I don’t reblog often, but over lunch I was doing a little bit of blog reading and I came across the phrase “militant atheist” twice in about twenty minutes and I thought it might be worth highlighting a post I first read a few weeks ago.
I have to confess that the phrase “militant atheist” has never jumped out at me. Perhaps, because as someone who rarely tries to convince anyone to give up his or her belief, I don’t quite fall into that category. Perhaps it is because when I was younger I was frequently called a militant feminist. Perhaps it is because the word militant in French means something much milder than it does in English. My first language is English, but atheist activism, aka “New Atheism”, didn’t come into its own until I’d been called a “militante” of several different political currents.
Whatever the reason, “militant atheist” never caused me to raise an eyebrow. However, Irish Atheist has a very different, and I think important, view of the word.
Words are complicated things. If I look at blogs tagged with “atheism”, I can usually tell the orientation of the writer by the end of the second or third sentence, not by the content, but by the choice of words. Any propagandist will tell you that words matter. Our choice of words reveals things about ourselves that we don’t even always intend.
Irish Atheist’s post reminded me of why I grew up in a pluralistic environment. I have mentioned that both my parents were atheists. What I may not have mentioned is that my mother came from a Catholic family and my father came from a Protestant family. Except for the fact that his parents didn’t write him out of their wills, my father’s family essentially disowned him. For this reason, I barely knew my paternal grandparents, uncles or cousins. It was especially ridiculous since no one was particularly religious. It was just stupid tribalism. For me, however, it had a positive result, I grew up in an environment where individuals were not defined by their ethnicity or religion. My classmates came from families belonging to a wide variety of sects, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, other branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Reformed Church (my father’s family), Presbyterian, Congregationalist, United Church of Christ, Methodist, Baptist, Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, Radical Reform Judaism, Buddhists, Taoists, and, of course, none of the above. In fact, many of my friends had roots in multiple ethnicities. If the future is pluralist, then I’ve seen the future and the future is good. There was little conflict on ethnic or religious grounds. I would like to say there was none, but I recall an incident when a swastika was painted on the Reformed Temple, so I can’t honestly say that.
We must never forget the bloody history of the Wars of Religion in Europe which gave rise to modern notions of secularism. Some people seem to confuse secularism with atheism or non-belief. In fact, secularism is the concept that allows people of different religions to live side by side without killing one another. For this reason, I am more interested in promoting secularism than in promoting atheism. My town of my childhood was highly secular, but many people there were quite religious. I probably should have written a post about this when the holidays were still upon us.
The Irish Atheist obviously grew up in an environment almost the exact opposite of my own. (I didn’t use the WordPress reblogging tool because I had more to say than I could write in the little box they provide, but I encourage people to go over to this post.)
I’ve been called a lot of names over the years. Some are more inventive than others.
My personal favourite is “Gypo whore.” Racism, misogyny, and lies all packed into two syllables. Another one is ‘moss-wipe’. Don’t ask.
I think most atheists have had the same experience on one level or another. The name-calling comes mainly from Christians and Muslims and other religious groups who regard atheists as a dangerous faction of anti-morality activists. Devil-worshipper, amoral, Satanist, the list goes on. And I’ll establish right here that many atheists are just as guilty. Let’s not shy away from it. Go on Twitter and see how many atheists there are calling Christians retarded, delusional, idiotic or brain-dead.