“Militant Atheism” — I don’t think that means what you think it means.

There is this new tendency to label outspoken atheists as “Militant Atheists.” Here’s why I think it’s wrong.

I wish I could renounce the label Atheist, to begin with. In case you didn’t know, “atheist” is a label given to us by believers. It used to be a derogatory label, a Christian slur against us coined used in France in the 16th century as a reaction to growing free thought, skeptical inquiry, and intellectual criticism of religion. When someone called you an atheist it was not a good thing. “Atheist” was used exclusively as an insult. 

Nobody in their right mind would have called themselves an atheist back then, if you were an atheist, you were an outcast.

No one ever needs to identify himself as a “non-astrologer” or a “non-alchemist.” We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.

— Sam Harris,  The End of Faith

I concur.

I can’t singlehandedly ditch the label entirely, as it is a way to identify our lack of belief in deities. Until we unbelievers get to a consensus on what would be the best term to describe ourselves, I am in some way forced to keep it, sadly.

But on top of that, now I am labeled “militant.” This is totally inaccurate, and I – and hopefully you – won’t take it silently.

Let’s look it up. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

1. engaged in warfare or combat
2. aggressively active

We might be loud, we might be strident, we might be angry, but we are not militant. Advocacy, rational inquiry, is not militancy. We are not aggressive, we are not violent, we are not at war, we are not fighting, we are not blowing ourselves and our detractors up to make a point, we don’t fly plains into buildings. Heck! we don’t even knock on anyone’s door to dis-indoctrinate them. Our only weapon is our rationality. We have rational discussions, we challenge irrational beliefs. That is what we do.

We have to speak up — we need to! It is the only way to normalize a concept that has been considered taboo for ages; that’s how we de-demonize a label. Furthermore, it’s been scientifically proven that the more we force people to think about their beliefs, the more we force them to justify their ideas, the more cognitive dissonance we generate, more and more people will break free from their dogmas. Once they abandon one dogma, there goes the rest of their belief system, and they start walking their path toward rationality.

That feeling of discomfort when an atheist points out facts and evidence that obviously contradict your strongly held beliefs, is not us hurting you, it’s your cognitive dissonance at work.

But there is more to it, it has an ulterior motive. It’s the fallacy of disambiguation, or poisoning the well: a technique that by disparaging the source deems all that comes from it worthless and unreliable.

There isn’t any inherent dogma in atheism that advocates any violence in the defense of non-belief; so, no, I won’t take it. I am not militant. I am not violent.

Next time you want to come up with yet another derogatory term to label us unbelievers, check your facts before applying your unsolicited labels wrongly.

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