Monicks: Unleashed

Thinking Critically


“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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We can’t save the world.. but, who’s trying?

Every time I hear the phrase “save the world,” I can’t help but think about the superheroes, such as Superman; this implies that only someone with superpowers can save the world. These superheroes and superpowers do not exist in the real world. If you are a theist, then your superhero would be the god you worship, and its super power would be, um.. magic.

But next I think: What does the world need to be saved from? As Sam Harris points out, in a different context, we need to rid the world of bad ideas. This was brought to mind recently by this article by my knowledgeable friend Paul Fidalgo. Please go read it, and come back for more.

Then Paul’s article, as it usually happens in the blogsphere, generated reactions. My friend, and occasional contributor of this blog, Martin Pribble, posted his perspective on the subject, in this article. Please, go check it out. I’ll wait for you to come back.

Are you back yet? Great! Welcome back.

Excellent articles, right?

It is not my purpose to oppose my friends’ points of view on the subject. Now I’ll give you my perspective.

I want to point out that I don’t remember having ever signed up for any movement. I don’t belong to any atheist organization; nor do I desire to to be a part of any organized, official group of atheists; nor do I think such organization needs to exist. However, I do want to be counted among the 22%(?) of unbelievers worldwide, which is why I do not hesitate to speak up, every chance I have, (and seems propitious as opposed to useless and conflictive), about my lack of belief, and the reasons why I loath religion.

I get it: It is tiresome, boring, sometimes repetitive — but it is necessary.

For what it’s worth, it is not my style to have endless debates with theists, nor do I partake in the ‘in-fights.’ It is futile; a waste of time. If you’ve ever checked out my Twitter timeline, I only say things that are, hopefully, eye-opening.

I think we are challenging unfounded beliefs. See, there is something about being wrong that is inherent to most human beings. To realize that one is wrong is, to say the very least, uncomfortable. Therefore, the people who are not religious, smug know-it-all’s, read something we write, and reflect on it, instead of lashing out with disproportionate rage and hatred when their beliefs are challenged, and realize that something doesn’t quite add up to their holy stories, are very unlikely to say out loud: “Oh! I have just realized how wrong I was! Please, teach me more.” No, that’s highly improbable. Someone who feels that something goes *click* in their head, will try to educate themselves, probably driven by an honest desire to prove us wrong. They will find a way to learn more about the subject, and will become thirsty for knowledge; once that spark has been lit, nothing can put it out. Nothing.

That, my friends, is what I aim for.

This silent journey of learning and self-discovery, my fellow unbeliever, might have even been how you grew out of your theism.

As for lacking focus, like Marty says in his post, I foresee our ilk having a really hard time trying to get unbelievers to aim for the same goal. We can agree on many topics, but when it comes to interests and ideals, the whole ‘group focus’ can get blurry…

We need to rid the world from bad ideas, which brings us back to where we started. How can we rid the world from bad ideas? By stopping the early indoctrination of such ideas. By speaking up; by raising awareness; by fighting for the right of every child to receive a proper education.

Every child should have the right to receive a scientific education, an education based in facts and experiments, regardless of his or her parents’ religious beliefs. He or she should learn about Galileo Galilei, Pythagoras, and Newton; that the Sun is a star in the middle of our Solar System; and understand why humans and apes have shared ancestors who lived a few million years ago. For this to be feasible, we need the laws to change, and we need to enlighten the parents.

We have no superpowers.  Unlike Superman, we cannot aim for legendary accomplishments. I would not try to save the world; it would be frustrating and unrealistic. Part of being successful is choosing one’s goals wisely.

Religion may play a small role in the whole problems-of-the-world scheme, but it is an enabler of many, too many terrible things. It is in our laws, in our money, it narrows our rights, and, in extreme cases, stems terrible deeds against humanity.

We can’t sit around and wait for the state of things to get worse. We need to do something if we want to see humanity headed for a better future, even knowing we won’t see this happen in our lifetime.

Have a better plan of action? Let us now in the comments.

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