Militant Atheist – Is This a Real Label?

Or is it just a pejorative label invented by some theists who wish to depict their atheist critics as just as irrational and non-critical as they are? Indeed, there are also atheists who use the term, also pejoratively, for much the same thing. “Neville Chamberlain atheists” like Chris at Mixing Memory love to get their digs in on atheists like Richard Dawkins or Samuel Harris since they seem to resent those that dare rock the boat. To them, pointing out that the emperor is in the buff doesn’t help them coexist with theists; instead, atheism is a matter of “framing” so as to convince theists that the chill they feel isn’t a lack of clothing but rather a result of high quality fabric with good ventilation.

Some theists, however, seem to toss about the “militant atheist” term whenever an atheist has the gall to question their beliefs, suggest that they might be wrong, demand separation of church and state, or advocate that religion shouldn’t have anything to say about things like gay marriage, sex education, stem cell research, etc. There is no hesitation to utter the pejorative label “militant atheist” with theists who are upset at rationalism being used to put their superstitions in check whenever an atheist questions the constitutionality of “under god” in the Pledge of Allegiance or the public display of the 10 Commandments in government buildings.

The counter argument I can already hear by these theists is “well, you call religion a delusion!” True. I do refer to religion as a delusion. I was making this comment about religion before Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion. Most Christian and Islamic apologists seem to think that Dawkins was the first to recognize that religion is a delusion, but this has been argued countless times before –at least on the internet.

A delusion is an erroneous belief that is held in the face of evidence to the contrary. With regard to Christianity, there is a fair bit of evidence that suggests that the popular notion that the doctrine followed is completely fabricated by man. I won’t go into it here, since an entire book could be written on the subject (and they have!), and nor would I expect any devout believer that might read my words to accept them even if I did elaborate. After all, it isn’t called a delusion because it’s an idea easy to change. Delusions are often impervious to evidence, self-inoculated with escape clauses in the core doctrine, justifications, and the inevitable “god works in mysterious ways” argument.

A militant, on the other hand, is one who uses a military strategy or military method to achieve one’s goal. I’m not sure it can be successfully argued that there are many atheists who are militant because of their atheism. I do, however, know many atheists who are militant, but this is because, contrary to the popular theist myth, they are atheists in foxholes. In fact, I was once an atheist and a member of the U.S. Army. But my militant demeanor and position wasn’t due to my atheism.

Dawkins, Harris, and Christopher Hitchens have spoken out against religion. Indeed, their comments have, at times, been very blunt. However, I’ve yet to notice any military-like strategy used. They have used only truth and rationalism as far as I’ve seen, and if being truthful is a qualifier for applying the “militant” label then we should hope to soon have “militant teachers,” “militant therapists,” “militant congressmen,” and so on.

But these people would never have such labels applied with the expectation that they are being truthful, forthright, and honest –no matter how brutally. The “militant” adjective is intended to demean and diminish the honesty of the target and to impugn it rather than glorify it. In fact, when we here the term “militant theist” used on the 6:00 pm news, it’s usually about a religious extremist who has just killed one or more people. Today’s headlines included, Pakistan ‘prostitutes’ beheaded, and following the link to that story will take you to the very next paragraph which reads:

Suspected Islamic militants in north-western Pakistan have beheaded two women they accused of being prostitutes, police say.

I also might expect to see someone who is described as “militant” to be wearing military attire, even if they aren’t killing someone. I’ve never seen Richard Dawkins in a set of combat fatigues, but I have noticed that many church organizations have taken on the “Christian soldier” theme (perhaps from the popular hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers”) with organizations like the Koinonia Worship Center.

Militant atheism? Militant atheists? When atheists start wearing fatigues and marching the streets in formation or when we start the first atheist militia perhaps. But until then, the term “militant atheist” is a pejorative term used by those that seek to use ad hominem responses where reason and rationalism are insufficient to counter superstition and delusion. While I’m sure there are those that would see my use of “superstition” and “delusion” as ad hominem as well, I can at least justify their definitions in application to those described.

About Ylooshi

An anthropologist who is an atheist. My blog at concerns itself with breaking the spells of superstition and religious belief through examining human superstitions and religions scientifically and rationally. Breaking Spells, the blog, also focuses on atheist and secular concerns such as the separation of church and state as well as the negative influences of Islamo-Judeo-Christian religious cults on society.
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