Saturday, December 29, 2012

Onward, militant atheists!

I have been accused, at least once, of being a "militant" atheist.  The reason for this is that in order to promote atheism, I shoot priests, set churches on fire, and bomb Nativity scenes.  No, wait, I don't do that.  What I do is punch priests, write graffiti on churches, and poop on Nativity scenes., that's not quite it either.  It must be because I yell at priests, protest churches, and add things that don't belong to Nativity scenes, you know, like the Rancor from Return of the Jedi.

I'm kind of stretching the meaning of the word "militant" by now though, aren't I?  The thing is, I don't even do any of those things.  What do you think when I say "Militant Muslim" or "Militant Christian" or "Militant Mary Kay Salesperson"? You're probably thinking of somebody who's willing to use weapons in order to spread their cause, right?  Wikipedia defines "militant" as "both an adjective and a noun, and is usually used to mean vigorously active, combative and aggressive, especially in support of a cause, as in 'militant reformers'."

So, what exactly is it that I do that had somebody accuse me of being "militant"?  Well, I blog about atheism.  I also blog about my objections to religion.  Not only that, but I've gotten into some arguments online with believers.  I've had some arguments in-person, but they tend to be discussions with friends more than arguments.  The only time things got loud is when some Christian proselytizer started shouting at me on a bus because I wouldn't play along with his little conversion script.  Oh, and I guess I also tend to "like" and share memes that make fun of religion on Facebook.

Does that make me militant?  Well, if I'm a militant, then the Christians who write about their beliefs online and debate me must be Christian militants then, right?  After all, they're doing the same thing - some of them even share and like Christian memes.  But who in their right mind would define these people as being militant?  I certainly don't see them that way.  Passionate, at worst, but I don't necessarily see being passionate as a bad thing - so long as it doesn't lead to militancy.

So, unless you're willing to call everybody who's passionate about their religion a militant, then that word doesn't quite fit me either.  Sure, it's annoying when somebody pushes their belief system on you, but I don't do that to people.  I never walk up to people and talk to them about atheism.  When I know that somebody is a believer, I usually just avoid the subject, but I never say, "You know, that stuff you believe is hooey, right?"  Now, I might be inclined to say that as a defense if they try and convert me, but that doesn't ever happen, so it just doesn't come up.  The way I figure, when it comes to online communication, if somebody doesn't like what I'm writing about, they can either not read my blog or they can hide my Facebook posts.  I don't walk into their house and post my blogs on their refrigerator.  This is why I don't get offended when I see religious messages on Facebook (unless they misrepresent science or are insulting to nonbelievers) nor do I get upset when people write about their faith in their own blogs.  I can either choose to read that stuff or not.

But what about the American Atheists and their campaign to get Nativity scenes out of the public square?  They're militants, right?  Well, again, let's come up with the best Christian equivalent.  I'm having kind of a tough time, but let's say that there was a town where the majority of the people are Wiccans, and they all wanted some sort of Wiccan symbol in the town square.  However, a few Christians sue to get it removed on the same grounds that the American Atheists are trying to get the Nativity scenes removed.  Would those Christians be militant?  I don't think so.  Shoot, I wouldn't even call Christians who are trying to get prayer and Bible lessons in public schools to be "militant".  Nor would I consider the ones who want creationism taught in science class to be that either.  I think that they're particularly misguided, and in the case of the creationists, profoundly ignorant, but they're not militant.

Okay, so they're not exactly militant either.  What about the Bolsheviks and Stalin's regime?  Certainly they were atheists, but spreading atheism was not their only, nor was it their prime, agenda.  After all, there are plenty of atheists who do not believe in communism.  So, in this case, they were communist militants, and part of their communist belief system included spreading atheism.  (Although they weren't exactly trying to replace religion with critical thinking.)

Basically, I'm not sure that there even is such a thing as a militant atheist.  If you have an example, give it to me, and I'll admit that I'm wrong.  And what I'm talking about is an atheist who does something that's the equivalent to what a militant Christian or militant Muslim might do - you know, like shoot a doctor or fly a plane into a building.  Also, it only counts if they commit these acts of violence (or even condone them) in the name of atheism.  In other words, it's their lack of belief in a god that motivates the act of violence.

I think that people throw around the term "militant atheist" in order to turn outspoken atheists into a sort of Boogey Man.  It makes them seem far more dangerous than they ever will be, and that way their fellow theists can outright dismiss anything that they have to say without actually paying attention to the strength of their arguments.  'Cuz call me crazy, but I think that there isn't a single Christian who has anything to fear from Richard Dawkins (or any fan of Dawkins).