I have followed and participated in numerous net debates on science, religion and atheism over the years (and in many more off-line) and am increasingly of the view that our culture is ill-equipped to cope with people who publicly profess their atheism.
The term ‘militant atheist’ is frequently bandied about. As far as I can see, anyone who publicly professes atheism is going to be stuck with this label. The insult is three-fold:
First: political and religious extremists are often called ‘militants’. The implication is that anyone publicly professing atheism is an extremist.
Second: the christian church during its period of expansion, enforced conversions and suppression of ‘heresy’ (ie internal dissent) is referred to as the ‘Church Militant’. The use of the term ‘militant atheism’ seems to me therefore to be an attempt to liken public atheism to this period of the Church’s history i.e. anybody who professes atheism must be some kind of godless Inquisitor.
Third: when christian priests talk about their beliefs, they are not dismissed as ‘militants’. The implication is that atheists should keep quiet.
Even some atheists seem confused on this point. In a recent thread on Science and Atheism on Bad Science, one contributer stated that she kept quiet about her atheism, even if asked her views, because she did not want to be associated with Richard Dawkins. In my opinion, if she finds Dawkins’ views (or his way of expressing them offensive) all the more reason to state she is an atheist if asked her views in order to demonstrate that atheism is not a single strand of opinion.
And this is the point. There is no Book stating exactly how we must not-believe. There is no atheist heirarchy enforcing some sort of atheist orthodoxy. People seem to assume because catholics or the UCKG, for example, are part of a single organisation with a heirarchy and set of beliefs, atheists must be too. It certainly suits the churches to believe this; much easier to believe that ‘militant atheists’ are campaigning to take their congregations from them rather than believe that they are driven away by the churches’ grasping greed, their misogeny, their homophobia, their AIDS-encouraging views on condoms and their disgusting protection of paedophile priests.