What is it? What makes it 'militant', as opposed to 'evangelical' or some more neutral word, such as are afforded to various religions which have at least equal influence? There are probably tens of questions that ought to be discussed in this thread, but I think this ought to get the ball rolling.
As an atheist myself, I have no problem with “militant atheism.” It’s understood that atheists aren’t shooting people in the streets or anything. However, there has definitely been a big change in how atheism is being promulgated; a “mobilization” of sorts. So I don’t see “militant” as so far off the mark.
Going back in time a bit:
As I perceived it, old-style atheism thought of itself as high-minded, in the sense that it would have seemed mean-spirited to go to war against religion. It would have been like warring against teddy bears, fairy tales, and pacifiers. “Religion is the opiate of the masses,” and all that. If people want their big fuzzy teddy bear in the sky, then what’s the harm?
When needed, there were a few high-profile atheists in the U.S. like Madalyn Murray O’Hair to sue to remove prayer from school or close down Christmas displays on city hall grounds. And the courts were generally sympathetic. Beyond that, there really didn’t seem to be a need for rallies and high-profile movements for atheism.
I guess “New Atheism” grew out of 9/11 and a perception that religious wars are getting a little too close to home. So the New Atheism movement has been trying to actively “proselytize” against religion in general. God’s followers have gotten more dangerous, so it’s time for atheists to “mobilize” in response, I guess.
How do I feel about it? It’s kind of nice to see atheism doing a little push-back against religion (above and beyond the occasional court case). On the other hand, when I visit the websites of the New Atheists I see posts from the same kinds of zealots and bullies as in every other camp, whether it be the camps of evangelicals, pro-choicers, pro-lifers, Democrats, Republicans, etc. So I’m not tempted to join them myself.
But I wish the New Atheists well. I don’t feel the same personal urgency as them to go to war against religion. But I also see nothing wrong with scientists getting together, hammering out some actual party platforms on behalf of atheism, and putting them out in the marketplace of ideas like any other group.
I think the sorts of people who try to spread their personal views and opinions, whether they are theist or atheist, are usually of a curious sort of person who is insecure in their opinion and need others to share it in order to confirm it as true to themselves.
I'm an agnostic and have spent years debating between theism and atheism from both sides. There are militant atheists who are quite dismissive in an unfair manner towards religious and spiritual people. I can understand when people debate strongly in the realm of ideas, but when there is a rejection of another human as being less because of thinking differently, then it has crossed a line.
When a person believes that society would be better off rejecting religion, I would ask what is the benefit of a "better society"? Is it so that people can live more fulfilling lives? Is it motivated by caring for other people? If that is the case, then how does caring for other people in general affect debate?
I think there are many extremely unhealthy forms of religion, but each individual is the result of their experience and nature. Even the most confused person in an extremist religion is not inferior to me in any way. I would be them and they would be me if we traded lives. It is important to have compassion and respect for others and to take the time to understand how they arrived at the place they are. I would think that is also an important part of objective knowledge.
The first man to raise a fist is the man who's run out of ideas. H.G. WELLS
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. FEYNMAN If this is monkey pee, you're on your own.SCULLY
Just in relation to this, I'm not evangelical but I would be militant about my own beliefs, I'm not that bothered about what others think or believe contra distinction to what I do, until they decide to tool up, give their thoughts and beliefs the force of law, generalise them to others who do not profess the same thinking etc.
I wouldnt seek to compell anyone to believe that I believe and I think its counter productive to believe that's even possible, if I myself by example or force of persuasion cant convince or provide compelling evidence for the way of life and beliefs I profess then that's about as far as that goes. That I'm prepared to personally sacrifice all for my beliefs. They are the only thing that I think its possible to possess at the end of the day and which cant be taken away from you.