So as the title suggests, today I’m going to talk about Militant Atheism; what it means and why I identify with the term. Militant Atheism is a bit of a misleading term. When someone hears the term “militant” they often associate it with extreme/radical ideas. They might also liken it to violence. That is not the case at all. Sometimes called Neo-Atheism, Militant Atheism is a movement within the Atheist community. Its premise is to speak out against religion and invoke change within our society.
Before I delve deeper into this topic, I’d like to give you a little more background about me to help explain why I’m even talking about it. To start with, I consider myself to always have been an Atheist. Even at a very young age I started to question religion. I can still remember my first instance of skepticism. At around the age of 8, I was on the way to the grocery store with my dad. During the car ride I started to think about the idea that god created the earth. That’s all well and good I thought, but who created god? When talking about the beginning of the universe Creationists often argue that the theories of scientists lead to the conclusion that we got something out of nothing and since that is impossible (from our current understanding anyways) than god must surely exist because then you would have something from something. I questioned this though and asked the wisest person I knew at the time, my dad (poor guy), “If god created the universe….who created god?” I might as well have asked him where babies came from judging by the look in his face at that moment. His response (the only one I imagine he could conjure up at that moment) was, “Well son, I’ll tell you what my dad told me, ‘god always was and god always will be.” Even at such a young age I thought that answer was complete and utter nonsense. I ultimately came to my conclusion that there was no god several years later when I learned about ancient Greek/Roman theology. Certainly if they believed they were right in knowing there were multiple gods and were wrong, then the current monotheistic beliefs could, and most likely, are wrong as well. That was the end of that. I had concluded god did not exist. Still, being born into a religious culture I felt I had to have some sort of structural belief system. I looked into the Wiccan beliefs, the Buddhist beliefs, etc. and thought they had a lot to offer without worshipping a “god”. However, I could never get past the supernatural aspects of these belief systems and decided that they just weren’t for me. It was about this time that I developed a humanist approach to life without even realizing it. This came about because during random discussions with my friends I would bring up the fact that I didn’t believe in “god”. “Well, what do you believe in then?” was the question I always got. Since I didn’t really “believe” in anything I would just tell them that I believed in humanity while not even really knowing what that meant. This was point in which I reached early adulthood and joined the Army. For fear of being judged because I was an Atheist, when asked what my religious preference was I just put down “religious: non-denominational”. I mean, what did I care, right? The only time that would really matter was if/when I died so they would know what kind of gravestone to put up at my burial site. I’d be dead so what would I care what symbol they used. It was for my family more than anything since, while they’re not very religious people, they still believed in god to some extent. So that was that. Religion just didn’t matter to me and as far as I could tell, didn’t affect me either. I felt no need to explain that I was an Atheist, but I also felt that since a vast majority of soldiers identify with religion in some way or another that I would be a minority and might not “fit in”. That is, until my second deployment to Iraq. I was given a soldier who is deeply religious and believes in evangelizing to “save souls” from eternal damnation. The proselytization from this soldier was annoying. At first, I just explained to him that he was wasting his time because, as an Atheist, I favored logic and reason over anything he was offering me through god. This only enticed him more and the more he bugged me about it the more militant I became. At that time I had a “live and let live” mentality in regards to religious beliefs but obviously not everyone felt that way, especially this soldier of mine. Nonetheless, I decided that so long as nobody was flaunting religion in my face I could care less what they believed. This leads me to the next stage of this progression. I touched on it briefly in my introduction post. An incident involving an Equal Opportunity class we were given is what finally set me off. Essentially, I was being told that I had to respect other people’s faith and in order to do so it was wrong of me to speak out against religion. So what I’m being told is, it’s okay for someone to talk about god or pray to god, but I can’t express my own belief that there is no god? What’s the difference? Then it truly hit me, how I was surrounded everyday by religious ideals both in the military and outside of it. I mean, “In god we trust” is written on our money! I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was tired of being treated as a minority and without equal rights. So now, I speak out against religion. The same way black people did when they had finally had enough of segregation.
A few people have recently accused me of hypocritically doing the same thing I’m speaking out against. I’ve been accused of proselytizing/evangelizing the same as those with religious belief. I’ve also heard it argued that I speak as if Atheism, too, is a religion. Some of this may, indeed, be true. I justify it like this though; I’m not preaching so much as I’m simply providing evidence contrary to religious belief. My goal isn’t so much to “convert” anyone to Atheism, but merely plant a seed of doubt into their minds to open their eyes to logic and reason. My main goal is secularism within our government and while I would very much like to see religion eradicated altogether, I want to accomplish this not by legislation but from reason. I do not wish to oppress anyone for their religious beliefs but I do want them to use critical thinking to see that there are much more rational ways of looking at things aside from religion. I believe this quote from Dr. Jerry Coyne and a response to this quote by Hermant Mehta sums it up nicely:
“The goal of New Atheism, as I see it, is not mainly to insult religious individuals, but to question the tenets of belief, point out the invidious consequences of unsupported belief, and question the unwarranted privilege that religion has arrogated to itself.” – Dr. Jerry Coyne
“This isn’t about attacking believers. We understand why they believe in God and we respect their right to believe it, but we want them to understand that there are better explanations out there for most of what they consider to be the handiwork of God. That involves pointing out when religion goes wrong — and even when religion goes right, because doing the right thing for the wrong reason isn’t ideal either.” - Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist Blog on Patheos.com)
Another aspect I would like to touch on is the idea that Atheism is itself, a religion. First off, as I pointed out in my “Atheism Defined” post, the concept of Atheism is simply the rejection of theistic beliefs. Different viewpoints, concerning different topics, that Atheists derive is not Atheism. I’ve heard it argued to me that I believe in what scientists are telling me the same way religious people believe their preachers. That is wrong. Listening to scientists is not having faith in the experts. To begin with, the founding principle of science is the presentation of empirical evidence to support a hypothesis. I don’t have to just take a scientists word for it. I can’t see the evidence presented for myself and form my own conclusions based on that evidence. Something else to keep in mind is that science never asserts anything to be absolute truth but rather good, working theories, based on evidence of what could be true. You and I could both agree that, without help from some mechanical machine or the like, human beings can't fly. There’s tons of evidence that suggests such a fact. However, to assert this as truth would be incorrect because someday humans might evolve a way to, indeed, fly. It’s not the greatest example, I understand, but it’s a simple way of understanding my point. So when I’m speaking for what I “believe” is true, understand that this belief is grounded on the premise of science and the data supporting it.
“Why do Atheists feel the need to put down religion so much?” Well, not all of them do. Just like not all theists put down or speak out against Atheists or speak out for their religious beliefs. Many Atheists disagree with the Militant Atheism point of view. Live and let live, right? I no longer choose to do such thing until drastic changes within our society have occurred. Until the indoctrination of children is put to an end, until religion is taken out of our government, until Theists quit trying to push their views onto others, I will not quit speaking out against religion. I will not be afraid of pointing out the many flaws in a Theist’s belief system. I will approach the taboo subject of religion with the same passion and vigor tomorrow as I have today.