Tuesday, January 09, 2007

"Fundamentalist" and "militant" atheism

Recently, someone put up a post at Internet Infidels saying the poster would embrace the term "militant atheist," partly on the grounds that it's just not worth fighting.

I thought I'd go and do a Google search to see how the term is being used, along with similar searches for Militant Christians and Militant Muslims. The results? 10 out of the top 10 hits for Muslims deal with actual violence. 3 of the top 10 for Christians deal with violence that has in fact been committed, and another 2 deal with end times nuts who want to see the Dome of the Rock. For atheists, all there is is 1 reference to a group from the early days of the Soviet Union--no modern atheists using actual violence.

This is, I think, clear evidence of a ridiculous disparity in how the term is being used. We'd best get back to using "militant" only in the literal sense, and dispense with the current nonsensical usage that lumps Sam Harris with Osama bin Laden.

The "militant atheist" phrase is, in a way, not as bad as "fundamentalist atheists." There is some precedent for using "militant" to mean "hard core," in spite of the inconsistencies. But outside slamming atheists, fundamentalism has always mainly applied to people who believe their given holy book is infallible. Sometimes, this is taken to the point of people becoming convinced that "God exists because the Bible says so" is a good argument. Generally, people who are called fundamentalists are hard core about doctrines that at least seem to be taught in the Bible, such as Young-Earth Creationism and the belief that everyone who disagrees with their religious opinions goes to Hell. Now, where are the atheists saying, "God does not exist because Le Systeme de la nature says so"? Where are the atheists who insist, as a matter of principle, that Carl Sagan was right about everything he ever said even when the scientific evidence is against it? Where are the atheists who stand on street corners shouting "All who do not accept Giordano Bruno as their personal Lord and Savior deserve to suffer the worst fate possible"?

I feel I ought to end by saying we should do something about such nonsense, though most of the people who spout it aren't the type to listen to reason.


Anonymous said...

Well, Carl Sagan WAS right about everything he said ... :)

Chris said...

As you reveal, there *are* no militant atheists. But in order to avoid the appearance of taking sides by revealing that fact, media commentators are required to practice parity - even when it's false parity - and describe *someone* as a militant atheist. So they find outspoken atheists and label them militant.

The current mindset of mass media is that they have a professional obligation to be neutral between fire brigades and fires, and anyone who points out that fires can destroy houses and kill people must then discuss, at equal length, the potential damage done by fire brigades and make a good faith effort to make it appear equal, even though it isn't.

Anonymous said...

This is silly. Was the German Holocast Christian? In essence it wasn't. How about Stalin who killed twice as many as Hitler? His movement was overtly atheist. How about Christians in China? They are thrown in prison and sometimes killed by an officially atheist government. For most of last century Christians were violently persecuted throughout the soviet bloc. I don't think that you are a militant atheist yet. The reason why atheists in america are not so militant is that american atheism is largely a rejection of the militancy of Christian fundamentalism. (which I too reject)

As for fundamentalism. I think fundamentalism is characterized by two traits. (1) Fundamentalists think that all other perspective need to be eradicated by their deeds. (2) Fundamentalists, out of hand, arrogantly dismiss all other perspectives. I read your Blog somewhat regularly and I think you meet both criteria. You are a fundamentalist atheist. This is probably why you dislike the term fundamentalist atheist: it hits too close to home. I’m not sure why I say these things as you are not the sort to listen. Fundamentalism is typical of youth and those whose faith is weak either from lack of sound instruction or from being a a recent convert. You’re young and a recent convert to atheism. You’re just going through you fundamentalist phase.

Butch said...

I think this term and it’s use comes from the same place and the same people who bandy about that tired old lie about atheism or evolution requiring faith as well. They see the world a certain way, i.e. believing without proof, and are incapable of understanding that other people might see it in a different way. It’s also the reason why they think atheists can’t lead moral lives. “I get my morality from X, you don’t have X, therefore you can’t be moral.”

Butch said...

In reply to the anonymous poster,
Those “atheist” atrocities you mentioned we in fact committed by atheists, true enough. Well, except for the Nazi’s who were by in large devout Christians and made quote clear in numerous speeches and letters that they felt they were doing God’s work on Earth. But even we take the rest of them we have established that they don’t share any religious traits with the countless other despotic regimes throughout history that have done similar massacres. So lets take it the next logical step and see if we can discover what they all do have in common.


They are all built around a strict dogma and ideology that represses individual thought and questioning of authority. This also happens to be the hallmark of religious faith. These vicious systems claimed no god belief, but they still used the methods of religion to garner support and power. In the end it lead to the same results. It’s believing in things without proof and submission to authority, even in regards to your own intrinsic values and common sense that makes these things possible.

To quote Sam Harris in reply to this same old strawman “No society ever suffered from its people becoming too reasonable.”

Anonymous said...

On the topic of Stalin and Lysenkoism: I might be over-interpreting, but a lot of Communists and Lysenkoists seem to talk about "will" as an almost animistic force.

Stalin, by the way, put evolutionists into gulags.

(2) Fundamentalists, out of hand, arrogantly dismiss all other perspectives.

It's not arrogant to dismiss something when it's been shown to be full of logical fallacies. That's called "reasonableness."

So far, I have yet to see a good argument for theism.

Anonymous said...

No bronze dog,

You refuse to see. You read, but you don't believe it and you disagree with anything that has to do with God. You don't know how to have a conversation on here. You don't answer the questions that can't be answered..... So.. sit down. :)

Anonymous said...

The second anonymous poster was not the first anonymous poster, the third one is the first. Ha! Chris's request about anonymous posting strikes again. Yet I post anonymously. The blogosphere is silly; I never thought I'd write a sentance like the first one of the third anonymous post, which would be this post. How obtuse!

Anonymous said...

No bronze dog,

You refuse to see. You read, but you don't believe it and you disagree with anything that has to do with God. You don't know how to have a conversation on here. You don't answer the questions that can't be answered..... So.. sit down. :)

I hope that smiley indicates sarcasm. If not, well, so much for convergent epistomology or whatever. Or the giving of examples.

J. J. Ramsey said...

I'd say that "fundamentalist atheist" is a turn of phrase that is meant to imply hypocrisy. It's a way of talking about an atheist whose attitude mirrors that of religious fundamentalists. And let's face it. Some atheists do mirror fundies in some ways, such as caricaturing and demonizing their opponents, or arguing in bad faith.

Actually, what I like about this blog is that it isn't a product of anyone that I'd describe as a fundie atheist.

Tommy said...

How about a "militant pacifist"?