rehabilitation centres to convert people out of their default condition of the need to deny mortality, but the truth is that this points the way for our social engagement, we are never non-social in our being – its a limitation on being a socially condition creature. What I mean by this is that people are religion, society should be seen as the self actualisation medium to realise the ideal, what we are witnessing with conflict and environmental degradation is the defeat of our true destiny as a species – one that could know of what all this is as self aware animals.

    New atheism just drives me nuts, its clearly a prejudice and denial, these are titles of popular videos on youtube:

    Dawkins intellectually and morally crucifies Ratzinger

    Hitchens takes on God (God loses BTW)

    Sam Harris CRUSHES religious dogma

    etc. etc.

    Theres something going on here… its the denial of the mortality/self and self/social relation(s).

    It stinks.

  5. Brad Says:

    Thanks Simon – I agree with almost all of what you say (e.g. I am slightly suspicious of what you could mean by “our true destiny as a species”). You are right about the God Delusion book. To this day, Dawkins still has no plausible explanation for the “God shaped hole” that most of us knowingly or unknowingly possess – in my opinion his militant atheism is ironically just another way of filling it. Instead, Dawkins continues to explaining it all away as childhood brainwashing, or conveniently, as an evolutionarily adaptive illusion (e.g. a genetically pre-specified cognitive module). I just don’t think most militant atheists are able to see the bigger picture, and where they themselves fit within it. It is unfortunate, because I think any hope for the future will mean finding more people who can see the forest for the trees.

  6. Danny Says:

    I read the entire essay and found your description of Militant Atheists to be more applicable to internet trolls, those who for the most part hide their identities while verbally assaulting others. I find it difficult to understand your labelling of Richard Dawkins as a militant atheist according to your article. Dawkins is a well-known and active atheist but I would not link him with those who ridicule someone’s beliefs for self-satisfaction.

    In your essay you say “What about faith in extreme left or right wing politics – should child indoctrination into such views also be labelled as ‘child abuse?’”. Dawkins brings this up in “The God Delusion”. He makes the comparison of labelling a child according to her parents’ religious beliefs being as ridiculous as labelling a child according to her parents’ political beliefs. Very few would label a child with his parents’ political views. I think the “child abuse” aspect comes from putting a label on a child that does not fully understand what that label means as well as putting the societal associations of that label on the child. Children for the most part enjoy playing with other children regardless of their parents’ religious views, and to give them a label is to start segregating them from a young age and to point out religious beliefs and differences that should not and do not matter. In this regard the use of child abuse is justified.

  7. Simon Ashton Says:

    what do you mean by the societal associations of a religious label? Could you mean that certain faiths are subject to prejudice within multi-faith communities? Where is this prejudice coming from? To simply claim that the prejudice originates from faith is to jump the gun somewhat I think. It is much more helpfull to ask questions such as why are people religious, what psychological role does this play in personal development etc. etc. Correct me if i’m wrong but in The God Delusion doesn’t Dawkins completely skirt round these questions, preferring instead to resort to Darwinian dogma with a fleeting hat tip to reciprocal altruism and by-product enquiry (oh, but not by-product of evolution, no no no) Questions about religiosity are much more complex than simply trying to answer the impossible question to answer; whether or not theres some guy in the sky – Dawkins’s approach. There is prejudice in the world, wheres it coming from?

    The study of psychopathology is the study of failed death transcendence – Irvin Yalom

  8. Danny Says:

    The prejudice is coming from preconceived opinions of others without reason. Prejudice may be the result of genes, to fear those who aren’t a part of the in-group in order for the genes of the in-group to survive. However, genes don’t have the final say on our choices, maybe it was beneficial to have a prejudicial view of outsiders when humans first evolved, but in today’s small world prejudice need not be. I’m talking about prejudice involving country of origin, skin tone, sexuality etc. (of course there also exists prejudice towards religious believers by some non-believers as well as other religious believers).

    My main issue with the essay was the lumping in of Richard Dawkins with those who verbally assault people online for self-gratification as a hobby.

  9. Brad Says:

    Danny if all that you got out of my essay, is it being applicable to aggressive internet trolls, you seem to miss a lot. The general condescension and humiliation are not rare attitudes in the militant atheist movement, nor are comments such as Dawkins, comparing religious indoctrination to child abuse. I am not going to re-write my essay here, but you also seem to miss the main thrust of my main argument, which contends that: 1) atheism does not imply obligatory moral action (contrary to what New Atheists claim), 2) that the call to action that we often hear might be understood in terms of an emphasis placed on either ‘truth’ or ‘value,’ 3) that New Atheists angrily emphasizing the former cannot reasonably justify their emotional protest in light of both the absurdity of the human condition, inconsistencies in not angrily humiliating other untruths that cause harm, and in how their all out ‘war’ against religious belief causes them to undermine some of the same values they claim elsewhere to defend.

    “Dawkins is a well-known and active atheist but I would not link him with those who ridicule someone’s beliefs for self-satisfaction.”

    First, what is an ‘active atheist?’ On what grounds should an atheist become ‘active?’ What does it mean to promote ‘atheism’ and actively attack ‘religion?’ These are assumptions that I tried to challenge in this essay. Secondly, I suspect Dawkins takes a great deal of satisfaction in ridiculing others. The pages of his God Delusion are riddled with ridicule and contempt for religious believers. I think Dawkins has in recent years learned some self-restraint, but I would guess only because he has found it politically problematic to speak his mind.

    “[Dawkins] makes the comparison of labelling a child according to her parents’ religious beliefs being as ridiculous as labelling a child according to her parents’ political beliefs.”

    I do not disagree – it is ridiculous.

    “Very few would label a child with his parents’ political views. I think the “child abuse” aspect comes from putting a label on a child that does not fully understand what that label means as well as putting the societal associations of that label on the child. … to give them a label is to start segregating them from a young age and to point out religious beliefs and differences that should not and do not matter. In this regard the use of child abuse is justified.”

    What would the frequency of ‘labeling’ a child with political views matter to your argument? If it happened in greater or lesser frequency, would we be more or less inclined to label it as child abuse? Furthermore, there are many families where parents do in fact tell their children that they are ‘conservatives,’ ‘democrats,’ ‘liberals,’ and so on, or at least imply what they should be, without their being able to ‘fully understand what the label means.’ Parents also indoctrinate their children into beliefs (and ascribe certain labels) based on their becoming sports fans rooting for a particular team. More broadly, we can make some of the same arguments about gender labels and all of the stereotypes and expectations that go along with that. Nothing in your argument justifies the label of ‘child abuse’ in comparison to the general indoctrination of a child into a particular religion. Child abuse is a term that we reserve for those who have experienced very severe mental or physical harm – it has very serious moral and legal implications. Using it in this way to smear religion, and to stoke moral outrage and action among atheists, is both irrational and wrong – it undermines the real and far more serious intent of the definition. And this is precisely this kind of attitude or approach that I wanted to critique in this essay.

  10. Brent Mosher Says:

    The “Dawkins intellectually and morally crucifies Ratzinger” video.

    That people give unfortunate and sensationalist titles to their videos should not distract one from their actual content (BEST CAT VIDEO!!!!- EVER!!! …and usually, it’s not…). It may be the poster really feels that way about Dawkin’s presentation. But it may also be they understand You Tube search engines and so load their titles with popular search words. I did not care for The God Delusion, but I found little in this video to take exception to. And the poster, as is evidenced by the lengthy comments he has posted, obviously knows his stuff vis-a-vis the sexual abuse cases.

    On the teaching of theology to children being abuse – Teaching your children extreme political views does not leave them with a fear of eternal damnation. Being ignorant US support of terrorism does not lead to eternal damnation. Believing in UFOs does not lead to eternal damnation, but worshipping a false god does. While I may despise Conservatives (or at least their politics) I don’t believe their conservative politics is going to send them to hell, much as I might wish it so, and much as I might think they deserve it.

    Could it be that religion elicits such a visceral response because of the territory it stakes as it’s own? We can go through our days untouched by concerns about drone strikes, but our “souls” are not so easily ignored. That religion despoils so much ground with it’s theological violence, and potential wounds to the psyche, is perhaps what Dawkins and Harris are sensitive to?

  11. Brad Says:

    I take no specific issue with the video of Dawkins. For example, if powerful religious figures who have the ability to sway public opinion and politics, say things that promote discrimination of people who choose to not believe in a God, then we would have every right to protest – in the name of respecting the dignity of persons and freedom of speech (e.g. my freedom to not believe in God and still be treated as an equal human being). If I was in the area, you might see me in the crowd, but note that our umbrage would be based on defending some value (e.g. relative freedom or justice). It would not be based on an absolute ideological war against religion or about people holding ideas that are untrue – which is the general trend I was critiquing in this essay.

    “On the teaching of theology to children being abuse – Teaching your children extreme political views does not leave them with a fear of eternal damnation. … That religion despoils so much ground with it’s theological violence, and potential wounds to the psyche, is perhaps what Dawkins and Harris are sensitive to?”

    Your argument assumes that all religious children have this dreadful fear of eternal damnation. I would argue that most seldom think about it. I was brought up Catholic and was taught about heaven and hell, but the emphasis was always on heaven, and the implicit understanding was you just didn’t have to worry about going to hell unless you did something very bad (e.g. killing someone). When I got older I grew out of such ideas – but I would never suggest that my parents psychologically abused me. Are there situations where extreme religious attitudes could be psychologically abusive to children? Yes, absolutely, but we must resist the temptation to paint the picture with such broad strokes as to call any religious teachings child abuse. As a clinical psychologist who has worked with abused children and adult survivors, I find it offensive that New Atheists would use this kind of terminology to promote their ideological war against religion. I am sensitive to what they are reacting against, but we must not treat these issues categorically. Again, there is this tendency it seems, to advocate taking ‘sides’ in this issue of religion versus atheism, and of course, such people will wonder what side I am on. However, I do not think I can say it any better than how I already did:

    “As an atheist, I will intellectually side with science and reason, but as a matter of rebellious action, I will take exclusive side with neither. Again, this means siding with the relative humanistic value we want to protect, not overarching ideology.”

  12. Brent Mosher Says:

    For your consideration:

    And, I wasn’t assuming all children have this dreadful fear of damnation, only that religion can teach such a fear. Is religion a delusion equal to any other delusion or false belief? If so, then why does it garner so much attention and concern?

  13. Simon Ashton Says:

    I cant help thinking though that in that display Dawkins is being too ready to use a conflation strategy; equating religion with child abuse. This is highly unfortunate due to fact that the most credible psychoanalysis of the vast majority of what we might term “knee jerk” atheism is essentially based on erroneous conflation.

    It seems as though the subconscious primary need to deny death somehow gets its way over the conscious mind through the conflation strategy; by way of the making the equivalency death = God. The second process occurring would of course be transfer, and this is where the social dynamic is coming in. The presence of death within the individuals reality *cant* be originating internally, so is origin is externalised by transfer onto religious people, thus a self deception cycle is complete; the death/self relation has been defeated.

    This is highly problematic for a number of obvious reasons: not only is the conflation a downright lie, it is a threat amplifying one, by death becoming death transcendent in order for its threat to be expiated via the transfer/blame maneuver. Moreover this then becomes jaw-droppingly extraordinary given that Dawkins is making a career out of opposing religion, but he himself is involved this this death transcendent self deception.

    If we were to apply Freudian metaphysics to the self relational economy i’ve outlined here we would have to say that this type of process is Idiotic as the death impossible Id gains dominance over the conscious mind, a reversal of what is supposed to happen, according to Freud. Alternatively, we could say that Dawkins is Heideggers’ “inauthentic man” or using Sartres’ terminology living in “bad faith”.

    Essentially what this means is that Dawkins, and many others, appear to be pre-twentieth century thinkers, foolishly stumbling around muttering nonsense and seemingly blissfully unaware that the game of understanding the human animal has moved on quite a bit in the past hundred years. Its all very unfortunate.

  14. Brent Mosher Says:

    I would be curious to know your thoughts on the Atheism+ movement. Atheism “plus” the adoption of a set of “progressive” social causes (feminism, social justice, gay rights, enviromental issues).

  15. Brad Says:

    As far as I can tell, Atheism+ is simply New Atheism or militant atheism with an explicit emphasis on advocacy and social justice. Defined as such, I believe most of the same criticisms would apply. In short, I think the ‘atheism’ part of “Atheism+” is more or less irrelevant. Imagine, for example, our creating some fictitious groups for comparison: “Philosophers+”, “Senior Citizens Society+”, “Veganism+”, “Bowling League of America+”, and so on. Why should we care about the group they are affiliated with or what other specific beliefs they hold? As a secular humanist, I believe social justices are worth defending and fighting for, but I would prefer doing so in ways that unify people of various beliefs and backgrounds – for it to be as inclusive as possible. Atheism+ does nothing of the sort.

  16. Brent Mosher Says:

    And what about atheist comedians who make fun of religion? Carlin, Minchin (the list is long). Would/Do you have reservations about such comedy? In as much as they are often hostile to religious belief? And unsparing in their ridicule of many belief systems?

  17. Brad Says:

    Apples and oranges I think. In fact Carlin is one of my most favorite comedians. The comedian plays a special role in society because he/she can often get away with pointing out the absurdity in human behavior; in some ways we get relief in recognizing the foolishness in ourselves. Importantly, there is an expectation that we (the audience) could be the subject of ridicule, so we go in accepting that (there is a mutual agreement of give and take). This is not what I am talking about here.

  18. Simon Ashton Says:

    Further, there is another dynamic that I’ve noticed has been playing out the New Atheist movement, its subtle but I would argue that its present; moral alignment with the “war on terror”

    Everyone tacitly understands that when Sam Harris gives a lecture and eulogises the late Hitchens and says “more dignity than certain civilisations I could name” you just know that that snake in the grass is saying; “Its Islam folks”

    I have noticed the same with Dawkins, and its totally blatant with the many bloggers who claim to be “freethinkers”, a misnomer if ever there was one.

    I reckon that the majority of it all is just the need to tuck oneself into established power structures in order to gain a sense of security. Obviously this is at a cost to personal freedom, but its literally deadly in Iraq and Afghanistan, all for cowardice and an inauthentic sense of empowerment.

  19. Simon Ashton Says:

    Jerry Coyne, from his laughably titled “Why Evolution Is true” blog:

    I adamantly maintain that this kind of violence is almost uniquely inspired by Islam, which, at present, is much more invidious than other faiths. Those who maintain otherwise are blinkered apologists.

  20. Brad Says:

    I think you are right to notice a correlation with the New Atheist movement and the so-called “war-on-terror.” The US government arguably uses the ambiguous label so they can declare preemptive war to secure their own economic and political interests with impunity, while the New Atheists may often align themselves for ideological reasons. That is, they align themselves with the “war-on-terror” because it serves their interests in the war on religion. That’s not to say that there is anything duplicitous about it, but once you’ve made a hero-project out of attacking religion, I gather it would become difficult to see anything past the target you aim to destroy. This is perhaps natural consequence of militant atheism, and probably why some of its primary spokesmen (e.g. Harris & Dawkins) say things that trigger accusations of islamophobia.

    Jerry Coyne, from his laughably titled “Why Evolution Is true” blog:

    I adamantly maintain that this kind of violence is almost uniquely inspired by Islam, which, at present, is much more invidious than other faiths. Those who maintain otherwise are blinkered apologists.

    … or perhaps realists

  21. Simon Ashton Says:

    More, this time from A C Grayling. Funny how ive never seen him give the dogma analysis when, for example, the IDF use US gifted Apache helicopters to rain white phosphorous on Gaza.

    Scepticism Mr Grayling? You bet.

  22. Simon Ashton Says:

    FAO: the partially hidden identity of “Danny”. So now its down to this is it:

    >>>>> Prejudice may be the result of genes, to fear those who aren’t a part of the in-group in order for the genes of the in-group to survive.

    Another fascist.

  23. Brad Says:

    Simon, I get that you have reservations, but do try to point them out less dismissively. It sounds like Danny might be a proponent of evolutionary psychology (EP), but this does not make him a fascist. I have made my own case against EP on this website, most recently arguing that it is something of a secular religion: Death, Meaningless, and Darwinian Heroism.

  24. Sean Says:

    Brad, excellent piece. I appreciate your arguments, and as well appreciate the comment thread. But I want to give a perspective of someone NOT holding a degree, but rather simply a person who recently, having been raised within Utah and the LDS faith, realized the magnificence of atheism. I say this not to place atheism on a pedestal, but to express how TRULY liberating it has been reading the works of those that are put under the microscope in this article. I have to admit a few things. The first is that I DO feel an incredible desire to be proactive in abolishing the sects of faith that I have been exposed to. I don’t desire for any others to be raised up the way that I was, and I am trying to ascertain the origins of that feeling. The second is a quote from Hitchens that I would like to give:

    “We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.”

    This is, I believe the basic element to the perceived motives of New or Militant atheism. I respect that there are those who are not as adamant about Hitchens’ statement, whether that is because they were not forced to be reared within an environment that fostered a malignant response, or because they simply had the tools to deal with their outcome more positively. But I can ‘testify’ ,(hate that damn word), to the fact that there are many who see in essence the grand scheme of MANY faiths. Whether the scheme is purposeful or not, doesn’t truly matter, because the outcome is often the same, and that is the repression of original thought, the trivialization of the human condition, and not least of these, the fear filled lives that adherents maintain. Fear of Hell as a child is very real. My former faith taught that one could be irrevocably sentenced to hell based on whether I rejected the ‘truth’ after having been ‘witness’ to the spirit of the holy ghost or not. That is, what I affirm within my thoughts can send me to hell. As a man I am not tormented by this, but as a boy, I had this fear every time I participated in normal healthy boyhood activities that went against the grain of the church. For this reason I find myself extremely motivated by the endeavors of those “militant’ atheists. I should state here that there are entire organizations that DO seem to antagonize on purpose, currently there are picketers at the funeral of the former Wesboro baptist church, and atheist organizations are actively supporting this. I do not take to the idea that a punch deserves a punch back. However, the efforts of Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, and the like, was and is to engage in helping others through logical argument and denial of religious claims. I understand that some claims, when debunked, cause outrage, after all, adherents have often based their entire lives on fraudulent issues. Ultimately they endeavor to teach that there truly are reasons for life that do not ‘outrage reason’ and that those of us who experienced barbaric assaults on the psyche as youth can be free of that.

    When an unfortunate reality is experienced, a person can work on themselves to change the feeling concerning it, or they can endeavor to change the cause that began the reality. I may well work on myself exclusively, but my empathy denies contentment in this. This is the reason I posit there are militant atheists, and that they are not “nutters”.

    I know this thread took place quite a while ago, but I hope that if I am off the mark, or otherwise erroneous, I can learn more.

  25. Brad Says:

    Thanks Sean. I don’t think we’d disagree on much, if anything. I appreciate the Hitchens quote, however I am not sure if we can have him speak for everyone identifying with the breed of atheist I was trying to describe (atheists are of course a heterogeneous group). We should also keep in mind that consciously declared motives have a notorious habit of being inconsistent with motives that could be implicit and unconscious.

    I understand your personal experience; it was not mine growing up Catholic, and I don’t think it even represents the majority of those in the West growing up under religious influence, but I appreciate the difference and the degree of harm done. I have conceded that an aggressive atheistic style may be at times justified and warranted … I was instead critical of the ‘absolute’ position developed by some, and a style that appears to border on intolerance. I’m not opposed to offending people – but I think it is in bad taste to take pleasure in it… this tends to happen when we develop our views to absolute positions (i.e. ‘Truths’)… I believe even reason has its limits: namely, when it it seems to justify undermining the dignity of those who are different. Reason and empathy are powerful motivators, and I believe you… that many [most?] modern-day atheists want to help change the world based on those factors – I’d probably include myself as one of them. However absolute meaning-systems (think Becker-style ‘hero-systems’) are also strong motivators, and in some cases I think [some] strands of atheism can find itself driven by these kinds of forces. That’s all I was trying to say here. I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

  26. damaris Says:

    Where I come from (Kenya) Anyone that says they do not believe in a god is militant, anti christ, devil worshipper. I respect faith what I have no regard for is what this faith is doing to my people, people will not go to hospital, children die because their parents are praying. God is the answer to everything and EVERYTHING.

    I cannot see a dignified way about this, because just saying it is militant and anti god, and frankly if they had anything to do with it it should warrant life imprisonment; Look at our neighbours Uganda for instance 14 years in jail for homosexuals and those who support them. What is the dignified way of going about this? And then the woman muslim who has been sentenced to death and 100 lashes in Sudan for marrying a christian? Can someone tell me the best way to be against this, social media likes and tweets is not helping much.

  27. Brad Says:

    I don’t know much about the socioeconomic or cultural/religious situation of Kenya, but I wonder if the comment “children die because their parents are praying” is an oversimplification of the problem. In most cases, the problem is not so much religion per se, but with the particular role or purpose that religion has within a given cultural community. In my opinion, people who have a low socioeconomic status and who reside in areas where distribution of wealth is low and where rights and freedoms are restricted, are more likely to be tenaciously religious… one reason is that the lack of opportunity and progress may drive people to despair and in turn to an irrational hope through religion; the other, is simply by virtue of the fact that the wealthy ruling class (usually in control of government) benefit by blurring religious and political realities in such a way that they further enslave the masses by having rights overridden by religious dogma and by tacitly encouraging them to accept their struggle. Once you see the problem being less about religion per se, and more about power and ideology, I think you get a clearer picture of what’s going on. Also, if you haven’t seen the film “Flight from Death,” you might want to check it out… it does a good job of sketching out some of the things I am alluding to here.