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militant atheism

Any topics that are primarily about humanism or other non-religious life stances fit in here.
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Ninny
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militant atheism

#1 Post by Ninny » October 26th, 2008, 4:32 pm

There was a programme on Radio 4 last night, of which I caught only a snatch before turning it off as un-listenable-to. It was about so-called "sacred" music, how it was inspired by belief. The programme purported to be a debate, and may well have been, but the only bit I heard was a talk in which "militant atheists" were castigated.

I know a number of atheists. None of them come anywhere near to being militant. Some are fairly vocal about the need for us all to be rational, but none would attempt to persuade anyone to give up their fondly held beliefs in the supernatural, still less fight to do so.

I wonder if it is time to oppose (gently) the use of this unpleasant expression. Incidentally, it is most often directed at the mild Richard Dawkins, who has become a bogey-man figure to Daily Mail readers and, by extension, anyone who doesn't like what he stands for.

Maria Mac
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Re: militant atheism

#2 Post by Maria Mac » October 26th, 2008, 10:26 pm

I don't think it's an unpleasant expression, I think it's neutral and accurate about some people who are very strong, uncompromising, active and aggressive in their atheism and there are plenty of people like that. I see dozens of posts all over the web every day from militant atheists.

I'd include Richard Dawkins in that description even though he is also very courteous and charming with it. The God Delusion is merciless about religion - that's what makes it an entertaining read. He's devotes an enormous amount of his time to attacking religion and nothing less than total deconversion satisfies him, in contrast with many of us who just want religious people to shut up and stop hurting other people.

I usually correct people who use the term 'fundamentalist atheist' and suggest 'militant atheist' as the term they should use instead.

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Alan H
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Re: militant atheism

#3 Post by Alan H » October 26th, 2008, 11:50 pm

It's all down to the meaning of 'militant', isn't it? Chambers dictionary says: "taking, or ready to take, strong or violent action; aggressively active". Its etymology is Latin militare ('to serve as a soldier'), and this conforms with my feeling that it requires an action, far more than mere words: I see 'militant' as requiring some kind of physical action or confrontation (whether it is peaceful or not). Trade unionists may be militant when they go on strike and picket factories. The Phelps family are militant xtians because they physically demonstrate their views.

Dawkins is certainly vehement in his challenge to religions, but is he militant? I don't disagree with what Maria says about Dawkins' stance, but I'm not convinced the militant label is appropriate.

Another way I look at it is: Is there any mid-point between being militant (in Maria's sense) and just speaking your mind. Just how much would Dawkins have to pull back on his rhetoric for him to cease earning the militant label?
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jaywhat
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Re: militant atheism

#4 Post by jaywhat » October 27th, 2008, 6:16 am

I was about to quote Chambers as well. To me, 'militant' does entail some element of violence, although perhaps not so when used poetically.
I do not like it when it is used, as it often is, in a pejorative or derogatory way. This is then sugggestive of violence and harm to others.

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Re: militant atheism

#5 Post by Gottard » October 27th, 2008, 8:32 am

In every argument the weight of adjectives vary in meaning and meaning varies with time and geography; in the end it is important what the individual's intention is.
The current view (or my view :wink: ) of "militant atheist" is: someone actively engaged in promoting atheism.
As to "fundamental atheist" it is a nonsense to me; "fundamental" has to do with doctrine and atheists are certainly against doctrine. "fundamental" rather smacks of something religious.
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jaywhat
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Re: militant atheism

#6 Post by jaywhat » October 27th, 2008, 8:43 am

I am not in agreement with peneasy because I would consider myself someone who promotes atheism actively (well, a bit) but not really 'militant'. At the end of the day, it is not really too important - not enough to lose any sleep over.

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Ninny
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Re: militant atheism

#7 Post by Ninny » October 27th, 2008, 8:52 am

Sorry to disagree, Jaywhat, but I think it is important. Militant suggests blowing up buses to me, and gives atheism an entirely undeserved bad name.

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jaywhat
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Re: militant atheism

#8 Post by jaywhat » October 27th, 2008, 8:54 am

How dare you disagree with me! You'll be playing scrabble on your own if you don't watch out.

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Alan H
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Re: militant atheism

#9 Post by Alan H » October 27th, 2008, 9:39 am

Now, now, you two!
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1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
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Ninny
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Re: militant atheism

#10 Post by Ninny » October 27th, 2008, 3:13 pm

jaywhat wrote:How dare you disagree with me! You'll be playing scrabble on your own if you don't watch out.
What difference? I'll still be winning! :hilarity:

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Emma Woolgatherer
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Re: militant atheism

#11 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » October 27th, 2008, 5:28 pm

I'm inclined to agree with Ninny, although I have a certain sympathy with Maria's view. I think the term "militant atheist" is often used to describe people who might more accurately and usefully be described as anti-theist. I don't think the word "militant" necessarily implies a willingness to be physically violent, but, like "aggressive", "belligerent" and "combative" it suggests a particular style of arguing, an antagonism towards theism that goes beyond mere opposition. I think Dawkins is an anti-theist, and he can be rather forcefully anti-theist. (So can I, sometimes, though I tend to do it when there aren't any theists about ... ) He might also be described as an enthusiastic atheist. Even a zealous one. But no, I don't think "militant" is quite the right word.

Emma

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Alan H
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Re: militant atheism

#12 Post by Alan H » October 27th, 2008, 6:46 pm

Can Dawkins be 'rather forcefully anti-theist' or 'rather forcefully anti-theism'?
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There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
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MedMae
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Re: militant atheism

#13 Post by MedMae » October 28th, 2008, 8:39 am

I think that those people who are usually described as "militant atheist" would be better descibed as "militant anti-theists". If they can be called militant anything.
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xman
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Re: militant atheism

#14 Post by xman » November 1st, 2008, 7:33 am

Well, what can one rhetorically do? Counter is all I can think of. If they want to call me militant (and I am the outspoken person they are referring to) then perhaps I and others like me should start calling them names too. Frankly I'm quite tired of the Dimwitted Christians. Dimwitted Christians shouldn't get the attention they do and it is always the Dimwitted Christians that cause these kinds of arguments anyway.

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Dan
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Re: militant atheism

#15 Post by Dan » November 17th, 2008, 10:10 pm

This is interesting. I used to call myself a "militant atheist" to indicate that I was forthright and active.

However, I was editing a wikipedia page about the Freethinker and several other contributors objected to my description of it as "militant atheist" because it doesn't advocate violence. News organisations attempting to be even-handed refer to "Palestinian militants" instead of the IDF-preferred "Palestinian terrorists", for example.

Having thought about it, I think they're right and it probably does have such connotations. I won't be self-identifying like that again. I just call myself a "vocal atheist" or a "forthright atheist" now.

Dan

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Alan H
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Re: militant atheism

#16 Post by Alan H » November 17th, 2008, 10:53 pm

Dan

I've said this elsewhere and I agree with what you say. We don't go around blowing up buildings or buses and only occasionally even demonstrate: 'militant' is not an appropriate adjective.

The phrase 'militant atheist' plays into the hands of theists, urgent to malign atheists and associate us with other, violent, militants. It gets used at every opportunity by them, but it is simply trying to poison the well and avoid proper debate and discussion. We need to refuse to acknowledge their use of that phrase and 'fight' them on our terms.
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

Gottard
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Re: militant atheism

#17 Post by Gottard » November 18th, 2008, 11:47 am

Dan, Alan H,
I propose the term "Active Atheist" or better "Humanism activist"
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Alan H
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Re: militant atheism

#18 Post by Alan H » November 18th, 2008, 11:58 am

Activist certainly is far better: we do campaign on many issues, so this term seems appropriate without it being seen as too physical, like I think militant is.

I'm not sure about 'active atheist': it just leaves itself open to a religionist saying it is a contradiction in terms [---][/---] how can you actively have no belief in a god or gods? But, putting it at the end, such as atheist activist, seems far better.

What do others think? Words can mean what we want them to mean (to paraphrase Humpty Dumpty), but we need to have words that are not open to being hijacked and abused at our expense by religionists, as 'militant atheist' has been.
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

Nick
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Re: militant atheism

#19 Post by Nick » November 18th, 2008, 1:45 pm

Ironically, the Catholic Church refers to itself as "the church militant..." but I agree, "militant" not a particularly useful phrase to apply to humanists. "Activist" for me, is on a par with "community", "learner" and other such words (qv)

Maria Mac
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Re: militant atheism

#20 Post by Maria Mac » November 18th, 2008, 1:50 pm

I see that the word 'militant' in some people's minds is inextricably linked to violence and terror and I find this interesting. My own understanding of the word comes from the contexts I have most often heard it used in: the trade union movement and the women's movement where, back in the 70s, I recall it being used to describe those trade unionists and feminists who were most "vigorously active and aggressive, esp. in support of a cause", to use the definition provided by dictionary.com. Bombs and guns weren't part of their armoury, however.

Some atheists give the impression of being wholly preoccupied with religion. They not only make the most of every opportunity to criticise it - and their criticisms tend to be sweeping - but they also devote much time and energy to mocking it and the mockery is often creative and entertaining to those of us who are on the same side but extremely offensive and hurtful to those who are not. These are the people I call 'militant atheists'. No, they don't go in for physical violence - their weapons are mainly words and cartoons and suchlike. But my point is that to many religious people and, indeed, to many atheists who aren't so passionate and uncompromising, they frequently come across as self-righteous, obsessive and aggressive - just like their religious counterparts, in fact, which is why they get called 'fundamentalist atheists'.

I have quite a lot of respect for some militant atheists (at least some of the time) and a great deal of contempt for others. The Freethinker, which I would certainly describe as a militant atheist rag, usually bores the piss out of me. Christopher Hitchens' God is not Great is one of my favourite books at the moment, even though the author is a typical example of the worst kind of religion-obsessed atheist. A brief extract from an account by someone who met him recently: "I tried to get him to talk about secular humanism more, he always brought the conversation back to some obscure Jewish, Catholic, or Muslim law and why that law was proof that there is no god. We pointed out to him many times that he was preaching to the choir, that he could talk about moving past atheism. He refused. He argued like a broken record." I can think of other people who behave like that: a couple of them used to post on this forum and another, whom I think of as a personal friend, is the creator of the English Atheist website.

I am clear in my own mind that this group is clearly identifiable and that I don't belong to it and that is why I intend to continue using the term to distinguish them from other activist atheists like myself.

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