Can You Be an Atheist Extremist?

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, discusses atheist extremists (and whether that term makes any sense at all):

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Robert Burns

    Wouldn’t “extra medium” be an agnostic? I am thinking an extremist atheist would be like extra diet coke.

  • Jen

    That reminds me of a line from an episode of The Simpsons. “Recycle: to the extreme!!”

  • Bitter Lizard

    Hitler was an aStalinist extremist. AStalinist extremists have committed all the worst crimes against humanity in history, with the possible exception of Stalin. Ergo, Stalinism is exempt from criticism because people who were not Stalinists did bad things.

    The bottom line about anyone who calls atheists who are outspoken in their criticism of religion “extremists” or “militant”, and doesn’t do the same for all other people who speak up for their own convictions (a category that could probably include the one utilizing said terminology), is that we know right away that this is a person who (a) is a hypocrite and (b) is a disingenuous proponent of Orwellian distortions of language. If any such person is treated with anything less than scorn, ridicule or passionate distaste, they are being given too much credit and their bullshit is being legitimized to a degree that is unconscionable and inexcusable.

    • http://fractalheretic.blogspot.com/ Fractal Heretic

      You know what Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin all had in common? None of them were stamp collectors. Clearly, we all need to embrace stamp collecting.

      • Spuddie

        Hitler painted, Stalin wrote poetry. Ho Chi Minh was a world class chef. They all loved American movies. Clearly these are all evil. :)

        • Anomony

          Stalin also cried at the Opera.
          (so do I but for different reasons)

          I guess that means we need to eliminate the Met?
          .

          • allein

            You can eliminate the Mets…just leave the Yankees alone. ;)

      • ragarth

        They all were heterosexual as well. Clearly heterosexuality leads to genocide.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      Goddamit, Bitter Lizard, I almost thought that was a seriously ignorant fundy for a second. You are getting all too good at this.

      And yes, Hitler was in fact an aStalinist extremist :)

  • disqus_K29vzian2O

    I wouldn’t use the word “extreme”, more like “absolute”. If someone invokes religion in a discussion with me, they’ve lost. Religious involvement in the state? Fail. Yes, I live in the UK, bishops in the upper house. Ho hum. Veils in court? Don’t get me started. It’s absolutism.

  • Pete

    Hi Hemant, I run a militant atheist group on facebook, its really small.
    We use the term to differentiate between atheists actively looking to
    debate and those who are not interested in arguing with theists. In the
    US, some atheists use the term evangelical atheists which is
    interchangeable with militant :) – I hope that is helpful information
    for you.

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/MilitantAtheistsSA/

    Kind regards

    Pete

    • baal

      Hemant often makes the point (and I agree) that we shouldn’t accept the term militant since it’s used to insult us and it’s a wrongful usage. Even better is to turn the phrase on the speaker by pointing out that militant islamists are using actual guns and having civil wars in the middle east. There aren’t atheists using guns and bombs to say take out megachurches in the US desert southwest (and we don’t want to go there).

      • Pete

        Yup, I agree, however I reject the term myself by redefining it and
        showing that what is militant is nothing more than open conversation.

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      “Zealous” might be more precise nomenclature.

      • Pete

        Cool thanks – yes there is a case to be made there are better words, but it works for me, and in everything we need a range of methods to engage theists – I honestly don’t think there is one “correct” way. The more open discussion the better :)

    • ShoeUnited

      Why not use the word vocal since that describes what you really are?

  • viaten

    The only term I can think of that’s sillier than “militant atheist extremist” is “militant pacifist extremist”.

  • Paul LaClair

    Hemant, you’re terrific but I disagree with you here, to a point. You’re right that many of the charges of “atheist extremist” are purely political and rhetorical. However, as I just posted on your Facebook page: Unfortunately it does make sense. For example, some atheists are self-appointed word police. I just had a long online discussion with someone who insisted that we shouldn’t use the word “believe” because theists have corrupted it. When I pointed out how extreme that makes us look and pointed out instances where virtually every leading secularist has used the word, the response was dead silence, and then a few days later she made exactly the same argument, as though she hadn’t been presented with the evidence. When I asked how this was any different from the behavior of the most close-minded biblical fundamentalist, she ignored that too. And she had a supporter, who was equally silent when challenged with inconvenient facts. Unfortunately, some atheists operate from emotion, not reason. Sometimes the primary emotion is anger. Tragically, many of the most visible atheists look wounded, angry and extreme. No less than Einstein pointed this out more than fifty years ago. It’s something we need to get past if atheism is to gain widespread public respect, let alone acceptance.

    • WillBell

      I’d say there is still a level of magnitude difference between an Islamist/Christian terrorist and a guy who doesn’t like the word believe for stupid atheism related reasons.

    • Fred Bailey

      “Get past” is the operative concept, here. Many of us came to be unbelievers after a period of belief, a period, in fact, of having been gulled. It’s never a sweet time to realize, “I’ve been stupid.”

      New atheists from that background often have anger against the mind-enslaving swine they’ve broken free of. It’s completely understandable. But much of the stuff they say is counterproductive. We have to hope they get calmer with time.

  • LutherW

    Extreme atheist is about as useful a term as extremely dead or extremely pregnant.

    Militant atheist seems ambiguous as I am sure there many militant atheists, (not in foxholes), cheering on all the atheists and religious actually in foxholes. I am not so sure there are many militant atheists in foxholes – yet who am I to claim deathbed conversions to non-militant
    .

  • Dennis Cabarle

    I’ve found that over the years my sickness.. er… my outspokenness has gotten the best of me (and everyone around me). I recently got that tattoo you see there in my profile pic (yes, that’s a permanent fixture to my body). When i take my shirt off, I only wish that people who hate my type see me and get aggravated and/or cringe. Just recently I ordered a license plate (NJ) for my car, “ATHEI5T”. “ATHEIST” was already taken and “8Theist” was deemed too offensive. I looked at it as, eightheist. Perhaps the judges looked at it as, “Ate Theist”? :)

    If I sneeze, no matter where I am and I hear those dreaded words, “Bless You”. I cringe. People simply don’t know better. Occasionally I’ll ask the person if they understand the meaning behind the “Bless You” following a sneeze. 99% of the time they say, “it’s just something nice to say” and they don’t know the meaning. After I explain what it means they walk away as if to shrug it off! Because it’s something they’ve always said and are comfortable saying it, the actual meaning behind it won’t change a thing.

    Things people do really get under my skin. Praying, thanking god, having “In God We Trust” written all over our American currency, “One Nation Under God” in our pledge of allegiance.

    The “One Nation Under God” thing really pisses me off because of what’s happening here. Kids don’t understand what they’re pledging to and they certainly aren’t smart enough to question the purpose of “God” in the pledge! The kids are being indoctrinated and the parents are either too stupid to figure this out or simply brainwashed themselves. Kids are simply being brought up to accept and never question God… After-all, it’s something they’ve been saying every day from Kindergarten to 12th grade. It must be right, right!?!?

    Am I militant because I’m a bit more outspoken then most? Am I militant because I get pissed off and will often ask someone why they are praying to something that an all knowing, all powerful god could have prevented in the first place? Maybe I’m militant because of my tattoo (just waiting for someone to see it and approach me to tell me how awful the meaning behind it is). Or maybe I’m considered militant because of my license plate which clearly indicates that I am not a believer and I’m vocal about it.

    I haven’t been to any atheist conventions or rally’s but I suppose that’s something I might enjoy as well. The problem is this… You go to one of these things with a bunch of people who share the same views and hear the same arguments over and over. I’d rather preach that to a believer of a god than hear it over and over from others who already know there is most likely not a god.

    Just my thoughts…

    • Artor

      That’s some seriously sweet ink!

      • Dennis Cabarle

        Thanks! I need to get more added to it. I don’t feel like it’s complete.

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

      Hi, Dennis.
      You say “I ordered a license plate (NJ) for my car, “ATHEI5T”. “ATHEIST” was already taken and “8Theist” was deemed too offensive.”

      You should DEFINITELY contact David Silverman at American Atheists, since just a month or so ago he was similarly rejected as Offensive for requesting a NJ license plate that said ATHE1ST.

      They caved in and gave it to him in the end.

      See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/28/atheist-license-plate_n_3832331.html

      • Dennis Cabarle

        I did! When 8theist was rejected I immediately reached out to him to see how he was able to go through with it. He recommended to try ATHEI5T. Thanks for the suggestion.

        Turns out I live about 8 minutes from him too. :)

    • ShoeUnited

      I don’t know why you get in a huff over “Bless you” on a sneeze. That seems a bit silly. I know it’s all about asking gods to bless you from the demons inside taking over. If I stub my toe I still say “Godfuckingdammit”. If someone pisses me off I still say “God Damn You”. I’m not actually asking God to damn (condemn) whatever I cursed. It’s a colloquialism. I don’t think it’s really raining cats and dogs, I have never observed the livelihood of a doornail.

      It’s a phrase learned early on in society and has long since lost all meaning. When I scream “Oh God!” in bed, I’m not trying to tag him in to take over.

      • Dennis Cabarle

        Why? Because I think it’s ridiculous. Sneezing is a function of the human body like a fart or a burp. Nobody has ever blessed me for one of those. I know people are just trying to be nice but I’d prefer if I could just sneeze and that be the end of it. Do we really need a “God Bless You”? I don’t. What’s the purpose of it? Sure it’s harmless but it’s also useless and unnecessary so why bother?

        Because it’s something learned early on in society doesn’t make it right and I don’t have to accept it.

        “When I scream “Oh God!” in bed, I’m not trying to tag him in to take over.” Pretty funny. :)

        As far as getting in a huff. I typically just ignore it but I think the common reply is “Thank You”; which I never reply. It may sound rude but I’m not thanking anyone for their blessings.

        • ShoeUnited

          I’m not suggesting you should feel compelled to reply (I don’t), or that you should feel compelled to say it (I don’t). I just don’t see it as big of an issue, even compared to things like “In God We Trust”.

        • ZenDruid

          I think the ‘bless you’ is entirely appropriate for farts.

        • 3lemenope

          What’s the purpose of it?

          Because sneezing is a violent involuntary reflex over which a person has very little control (unlike belching or farting) but is socially disruptive. So, from the POV of social dynamics, having a mechanism for people to acknowledge and efficiently pass over the disruption with minimal interruption is beneficial.

          I prefer Gesundheit for this purpose because it has no religious meaning, and because if you pronounce it loudly in a German accent it sounds really funny.

          • ZenDruid

            “Achoo!”

            “Fahrvergnügen!”

            • 3lemenope

              Mel Brooks FTW.

            • Tainda

              Ahchoo!

              A Jew? Here?

              • ZenDruid

                “A-shiite!”

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Patheos-ios7 problem:
    has anyone else had this problem where after updating your iPhone to ios7 this week these Patheos pages no longer display the ‘comments’ at the end of these articles???

    Does anyone know how to fix this?

    • baal

      it’s too soon to update to iOS-7. You should wait at least a few weeks from the release of a new OS to actually upgrading.

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

        too late! :-(

        But good advice to me for next time!

  • Iron Hat

    I have to disagree, completely. Your a school teacher so I’m confidant you have excellent critical thinking skills, however, your over thinking this one. My first point is that Atheism is a belief system and not a variation of mild mannered, civilized thinking. As a belief system, albeit, a belief system built upon disbelief, it is subject to any and all forms found with other belief systems. Despite the unlikelihood of an atheist blowing themselves up to kill “believers”, someone who sees themselves as a militant will likely hold a “less mild” perspective on atheism and perhaps be very in your face and unapologetic while attempting to get the theist to see the light so to speak. Dawkins himself calls his brand of atheism militant. If this concept is really that difficult to grasp I would suggest watching http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_dawkins_on_militant_atheism.html The term militant too often gets confused with absolute violence and despite the fact that violence is sometimes associated with militant behavior, it’s certainly not mandatory.

    • Gunner Miller

      When you say “Atheism is a belief system” you will lose most of your audience here because that is simply factually incorrect.

      • Iron Hat

        I am an atheist. I “believe” that god is not a tangibly real. Therefor a system of belief. That is factual. It is exactly like not making a choice is still a choice. Atheism as a belief system is not the same as atheism as religious belief system.

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

          Are you using “believe” as a synonym for “know” though? I don’t build an active belief system around not believing in unicorns, faeries, or gods. None of them are any more or less special than any other thing that doesn’t exist. I don’t believe there’s a walrus on Pluto either, but that’s not a system of belief.

          I readily grant the possibility of a walrus on Pluto (in the sense that it’s theoretically possible), the existence of Russell’s Teapot, and magic-wielding people who live in the sky. I just don’t believe any of them exist because there’s no evidence to support that they do. Should I then call my lack of belief in a walrus on Pluto and every other nonsensical idea a belief system?

        • Vanadise

          Where is the system here?

          sys·tem (noun)

          1. an assemblage or combination of things or parts forming a complex or unitary whole: a mountain system; a railroad system.
          2. any assemblage or set of correlated members: a system of currency; a system of shorthand characters.
          3. an ordered and comprehensive assemblage of facts, principles, doctrines, or the like in a particular field of knowledge or thought: a system of philosophy.
          4. a coordinated body of methods or a scheme or plan of procedure; organizational scheme: a system of government.
          5. any formulated, regular, or special method or plan of procedure: a system of marking, numbering, or measuring; a winning system at bridge.

          In order to have a system, you have to have a combination of individual parts that form a whole. Atheism involves only one thing: not believing in supernatural deities. There are no other parts to it. It cannot be a “belief system.”

          • AxeGrrl

            In order to have a system, you have to have a combination of individual parts that form a whole. Atheism involves only one thing: not believing in supernatural deities. There are no other parts to it. It cannot be a “belief system.”

            THIS.

            This is why people need to stop using the phrase “belief system“. You have to add something to atheism for it to become a ‘system’ ~ as such, one would be on firmer ground saying that atheism+ is a belief ‘system’ because it’s not just atheism.

            Secular humanism (atheism plus other tenetS) would be another good example.

            But ‘atheism is a belief system’ needs to be put to bed once and for all.

            • Iron Hat

              If search the textbook definition of atheism it states basically that it is one who disbelieves the existence of god. This may be why someone would discount the term belief system however, today (I can’t speak for history as I’ve not researched it) atheism is clearly “more” than merely this disbelief in god. One can simply disbelieve in god but most add to this an entire philosophy grounded in skepticism and deeper thought. We share ideas and spend time communicating just as we are now. We even attempt to “spread” the disbelief. You can’t pretend to yourself that atheism isn’t a belief system but that’s all you’d be doing, pretending.

              • ShoeUnited

                Raelians are atheists since they don’t believe in gods. They believe that aliens in a UFO came down and seeded the Earth. Buddhists are atheists. They don’t believe in gods (depending on type) but they believe a whole spiritual framework.

                Atheism isn’t a belief system. It’s a lack of one. It’s not a belief it is a lack of belief. What people add to that may be beliefs (ufos, nirvana, ghosts, giant cabbages that roam the cosmos in search of truth and a good bed), but that doesn’t make atheism a belief or belief system any more than being Republican makes you a christian.

              • Vanadise

                I think the fact that we are even having this disagreement is an illustration that atheism is /not/ “an entire philosophy grounded in skepticism and deeper thought.” Many modern atheists are also skeptics, but it’s far from required; there are many atheists who are not. There are even atheists who are religious. The textbook definition of atheism is the one I’m going by, not what you personally want the word to mean.

                • Iron Hat

                  Now you see this is funny “because” of the fact that we are even having this discussion, seems an illustration that it “is” a belief system. i.e. If atheism were simply the disbelief in a higher power then why this blog and all those reading and commenting.

                • ShoeUnited

                  The Texas sharpshooter fallacy is an informal fallacy
                  in which pieces of information that have no relationship to one another
                  are called out for their similarities, and that similarity is used for
                  claiming the existence of a pattern.[1] This fallacy is the philosophical/rhetorical application of the multiple comparisons problem (in statistics) and apophenia (in cognitive psychology). It is related to the clustering illusion, which refers to the tendency in human cognition to interpret patterns where none actually exist.

                  The name comes from a joke about a Texan who fires some shots at the side of a barn, then paints a target centered on the biggest cluster of hits and claims to be a sharpshooter.[2][3]

                • Vanadise

                  That doesn’t follow at all. Just because people discuss something does not mean it is a system of any sort.

              • 3lemenope

                Atheism is one component that appears in many different systems of belief.

                The big honking clue that atheism isn’t itself a system of belief is that you can’t reason backwards from knowing someone is an atheist to knowing why they are an atheist; it has, so far as I can tell, no lateral belief consequences whatsoever.

                Can you think of a sentence, “If X is an atheist, then Y” where Y is something other than a restatement of “atheist”, that holds true for all X?

      • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

        It’s not so “simply factually incorrect” as less-simply incredibly sloppy.

        While “atheism” primarily notes an isolated philosophical stance, the word also thereby denotes the class of all possible “systems” that include that stance as either axiomatic primary premise or as subsequent inference; and the word is further used as (sloppy shorthand) to refer to the socially predominant strain here in the West, which could be more accurately (though still incompletely) described as an secularist techo-scientific progressive humanist atheism belief system cluster.

        • Iron Hat

          Please refer to the Axegrrl reply.

          • AxeGrrl

            Vanadise explained it very clearly in his/her last paragraph of the post I responded to.

            • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

              I’ve read it. Sorry, I’m not enough of a linguistic prescriptivist to ignore that the shorthand is in wide use, and that there is a “system” of beliefs existing that the prevalent strain of self-identified atheists have at least fuzzy-set membership with, in degree at least comparable to “Christianity” being a system.

              It’s still sloppy.

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      “Zealous” seems a more precise word.

      You might care to check out the empirical data from Chapter 5 of Hunsberger and Altemeyer’s “Atheists” book, along the overview in table 9.1 later on. While outliers exist, that data suggests the typical atheist sufficiently zealous enough to join a group averages less zealous than even non-churchgoing Christians, much less those who attend irregularly, regularly, or are actual fundamentalist Christians.

      The work in Altemeyer’s “The Authoritarians” may also shed more light, indirectly.

      • Guest

        Cool, yes there is a case to be made there are better words, but it works for me, and in everything we need a range of methods to engage theists – I honestly don’t think there is one “correct” way. The more open discussion the better :)

    • C Peterson

      Atheism is not a belief system. There are far more things in the Universe that we don’t believe in than those we do believe in. To identify everything we don’t believe in as a “belief” really makes no sense.

      I can’t imagine how an atheist would choose to blow up believers because of his lack of belief in gods. He might separately maintain an active belief system that includes hatred of religion, which could lead to militant acts. But the atheism itself? Never.

      Dawkins is not a “militant atheist”, regardless of how he might choose to identify himself. He is a militant anti-theist, an active belief system that certainly has roots in the same intellectualism that results in atheism, but isn’t itself atheism at all.

    • ShoeUnited

      “My first point is that Atheism is a belief system”

      Well, your premise wrong. Rules of logic means your conclusion is wrong, and any points inbetween can be discarded. That was easy. I wish more theists would get the wrong statements right away in the premise. Saves a lot of time. We’re done here, right?

      Just to wrap your head around it, and my own amusement (which I find tantamount) here’s an example I use in conversations on this point.

      I have a pair of shoes in my closet at home. I’ve never brought them out. There are a lot of people with opinions on my shoes. Some even educated. Many contradictory. Some say they’re just plain white shoes. Others say they’re a weird olive green. And others say it’s a heart-achingly beautiful arrangement of red and blue. Now, sight unseen, and with no evidence, and absolutely no means to get any reliable eyewitness accounts of my shoes the question is this: Do you think I have good looking shoes or bad looking shoes?

      Welcome to atheism. That dull sense of nothing that you feel about how my shoes look is the same thing I feel about your god. And it requires as much belief about my footwear.

      • Iron Hat

        Please refer, again, to my Axegrrl reply.

  • Tainda

    I don’t think we have extremists but we do have people that have no respect for others as do most other “groups”

    I’m not going to go to someone on the street and start calling them idiots for believing in a god. I’m not going to berate someone for saying “Bless You” when I sneeze. I’m not going to make someone feel horrible when they tell me they are going to pray for me.

    None of that affects me because god is not real. You can believe what you will.

    If someone knocks on my door wanting to give me “the word” or whatever they call it, they are going to hear about it. If someone tries to proselytize in a school or government, you’re going to hear about it from me. If someone’s rights are taken away because they’re different from the majority, I’m going to turn into a huge bitch.

    See the difference?

    • Iron Hat

      Those examples have nothing at all to do with being militant or being an extremest. Those are nothing more than examples of someone being an asshole.

      • Tainda

        That’s my point as I said in my first sentence. We don’t have extremists they are just assholes as most all other groups have.

        • Iron Hat

          I see your point and it’s a good one. I’m just a little confused about whether you think there are atheist extremists, that’s all.

          • Tainda

            *facepalm*

            Quoted first sentence “I don’t think we have extremists”

            Down to specifics, there are no atheists extremists as everyone else in the world sees extremists. Extremists, as everyone defines them, are people who blow shit up and kill people. We do not have that. We have our fair share of dicks though.

            • Iron Hat

              Ditto on the face palm. This is like when my I can’t find a particular shirt and my wife, in exasperation, reaches into the drawer and pulls it out without even looking.

              • Tainda

                I call that “looking like a man” rofl

                • Iron Hat

                  So incredibly on the money :)

  • C Peterson

    The confusion comes from the conflation of atheism with active belief systems that are often endorsed by atheists.

    Obviously you can’t have a militant atheist, because atheism doesn’t describe any particular belief system that one can be militant about. But atheists can be militant with respect to other ideas, such as secularism or anti-religionism or atheist rights. That doesn’t make them “militant atheists” in any reasonable sense. (And that sort of militancy is generally of a far different quality than the militancy associated with religion. “Advocacy” is probably a better word.)

    It is a good point that hearing “militant atheist” (like hearing “agnostic”) raises a red flag that there’s a good chance you’re listening to somebody with little understanding of the subject.

    • emblues

      lol, like S.E. Cupp

  • M.S.

    Would an “atheist extremist” be someone who doesn’t think religion should exist at all – and actively campaign for this? For example, most atheists I know are of the camp “your religion is fine, just be fine with my lack thereof”. Live and let live, so to speak. But are there some atheists, who if they were the majority, would actively seek to eradicate religion altogether (i.e. actually make it illegal for someone to practice their religion)? I think that is my only fear regarding atheists… if they became the majority, would there be some crazy hateful “fundamentalists” so to speak, just as there are among religious folks? My thoughts are yes, there would be some of those. There are crazy assholes in every group. Otherwise I feel the same way as Tainda… your unbelief doesn’t affect me or my belief in God so live and let live.

    • Ibis3

      There are those who want to eradicate religion by means of education and persuasion. I wouldn’t say those are extremists (as opposed to those who would advocate force). Such true extremists are very rare (and, I would think, much more rare than religious extremists in a similar position of power).

      • Anomony

        “There are those who want to eradicate religion by means of education”

        That explains the Right Wings war against education.

        • Fred Bailey

          Goddam right it does.

    • AxeGrrl

      But are there some atheists, who if they were the majority, would actively seek to eradicate religion altogether (i.e. actually make it illegal for someone to practice their religion)? I think that is my only fear regarding atheists…

      Ditto.

      • Michael Hoos

        And that is the fear that many atheists currently live with – that religious people will make it illegal to be non-believers. In many parts of the world it is illegal right now, and punishable with harsh sentences including death. In America there are political battles to force atheism and secularism from public view, education, etc, and to force certain religious views. Example: the failed NC act The Rowan County Defense of Religion Act, which tried to nullify the First Amendment and the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in order to declare a state religion. Yeah, that happened.

        Every group fears losing something when they find themselves in the minority – many whites expected race riots and forced reparations when Obama won! These fears can often be overblown. Not every group grows up to be Hitlers unless they started out as little Hitlers. I don’t think atheists are little Hitlers by any stretch. For one thing they are not organized behind any belief and often celebrate diversity.

        But sure human nature always leaves open the chance of a megalomaniac who seizes on something to use as a cudgel against his enemies. So it is always possible that atheism could be used that way, but again, how would that be worse than the current crop of megalomaniacs who preach hatred for atheists? Remember some religions have very strong systems of belief that actively separate people into believers and those that ought to be conquered because god has demanded that their evil be wiped out. Atheism and humanism have none of that nonsense.

    • AndyTK

      I have never met an Atheist that advocated for outlawing religion. I’m met plenty that want to get god off our money, out of the pledge and deny charity tax status to religious organizations, but I’ve never met anybody that would use the power of government to forcibly close religious institutions.

    • ShoeUnited

      If there ever came a point where a bunch of atheists came into power that would persecute and outlaw religious beliefs, you would find yourself not alone. I would be the first to rail against such idiocy. It doesn’t matter if I find your abusive relationship with an imaginary figure to be childish, disingenuous, and just plain silly. It is your right as a human to have that. Any person who would rather harm someone to get their way, than to work towards peaceable ends is not someone who’s working on my side of the line.

      I would argue that those people are antitheists. And while one certainly would have to be an atheist to be an antitheist, the two are not mutual. Not all Christians are Mennonites.

    • Ben

      There are layers. Most atheists are just about living life like everyone else. Some though when they see inequality, injustice, bigotry, intolerance etc brought about by religion become more activist simply due to the fact that there MUST be a counterweight.

  • Ibis3

    Of course there can be atheist extremists: i.e. people who strive to impose atheism on others, who destroy churches and temples, and seek to harm or punish religious people for their beliefs.They’re not very common now, but you just have to crack open a history book to find them.

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      However, this sort of behavior appears usually correlated with exceptionally high-RWA attitudes; as contemporary North American atheists in tend to be mindbogglingly low-RWA (sub-sample median more than two standard deviations below the median in the general population), those of such degree are a rarity just slightly more commonplace than chicken teeth.

    • C Peterson

      I disagree. The people you are referring to are anti-religion or anti-theist extremists. They are driven by their hatred of religion, not by their lack of belief in gods.

      It simply isn’t possible to be driven by a lack of belief. The concept makes no sense.

      Atheists who happen to be extremists in some areas aren’t the same as “atheist extremists”.

    • Artor

      The obvious examples would be Stalin or Mao, but they would be the wrong examples. They weren’t atheists so much as power mongers who didn’t want any other power blocks in their territory. I doubt they thought much about theology, but they were very big on eliminating rivals.

  • AndyTK

    I agree that there are no militant Atheists if you set the bar of being militant at “kill other people for your beliefs” or even “suppress the rights of women”. So what we have to ask is “what do we call people that try to get creationism taught in public schools?” There are plenty of Atheists that are like that – they are trying to impose their position, Religion shouldn’t be supported by any public institution in any way, shape or form, on to the rest of the population, the majority of which disagrees with them. As Atheists we may have the Constitution and science on our side but many times we do not have public opinion on our side. My answer to my own question is “Evangelical”, we have Evangelical Atheists. So if somebody starts talking about militant Atheists I would correct them and tell them that there are Evangelical Atheists, but no militant Atheists.

    • ShoeUnited

      So… you don’t think science should be taught in science class? Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that doesn’t make every opinion equal. Some are better than others, and some are worth more than others.

      A thousand people screaming that gravity doesn’t exist versus one guy who demonstrates it doesn’t matter. The demonstrator wins. Science isn’t a popularity contest, it’s a search for facts. And there are no facts in creationism.

      Creationists are entitled to their opinions. But they aren’t right. Science doesn’t work by whim.

      • AndyTK

        I agree that science should be taught in science class, and only science. The point is that this position is not always popular and Atheists have to fight to make this so – that makes them “militant” in the minds of a large segment of the population.

    • phantomreader42

      The religious do not have any right to hijack the government and steal tax money to force their sick death cult on a captive audience on public property. They never had anysuch right. Anyone who claims they do is a liar and a traitor, and anyone who believes them is an idiot.

      • AndyTK

        Didn’t I just say we have the Constitution and science on our side? Often when theists complain about a war on religion what they are talking about is a war on religious privilege. Atheists are trying to take away their religious privileges. We need to understand where the other side is coming from – this is the way things have been for their entire lives in most cases and we are not only pushing change but a change that they don’t want to see happen. This doesn’t make them right, they are not. This doesn’t mean that we do not continue to work to remove religion from the public square; we need to fight until religion is no more respected than astrology. It is why they call evangelical atheists extremists, we after all do want to change the very culture of America, I’d argue for the better, though they would disagree.

        • phantomreader42

          There simply is no sane or meaningful way to classify asking christians to STOP BREAKING THE LAW, ASSHOLES as “extremist”.

          • 3lemenope

            They get worked up about the assholes. Oh, pardon me, about “assholes”.

            I’m pretty sure, at this point, that harsh language is more disfavored among some segments of the Christian public than actual violence against people is. They certainly whine about it louder.

            • phantomreader42

              I’m pretty sure, at this point, that harsh language is more disfavored among some segments of the Christian public than actual violence against people is. They certainly whine about it louder.

              I’ve seen this repeatedly, They don’t bat an eye at actual murder, but dare say “fuck” and they get a terminal case of the vapors. And sadly it’s not limited to the hopelessly brainwashed death cultists.

          • AndyTK

            I agree that extremist is an inappropriate term with regards to Atheists. I’m saying the more appropriate term is Evangelical, a term that they do not accept as pejorative. BTW, the use of the word “assholes” creates a negative reflection of you (as does anger in general).

            • phantomreader42

              Threatening to rape, murder, and torture children creates a negative reflection of christianists, but I don’t see you whining at them.
              I’m curious, is there any circumstance whatsoever under which you would deign to consider the possibility that any action other than absolute cringing submission is acceptable? Or is “thank you sir may I have another” the only response to slander, libel, violence, and terrorist threats that you consider permissible?

              • AndyTK

                I’m not talking to christianists, I’m talking to you. I’m thinking that you formed an incorrect impression of me from a poor reading of what I wrote. I never said don’t push for a fully secular America, in fact I’ve stated a few times that we should. Sun Tzu said to know your enemy, you apparently would rather curse at them and call them stupid or worse and attack anybody that doesn’t show your derogatory approach. You are never going to convince people of anything if they immediately tune you out. I meant my comment as constructive criticism on how to achieve our mutual goals. If you want to go all Greta Christiana and only be heard by the already converted I guess that’s an approach, but it is one that is unlikely to move us closer to a truly secular America.

                • phantomreader42

                  If I insult christianists, they will slander me, threaten me, babble incoherent nonsense, and fantasize about watching their monstrous imaginary friend burn me alive forever.
                  If I do not insult christianists, they will slander me, threaten me, babble incoherent nonsense, and fantasize about watching their monstrous imaginary friend burn me alive forever.
                  There is no difference whatsoever in their behavior. If I’m perfectly polite and civil, they just make slightly more shit up so they can jerk off imagining their invisible sky tyrant setting me on fire for daring to disagree with them. Pointing out the failures in their arguments, or the fact that they’re lying through their teeth, has absolutely no effect whatsoever, because I am dealing with people who would sooner kill and eat their own families than allow themselves to look in the general direction of reality for a single instant. And you can’t bring yourself to see anything wrong with that.

                  I notice you didn’t answer my question. Is there any circumstance whatsoever under which you would deign to consider the possibility that any action other than absolute cringing submission is acceptable? Or is “thank you sir may I have another” the only response to slander, libel, violence, and terrorist threats that you consider permissible?

                • AndyTK

                  If I lived in Afghanistan then yes I would take up arms against the Taliban. However you are giving a false choice – If I do not yell angry profane words then I’m being submissive? I reject that premise completely. Christians are no longer rounding up non-believers and burning them alive. I can stand up to Christian privilege in America without resorting to being angry and profane. Characterizing Christians as willing to eat their children, really?

                • phantomreader42

                  There are well-documented instances of christians allowing their children to die from lack of medical care. You whine about me using naughty words, you whine about any criticism of religion whatsoever, but faith-healing frauds murdering kids, you can’t bring yourself to object to.

                • AndyTK

                  No, I criticized your straight to personal attacks and foul language. I criticize religion a lot, but I don’t call theists’ assholes or stupid or anything else derogatory. Many theists are bright and good people who just happen to believe in something that they cannot defend with evidence. I also pointed out that tactically you are not going to get anywhere with anybody if the first sentence out of your mouth is to call them a bad person. It is a mistake to bring up faith-healing right out of the box since very few theists belong to groups that practice faith-healing to the exclusion of modern medicine. Many theists feel that this very small sub group is a cult and not real Christians. I suspect that they could be an ally when it comes to passing legislation that explicitly states that withholding medical care to a child such that the child then dies is involuntary manslaughter, a crime that should carry jail time.

                  So, to be clear – telling a theist that there is no more evidence of their god then there is for leprechauns is fine, you are attacking the idea that there is a god. Defending the separation of Church and State is fine. Telling theists that they shouldn’t get a charitable deduction for donating to their semi-private club because that semi-private club is more like McDonalds than Doctors without borders because so little of the donated money goes to out group services, that is fine. Saying that theists are assholes because they believe in god isn’t okay and makes you look, well I think you can guess what it makes you look like.

                • phantomreader42

                  AndyTK lied:

                  Saying that theists are assholes because they believe in god isn’t okay and makes you look, well I think you can guess what it makes you look like.

                  I did not say that theists are assholes because they believe in god. I said they are assholes for BREAKING THE FUCKING LAW! And you know it. You misrepresented what I said, deliberately. You
                  spoke falsehoods, knowing them to be false. You lied, Andy. And lying is not civil. So why is a self-appointed defender of civility such as yourself lying? Oh, yeah, because you actually don’t give a flying fuck about genuine civility, you’re just a tone troll whining about naughty
                  words. I do so despise tone trolls. Fuck off, asshole.

                • AndyTK

                  I did not lie, you called them assholes. My whole point is that discussion stops when you call somebody an asshole. Calling people assholes may make you fell better, but it doesn’t win friends or more importantly influence people. You can stop with the statement that they are breaking the law. You do not have to make it personal.
                  I am amused by this concept of “tone troll”. It appears to be a concept created by trolls to go after people that don’t take their bait and fulfill their desire to get a rise out of somebody. It is an attempt to say that they are no better if not worse than themselves.
                  Go for a run, mediate, spend some time with friends, this anger you hold is not healthy, truly, it is not.

                • phantomreader42

                  And AGAIN, you didn’t answer the question. Is there any circumstance whatsoever in which people have your PERMISSION to express the slightest anger, negativity, or dissent, Oh Great And Mighty AndyTK, Defender Of Civility From The Scourge Of Naughty Words?
                  And while I’m asking questions you can’t bring yourself to answer honestly, do you consider lying civil?

                • AndyTK

                  I answered your two prior questions. That you did not like my answers really isn’t my problem. So as to your latest question – It’s fine to be angry about things. It’s not particularly healthy, but you can be angry about stuff. You certainly don’t need my permission to do so. I was offering the advice that one shouldn’t start off a conversation in angry mode and expect to get a constructive conversation/debate that might result in changing somebody else mind. People can and will write off entire causes if the predominate interaction with proponents of that cause are angry and insult anybody that doesn’t support their level of ideological purity, be it PETA, Veganism, Feminism, Atheism, … so, you can be personally angry, but when conversing with others, especially with strangers, it does the cause no good to start insulting people personally. Attack the ideas that they are defending – prayer at government meetings, prayer at public schools, government support of religious organizations, the very idea that god exists. Tell them that all their arguments for their god can be applied to every other god that has ever been worshiped. Compare their god to leprechauns. Tell them that belief in a deity is not something that should be respected. Trust me, if your goal is to make other people as angry as you are that will be enough. No need to drop down to 3rd grade and start name calling right off the bat, plus, you might just find that more theists agree with us on things like the separation of Church and state if you don’t piss them off fifteen seconds after you open your mouth.

    • ZenDruid

      On the one hand, I’m a freethinking humanist atheist, and on the other hand I support the political and cultural effort to compel the Sunday school teachers to restrict their ‘teaching’ to its one legitimate context. Is that evangelical?

      • AndyTK

        Restricting what a private organization teaches the members that are there by choice is beyond what I at least feel is Constitutional. Within public schools yes, but in private schools or within the walls of a church, no. I see no reason to fund such an organization through various tax breaks and zoning exceptions but that is different from telling them what they can teach their own members. I would love to have public schools teach logical fallacies early and often to counter act some of the magical indoctrination that happens at Sunday schools, but restricting what can be taught in Sunday schools crosses a free speech line that I would find disturbing.

        To answer your question, doing so would be evangelical, probably a bit beyond evangelical. Let me be clear, Christians that fight to get creationism taught in public schools are also evangelical, not militant, but evangelical.

  • Anomony

    Never heard about this place before today, wandered in because the video is linked over at Newsvine.

    I’m not atheist nor am I an Thumper. Not to be Rumsfeldian but I know there are things in this universe that we don’t know or at least can’t be proven. Yet. Don’t ask me to prove them.

    Anyhow,

    “Atheist Extremist” is a logical progression from the phrase “Atheist Religion”, and Atheist Religion was a concept created by the Right Wing Media Machine to help the Conservative combat another concept they created, the War on Christmas.

    Yes, it does not matter that “Atheist Militant / Extremest” makes no sense and “Atheist Religion” is mind numbingly oxymoronic.

    These words and phrases and concepts were created as tools to (as mentioned before) further a political agenda.

    • Nathan ‘Holic’ Shepherd

      athiesm has been labeled a religion because of the anti theiist stigma that some chose to either support or participate in

  • JET

    A little off topic, but that opening screen shot is from an online cartoonist called “The Oatmeal.” Very funny young man. Be prepared to spend some time.
    http://theoatmeal.com/comics/religion

  • Olivia Sears

    I’m one of those extremists. I go online and debate theist with CIVILITY and LOGIC! Many feelings are hurt in the process.

    • ShoeUnited

      You’re more militant than I am. You debate civilly.

    • Jeff

      I go online (like here), I look for all the down votes (and the well-known trolls like Keyra and rwlawoffice and others), read what the person wrote to get all the down votes, then have to refrain myself from being a total asshole pointing out what an ignorant, bigoted, lying, douchebag the theist is. Please read that carefully, I REFRAIN from doing so. I would love to shout down, over-post, whatever it takes, to call out theists and their lying and hypocrisy. But I refrain because I recognize, at least in my mind, that the anger that is invoked by their stupidity holds power over me. And I refuse to allow them to hold power over me, literally, emotionally, or mentally.

      But in my mind, if I DID provide a retort, my comments would bring on the death of a thousand paper cuts.

  • Ryan Fox

    I consider myself an extremist. But I am also law abiding and I am not a dick. But I don’t observe religious holidays nor do thank people who bless me or pray for me. I will no longer date a believer. I wish I could live some place that was without believers. But there is nothing lawful that I can do about it.

  • Anna

    I’m sure there could be. Occasionally in the comment section you see people advocating the forced removal of religion from society. I’m not certain if all of those people are serious (or merely frustrated by whatever terrible story they’re responding to), but I think attempts to outlaw religion would qualify as extremist.

    • Iron Hat

      I agree.

    • Bitter Lizard

      I would agree that an atheist “extremist” or “militant” is not an incoherent concept, and attempting to impose your lack of belief on a religious person with force would qualify. The thing is, we wouldn’t know what to label these people because the terms “extremist” and “militant” have already been wasted on any atheist who says less than complimentary things about religion on the Internet.

      I think most of the atheists you’re talking about (most) really just turn out to be inarticulately blowing off steam and will admit they don’t actually believe the words they used if you call them out. And I especially feel a little bit of an obligation to call them out because, to be honest, I have to stop myself from saying nasty things I don’t mean sometimes because of how viscerally religion can piss me off.

  • Iron Hat

    My only question from here on out is this. Does anyone posting on this blog understand what a belief system is? I ask because nearly every post concerning a belief system gets it wrong. Atheism is a belief system people. Be offended if you choose to be, vote my post down (which is, ironically, a pretty unfriendly trend) but it is what it is.

    • Ron

      atheism: a disbelief in the existence of deity (Merriam-Webster)

      Disbelief is not a belief, any more than “off” is another channel on your TV. Your entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts and definitions.

      • Iron Hat

        That’s incorrect. A disbelief is still, whether you want it to be or not, a belief. To counter your euphemism, If you decide not to choose from a list of choices you have still made a choice. Also, the fact that you repeat the language of Richard Dawkins “seems” incredibly like your preaching a gospel; the gospel according to Dawkins if you will :)

        • Ron

          I was born without god beliefs, so the only choice that I’ve made is to reject that proposition until such claims are supported with empirical evidence — at which point direct knowledge makes belief entirely unnecessary.

  • ragarth

    In theory there could be such a thing as a militant atheist in the formal definition of the word–nothing about atheism precludes such a person–just like there could be a such a thing as a militant mime. However, the term is used by theists as a slander against atheists to try and discredit their ideas without actually dealing with the meat of the ideas.

  • God’s Starship

    See me right now posting under a silly twitter name? This is as extreme as my atheism gets.

  • Charles Chambers

    Hemant Mehta. Atheist Extremist.

    • Charles Chambers

      Jk.

  • articulett

    Maybe an atheist extremist would be like the kid who lets all his friends know that Santa is a sham?

    But there really is nothing that can compare to the extremism of the religious where they imagine their eternity is at stake. If faith is good, then extreme faith is better, right? –a better insurance plan against eternal damnation. If you can convince someone their ETERNITY (and that of their loved ones is at stake) you can get them to do anything you can convince them their god wants them to do.

    I can’t think of a similar manipulation that could work on an atheist.

  • Michaela Samuels

    “If I could just explain to you WHY I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior!”

    “How dare you militant atheists shove your atheism down my throat!”

  • http://www.devithehuman.com/ Devi Taylor

    I would like the see this subject talked about more. Specifically about the possibility of an extremism mentality creeping into the atheist community. I believe extremism is a mental health issue or a psychological defect. People latch onto ideas and take them to extremes. I say it’s a mental defect because you see this type of behavior in communities that have nothing to do with religion like vegetarianism/veganism.

    As more and more people abandon religion to become agnostics/atheist there will come a point in time when we will have individuals who take it to extremes and start bombing churches and doing other terrible things in the name of atheism. Even though it’s a personal defect driving them, they would be using atheism to express it.

    I feel like we as a community really need to be prepared for that eventuality because human nature dictates it will happen.

  • Nathan ‘Holic’ Shepherd

    i’d consider militants people who go into churches or mosques or what have you to purposely cause trouble/ (or by their belief) educate dogmatic theists with dogmatic atheist views, extremists tend to be the loners who appear once a blue moon and burn churches or do childish acts of defiance like deface symbols etc being a student in philosophy you learn that bias towards either side is unhelpful to an open mind, but to each their own, i find bible bashers and militants equally annoying,


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