“Militant” Atheism (And Why The Separation Of Church And State Is Important)

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Quite regularly, especially on the internet, atheists are faced with the accusation that they are being “militant” or “extremist” with their atheism by religious people and religious groups. The term “New Atheists” is used as an insult towards atheists to describe what religious folk often call a “militant atheist movement”, in an attempt to discredit our position.

Of course, what the religious crowd fail to realise is that there is no fundamental difference between the atheists of BC to the atheists of today. The definition of an atheist, a person who has a lack of belief in a god or gods (Note: NOT the belief that there is no god!), has not changed. The only thing that separates the “old” atheists from the “new” atheists is that we no longer put up with being silenced. In a democratic society we cannot be burned at the stake simply for being atheists anymore.

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Religious groups discriminate against women, homosexuals, transgenders, rival religions, atheists, and just about anyone that doesn’t adhere to their worldview, and it’s “religious freedom”. But if anyone dares to object to this, the religious claim “persecution”.

So what do the religious people mean by “militant” atheism?

Here are the behaviours that get atheists labelled as “militant”:

  • Saying “I’m an atheist”
  • Debunking beliefs on the internet
  • Posting on an atheist page on Facebook
  • Thinking the state should not favour one religion over another
  • Writing a book about how illogical religion is
  • Thinking what is proven should be taught in schools, not an archaic belief system

In contrast, here are some examples of “militant” religious behaviour in the 21st Century:

  • Going door to door at an ungodly hour bothering people with your beliefs
  • Threatening gays
  • Threatening atheists
  • Threatening people of other religions or denominations
  • Killing gays
  • Killing atheists
  • Killing people of other religions or denominations
  • Outlawing homosexuality
  • Outlawing atheism
  • Outlawing the practice of other faiths
  • Outlawing freedom of speech
  • Using taxpayers’s money to distribute your holy book in public schools
  • Demanding that what you believe should be taught in schools, not what is proven
  • Believing your personal beliefs entitle you to deny others the same rights

And yet, atheists who decide to speak out against things like the killing of gays and other militant behaviour of religious people are the ones who are labelled extremist.

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For centuries the religious majority demanded that atheists keep quiet and imposed their beliefs on us. If we dissented, we were punished – usually by a death penalty. In countries where their society is more theocratic, for example Saudi Arabia, this is still the case.

Now when atheists say that we want no more of that, suddenly we are the ones forcing things down people’s throats. Religious groups discriminate against women, homosexuals, transgenders, rival religions, atheists, and just about anyone that doesn’t adhere to their worldview, and it’s “religious freedom”. But if anyone dares to object to this, the religious claim “persecution”.

Can anyone imagine going to war over which sports team was the best? And yet more people have been killed in the name of one religion or another in history than any other cause.

They whine that paying for birth control goes against their religious beliefs while expecting atheists’ taxes to pay for their churches. They want to have as many billboards as they like plastered all over, but as soon as an atheist group puts up just one they complain that they are “offended” and demand that it gets taken down. They go into courts and attempt to push their version of creationism under the smuggled-through-customs (Thanks Hitch) name of Intelligent Design into science classrooms, but if atheists ask that facts (Yes, evolution is a fact) be taught in schools it is “imposing” something on them. And that’s barely scratching the surface of religious hypocrisy.

But if you dare to question it, you are the militant one. Right.

Imagine if the situation was reversed. No-one can deny that the religious would be all over the atheists if it was us doing it. If a political party was to behave this way, or fans of a particular football team, you can guarantee that any reasonable person would think it was wrong. Oh, but if it’s in the name of religion, then it’s okay? Really?

Why does religion get a free pass where any other discourse would be criticised? Can anyone imagine going to war over which sports team was the best? And yet more people have been killed in the name of one religion or another in history than any other cause.

 Murdering people who offend me? Fine. But drawing a cartoon? How extremist! Oh, the horror!

After the Charlie Hebdo incident, where an “offensive” cartoon depicting the Islamic prophet Mohammed caused Muslim gunmen to open fire and kill 12 people including the magazine’s editor and several cartoonists, “moderate” Muslims, even those who claimed to be “against terrorism”, condemned the cartoons of Mohammed, and not the gunmen who killed 12 people.

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A month later, where a similar event happened in Copenhagen, guess what the Muslims condemned? That’s right. Yet again, they condemned the cartoons.

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Murdering people who offend me? Fine. But drawing a cartoon? How extremist! Oh, the horror!

“Moderate” indeed. And from a so-called “religion of peace”, to boot.

When you as a religious person demand that people who follow a different religion to yours, or no religion at all, must follow the rules of your belief system whether or not they agree with you, that is the kind of society you are trying to create for them.

And they have the nerve to call atheists “militant” simply for stating their opinion that religion is illogical on the internet or that all religions, and the absence of religion, should be treated equally by the government?

If you are religious, imagine waking up one morning to find that your country was being ruled by religion- but not your religion. So if you are a Christian, suppose your country’s laws are based on Islamic scripture. “In [insert a god’s name other than your god] We Trust is printed on every banknote you use. In science classrooms a version of creationism that doesn’t agree with what you believe is taught in schools. If you have children, they must take part in compulsory prayers to a god they don’t believe in, every day in school. You cannot commute to work/college/school without passing numerous billboards telling you that you and your children (present or future) will be going to Hell if you don’t repent and join this different religion. You cannot freely express your belief in public without facing severe punishment. You must comply with all the rules of the religious government, even if they conflict with your personal beliefs. If you dare to disobey, you will likely face a death penalty.

Would you want to live in a society like this?

Be careful what you wish for: you might just get it, but not in the way you want.
Be careful what you wish for: you might just get it, but not in the way you want.

When you as a religious person demand that people who follow a different religion to yours, or no religion at all, must follow the rules of your belief system whether or not they agree with you, that is the kind of society you are trying to create for them. You wouldn’t put up with it yourself, so is it really that surprising that people are going to complain when you try to force it on others?

The wall that is the separation of church and state is extremely important, and serves to protect the religious just as much as it serves to protect the non-religious. The legislations that have allowed atheists to finally speak up are the same legislations that have allowed you as a religious person to openly express your beliefs even if you are not the majority (for example if you are a Hindu in the US). There is no separation of religion and government in Saudi Arabia, a country ruled by Islam. Would you as a Christian feel comfortable living there? Heck, even a lot of the Muslims don’t like it.

So before you accuse atheists of being “militant” for asking that religion stays out of government and vice versa, remember that the separation is to protect you as well and it should be in your best interest to keep religion and government well away from each other. Just as your right to swing your arm ends where someone’s face is, your right to express your beliefs ends where you begin to impose them on other people.

And if you still think it is “militant” for me to say “I’m an atheist and I think that no group, whether it is a religion, gender, sexual orientation, class or otherwise, should be favoured over another by the government”, then I shall wear that label with pride.

Godless Aspie

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5 thoughts on ““Militant” Atheism (And Why The Separation Of Church And State Is Important)

  1. I have found this to be an incredibly complicated issue.

    On one hand, there are certainly an abundance of religious folk (Abrahamic religious folk, specifically) who will call you a “militant atheist” and deem you to be unreasonably aggressive if you disagree with literally anything they do. A great example is the branding of folks who want to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance – never mind the fact that the phrase was not in the original version but was put there by Christians in the mid-20th century. Would we then brand those people “militant Christians” and ask why they felt the need to exclude atheists?

    At the same time, I have unfortunately encountered atheists who I (as an atheist myself) would describe as “militant,” and these are the folks I picture when I see New Atheist. For example, there are people who regularly leave comments on my comment section to the effect of “all religious people are idiots” or “all religious people are fascists.” I often hear these folks making decidedly unscientific claims such as “the existence of God has been disproven,” which does a profound disservice to science.

    I see these regularly enough that I can buy the religious claim that there are people who would outlaw religion and make it socially unacceptable, just as religious folks have done to atheists historically. I can certainly see them shutting down any and all religious folks in social settings.

    Where myself and the American Christians, for example, disagree, seems to be on where this definition of “New Atheist/Militant Atheist” begins. Christians seem to see pretty much every atheist who dares to speak about being atheist as a “militant atheist.” For my part, I see a minority – but unfortunately, a growing minority – of atheists falling into this camp that is just as dogmatic and unkind about their atheism as Christians are about their faith.

    So these pathological atheists do exist. But I would certainly disagree with the Christians on who falls into this category!

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    1. Good points! I totally agree with you that there that there may be “some” atheists who are truly militant and I have seen a few myself calling for a ban on religion. As an atheist opposed to dogmatism I fight those pathological atheists as well. If there was ever a ban on religion proposed, I, and I would think most atheists also, would march against it. Unfortunately a lot of religious folk see a few pathological atheists and like to paint all atheists with the same narrow brush.

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  2. Great Post. Many interesting points.
    It was crazy to see the amount of victim blaming after the Hebdo attack, not only from so-called moderate muslims but also so many SJW hipsters.

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