Jeffrey Shallit explains why. It is rather peculiar, when you get right down to it: isn’t it remarkable how just criticizing religion gets people flustered and cowering in a corner?
Now look at this otherwise unnoteworthy article by Associate Press religion reporter Rachel Zoll, about the reaction to recent books by atheists Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. Notice anything, well, trite about the title? Yes, it’s the “militant atheist” platitude. Atheists must never be described as intelligent, thoughtful, friendly, questioning, or thought-provoking. Instead, they must be described as “militant”.
From the meaning of “militant”, you might expect that Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens are burning down churches, or at least leading protests, stirring up crowds with their fiery rhetoric. You would be disappointed, of course. What Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens have done is write books. Hitchens is more of a curmudgeon than a militant, and Dawkins and Harris are both rather mild-mannered. Nobody is leaving their public events carrying torches and singing the atheist analogue of the Horst Wessel song.
We need a complementary cliché for the theists. I vote for “goofy”.