We know the phrase “militant atheist” is almost always an oxymoron. The people bestowed with that title tend to be authors, debaters, and thinkers rather than dictators or murderers.
Nick Cohen, writing for The Observer, takes a much-appreciated swipe against the “intellectuals” who seriously uses that phrase, calling it a “phantom menace”:
To a large element in modern conservatism, equal treatment for all is nothing less than the “aggressive intolerance” of Christianity, as is the legal requirement that hotel owners cannot ban gay couples from their rooms just as landlords once banned blacks, dogs and Irish from theirs. Do not underestimate the danger of their wails. One day, they could encourage a future Conservative government to repeal the Human Rights Act.
… As atheists have nothing in common beyond an inability to believe in a god or an assortment of gods, the argument comes down to a critique of the minority of atheists who decided that, what with 9/11, Hindu nationalism and genuinely militant strains of Christianity and Judaism, the times required us to dispense with politeness.
If there really were militant atheists, to hell with them. But the people who use that phrase always seem to use it against someone like Richard Dawkins, whose Twitter feed may be the most controversial thing about him.
Cohen ends his rant with a very pointed critique of atheism-bashers:
Since 9/11, western intellectuals have had a choice. They could have taken on militant religion, exposed its texts, decried its doctrines and found arguments to persuade young British men not to go to Syria and slaughter “heretics”. But religious fanatics might have retaliated. Instead, they chose the safe option of attacking the phantom menace of militant atheists, who would never harm them. Leaving all philosophical and moral objections aside, they have been the most awful cowards.
We’d be much better off if the people who constantly seem to criticize popular atheists spent at least that much effort condemning problematic religious beliefs.
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