Those damn militant atheists

Man, you just can't win. For the longest time, atheism was so stigmatized that atheists rarely spoke openly about their dissent. It's still facing a heavy stigma in many parts of the world, and we're fighting an uphill battle to get more non-believers to speak up. And now, there is undoubtedly a strong cultural movement promoting atheism, of which I am a tiny, tiny, tiny part. A huge part of this movement isn't just the public dissemination of ideas, but a move to create acceptance for non-believers. 

Why are atheists speaking up? Probably because we're sick of nutcases killing people over silly ideas. We're sick of religious nuts trying to alter education curricula, and we're sick of accomodationist crap like Templeton and BioLogos that tries to conflate religion with scientific and rational inquiry. We're sick of people oppressing the rights of the LGBT community and setting back stem-cell research, and justifying it with appeals to a ridiculous ancient text. A lot of stupidity comes from religion, and we simply don't need it. And while believers love to point out that religious people often do really nice things, we can still have charities and orphanages without affirming all kinds of dogmatic nonsense (we already have countless secular ones anyway) .

But while I can't speak for all atheists, I feel like I'm pretty in touch with the community. And you know what? Most atheists don't care what people believe as long as they don't try to impose it on others. Like, I don't care that Pope Benedict XVI is a Catholic, and believes all the weird bullshit associated with that religion. It's his life, and he can believe in leprechauns and space monkeys from Andromeda for all I care. But I do care when a prominent religious figure is culpable in the systematic cover-up of widespread child abuse, and he hides behind the wealth and political influence of the church. I care when he tells people in AIDS-plagued Africa that using condoms makes the problem worse. And I fundamentally oppose an organization that denigrates women, indoctrinates children, and promotes superstitious nonsense as though it were profound intellectual enlightenment. 

Well, according to some people over at the Guardian who have been covering the Pope's visit, that makes me a "militant" atheist. Silly me, not content to just keep my non-belief to myself. There I go, writing that damn blog and inviting others to read it. See, I had Googled "protest pope" in the hopes of finding some more coverage on the protest rallies, and I came across a couple of sneering writers who talked about "anti-Catholicism", "militant" opponents of the pope, and even one douchebag who claimed that, in his fiery speech the other day, Richard Dawkins "compared all Catholics to Hitler". He must have watched a different speech than I did.

Here's what I don't get. There is pretty incontrovertible evidence that the Pope, back when he was just that Ratzinger guy, helped coddle known sex offenders. He's head of an organization that is losing members in droves in no small part because of a series of cover-ups by church officials in what has been revealed to be a widespread incidence of child abuse. And he comes to England, and what does he do? He apologizes. Golly, isn't that sweet. I'm not saying he shouldn't apologize. Of course he should. It's good he did. But that's the tip of the iceberg. The church itself clearly has some deep-running problems, and that's not even beginning to touch all the other things I mentioned. So there's nothing "militant" about a guy who actively promotes the denigration of women, who covers up child abuse to preserve the reputation of the church, and who equates atheists with Nazism; but when atheists peacefully protest this clown's actions, they're "militant"?

Look, this is just a couple of editorials. But I hear this kind of crap all too often. Militant Muslims blow people up, send death threats to cartoonists, oppress and abuse women, and execute people for the pettiest of crimes. Militant Christians try to alter education curricula, oppress people's civil rights, blow up abortion clinics, and hold hate-speech signs at funerals. Militant atheists write books and blogs, and occasionally gather peacefully to oppose the aforementioned nuttery.

Maybe some of the anti-papal imagery and language in the rallies was childish and abusive. There are assholes in every political movement. But it really irks me when just the act of speaking out against the Pope and the imperious institution he oversees is denigrated as "militant". Secularists are engaging in a battle of ideas; ideas that a lot of people integrate very deeply into their personal and social identities; ideas that, for far too long, have been taboo to publicly critique. It's nothing new, of course; folks like Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens have been mischaracterized as "shrill" and "strident" for years. How dare we?


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