The Proselytizers Priests Of Militant Atheism

As Christians worldwide begin the Lenten season, it seems the opportunity has not escaped the militant atheist brigade to brew their bitter bile at believers. And really, it’s just become so tedious.

If someone chooses to become an atheist, that’s fine. I disagree with them, but their decision, and I respect that. And I think the vast majority of atheists fall into this category, so please do not take these comments as directed at them. What does seriously irk me, though, is the small minority of atheists, who, with a smug, self-assured sense of superiority deliberately go out of their way to take the time and energy to insult and mock believers, believing that ridicule is their own kind of higher calling. The kind of people who still find it funny to hand out condoms at catholic events, for instance. Who ‘crash’ church events. Who become more obsessed about Christianity than most Christians.

The great irony, of course, is that for people who are self-proclaimed pure rationalists (didn’t that go out with the 50’s anyway?), militant atheism in and of itself isn’t rational, for the simple reason of the precautionary principle. For even if you deny the existence of a higher power, it is rather obvious you can never be 100% sure – some some doubt must surely remain. As such,wouldn’t it be rational, even if you do not believe, just on the off chance you are wrong, to try to avoid pissing God off as much as possible? That’s why I’m nice to scientologists, after all –  Xenu might really be coming back! But even if you don’t accept the precautionary principle, shouldn’t you at least try to be polite? Is it really necessary to be so condescending?

I think Prof. Greg Craven, one of my favourite Australian legal scholars (despite being a bit of a dirty Republican), and now Vice-Chancellor of Australian Catholic University, best sums up the militant atheist mindset:

The appeals of atheism as a diverting pastime are not immediately obvious to those of us who are on relatively easy terms with God. Why would anyone get so excited about the misconceptions of third parties as to the existence of a fourth party in which they themselves do not believe?

The answer is twofold. First, the great advantage of designer atheism is that you get to think of yourself as immensely clever. After all, you are at least much brighter than all those dumb-asses who believe in a supreme being, such as Sister Perpetua down the road, Thomas Aquinas, Isaac Newton and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. So satisfying.

The second factor has to do with wit. For some reason, contemporary Australian atheism seems to consider itself terribly funny. Its proponents only have to wheel out one of the age-old religious libels to lose control of their bladders. To outsiders, of course, it is a bit like watching a giggling incontinent drunk at a party. This is not to say that believers – and perhaps especially Catholics – do not get seriously irritated by atheists. They do, but not because atheists are fearfully clever or Wildely funny.

Frankly, the prime reason the average believer finds the common or garden atheist as appealing as a holiday in Birchip is because they consign them to that sorry category of individuals who spend their lives loudly congratulating themselves on their own intelligence without noticing that no one else is joining the chorus. Thus, as a Catholic, I do not normally sense in some tabloid atheist the presence of a supreme discerning intellect. I simply place him or her in much the same pitiable bin of intellectual vulgarians as the chartered accountant who cannot see the art in Picasso, the redneck who cannot admit of indigenous culture, and the pissant who cannot see the difference between Yeats and Bob Ellis.

It is not deep perception we encounter here, but a critical failure of imaginative capacity. It is a bit like the old joke: how many atheists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? None – no matter what they do, they just can’t see the light.

The second wearying thing about the new atheism is that it is not new at all. It is so banally derivative of every piece of hate mail ever sent to God that I am amazed Satan has yet to sue for copyright infringement.

I would strongly urge you all to read the entire article. Because he really does nail it. Unlike missionaries, who by the very nature of their belief, have an incentive to spread the word, militant atheists get all flummoxed and worked up about something they do not even believe in. It is an almost pathological need for them to prove themselves, this desperate desire to shout out “I’m superior to you all fools! Look at me! Look at me!”, whilst stamping your foot repeatedly.

Perhaps the greater irony is how the militant atheists often have a more closed mind than most believers. To rehash an old quote that got me into trouble a while ago, GK Chesterton writes in Orthodoxy on how Spiritual doctrines do not actually limit the mind as do materialistic denials (emphasis mine):

For we must remember that the materialist philosophy (whether true or not) is certainly much more limiting than any religion. In one sense, of course, all intelligent ideas are narrow. They cannot be broader than themselves.  A Christian is only restricted in the same sense that an atheist is restricted. He cannot think Christianity false and continue to be a Christian; and the atheist cannot think atheism false and continue to be an atheist.  But as it happens, there is a very special sense in which materialism has more restrictions than spiritualism. Mr. McCabe thinks me a slave because I am not allowed to believe in determinism.  I think Mr. McCabe a slave because he is not allowed to believe in fairies.  But if we examine the two vetoes we shall see that his is really much more of a pure veto than mine. The Christian is quite free to believe that there is a considerable amount of settled order and inevitable development in the universe. But the materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle. Poor Mr. McCabe is not allowed to retain even the tiniest imp, though it might be hiding in a pimpernel.  The Christian admits that the universe is manifold and even miscellaneous, just as a sane man knows that he is complex.  The sane man knows that he has a touch of the beast, a touch of the devil, a touch of the saint, a touch of the citizen. Nay, the really sane man knows that he has a touch of the madman. But the materialist’s world is quite simple and solid, just as the madman is quite sure he is sane.  The materialist is sure that history has been simply and solely a chain of causation, just as the interesting person before mentioned is quite sure that he is simply and solely a chicken.  Materialists and madmen never have doubts.

So, to conclude, if you want to be an atheist, that’s fine, power to ya, but for God’s sake, keep it to yourself. Otherwise, you just end up looking rather foolish.


9 Responses to “The Proselytizers Priests Of Militant Atheism”

  1. anon Says:

    Good article. If only you’d go further and denounce worshipping on the catholic “sunday”. If you really want to prove your commitment, follow Jesus’ example and worship on the seventh-day sabbath. Do that and you’ll find enlightenment and possibly the seal of God :=)

    I always find it odd that orthodox ppl bag the catholics in certain areas and yet continue following them by following the counterfeit of sunday.

    Despite our failures as fallable humans, The jewish sabbath still rocks!

  2. Nicko Says:

    Tim, we don’t agree on many things, and I am cheerful to know that we probably never will (it never hurts to know thine adversary). But on this one, I am totally on board. Great post!

  3. glynn Says:

    You say in the beginning that that these atheists are merely the minority, then you use excerpts that characterise them as the norm. Your final point can be made about believers in anything.
    These people piss me off too, they are taking a rational conclusion and turning it into an irrational belief system very similar to the one they decry. It’s just dumb.
    Also, I’m really sick of the whole “atheists have closed minds” thing. Reality is big enough and amazing enough for you to not have to run off and believe things that have no basis in reality just to prove you don’t have a closed mind. I can imagine a personal god and know what it would take for me to believe in one, the evidence just hasn’t popped up yet. In much the same way I can imagine a unicorn but won’t take them as representing something real unless shown evidence that proves it. The universe is awesome, I don’t need fairytales to make it better.

  4. glynn Says:

    And seriously, the precautionary principal is a cop-out substitute for an argument. There is a small chance that a bright red cow that speaks perfect english will materialise in my room as I type, but I’m not going to start preparing the church of the red cow. That would be stupid.

  5. Caleb Says:

    I wouldn’t say Dawkins, Hitchens or Harris actually insult Christians or other believers in any way. They insult their beliefs – this is different, but when insulting someone’s belief, if that belief has emotional attachment, equates to insulting the person.

    Example: Atheists (myself included) feel that the notion of scapegoating – placing your sins on the shoulders of another and renouncing them as your own – is a cop-out, non-sensical, non-rational. If an atheist commits a crime, it is his to deal with. All reprocussions, all guilt, all apolgies are his and his alone. The idea that we can toss these transgressions onto someone else, particularly someone who died thousands of years ago, is to many people a bizarre notion at best…to others it is reprehensible. I would go so far as to call this a ridiculous idea (worthy of ridicule). The people who hold the idea are not the ones under attack except that they perpetuate it. However when we call this idea stupid, ignorant or ridiculous, we are said to have insulted christians, not christianity. This is not the intent of the atheists.

    We all see people being duped into believing that women are inferior, homosexuals are evil, etc. These are BAD ideas. Christianity came up with them, and should be held responsible for them. Christians, however, defend their faith to the bitter end, and take personal offense at anyone who takes jabs at their religion’s crazy ideas.

    In general, all anyone in this movement wants is a world in which crazy ideas are looked at with some degree of skepticism. We want rational thinkers, reasonable human beings, people who recognize that the manner in which a person conducts himself in bed has no bearing on his moral character. Religion plants good ideas in people’s heads, but it carries with it so many ancient prejudices that it cannot be separated.

    All moral progress that has been made (and I believe we have made significant progress) is not because of religion, but in spite of it. As we abolished slavery, promoted women’s rights, and hopefully soon gay rights, we were not doing so as a result of our religious beliefs. Instead we recognized a greater moral purpose, and had to move away from what the Bible claimed as moral in order to do what we knew was right.

    Christians won’t recognize this, and it becomes difficult for the atheists to understand. It is fine, to a degree, for someone to hold different beliefs, but when those beliefs put others’ freedom at risk, it can be questioned – it MUST be questioned. Now some are more tactful than others, but the message is consistent – stop believing things for no reason whatsoever. To think this way is dangerous and one never knows what crazy ideas might find their way in.

  6. Tim Andrews Says:

    “I wouldn’t say Dawkins, Hitchens or Harris actually insult Christians or other believers in any way. They insult their beliefs – this is different”

    Hmm. Dawkins yesterday: “Pope Ratzinger should not resign. He should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice – the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution – while it tumbles, amid a stench of incense and a rain of tourist-kitsch sacred hearts and preposterously crowned virgins, about his ears.” (

  7. Caleb Says:

    I could find you a dozen such comments about president Obama, yet nobody would claim the US government is under attack. I don’t like the pope at all, either, and I wouldn’t hesitate to vocalize it. I don’t like George W. Bush and I didn’t hesitate to vocalize that. I don’t like Rush Limbaugh and I certainly don’t hold back in vocalizing that. Lots of people get insulted for lots of things, but this is different from the claim made in this post.

    The impression I got from this thread was a sense of plight that the ‘militant atheists’ were ‘mocking believers.’ Now in the sense that this was written, it sounded much like a broad attack on people. Like atheists are walking around spitting on Christians and deriding them for what they believe on a personal level. This is not the case.

    The point is that when someone insults a particular person, like what you have posted here, they are insulting the person for specific reasons. When someone like Dawkins, Harris or myself insult an idea, it is often taken to be directed personally at someone when in fact it is not. The personal connection of many religious beliefs makes an insult to the belief very personal to the one that holds it. While it is not the intent to insult the believer, it appears to be an unavoidable consequence of insulting the belief. Given the ends that are sought, it is a necessary step. I feel that irrational thinking and belief without investigation can be extremely dangerous.

  8. Caleb Says:

    Bottom line: Is it that the atheists are unfairly picking on the religious, or is it that the religious are overly sensitive?

    If it weren’t the pope being criticized, if it were the president of the bank of america, and not only Dawkins but everyone able were casting scornful remarks at the president of the bank of america, would we claim that banks are being discriminated against? No! Stupid ideas are stupid ideas from wherever they might come. Calling people out on these stupid ideas is common practice in every area of society except religion. Religion has enjoyed a time of peace where it has been taboo to say that the idea of Jesus is stupid, but that time is over. The religious will just have to come to terms with what is being said. You may or may not agree with the point that any one atheist is trying to make, but your response should not be anger or resentment, it should be logic…you should defend your beliefs, not cry about being treated unfairly. If you find that you cannot defend your beliefs, well that’s a problem, isn’t it?

  9. Louise Says:

    Hoho, this sounds exactly like several of the atheists who frequent Barney Zwartz’s blog in The Age. So smug, so superior, and so utterly closed to the possibility of anything outside their reductionist, black and white, binary worldview. They want everything discussed in terms of science; if it’s not demonstrable in the lab, it isn’t valid, for them. The thought that life isn’t bound by science, that there are ideas and feelings and needs for which science has no answers, just doesn’t seem to register with them.

    BTW I’m not Christian – more like Spiritualist without the dogma. And a lot happier and more at peace than when I was more or less atheist and stuck in that “old man in the sky” concept of God that they all seem wedded to.

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