Monday, January 7, 2013

Does Militant Atheism Help Or Hurt Atheists?

As our culture becomes more accepting and hospitable towards atheists, agnostics and the like, there is certainly an increase in what can be described as militant atheism. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris for example are described by many as a militant atheists. First, let's clarify exactly what is a militant atheist. From Urban Dictionary, we get several examples:

A militant atheist is one who is hostile towards religion. They differ from moderate atheists because they have the desire to propagate atheism and also hold religion to be harmful. Militant atheism was an integral part of the French Revolution, Soviet Union, Cultural Revolution, and is expresses itself today in the ideas of the New Atheist authors.  
An atheist who has become insufferably elitest. Unlike a majority of most atheists, he has decided that it is his duty to rid the world of all religion. Ironically, he never shuts up religion, putting him into the same level of irritation as most religious fundamentalists.

According to paranoid Christians with a persecution complex, anyone who is openly an atheist and has the gall to express a desire for the same rights and privileges as any other group.

As you can see some of the definitions are humorous, but the second one caught my eye. It doesn't exactly cast the militant atheist in a nice light. Is there truth to this definition of militant atheism and would I consider myself one who fits this description? Well, there definitely is a certain amount of pride with being philosophically and scientifically knowledgeable especially when amongst people who clearly lack any serious knowledge in those departments, but it is better to educate rather than to mock. Also, I definitely would like to spread atheism and see it grow to larger numbers but do not ever see the whole world being rid of religion. I have been accused of talking too much about religion by some friends and being too "intellectual" and pugnacious. I can see how this could be annoying to those who do not want to constantly engage in intellectual battle over whether god exists or not. The key is to surround yourself with others who want to. Other than that, there is a time and place for everything.

Everything in moderation is what I always say. I don't walk around and go up to strangers and proselytize for atheism, but in the right social situation, I do tend to steer the conversation towards matters of religion and philosophy. At work I almost never brought religion up because I knew that it wasn't the right time and place for it. Come to think of it, I never really had a job where the culture was welcoming to controversial topics like religion and politics.

So does being militant about atheism hurt or help the spread of atheism? Well it is hard to say for sure, I guess it all depends on the situation. Sometimes it might help, sometimes it might hurt. I would definitely say that being vocal and open about atheism certainly helps. Simply being open about being an atheist alone can spark very interesting conversations, raise awareness and allow an opportunity to engage in conversation. Atheists are obviously doing something right since atheism has been growing, and religiosity is on the decline. What I'm afraid of is that our recent success may backfire if we start becoming as annoying as street preachers.

It's easy to take pot-shots at the Bible and Koran. While I am not above doing so myself, I am trying to engage in a more sophisticated critique on religion by trying to understand the world's major religions as much as I can, and then picking apart what problems I see in them. For example, I'm not one of those atheists that blames all of the world's problems on religion. Religion certainly causes some problems in the world, but there are plenty of other reasons why people kill and harm each other. I don't think someone can justifiably say that religion is the source of all the world's problems, and by acknowledging that it doesn't in my critique of faith, I think I am helping atheists sound more rational.

I have to admit that I kind of like the times we are living in. It has never been a better time to be an atheist in America. Our country is more secular now that it has ever been and we have a president in the White House who is favorable to our cause and acknowledges us. Given this welcoming playing field, we can't screw it up by becoming as annoying as the Mormons who come knocking on your door to spread the "good news". So no I would never like to see atheists knocking on doors or going up to people in public like theists do. But I fully support atheist student clubs in colleges, and for atheists to be engaged in intellectual discourse with those who hold opposing views. Atheists should remain vocal but remember that there is a time and place for everything.

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