Militant Atheism is necessary as a force to counteract the unbalanced political and social power that popular religious belief systems have wielded for too long through their powerful standardising of beliefs. It is impossible to persuade people to change their point of view when their point of view is not actually their own and they don’t care about the subject matter. As such, the only option left is to challenge the foundation of the belief structure itself so as to undermine the authority of the people who decide what their followers should and should not believe.
For, Against and Other
It is true that on any contentious point you will get people with extreme points of view on each side. You will also get a lot more people right in the middle who don’t care, and then a complete spectrum in between of people who care, and may have opinions leaning one way or the other. What matters though, is that most of these people, particularly those who are not in the ‘extreme point of view’ position, can have their views changed by evidence and reason.
Where Religion changes this game, is how it allows large numbers of people to be made to believe the same position, often to the ‘extreme’ point, just by asserting that it is true and providing a bible quote or two. And it really only works with holy texts too. If you get a group of climate change deniers together, and tell them that they should also understand that abortion is fundamentally wrong – then it is unlikely that the assertion will carry any sway with them. There is no reason for that common belief system about climate change to carry over in to the world of the abortion debate. There is no reason to accept the claims of the ‘leader’ in this scenario… but when the leader is actually representative of “God” or a “holy text” or any other sort of manuscript which is somehow meant to hold the secrets of life (in an absolute sense) – then suddenly the leader, who has some sort of special ability to understand, or interpret or present the information known to God or the Holy text/manuscript, can make just about any claim on any topic – because God does actually cover everything… All topics are in fact related to ‘God’.
Every Belief is Related to God
So, religious institutions have a special belief power over people. As soon as someone gives over their ‘Everything belief’ to God or the Bible or the Koran etc, then when their religious source says “Homosexuality is evil”, then the most ambivalent person on earth on this topic is very strongly inclined to simply accept this claim as fact. After all, who can argue with God?
Of course not all people agree about all things in religion. Hence the two great schisms in Christianity. And the break between Judaism and Christianity. And ditto again with Islam. And all of the different forms of Hinduism and Buddhism. And the different denominations of Christianity and Judaism and Islam… etc.
So there may very well be a form of each religion for each specific combination of beliefs. To an extent anyway. But I don’t think most people feel free to ‘shop around’ for their belief system. Most people are born in to it. Or stumble in to it haphazardly – converted to ‘Christ’ by some major life changing experience you don’t usually stop to analyse all of the sub-beliefs that go with the church that you just happened to walk in to. So you end up in some belief system which tells you that slavery is actually OK in Gods eyes… Sorry, wait…no one (publicly) believes that one anymore, so I should use a more modern example. You walk in to a church that believes that homosexuality is a sin and that homosexuals are going to suffer for eternity in hell. Now thanks to your recent “Finding God” experience, you are open and ready to receive the word of God!! Hallelujah! And after all of the niceties and meeting all of the wonderful smiling people, and hearing how loving and wonderful and forgiving God is, and Good and all of that great stuff… you eventually find out that homosexuals are evil and going to hell.
“…That’s odd. I’ve never really though about homosexuality before.” you might think. Maybe never encountered it much – or when you did, simply didn’t care. But now… well now you know that God has ordained it. You know the truth… because “God said it”. The fact that it is people telling you this is irrelevant – they are simply relating to you God’s own words. So what on earth can you do other than believe them????
How long do you think it will take to turn someone who has never given the slightest shit about someone else’s sexuality and private life before, into someone who thinks the homosexuals are evil, when they are surrounded by other people who have been similarly brainwashed by rhetoric claimed to be in the name of the central belief?
The logical cause here is very straight forward.
- You believe <religious concept> is true.
- Leader of <religious concept> states that <belief>, because <religious concept>
- You believe <belief>.
So in order for someone to challenge <belief>, arguing against topics related to the belief is a waste of time: they aren’t the reasons the belief is held. You have to argue against <religious concept> or the leader, because those things are the actual logical causal reason for the belief to be held.
Christians who are disgusted by homosexuals are not disgusted by homosexuals because of anything homosexuals have ever done – they are disgusted by homosexuals because of what their religious leaders have told them. To argue with them about how homosexuality is just a private lifestyle that has nothing to do with them is to miss the point – they don’t CARE about that. What they care about, is their belief system itself. If you want to argue about homosexuality with a Christian who ”hates fags”, then you have to argue about Christianity.
Why This Matters
This matters because the beliefs of the people, determine the policies of the Governments. And when beliefs are artificially created by powerfully people within religious organisations, politics is affected in an imbalanced way. It is imbalanced, because politics engages in the actual topic itself – it will engage in arguments about gay marriage, on the terms of gay marriage. But when the argument isn’t actually about gay marriage, the political process is a complete waste of time. Politicians simply cannot engage in a campaign for Gay marriage, and then spend their time pointing out all of the flaws in Christianity. It isn’t acceptable, and won’t work either. But that is what needs to be done, because the people who are stopping gay marriage equality are doing so because of their religious beliefs, not because of the stuff the politician is talking about.
The idea of how our democratic system is meant to work, is that the differences in opinions held by it’s constituents are the fuel for the debate and are the basis of debate. Differences in opinion are acceptable, and entirely part of the system – but what is far more important than holding different opinions, is the opportunity to change opinions. Whether they be the opinions of the extremes, or simply swaying the opinions of the people in the middle who don’t really care – as long as evidence, facts, reason and logic can be used to sway numbers to a particular belief about contentious points. And as soon as disproportionate numbers of people have their beliefs determined by an external influences in such a way so as to prevent a change in belief…. then democracy cannot work. Instead, we have a democratic portion of the population, constantly dragging a theocratic portion along with it.
The Real World
There is no better example of this than the Gay Marriage debate. This is the sickest of sick public policy debates to waste anyone’s time in the last few decades. (I wanted to say ‘ever’, but I quickly remembered women’s rights (another Religious doctrine maintained that fight for a while) and before that, slavery (yet another religious doctrine kept that one alive way too long too)).
You see, for this debate, just like women’s rights and slavery, there were people who saw the injustice of the old system, and there were bigots who simply didn’t like the idea of giving equal rights to people who they viewed as lesser than themselves. These two roles exist with and without religion. And if religion was taken off the table, then I think the number of people supporting gay marriage would drastically out number the people who are against it, and the number of people in the middle who don’t care would simply vote for it, because it won’t harm them and will give rights to more people. Problem solved. But because religion is involved, a ‘debate’ rages on the topic as if there is actually some sort of pro and con analysis going on here.
It is just complete BULLSHIT coming from religious flocks who think that homosexuals don’t deserve the same treatment as them because someone in power has convinced them that ‘God’ said that homosexuals are an abomination. And because of that a priori assertion of lesser value, they then attempt to shackle together ridiculous arguments to rationalise their position after the fact.
Nonsense like “Gay marriage will destroy the institution of marriage” – Yeah bullshit. Tell that to the 50-70% divorce rate already in existence amongst heterosexuals. I feel stupid even pointing that out, because everyone knows that argument is complete rubbish and how ‘destroyed’ the sacred institution of marriage already is!
The point here is that all of the powerful counter arguments made against the ridiculous arguments made by the ‘religious right’ who are 95% of the time behind the anti-gay-marriage movement – are almost completely a waste of time. As articulate and clever, and cutting and poignant and perfect as they are – they are completely wasted. Because the people they are ‘arguing’ against, don’t actually care. They don’t hold the belief themselves. They were never convinced that homosexuals shouldn’t be married – they are simply following the belief pattern handed off to them by their religious leader.
You cannot argue against someone, who doesn’t care about the argument.
And that is why Militant Atheism matters.
If we ever want to get public policy back on to the track of ‘Reason’ and genuine debate between the extreme positions in an attempt to sway the moderates – we need to remove the large class of people who would be moderate, but are pushed to extremes by absolute belief systems forced on to them by religious instruction that they have chosen to believe in.
When someone’s mind is locked in on a belief because of religion, then arguing the points of that belief is useless. You have to address the source of the belief itself – the actual religion.
Needless to say, this same point applies to Creationists inhibiting scientific education, anti-abortionists inhibiting reasonable social programs, people against stem cell research without understanding the science first…anti-euthanasia absolutists… etc Where religion has a position, people are forcibly influenced into that belief position too. Rational debate is therefore impossible, and social policy is improperly affected.
For the sake of a sensible, reasonable, progressive society which continues to IMPROVE – we must throw off the shackles of religion. Because one thing all of these religions have in common, is the absolute forbiddance of progress.
The Bible doesn’t come in wiki format.
To me, Militant Atheism is all about stopping the religious groups of our world from exerting their numerical powers and superstitious beliefs over political processes. I don’t care about Jehovah’s Witnesses coming to my door. I don’t care about friends and colleagues praying for me. I don’t care at all what people do in private, or even in public for that matter. What I do care about, is when laws are made which create injustice, inequity and force stagnation of knowledge, and those laws are made simply because too many people have been brainwashed into agreeing with those laws, because a mythology has been used to convince them of that position. Not reason. Not evidence. But mythology.
No longer should our advanced society allow itself to be hindered by mythology.
17 Replies to “Why Militant Atheism is Necessary”
I completely agree with you. I engage theists in conversations at every opportunity on blogs. I know that I will not change their minds, but I also know that for every theist who speaks up, there are a dozen people watching to see how the debate “pans out”, so to speak. I think it’s necessary to point out the stupidity of their delusional superstition. Although the conversation tends to start with a specific topic, we eventually get down to the meat with me explaining how they have no evidence to support their viewpoint because everything that they point out comes from the bible. Because I can prove that the bible is just a bunch of nonsensical delusional fairy tales, nothing in it can be taken seriously. Then I point out that there are hundreds of contradictions and inconsistencies, almost every story is a logical fallacy or just a flat out lie. I usually use the scientific explanations as to how the “great flood” story is absolutely physically impossible, breaking down the ark from the flood itself. There are so many points to each, they have to be addresses separately. Although I try my best to be professional (I understand that when you start playing on an emotional playground, you’ve already lost because that IS THEIR playground. It’s all they understand), I do tend to be fairly aggressive. The only theists that I’ve met that converted, did so because of the shame they felt because people laughed at their beliefs and basically said they were amazed at how stupid they were for believing such fairy tales. Not in so many words, but you get the drift. I hold no quarter, grant no mercy. I will address each and every comment and give clear and precise evidence as to why and how wrong they are. As far as I can tell, it is the only way to penetrate the fog of self-imposed fantasy.
I completely disagree with you. So many atheists engage theists in conversation with entirely the wrong attitude. Instead of aggression, my motivation is understanding. The best way to convert a theist is to facilitate her investigation of her own beliefs. It is necessary to point out the delusion of superstition, but we’re all guilty of it in one way or another. We just don’t experience the belief as a superstition – we think we believe the truth. For example, your claim that all Christians eventually get to the point that their evidence comes from the Bible. In my experience, I find this belief to be patently false. Many people have experiences leading them to believe that their belief in God has been personally beneficial. Whether or not this is placebo effect/regression to the mean/etc., its something far more real and concrete than the obviously contradictory Bible. Your very failure is in your aggression – no one will EVER change their mind when they’re on the defensive. You yourself are now a victim of superstition through your example if you think aggression is an effective communication technique. You feel you are justified in granting no mercy, but you’ve never even given it a real shot.
In reality the best way to convert is to understand and embrace certain pervasive illogical fallacies. Be compassionate. Keep in mind that (given the Outgroup Homogeneity Bias), every time you identify yourself as an atheist and act in an aggressive manner, others will believe that all atheists are aggressive (and thus, why would they want to be one?). You’ve got to show that you can be a kind, understanding person AND an atheist or you’re just spinning your wheels, reinforcing your superstitious, false beliefs.
TLDR/Conclusion: If you think violence is a good option, you have an extremely narrow, self-reinforcing perspective.
It is actualyl quite a challenging balance to maintain imo. Nick, no question that being friendly and non-aggressive is far more effective than the alternative, but you need to find the balance between non-agression and being conciliatory to the point where you aren’t persuading anyone. And it is challenging, because in order to take up an “opposing” position to someone can be seen as inately aggresive. So you are either ‘against them’ (and therefore antagonistic/aggressive) or you are ‘with them’, in which case they may feel justified in believing what they believe, because when they engage in intellectual conversation about it, you agree with them.
So the challenge is to not be actually aggressive, but to still argue the opposing position with clarity, force and respect.
I also agree. Accommodation does not work with extremists. It didn’t work with Genghis Khan, Hitler, or any other tyrant. It will not work with the religious rich, either. All of these types regard accommodation and kindness as weakness.
First, you are never going to reason anyone away from a position they did not reach through reasoning. What works is confrontation when backed with enough political power to demand rational change and freedom from illogical and unreasonable laws.
Theists, when faced with a question they cannot answer, typically ignore the question as though it were never asked and continue their efforts to impose their beliefs on others.
In the USA, atheists are the largest minority group. Larger than Jews or blacks. What non0believers lack is organization and a united effort to exert their political will in eradicating religion-based laws. That’s how women and blacks won the vote and gays have made great progress in the last ten years. Is it our turn now?
Hello there fellow militant atheist.
I skimmed through your article and tend to agree with almost everything except gay marriage.
Homosexuals should not be allowed to marry, because the word marry was created for male and female commitment, not female female or male male. If they want a government approved method of stating their commitment to eachother, they can create a new word. May I suggest Gayriage, fagriage, homoriage….
Definitions and rules should not be changed to accommodate whinging minorities. If they want equal rights, we will give them an equal status to marriage that will relate to their scenario, instead of a mixed gender scenario, but contain all the legal benefits of the mixed gender one.
Well, really, the idea that definitions and rules are set in stone is the ultimate fallacy you are making here. Marriage is not some sort of immutable term – throughout the ages marriage has meant numerous different things, while the ‘rules’ of it have definitely changed. If anything, marriage has most commonly been about wealth and keeping that wealth in the family. It has also always been very male biased – with certain cultures and times allowing rich men to have multiple wives, but never allowing women to have multiple husbands (at least, not in our cultural history).
While it is true that it has never previously meant man-man or woman-woman, my point here is that this idea you have of “What marriage means” is simply not true. What marriage means ‘right now’ is irrelevent. It is like arguing 200 years ago that “The law says you can keep slaves, and you can’t go around changing the rules!” Some laws, some rules, and some definitions need to be changed because they are immoral or inhumane.
That being said, my personal effort to resolve this issue has already been described here: http://shanegreenup.com/2011/02/splitting-up-marriages/ and I think it is acceptable to all people, no matter what your views are on marriage, religion or homosexuality.
I find it quite funny the militant atheist doesn’t realizeel they are the same exact person in society as the religious fanatic. 🙂
I find it hilarious that anyone could think that a militant atheist is anything like a religious fanatic 🙂
Militant christians blow up abortion clinics.
Militant muslims fly planes into buildings.
Militant atheists post smug updates on Facebook.
Militant Atheism Cartoon
Militant atheism … I certainly hope the branding experts relook at the word choice because it frames the debate as inherently antagonist. But if faith without reason is blind, then reason without faith could be said to be empty (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fides_et_Ratio). Whether you believe Jesus to be mad, bad or sad (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis's_trilemma) Christian moral doctrine was the historical basis for objective knowledge.
yeah, the branding experts certainly don’t want it referred to as that – but that is what it has been labelled by the antagonists. ie: Whenever an atheist dared to question a religious claim, the religious would get upset about the ‘militant’ atheist.
As for christian moral doctrine being the basis for objective knowledge – I’m not sure I follow at all. Christianity actually imparts laws much more so than morals. and when it does impart ‘morals’ – it mixes them up with a large collections of clearly immoral morals: genocide, biggotry, hatred, anger, jealousy, possesiveness… all sorts of negative harmful things. The idea that religion has ‘objective’ access to ‘right and wrong’ is one of the biggest moral problems in our world, and is a huge part of problems like ending slavery (historically – since the bible quite clearly allowed it), and ending biggotry again homosexuals and domination of women – since again, the bible quite clearly allows (or demands) both.
> basis for objective knowledge – I’m not sure I follow
My fault for being imprecise. It comes from the philosophical question of “how do we know what we know is true?” (epistemology) which originated from apologetics. Nietzsche
Please do not confuse objective knowledge with moral absolutism. In fact, slavery is a bad example as Wilberforce was convicted that all men were equal in the eyes of God and the Quakers antislavery committees laid the groundwork for abolition. Blaming Christianity for slavery (which was widespread in multiple societies) is akin to blaming oxygen for arson.
I wasn’t saying that Christianity caused slavery at all – just that a book which claims to be a source of morality and yet makes statements like “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear.” must be recognized for what it is: A fallible work of fiction by humans trapped in their time…
The fact that Wilberforce was able to realise that the Bibles clear stance on slavery was wrong, and that he should reinterpret other unrelated passages as a new way of looking at slavery does nothing to save the Bible from itself – it simply shows that Wilberforce has a better moral compass than the Bible.
My point is that Slavery is a human made institution which humans than attempted to validate – and the bible is a fine example of this attempt. By claiming God says it is OK (and by providing passages which tell slaves to behave), they could maintain the status quo for much longer. If the Bible had have said “No human shall ever be owned or controlled” – well that would be a completely different story, and at least respectable. but it doesn’t. It just falls in to line with exactly what mankind was doing at the time, perpetuating the damage which was being done during those days rather than rectifying them – which is what I would expect a genuine god-being to do.
> Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear
This I just have to google Eph 6:5
The original greek οἵ δοῦλοι means servant … so a less emotionally laden translation is servants be faithful to your master as Jesus to God … presumeably this is the imperative behind servanthood leadership
With my IT/IP law background, I recognise this as the duty of fidelity that defines say the relationship of a worker to employer (with counter obligations back).
the actual impact that Jesus message had is the exact opposite of your supposition. Christians in the Roman empire were condemned because slaves and freemen comingled as moral equals
So if your argument boils down to a modern variant of “taxes is theft, therefore I don’t recognise the Federal govt” then I think you need stronger chain of reasoning. Creating a strawman argument is not a true argument.
As for Wilberforce, how do you think an individual constructs a moral compass? Let’s look at a counterfactual – Marxist-Leninism is atheistic … how did Stalin or Pol-Pot come to their ethics?
> falls in to line with exactly what mankind was doing at the time, perpetuating the damage which was being done during those days rather than rectifying them
OK … now we’re getting to some meat. So your argument is because the bible says “love your neighbour as yourself” and imperfect humans fail, then such a God is faithless (and therefore unworthy)? Correct me if I’m wrong.
If one’s actions do not meet the criteria set by a claimed ideology, how can one claim to follow said ideology?
In other words, if you are irrational enough to attack a Christian or Muslim for their religious beliefs, forcing them to withdraw into the protective shell of their faith and preconceived ideas, then attack them for being closed minded… How can you claim to be rational?
Or, if you are rational enough to understand that you should not blame The Simpsons for your child not getting their homework done, why are you so irrational that you blame the religion for what humans do in its name?
Humans are the problem, not religion. When you exhibit this behavior, you prove this. It does not matter that such attrocities against mankind and reason as the Holocaust, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Witch Trials, the Dark Ages, 9/11 or whatever else were committed in the name of a god. What matters is that humans did them. Base human behavior is what we are supposed to be overcoming.
If we are to be truly rational, in our thinking and our behavior, we should first remember that pushing one into a corner usually results in violence. If we wish to convince and persuade, we should realize that mocking them is not going to help us accomplish that goal. At best, it will show them that we are no different than any of them. If we wish to show them a better path, we should show them a better path… Not the same path under a different name.
The OP declares that militant atheism is necessary to combat the excesses of religion. To show that to be wrong, I only need one example of the contrary being true. Japan is currently the most atheist country on earth, with over 70% of the population having no belief in a god or gods. This happened without a militant atheist movement trashing religion. In fact, the cultural and philosophical aspects of religion have been embraced despite thorough rejection of the god beliefs.
In the West, probably the best example is that of Jews who keep the cultural and philosophical traditions, while not having a belief in God.
When I informally poll my fellow atheists on atheist web sites, I find about five in six who favor keeping Christmas traditions, never mind that Christ has his name in the holiday. Militant atheists are over reacting, and wrongly suppose that each and every part of religion needs to be trashed. If you don’t believe in God you should believe that religion is no more than a social institution. Excesses need to be opposed, no question there, but there is no need beyond that.
I disagree wholeheartedly with your dangerous argument. First off, your disbelief in gods is just as much out of faith than any religion. But, besides that you are proposing to fight against the nasty and aggressive parts of religious faith, by amplifying the nasty and aggressive parts of atheism. I think love and understanding goes farthest for anything. But your argument is most dangerous because of the faith in science it will begat. Sure, science is useful, but it’s not a replacement for morality or religion. It fallaciously claims to be void of bias, but since we’re human, it’s an impossible stance.
Do you believe in Thor, and Zeus, Odin, Goblins, Unicorns and Dragons too? Because by your logic, not believing in them requires faith.
Or you can understand that some things are reasonable to believe in – for they have evidence and rational justifications, and other things do not. Dragons, Unicorns and Gods being of the later.
Sort of – but the nasty and aggressive parts of religious faith are destructive and harmful. While the nasty and aggressive parts of atheism are at worst, neutralizing in that they neutralize harmful and destructive beliefs.
I agree with this sentiment completely – which is why the offensive and dangerous ideas behind Christianity, Islam and Judaism (and virtually every other religion) must be eradicated from modern society.
Humans are definitely biased, which is why we devised systems to hold them accountable, and why Science works. Not because it stops humans from being bias, but because it compensates for it by forcing everyone to be subject to criticism from other people.
Science works. This is all you need to know.
And no, Science isn’t a replacement for Morality – Morality is a subject of philosophy. Science is about ‘the way things are’. Morality is about “How should we live?” They are very different questions, and while Science can inform moral philosophy, it isn’t everything. There still needs to be some judgement.
Religion on the other hand has no real value anymore – we have science and philosophy to take care of everything we need which religion once provided.