Militant Atheists

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Transcript:

Hello, I’m Al. I’m an atheist. I believe that supernatural gods do not exist.

Jambie Cakes presents: Atheism on the march! Our boys have had their hands full fighting in the name of the lord and/or lords. The enemy? Militant atheists. Yes, the scourge of militant atheism has reared its head in every corner of our nation. Added to the long list of atheist and agnostic atrocities are: writing best-selling books, vocally claiming disbelief in gods, public speaking engagements, making pro-atheist Internet videos. The violence has been ceaseless. The godless forces have vowed not to relent until we cave to their maniacal demands for objective evidence of god. Every citizen should be on the lookout as we stem the tide of: Atheism on the march!

So I’m a bit confused about the term “militant atheist”. This is a term that’s been bandied about recently, especially since Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and other authors have published very popular books on atheism. It’s kind of weird because “militant” has a very clear definition of violence and war and physical force, and this is all completely absent in the recent rise of atheism in our culture. Out of our entire langauge, it’s a very odd word to choose. There is a very blunt demand that if religion makes statements about the nature of reality, faith alone isn’t enough to be convincing. Atheists and agnostics are also dispelling the idea that the idea of heaven and hell are necessary for a moral life. And they also call for religion staying out of government as much as theists would want government to stay out of religion.

But militant? At worse it seems you can be mocked or offended by an obnoxious atheist, but that’s not violent. I mean, these guys are referred to as the militant atheist, but what do these intellectuals’ militant atheism look like?

The case for a divine Jesus isn’t convincing! (machine gun gesture with hands) Nothing happens when you die! (pantomiming throwing a gernade)

What’s so militant about atheism now? Writing books? Filing lawsuits to stop the government from endorsing religion? They’ve stooped to using the rule of law, those sick, militant monkeys.

I don’t think calling Richard Dawkins and others “militant atheists” is a fitting label, especially because we know what militant islam and militant christianity looks like:

(cut away) Hi. So, the next two clips of this video are graphic footage of 9-11 and a 1997 abortion clinic bombing. At first, I didn’t plan on including them in this video because those images are the sort of emotional tear-jerking that I want to avoid. But I am going to include it, because it’s important to show what is meant by the word militant in this context: gruesome, horrible violence. And this is why I take so much offense at how book-writing and public speaking are brought under this militant umbrella. It’s a disgusting double standard. So about the clips, I want to say that these actions are rightfully condemned by mainstream religious groups too. Remember, we are distinguishing belief, and militant belief, and that goes both ways. That’s all.

(repeat clip) I don’t think calling Richard Dawkins and others militant atheists is a fitting label, especially because we know what militant islam and militant christianity looks like:

(cut away) Hi again. Actually, as it turns out I don’t have the stomache for adding those clips after all. You can find them on the web if you’re into watching scenes of that sort of thing. Anyway I keep reminding myself that good and bad things done in the name of atheism or religion, in a sense, don’t really matter anyway. What matters is if the claims made by religion are factually true or not. But I already shot the previous scene and I think I made some good points, so I kept it in.

Several other atheists buy into this definition also, saying that people like Dawkins are too confrontational and give atheists a bad image. Because godless atheists had a great image before. Dawkins himself tries to usurp this term by saying atheists should become “militant”, in the sense that we should speak out instead of politely shutting up. I suppose he’s hoping to take the term away from people who would like to equate “militant atheist” as meaning the same as “militant islam”.

I want to be absolutely clear: I think I can convince people that atheism or agnosticism is a much more reasonable position than ones that religions propose. I can make that argument. But I can’t argue against mudslinging, which is really the point behind calling someone a militant atheist. I’m not exaggerating anything, the word has a very specific meaning in the context of belief and ideology. I have said and will continue to say that the claims made by religion are often unconvincing, and in some cases, just plain silly. I will say that the American government shouldn’t endorse Christianity in ways that Christians wouldn’t want tax dollars spent Wicca or Scientology. But I don’t say that John Q. Church-goer who speaks out about his belief is in the same league as some Army of God terrorist or jihad-declaring lunie. This label of the militant atheist for nonviolent authors and speakers is asinine mudslinging. So stop using the term already, or else…

Thanks for watching.

(captioned) There will inevitably be comments like “but Stalin was an atheist!” These comments prove my central point: Richard Dawkins isn’t Stalin, Christopher Hitchens isn’t Pol Pot.

But this doesn’t matter to people who sling “militant atheist” at these authors and modern atheists/agnostics. It’s a propaganda technique to equate every atheist with militant atheist, and reasonableness doesn’t enter into it.

I’ll address this in a future video.

34 Responses to “Militant Atheists”

  1. vegatee Says:

    Excellent. :o)

  2. Jolly Sapper Says:
  3. Greta Christina Says:

    Nifty! Thanks!

  4. Steve Says:

    Awesome! People of faith will say or do anything to make atheist/agnostic’s appear to be bad people or “evil”!
    Nice counter Al. ;)

  5. Anne Says:

    Very amusing. Besides, you’re cute.

  6. Derek Says:

    Thanks for another great video, Al.

    I suppose I might be one of those atheists that feels Dawkins, Hitchens et al aren’t doing atheism any favours…

    As someone who is relatively vocal about atheism myself, (I blog about atheism a fair bit), I’ve come to realize that there are certain styles of argument that are more or less effective depending on your audience.

    For example, when I read Dawkins, I often find him funny and convincing — but then again, I already share his point of view. People that disagree (however foolishly) often find his arrogance and academic persona irritating.

    It’s like when Joe Bob Farmer gets all huffy about the cityfolk using fancy words. Sure, it’s stupid, but sometimes the cityfolk could avoid the situation by using fewer fancy words and making their point in the parlance of Joe Bob Farmer.

  7. John Kellner Says:

    I found your video by searching for Richard Dawkins videos on google. Dude, you are quite entertaining and informative. I enjoy your videos. Keep up the good work. Maybe some day our paths will cross and we can enjoy a coffee or an adult beverage. (I roast my own coffee by the way.)

    Anyway keep on producing.

    Keep well.

  8. Lecnal Says:

    Al,

    I found your video clips on youtube, and I wanted to say they’re quite good. Your arguements are well structured. I hope you become a teacher some day.

    All the best,

  9. J. J. Ramsey Says:

    “It’s kind of weird because ‘militant’ has a very clear definition of violence and war and physical force”

    Um, not quite …

    From Merriam-Webster (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/militant):

    1 : engaged in warfare or combat : fighting
    2 : aggressively active (as in a cause) : combative, e.g. “militant conservationists”, “a militant attitude”

    Yes, the word “militant” can be used to describe someone using physical force (definition 1), but being aggressive or even combative (definition 2) doesn’t require actual violence. I think you’d be hard-pressed to say that Dawkins isn’t militant according to that second definition.

  10. Aquaria Says:

    I believe most rational people would be hard-pressed to call Dawkins militant, since he is neither aggressive nor combative. No-nonsense, yes. Plain-spoken, yes. Passionate about his convictions, definitely! Refuses to back down from a challenge? Sure! But combative? He’s far more polite than many others would be in the same situation. I’ve rarely heard him raise his voice, much less get strident or even snide. Does he act a little superior sometimes? Uh–yeah, but I actually like that about him. The man is no shrinking violet, and good for him!

    Is it the British accent that makes him seem so intimidating to Americans that they would think this man is combative? If the average person ran into him in the market and didn’t know he was Richard Dawkins, ATHEIST, that person would think he was some dotty old professor who might bore you to death talking about his collection of butterflies, not some fire-breathing monster. Or have we simply become a bunch of pearl-clutching crybabies who can’t handle a little constructive criticism, or a challenge to our thinking?

  11. J. J. Ramsey Says:

    Aquaria, it’s not about raising his voice or British accents. If the average person were to hear an activist resort to name-calling, over-the-top Nazi comparisons, and playing games with the term “child abuse,” such an activist might reasonably be described as having a combative attitude–which is considered “militant” by that second definition that I mentioned.

    “Or have we simply become a bunch of pearl-clutching crybabies …”

    Ah, yes, the old, “you’re just sissies” gambit.

  12. J. J. Ramsey Says:

    BTW, a bit more detail on the “you’re just sissies” gambit. It works like this:

    * Notice people been offended by something that is not entirely fair, that is, it may be at least partially slanderous, misleading, or exaggerated.

    * Act as if these people are merely being offended by being told a harsh truth, at which point they are called sissies, crybabies, wimps, etc.

  13. Ender Says:

    Yawn. As JJ Ramsey has already pointed out an overly literal interpretation of the word ‘militant’ that ignores the second definition of the word doesn’t defend atheists at all, it just makes us look overly literal and a little bit stupid. Lets leave the pitiful attempts at semantics to the fundamentalists. Thanks.

  14. AlSweigart Says:

    Ender and JJ Ramsey: Which of those two definitions of “militant” do you think of when you hear “militant Islam”? Or even when you hear about “militant Buddhists” in Sri Lanka?

    In the context of religions, “militant” tends towards the “violence” definition far more often than the “merely aggressive” one. Whereas with, “militant feminist” or “militant author”, it is the aggressive definition that takes precedence.

    Sure, it’s a matter of opinion or semantics, but I don’t think my viewpoint is entirely unjustified.

    The ambiguity, if anything, makes it the perfect slur too. When one says “militant atheist” the connotation comes across quite clear, but when pressed for being a name-caller, one can fall back on the other, technically correct, definition and then in turn accuse the recipient of being too sensitive.

  15. Ender Says:

    Sadly you don’t speak for me. When I hear ‘militant Atheist’ or ‘militant Muslim’ I think the same thing I think when I hear ‘militant Feminist’ or ‘militant socialist’, and it’s always the second one.

    Now, I don’t speak for you either. But first of all I’d hope you’d agree with me that apart from the hardest of Strong Atheists, atheism is not a religion. But that’s playing semantic games.

    But in your video (thanks for the transcript by the way! That’s a really good idea) you say : “And this is why I take so much offense at how book-writing and public speaking are brought under this militant umbrella. It’s a disgusting double standard.”

    But who’s holding this double standard? Certainly not people who use militant to refer to both militant atheism (a la Dawkins) and militant Christianity (a la Pat Robertson). Now you don’t appear to actually identify anyone who holds this purported double standard, merely throw out the accusation into the air, so I can’t exactly refute it (nor would I deny that at least some people somewhere hold to this double standard) but I can say that everyone I know seems to know exactly what I mean when I say Dawkins is a militant atheist. No one goes “He’s killed people?!?!” or equivalent. So I’m not entirely sure what you’re complaining about.

    You also say: “The ambiguity, if anything, makes it the perfect slur too. When one says “militant atheist” the connotation comes across quite clear, but when pressed for being a name-caller, one can fall back on the other, technically correct, definition and then in turn accuse the recipient of being too sensitive.”

    However, I don’t agree that “the connotation comes across quite clear”. It might to you, but to me, the connotation is quite clearly the second. So we appear to be at a subjective impasse.
    I would suggest though, that I’ve never met anyone who thinks that these ‘militant atheists’ are in any way violent, or espousing violence, so in my subjective opinion, you’re jumping at shadows.

  16. Ender Says:

    p.s. I don’t actually refer to Dawkins as a militant atheist though. Usually. But in my pop quiz last night 11 out of 11 people did not associate ‘Dawkins is a militant atheist’ with violence.
    Personally I prefer the label ‘aggressive and underinformed atheist’ for people like him

  17. J. J. Ramsey Says:

    Ender: “I would suggest though, that I’ve never met anyone who thinks that these ‘militant atheists’ are in any way violent, or espousing violence, so in my subjective opinion, you’re jumping at shadows.”

    And it isn’t just jumping at shadows, but dodging why these atheists get branded “militant” in the first place. If all Dawkins and Hitchens were doing was speaking harsh truths, there would be far fewer people thinking them as militants, and most of the ones who did would be coming from the religious conservatives. As it stands, the so-called “New Atheists” have displayed some of the sloppiness and shoddiness that we’ve seen in right-wing pundits, and they have been branded accordingly.

  18. Ender Says:

    That makes sense. And I think the aggressiveness and rudeness they display goes a long way towards earning them that label in many people’s minds.

  19. J. J. Ramsey Says:

    I’d be careful about the “aggressiveness and rudeness” issue. It is more a symptom of an underlying cause. Ed Brayton had it right when he wrote:

    “But he [Stephen Carter] has a larger purpose in mnid, and I think it’s an important one. He wants to make a statement about the tendency of people on both sides to demonize their opponents. Decide that your opponents are purely evil rather than mistaken and all bets are off. You will do precisely what the STACLU crowd does, and what many on the far left do as well – you’ll either fall for any criticism anyone makes of your enemy, no matter how unsupported it is by the evidence, or you’ll reach the point where you don’t really care whether a criticism is accurate as long as it makes Them look bad.”

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2006/06/stephen_carter_on_the_aclu.php

    Now I don’t think that Dawkins has quite gone to the extent of thinking that his opponents are purely evil, but he has been acting as if he thinks of them in the caricatured way that far-right Republicans see Democrats, for reasons that I had mentioned earlier. And funny thing, we see Hitchens distorting history to try to make Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin to be possible atheists, and Dawkins falling for it. We see Dawkins make an uneven case for atheism, even marring it with patches of bad reasoning, in spite of having resources at his disposal to make a far more solid case. This is the sort of corruption that happens with those who start on that “militant” path that Brayton described.

  20. James Says:

    Nice video. The points you make are important, because the term ‘militant’ has been unfortunately greatly abused in these circumstances. Writings books and speaking publicly does not make someone militant. Neither does aggressively defending ones point of view either verbally or in print. Which makes we wonder what people who use this term are actually trying to convey.

  21. Adam Says:

    Al,

    Love your podcast. I hope that when you refer to militant Islam, you are not referring to 9/11, because a rational person would definately have to doubt the government’s story on that one– too many relevant questions remain unanswered.

    I don’t mean to deny that there are any militant Muslims, there are. It just seems unlikely in the case of 9/11.

    From one atheist to another, I would recommend you look into the matter with an open mind.

  22. J. J. Ramsey Says:
  23. Anonymous Says:

    Aquaria, Dawkins isn’t combative? well, maybe if we want to define combative as hitting people in hand to hand combat or some such, then yes you’re right. If by that you mean non-abusive, then Dawkins is a rather combative individual, and perhaps a sort of archtypical one. He is someone who frequently attacks those with/against whom he argues with ad hominems (that’s right, it’s abuse, not arguing against, e.g. “religion is nothing but intellectual flabbiness” that’s a beautiful ad hominem.) If abusing people who don’t agree with you isn’t combative, well, we live on different planets (mine is the one with logic and rules to argumentation method.)

    As a side point, semantics are fun. Because doesn’t it all depend on what your definition of “sexual relations” and “is” is?

    But seriously folks, labeling people doesn’t actually accomplish anything. If the beef is with a particular individuals abusive argumentation methods call them out on that. Comparing them to your particular conception of evil or bad or ridicule worthy doesn’t actually accomplish anything other than slinging back another personal attack… bad form!

  24. Socrates Johnson Says:

    sorry that was me above! I just figured I hadn’t been around to abuse people with my command of logic in a while.

  25. Socrates Johnson Says:

    oh and yes above I did use ad hominems in my argument against ad hominem-user Dawkins.

    “well, we live on different planets (mine is the one with logic and rules to argumentation method.)”

    That’s the beautiful part about making a point legitimately. If you can show the other guy is wrong through actual logical deduction, THEN you are free to abuse him or her and still be “right” about your main point. The whole showing you’re right BY abusing them is where I take issue.

  26. missing Says:

    Hi Al,

    keep up the good work.
    I am realy missing This Old Earth part 2 and 3.
    Where have they gone?
    Would be a pleasure to watch them.

    greets

  27. Daniel Says:

    I am sorry that people have called atheists militant simply for speaking their mind. Name calling and insulting hinders good communication. People often see themselves as victims when they actually are oppressive. If you have not already done so, i hope you will read the Bible and consider it for yourself.

    Daniel

  28. Joel Says:

    I’m Catholic and I find myself quite fond of your video blogs. Needless to say I don’t aggree with everything, but I get the sense that you’re sincere. Nice work on that video with the fundy and 6000 year old earth bit.

    Keep up the good work.

  29. Michael Says:

    I’ve been a fan for a while too, and I’m only sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. Your video blogs are quite good, and your light still keeps things easy. Onward Atheist Soldiers, forward as to peace!

  30. Christine Says:

    Wow, I’m finding this very interesting. Reason being is that I am a professing Christian and the first time I saw the phrase Militant Atheist, my mind automatically went to Islamic extremists with car bombings, etc.

    I thought Al, to be very uninformed with his ‘abortion clinic bombings’. I don’t define that as Christian. It’s purely satanic. Of course you probably don’t believe in him either, LOL!

    Than you for posting the definition of “militant”, J. J.

    I will tell you what most real Christians will think about this “militant” attitude. They will classify ‘militant atheists’ with New Agers, who have tried to silence anybody who believes only in The Creator. Not allowing for any other gods.

    I don’t have a problem with what anyboby else wants to believe. Seriously! You can believe in a tree or nothing at all. I don’t care. But I don’t want to be silenced by others who don’t like what I believe.

    As this ‘militant atheism’ gains momentum with the younger people, who haven’t yet learned to allow other to believe what they choose, they will and are being branded as fundies. Why? Because when it becomes militant, it becomes a religion and people end up dying for religions eventually. And eventually they try to silence the opposition.

    So don’t be surprised if you start getting strange reactions from people if you happen to ‘get in their faces’ with your non-belief.

    By the way, I read an articl on one of the Atheist websites that was really refreshing. It was referring to the fact that New Agers won’t classify themselves as having a religion but they act as if they do.

    Brilliant! Now try to convince our government of that since they are full-tilt, headlong “Mother Earth” (goddess Gaia) worshippers. And they are teaching it in schools. Where your beliefs and my beliefs are not allowed.

  31. Sabio Says:

    Superb job !
    I consider myself a lazy Buddhist Atheist.
    And I am considered militant — though, of course I don’t identify with “militant” either. So I liked the post. Thanx for making it !

  32. agno-christian Says:

    “The case for a divine Jesus isn’t convincing! duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh!!” Dude…that was epic.

    Seriously, though, Christian dogma needs something called logic.

  33. Jav Says:

    Hi Al!

    I think it would be interesting if you can provide us your reasons for the non-believe in God. Maybe in your next video…

    Btw, I think militant has a figurative sense here… Like very active people in a particular group. So there are also militant religious people (that’s only my point of view). But I’ll avoid the word from now.

    Good video!

  34. C Jones Says:

    Just got your Python book from Amazon and I like it (except for a few copyediting errors). I like the way you present it.
    Anyway, seeing that you have a link to Atheism, I guess you feel strongly about that belief. That’s good – people should feel strongly about their beliefs. But are you tolerant or intolerant with your beliefs?
    Do you accept people that may have a different belief – as long as they don’t try to push their belief on you?

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