Why not offending the religious is bullshit


As I mentioned a couple weeks back, there is a debate within the atheist/secular community about the best approach to spreading the message that we exist and care about things. Briefly, the two camps boil down into accommodationists – those who think we should be working with religious groups and believers to find common ground, and confrontationalists – those who think that the preferable approach is to be assertive and not worry about making people feel good. Daniel Schaeller prefers the terms ‘diplomats’ and ‘firebrands’, which I think is an apt (and less unwieldy) characterization.

If it’s not clear from the way I write here (and the title on the top of this post), I ally myself more closely with the firebrands. While I recognize the simultaneous facts that a) both approaches are crucial to advance the secular position, and b) that the diplomats will get all the credit when the dust clears, I have never been one to shy away from controversy in the name of sparing people’s feelings. But there’s another issue in the mix that seemingly goes without comment.

Most of you have probably heard of Richard Dawkins, the British biologist and professor who is the author of books like The God Delusion, The Ancestor’s Tale, Climbing Mount Improbable, and most recently The Greatest Show on Earth. Undoubtedly if you’re not familiar with his work, you’ve simply heard that he’s a militant asshole. In fact, the term ‘militant atheist’ gets thrown around so much that I find myself being accused of being just as bad as those who murder in the name of their religion, as though clearly expressing my thoughts on a blog is the same as killing someone.

Here’s the problem. Richard Dawkins is not a militant asshole. He’s a nerd from England who likes poetry and evolutionary biology – that’s it. What is his major crime that has earned him the appellation of ‘militant’? He wrote some books and has given some speeches. He also refuses to pretend as though the weaksauce apologies for religion are worth more than the air it takes to utter them. But because he’s talking about religion, he’s somehow violent and hateful. Well I’m sorry, but that’s bullshit, and here are some reasons why.

1. Coptic Pope Apologizes for Insulting Islam

Earlier, Bishop Bishoy had said that – contrary to Muslim belief – some verses of the Koran may have been inserted after the death of Prophet Muhammad. Egypt’s al-Azhar Islamic authority said the comments threatened national unity… “Debating religious beliefs are a red line, a deep red line,” Pope Shenouda said in the television interview on Sunday. “The simple fact of bringing up the subject was inappropriate, and escalating the matter is inappropriate,” he added.

This is the religious mindset, when allowed to take root in the public conscience. Not only does a comment made by a member of one religious organization – made about a different organization – threaten national unity, but even talking about beliefs is somehow inappropriate. Can you imagine if someone from the Canadian government made an announcement that debating economic policy or health care or military involvement was “a deep red line” that couldn’t even be discussed? They’d be laughed out of the room, or perhaps chased out with pitchforks. And yet, when a religious person says something so breathtakingly stupid, we’re just supposed to follow along. If we don’t, then we’re somehow militant.

You want militant? I’ve got your militant right here:

2. Austrian temple shooting yields convictions

An Austrian court has convicted six Indian men in connection with a gun attack in a temple in Vienna in which a visiting preacher was killed. Indian preacher Sant Ramanand, 57, was shot dead and more than a dozen others wounded, including another preacher… Prosecutors say the men had planned the attack on the visiting preacher because of a religious dispute. The men went on the rampage wielding a gun and knives during a temple service attended by about 150 people.

That is what a militant position looks like. Ideas that do not conform to your own are not met with skepticism or even outright dismissal, but violence. The lives of those who disagree with your position are forfeit. People who think differently from you deserve to die. Assuming the men in the court case were literate they could have written a book. Even if they weren’t literate they probably could have started a blog (the internet has pretty low standards). They could have protested. They could have said “I am secure enough in my beliefs that I will completely ignore your obvious stupidity.” But that’s not what a militant does. What a militant does is get 5 friends, board a plane to another country, and then try to shoot and stab 150 people. And yet, when firebrand atheists point this out, the immediate response is that we are “no better” than these terrorist fuckbags for being vocally opposed to religion in public life.

The religious shouldn’t be worried about atheists, they should be worrying about each other:

3. Palestinian mosque set on fire

Israel is investigating Palestinian reports that a mosque in the West Bank has been set alight by Jewish settlers. Palestinian officials say settlers set fire to the mosque in Beit Fajjar, near the town of Bethlehem. They blame residents of a nearby settlement because the arsonists reportedly scrawled Hebrew graffiti on one of the mosque’s walls.

I recognize that the conflict between Israel and Palestine is beyond my full understanding. It is a complex issue involving history, geography, foreign political influence, and xenophobia. However, when it asserts itself in the form of the destruction of religious buildings, it’s difficult for anyone to try and say that religion doesn’t play a central role in the problem.

So I challenge those who would use the phrase ‘militant atheist’ to do the following: find me one example of threats of the destruction of national unity, or mass murder, or the destruction of religious buildings, committed by atheists in the name of atheism, and I will make you a batch of delicious cookies.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

Comments

  1. says

    If I make a threat myself do I get the cookies? Damn, you know it wont be serious.

    Never stop being outspoken. Always enjoy your discourse.

  2. says

    I found this to be amusing.

    Have I actually stumbled upon an atheist who is not a PC multiculturalist pansy?

    Do you really believe that confrontation is what’s necessary to prevent our society from being overrun by barbarians?

    Isn’t that maybe, just maybe, why the Jews haven’t submitted to the demands of their neighboring Arabs?

  3. says

    “Have I actually stumbled upon an atheist who is not a PC multiculturalist pansy?”

    Probably not as much as you’d like. To get a read on my level of pansiness, you’ll probably want to take a look through other stuff I’ve written.

  4. says

    Ooh, just read your stuff! An anti-choice homophobe atheist! Do you have any idea how rare you are? It’s like finding a unicorn!

    I have to draw you…

  5. says

    Obviously you didn’t read my stuff too well. I’m not an atheist, number one.

    And number two, I have no phobias…well, maybe I’d qualify as Islamophobic, but that’s another story for another day.

    Three, I am not “anti-choice.” I just think the choice starts with sex and ends with the creation of a new life.

  6. says

    I’m quoting here from your blog:

    It seems like we are in an era that not only exhibits vulgarity freely, but we revel in it. We celebrate it. We hold parades of pride for our sexual deviancy as we scream “It’s no one’s business what we do in our bedrooms and who we do it with!”

    You might not call it homophobia, but it is. You could call it delicious chocolatey ice cream – it’s still homophobia. Similarly, you might not call saying that since you don’t like abortion that nobody can have one an anti-choice position, but it is.

    You also appear to be anti-vulva, which is a position I don’t even want to understand :P

    And as far as the division between an agnostic and an atheist, you can mince words all you want. If you live your life as though there was no God, you’re an atheist.

  7. says

    There’s nothing “homophobic” about what I wrote.

    And now you’re forcing me to get all pedantic on you.

    Phobia = a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.

    Just recently I visited a gay night club, engaged in some pretty interesting conversations with a lesbian who was very disappointed to find out that I was married with children, and ended up having quite a heart-to-heart with a gay man who was distressed that his ex-boyfriend (with whom he had a very ugly break-up) had shown up at the club with his catty friends. And then I danced with a man whose sexual orientation I wasn’t too sure of, but he was very nice.

    I am not afraid of homosexuals. Nor do I have a compelling desire to avoid them. :)

    deviation = departure from a standard or norm

    If the success of a species is dependent upon its ability to reproduce, than it goes without saying that the standard sexual behavior of a mammal would be heterosexual in nature. That’s the norm. That’s been the norm for mankind since he first evolved, and I’m sure it was the norm for all his ancestors as well. Therefore, homosexual behavior is deviant.

    Nothing homophobic about that either. Just stating facts.

    You just don’t like the words I used because they aren’t PC. :P Well, I don’t care.

    I’m not anti-vulva. I just think it’s an ugly word and it is an ugly looking apparatus. Have you looked at one lately? Bleh. It’s one of the many reasons I am not a lesbian.

    I am not an agnostic either, silly Cromm.

  8. says

    I’m overwhelmingly unimpressed by your ability to redefine terms to suit your purposes. You’re not afraid of gay people, you just think that they’re sexual deviants. But not deviants in a bad way, in a statistical sense. See? No bigotry here, you’re just stating some facts.

    It’s a common tactic used by people with bigoted opinions, somehow hoping to bamboozle the gullible with semantic sophistry. I’m really not interested in biting, or pretending to be as stupid as your weak attempts at wit are implying. Either you’re using the language coined by anti-gay bigots and pretending not to see the implied association (in which case your tactic is dishonest), or you’re doing it with full knowledge and then trying to weasel out of it when called on it (in which case your tactic is cowardly).

    Also why is it that only conservatives (although I’m sure you’ll swear up and down that you aren’t one of those either, forcing me to continue this ridiculous guessing game) seem to shorten my name in comments? We’re not friends, and your feigned familiarity is unwarranted and condescending. I’m sure you get some smug sense of satisfaction out of playing your word games – I hope your exercise in intellectual masturbation continues to be entertaining to you, because nobody else is enjoying it.

  9. says

    I didn’t want to get all Christian on you by actually implying that there is a right way to have sex and a wrong way. I mean, then I might actually be making a judgment call about behavior and — gasp — that would be so intolerant of me, God forbid.

    I didn’t want to get your proverbial panties in a twist. :)

    But, if you want to go down that road, I believe that sex is a good thing generally, but like all good things in this world (like wine and chocolate), without temperance and self-control it can become be used for ill, especially against ones own body and soul.

    If you want to call that “bigoted,” okay. I’m not really concerned with the bigotry charge. It is over-used, and the word, like racism, has lost its potency. And I have yet to hear a logical reason for why it is wrong to be bigoted.

    But to call me “homophobic” is just plain silly.

    Seriously, why did this discussion have to be about me? I don’t like talking about me when the whole reason that I came here was to talk about YOU and what you believe.

    Cromm, I shorten your name because I’m lazy…and maybe because I like the sound of it…and maybe, just maybe, because I want to bother you. Ever heard of Cromm Crúaich?

  10. says

    If you think there is a “right” way to have sex, you’ve failed to provide any convincing justification for your position. If it is, as you seem to be suggesting, based on the Biblical proscriptions, then you’ll have to explain why you’re happy to follow some Biblical commandments but not others, how you deal with the inconsistencies within the Bible (which impeaches its validity as a reliable document), and how you know (not believe, but know with evidence) that the Bible, as opposed to the Qur’an/Torah/Vedas/etc., is the correct holy book to follow.

    If you just think it’s wrong because you don’t like butt sex, then don’t have butt sex. Simple.

    And yes, when your position is to condemn a person or group of people with no other justification than “this book says so,” or “it’s gross,” and the cumulative effect of such condemnation is that people are harassed, assaulted, killed, and/or driven to suicide, there is a very strong logical position why being bigoted is injurious to both individual people and society at large. The inverse case, where people are required to deal with ideas or lifestyles that they don’t endorse, does no demonstrable damage or injury – nobody is being assaulted for not liking gay people, any more than people are currently being assaulted for not liking reality TV.

    For regular readers watching this exchange, note the use of the term “I believe” in that third paragraph.

    You definitely don’t shorten my name out of laziness. Again, I’m sure that kind of tactic works against morons, but there’s precious few of those here. It’s purely as a condescending and antagonistic (not to mention childish) attempt to diminish my position because your arguments are without validity. You’ll notice that my responses to your other comments have been about the issues you raise, not you personally. I simply mistook you for a conservative atheist, which you clearly are not (my sincere apologies for the mischaracterization), which struck me as rare considering that most skeptic atheists use logic and evidence as tools rather than… well, whatever you use.

  11. says

    Crommie, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal —

    (Sorry, now I’m just being an ass.)

    I don’t have to justify my beliefs, just as I do not believe you have to justify yours. You certainly never asked me for justification, and I certainly was not implying that you should believe what I believe in the first place.

    Would you like me to justify my beliefs?

    I had a hard time getting through all your straw man arguments, but I did enjoy your rather rigorous attempt to tear them down.

    Bravo. Good show, blasting those hypocritical cherry-pickers and emotional nit-wits.

    P.S. I shorten your name because I dislike the “unist” part. It’s probably that free spirit in me that I just can’t seem to contain. Damn you, you evil Tea Partier!

  12. says

    Funnily enough, I was “Crommie” before I was “Crommunist”

    Well if I have said things that don’t correspond to your beliefs, I once again apologize. It is a sensitive issue for me, particularly when people treat it so glibly – as a result I may find myself occasionally responding to what I think I’m being told rather than the actual substance. At any rate, it’s always interesting to meet a dissenting voice. I hope you’ll stick around and keep poking me to ensure I remain fair.

  13. says

    I’ve already decided that I like you, and so I have a feeling you’ll feel my antagonistic poke every once in a while.

    P.S. You can shorten my name if you want to. Kids used to call me “Nat-ass” in high school. :)

  14. says

    All this bickering has distracted people from the wager you made in the article itself. Goody :D

    I offer the French Revolution, particularly the Jacobins. You can’t say forcibly subsuming the Church into the state and drowning the occasional priest wasn’t destructive. Are we drawing a distinction between secularism and atheism?

    I live in Australia, so if you could airmail my cookies that would be super.

  15. says

    “There is no god, therefore it is permissible to execute priests”

    I’m pretty sure that the French Revolution was about usurping the role that had been held by the Church and establishing a forced secularism, rather than an expression of an argument from atheism. Similar to Stalin’s Russia, it wasn’t so much an atheist agenda as much as it was anti-church, an attempt for the state to assume the power that had been held by the clergy.

    My chocolate chips remain safe… for now.

    Thanks for your comment though. How did you find your way here from Australia? Ah, from Blaghag. Excellent. I am not Daniel Schaeller, though. His blog is quite good too though.

  16. collinmerenoff says

    I don’t see a problem with what Bishoy said per se. The problem is what he didn’t say, that most of what’s written about Jesus was also written after his death by people who didn’t know him. The same thing probably applies to every prophet. (In my case, it’s even worse; Moses probably never even existed.)

    What makes some religious people assholes is not that they express untestable beliefs, but rather that:

    1. There is well-known scientific or historical evidence that the belief is strictly false, but they say it anyway.

    or
    2. When someone asks them about a religious tenet known to be wrong, they don’t say something like “Of course not. I don’t believe it either.”

  17. collinmerenoff says

    I’ve been thinking about what it is that nags me about this section, and I just put my finger on it:

    By referring to “offending”, you’re conflating two different behaviors: indignation and mockery.

    If you hear someone saying something false, whether they’re lying, ignorant, or anything in-between, it is justified — even virtuous — to correct them and indignantly insist on the truth, even if it goes against their religion.

    However, the reaction I sometimes see to religion, involving sarcasm, profanity, and cacophemy, is no different than the insults often hurled at other categories like race and nationality.

  18. Crommunist says

    By “offending” I am referring explicitly to the admonition that outspoken atheists should be more ‘respectful’ and not hurt people’s feelings when they discuss religion. The reason why it’s bullshit is along the lines I lay out in the post – religious people will take offense at even the SUGGESTION that their beliefs are mistaken or harmful. I say that any attempt to mitigate ‘offense’ is a waste of time and perfectly good consonants, so we might as well employ whatever argumentative means we have to establish our position, rather than tip-toeing over broken glass to try and find the nicest way of pointing out that the man in the chair is imaginary.

    Mockery is a useful rhetorical tool. So are sarcasm and profanity. Cacophemy, on the other hand, isn’t a word.

  19. Sarah says

    I wouldn’t use the phrase “militant atheist” to describe any Gnus but:

    So I challenge those who would use the phrase ‘militant atheist’ to do the following: find me one example of threats of the destruction of national unity, or mass murder, or the destruction of religious buildings, committed by atheists in the name of atheism, and I will make you a batch of delicious cookies.

    Specifically: “The state was committed to the destruction of religion[2][3], and to this effect it destroyed churches, mosques and temples, ridiculed, harassed and executed religious leaders, flooded the schools and media with atheistic propaganda, and generally promoted ‘scientific atheism’ as the truth that society should accept[4][5]”

    “The Soviet regime was ostensibly committed to the complete annihilation of religious institutions and ideas [7]. Militant atheism was central to the ideology of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union[8] and a high priority of all Soviet leaders [3]. Communism required the abolition of religion [3]. Convinced atheists were considered to be more virtuous individuals than those of religious belief [3].

    The state established atheism as the only scientific truth.[9][10][11][12][13][14][unreliable source?] Criticism of atheism or the state’s anti-religious policies was forbidden and could lead to forced retirement, arrest and/or imprisonment.[15][16][17]”

    “The tactics varied over the years and became more moderate or more harsh at different times. Among common tactics included confiscating church property, ridiculing religion, harassing believers, and propagating atheism in the schools. Actions toward particular religions, however, were determined by State interests, and most organized religions were never outlawed.

    Some actions against Orthodox priests and believers along with execution included torture, being sent to prison camps, labour camps or mental hospitals.[24][25][26][27] Many Orthodox (along with peoples of other faiths) were also subjected to psychological punishment or torture and mind control experimentation in order to force them give up their religious convictions (see Punitive psychiatry in the Soviet Union).[25][26][28] During the first five years of Soviet power, the Bolsheviks executed 28 Russian Orthodox bishops and over 1,200 Russian Orthodox priests. Many others were imprisoned or exiled.[1]

    In the Soviet Union, in addition to the methodical closing and destruction of churches, the charitable and social work formerly done by ecclesiastical authorities was taken over by the state. As with all private property, Church owned property was confiscated into public use. The few places of worship left to the Church were legally viewed as state property which the government permitted the church to use.

    So I’ll take my cookies now.

    Why your argument is bullshit:

    “Briefly, the two camps boil down into accommodationists – those who think we should be working with religious groups and believers to find common ground, and confrontationalists – those who think that the preferable approach is to be assertive and not worry about making people feel good.”

    No. Briefly is not good enough. The ‘two camps’ do not boil down into anything so coherent.

    The ‘accommodationist’ camp is comprised of people ranging from “Be polite but do not shy away from telling them the truth”, to “Be tactical, say whatever is needed to get them to the truth”, to “Do not say anything that we judge, reasonably to be offensive”, to “Do not say anything that they say is too offensive” (the one you described), to “You have the right to your religion in the same way that you have the right to believe your wife is beautiful and your child is clever”

    The ‘confrontationalist’ camp is comprised of people ranging from “Be assertive, never back down on the truth but don’t be unreasonable”, to “Be assertive and whenever they’re wrong you can insult them for it”, to “They are evil/dangerous (the evidence is there) and need re-educating no matter how harsh you have to be”, to “Fuck politeness no-one gets any kind of respect or humanism from me unless they deserve it”, and many more I have not described.

    “. Coptic Pope Apologizes for Insulting Islam”
    “This is the religious mindset, when allowed to take root in the public conscience. Not only does a comment made by a member of one religious organization – made about a different organization – threaten national unity, but even talking about beliefs is somehow inappropriate.”

    No, it’s not. It’s a mindset present in every person with a strongly held belief. Unity is threatened when you debate something that you will never agree on. People do not like to have things they are certain are true questioned – whether they are religious or not. Some people, when in power will enforce this.

    But this question is about whether it’s appropriate for one religious figure to question another religious position from a different religion – it’s not a question of “truth” it’s a question of politics. There is nothing to be gained by Pope X saying “this part of religion Y doesn’t add up” – it looks like an attack and it will not achieve anything. Situations like that need formal arrangements and collegial discussion, otherwise it’s taken as an attack and nothing comes from it.
    It’s similar to the President saying that the Indian Prime Minister has a BO problem. Yes, that may be true, an undeniable fact, but it’s also inappropriate – it will be seen as an attack, and it will not gain anything.

    So that’s not a religious-only problem, nor is it “evidence for a religious mindset”

    Austrian temple shooting yields convictions

    This is simply irrelevant.

    “Why not offending the religious is bullshit: “The religious shouldn’t be worried about atheists, they should be worrying about each other””

    So… bullshit, moving on:

    “Palestinian mosque set on fire”

    And another irrelevant point. So… remind us how this article isn’t bullshit?

    “However, when it asserts itself in the form of the destruction of religious buildings, it’s difficult for anyone to try and say that religion doesn’t play a central role in the problem.”

    This is also bullshit. What do you mean “central”, do you think that when people destroy municipal buildings to protest against an evil regime “it’s difficult for anyone to try and say that libraries don’t play a central role in the problem”

    It’s difficult for anyone to establish what proportion of the violence in Israel is related to 1) religion, 2) political and 3) ethnic conflicts. You can’t just point to one part and say “This, this is central”

    It seems to me I might be bypassing the point of your 2) and 3), in that they are not there to prove that not offending the religious is bullshit, but to show that Richard Dawkins isn’t “militant” – they are, that’s real militancy.
    Well, that’s unrelated to whether you should offend the religious – it makes no difference, the only questions are 1) is it effective and necessary 2) is it moral/reasonable, is that who we want to be? Neither of which your post addresses.

    You still owe me some cookies.

  20. Sarah says

    You need a message telling people when their post goes into moderation, if you don’t already have one. It just looks like the internet ate my post right now.

  21. Crommunist says

    Fuck.

    Okay, e-mail me your mailing address. I will have cookies shipped to you.

    We can agree though, that the kind of militant atheism seen in the Soviet Union is not related to any form of atheism on display today, and that the label of ‘militant’, while thrown around with great abandon, is not applicable to any Gnus? That was the point of the comparison, although clearly I am wrong that atheism qua atheism was NEVER used to justify acts of violence.

    It is that last confrontational approach that people seem to hang on to, but I’ve never seen it. Maybe in comment threads of Youtube videos, but the people who comment on Youtube videos tend to be a bit unhinged in the first place, no matter what their stance on religion. I should know – I’m a frequent commenter.

    Your counterexamples of the Indian Prime Minister’s BO and libraries don’t really address the point. “It will be seen as an attack” and “It is an attack” are two different things. Political adversaries attack each other all the time – it’s part of political discourse. At no point has anyone said “this person’s political beliefs may not be questioned. It crosses a deep red line that threatens to tear the country apart!” Anyone making that claim would be bundled off to the loony bin. As far as the libraries go – that one really confused me. When religious groups attack other religious groups, it is not because they are disgruntled at the church’s policies – it is because the conflicts are drawn explicitly along religious lines. If you had said “you can’t deny that politics play a central role in the problem”, that would be another matter entirely and we could probably find some point of agreement.

    My point is, indeed, that the label “militant” is misapplied to simply being vocal. That religious groups are far more militant in a real sense, and manage to escape criticism from the mainstream who are tripping over themselves to blame those darn atheists for all the world’s problems. That they will take offense at any criticism, so it is not worthwhile to agonize over what the “right” way to reach out to believers is – every approach that criticizes religion at all will be seen as a ‘militant’ insult.

    I appreciate your comment. Clearly this is an idea I will need to work on.

  22. Crommunist says

    No idea how to make that happen. People will just have to deal with the fact that I sleep :P

  23. Crommunist says

    Okay, have totally rethought my position on this piece. Look for a retraction/clarification on Monday.

  24. Sarah says

    Hi, sorry for the slow reply, and thank you for your comment, it was very interesting and I look forward to reading the clarification piece you refer to. Interestingly it was the high quality of your reply that lead to me not returning, as it was clear to me that you were engaging fairly and very intelligent, so I realised I would have to engage fairly, attempt to communicate clearly, and think correctly – all of which sounded like too much work each evening so I did not return.

    So you can now say that you’re so smart it’s driving the theists away :D

  25. Crommunist says

    HAHAHA That is the single greatest comment I’ve ever seen. The bar has been set, folks.

  26. Sarah says

    Hi again: Some more info re: “My point is, indeed, that the label “militant” is misapplied to simply being vocal. That religious groups are far more militant in a real sense, and manage to escape criticism from the mainstream who are tripping over themselves to blame those darn atheists for all the world’s problems. That they will take offense at any criticism, so it is not worthwhile to agonize over what the “right” way to reach out to believers is – every approach that criticizes religion at all will be seen as a ‘militant’ insult.

    This appears to be a common trope, however it is not correct. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militant

    “The word militant, which is both an adjective and a noun, usually is used to mean vigorously active, combative and aggressive, especially in support of a cause, as in ‘militant reformers'”

    “However, the current meaning of militant does not usually refer to a registered soldier: it can be anyone who subscribes to the idea of using vigorous, sometimes extreme, activity to achieve an objective, usually political. For example, a “militant [political] activist” would be expected to be more confrontational and aggressive than an activist not described as militant”

    Militant, is, and always has been a word applied to those who are passionate, aggressive or confrontational in being a proponent for a point of view.

    See: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/militant
    http://east.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/militant

    And non-violent Christians described as militant: http://www.advicenators.com/qview.php?q=363157
    http://www.bibleheadquarters.org/kevin/MilitantChristianity.htm
    http://www.armyofgod.com/POCPaulRossEvansMilitantChristian.html

    “That they will take offense at any criticism, so it is not worthwhile to agonize over what the “right” way to reach out to believers is – every approach that criticizes religion at all will be seen as a ‘militant’ insult”

    This is also common, and true, to a certain extent. Some Christians will take offense at any criticism, and it is not worthwhile to agonize over the “right” way to reach them is.

    However (and I am not saying you do this) I have seen this used as a reason not to make any effort not to offend any believers at all- and that’s not a logical argument as some believers will not be offended by every criticism of religion, they are reachable.

    Otherwise, I agree with you, it’s impossible not to offend all the believers all of the time, that’s why I think the emphasis should be one what we (i.e. you guys) think is reasonable. There are lines that can be drawn – and they can be drawn in different places for different people with different aims – but the fact that some Christians are unreasonable is not a good reason to write off politeness, collegiality, or basic human decency.

    I didn’t see your clarification post – but I’m at work and just scanned it, if I see it I will wander in – if not, I will return to engage about my examples you criticised above. (He says, knowing it may never happen)

  27. Crommunist says

    In context, however, ‘militant’ is used against atheists the way ‘fundamentalist’ or ‘extremist’ are used. They are an attempt to tie passionate defense of atheism to violent acts perpetrated by fanatics, and there is no evidence whatsoever to merit such a comparison. I notice that, those links you provide notwithstanding, popular and vocal apologetics are never referred to as “militant Christians” – nobody ever calls Ray Comfort or Josef Ratzinger or Rowan Williams “militant defenders of Christianity”, despite the fact that they engage in the same (or worse) behaviour as guys like Dawkins or Hitchens. The double standard speaks to the fact that religions are not accustomed to criticism and therefore view any opposition as violent upheaval of the natural order of things.

    I have never advocated abandoning basic human decency. That’s not an approach I see used by anyone who has any kind of traction in the atheist community. What I see instead is faitheists admonishing those of my ilk to refrain from doing things that we don’t do anyway (swearing excessively at people in place of actual argument, using insult instead of reason). It is annoying to me, partially because it presumes that I am writing for believers. I go into this in greater detail in the clarification/follow-up, <a href = "http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist/2011/10/10/do-we-care-reflections-on-tone-intent-and-my-audience/"which you can find here.

  28. Sarah says

    Sorry, what? My links notwithstanding? That doesn’t make any sense – my links demonstrate that it is used to describe non-violent Christians – even if it’s not used often enough for you, or to describe the specific Christians you wish it to be.

    Do you dispute the dictionary definition of the word?

    If you want more people to start calling the Pope militant then start doing it yourself, don’t complain that Atheists are being tarred with the entirely grammatically correct phrase ‘militant atheist’.

    “The double standard speaks to the fact that religions are not accustomed to criticism and therefore view any opposition as violent upheaval of the natural order of things.”

    Bollocks.

    Militant has a long history of being used to describe aggressive or uncompromising political advocacy – if you can’t be bothered to do the research then just accept that this is the case.

    Militant is accurately used to describe militant Atheists just as it is accurately used to describe militant vegetarians, militant Christians and militant everybody else.

    In fact the only people who have anything real to complain about are the Muslims as they are one of the few groups for whom ‘militant’ almost always refers to actual martial actions and violence. Everyone else gets both meanings of the word used about them, but Militant Muslims are always violent. That seems pretty racist to me.

    You need to face the evidence.
    1) “Militant” is not a word that means ‘violent’ exclusively. It is a word that means aggressive and uncompromising in political advocacy.
    2) Militant is not a descriptor used only for violent Christians and vocal Atheists, it is a descriptor also used for vocal Christians and violent Atheists.

    You may feel that militant shouldn’t mean ‘aggressive and uncompromising in political advocacy’ but you’re arguing with the dictionary there and the way people actually use the word, and you’re wrong.

  29. Crommunist says

    The phrase is lopsidedly and inconsistently applied to atheists. Whether you’ve managed to find a couple of people on web forums who have used the phrase to apply to a group whose actions are almost never described as such in any mainstream publication doesn’t really refute my argument. Neither does dictionary pedantry. If The Purpose-Driven Life isn’t considered shrill and strident, but The God Delusion is, then there is a double-standard in the use of the word militant. In its colloquial, common use, which can be discerned by simply looking at the top hits on Google (and removing those for atheism) illustrates this point sufficiently.

    So while I am happy to accept that the word “militant” can be applied to any spirited defense of any position, I absolutely reject your claim that it is used even-handedly in this way. Occasional, obscure exceptions do absolutely nothing to address my point, which is that things that are considered “militant” when done by atheists are not considered “militant” when done by religious groups. In order for a religious group to have their actions labeled “militant”, they have to hurt somebody.

  30. Sarah says

    I did not claim that it was used even-handedly. I claimed that it was used appropriately. Which it was.

    It may be the case that more people use militant to describe non-theistic activism than they do theistic activism. That has no bearing on the appropriateness of the use of the word.

    The word fits. Use it.

    If the word fits theists. Use it.

    Don’t complain “Too many people use it against us, and not against themselves, therefore it is inappropriate.”

    This is not logical.

    Also, why wouldn’t you expect for it to be used lopsidedly when there are plenty of words with similar meanings about theists – religious extremist, fundamentalist, fanatical, zealot, etc etc – but none specifically for atheists?

    When you’re describing the WBC would you use ‘militant’, or something worse?

    It’s practically a kindness that atheists are mostly ‘militant’ – and you should see the fuss that people come up with when they’re called ‘fundamentalist’ or any other word that originated describing religious people.

  31. Sarah says

    “If The Purpose-Driven Life isn’t considered shrill and strident, but The God Delusion is, then there is a double-standard in the use of the word militant.”

    By who? I don’t consider TGD shrill and strident, and I’ve never heard of that other one. Are you talking “in general”? Because you have no fair way to assess that, nor can you avoid confirmation bias in your assessment of “what you’ve seen” any more than I or any human could.

    This seems to be our point of disagreement. I am talking about what the word actually means, and how can be used. – You seem to be talking about a ‘perception’ that ‘people’ have, which you feel is ‘lopsided’ therefore militant is being used unfairly.

    – If you’re saying that there are more religious people in the world than atheists and therefore more people are likely to be criticising atheist books than religious books – that’s certainly true.

    – If you’re saying that the result of this is that atheists are called militant more often than religious people – that’s probably true but some evidence would be nice

    – If you’re therefore saying that “militant” doesn’t mean what the dictionary says it means that it ‘actually’ means violent, and it’s very unfair that people use it on atheists when they’re not violent then you’re barking up the wrong tree. That’s not how language works.

    – If you’re actually saying even though they are using the word correctly, (1) they would not use that word to describe religious militancy, (2) this is therefore evidence of anti-atheist bias – then first you will need to specify who you’re talking about, because different people will act in certain ways for different reasons. Then, (1) is plausible but needs to be evidenced, and (2) is plausible but really needs to be evidenced. There are plenty of reasons that they could be using ‘militant’ for atheist and ‘fundamentalist’ or whatever for theists, not least of which is simple association, militant atheist = aggressive promoter = evangelical theist.

    I for one would not refer to people as ‘militant theists’ but might use ‘militant atheists’ (that’s kind of not true, I don’t tend to use it, but I have no objection to it), purely because one sounds natural (probably because I’ve heard of it before) and the other doesn’t.

    Is this unfair of me? Does this indicate a pernicious anti-atheist bias? No, I would simply use a similar but different term for militant theists, and I would be more likely to talk about militant catholics or militant protestantism.

    If you don’t have any evidence that ‘they’ or whoever you’re talking about is any different to me, then your proposition is not sufficiently evidenced.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>