Nick Cohen Tries to Deny the Existence of Militant Atheists

Militant atheists don’t like people noticing they are militant. In fact, Nick Cohen denies the existence of militant atheists with some rhetoric:

My family went into central London last week. After they’d gone, I found myself checking the web for reports of bomb blasts. Absurd and paranoid of me, of course. Rationally, I know that a motorist is more likely to kill you than a terrorist. Ever since Iraq, I have also known that the intelligence services’ “threats” can be imaginary. But I know this, too, and so does everyone else: if a bomb explodes, no one will think that a “militant atheist” has attacked his or her country. No one will mutter: “I wonder if someone has taken this god delusion argument too far.” Or: “Atheists should have known that violent words lead to violent deeds.”

The police don’t send undercover agents into sceptic societies and parliament doesn’t pass emergency laws to combat atheist violence. Fanatics threaten European Muslims if they abandon their faith but no atheist will attack them if they keep it. No one thinks that atheists threaten the lives of their fellow citizens anywhere in the west.

Oh, please. Let’s turn to reality. 

Here’s how Wikipedia describes the word ‘militant.’

The English word militant is both an adjective and a noun, and is usually used to mean vigorously active, combative and aggressive, especially in support of a cause, as in ‘militant reformers’.

[….]

However, the current meaning of militant does not usually refer to a registered soldier: it can be anyone who subscribes to the idea of using vigorous, sometimes extreme, activity to achieve an objective, usually political. For example, a “militant [political] activist” would be expected to be more confrontational and aggressive than an activist not described as militant.

[….]

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, defines militant as “Having a combative character; aggressive, especially in the service of a cause”. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines militant as “aggressively active (as in a cause)”. It says that the word militant might be typically be used in phrases such as ‘militant conservationists’ or ‘a militant attitude’.

An example of the adjective usages is demonstrated when The New York Times ran an article titled Militant Environmentalists Planning Summer Protests to Save Redwoods describing a group that believes in “confrontational demonstrations” and “nonviolent tactics” to get across their message of preserving the environment. Another usage example includes ‘a militant political activist’, drawing attention to behaviours typical of those engaged in intensive political activism. The political protests headed by the Reverend Al Sharpton have been described as militant in nature in The Washington Post.

So as we can see, the term militant is not reserved for atheists and is not restricted to those who commit violence. The reason many theists, agnostics, and atheists refer to the New Atheists as militant atheists is because reason and evidence tell us that New Atheists are militant atheists. The evidence clearly shows that Coyne, Dawkins, and all their followers, are part of a movement that has a cause – to rid the world of religion. And the evidence clearly shows that to carry out their cause, the New Atheists leaders and their followers are combative, extreme, confrontational, and aggressive. Thus, reason tells us that these New Atheist activists are militant.

Of course, the other thing to notice is that we can make the same exact point using all of Cohen’s points except for a couple of word changes:

My family went into central London last week. After they’d gone, I found myself checking the web for reports of bomb blasts. Absurd and paranoid of me, of course. Rationally, I know that a motorist is more likely to kill you than a terrorist. Ever since Iraq, I have also known that the intelligence services’ “threats” can be imaginary. But I know this, too, and so does everyone else: if a bomb explodes, no one will think that a “militant Christian” has attacked his or her country.

And

The police don’t send undercover agents into Christian churches and parliament doesn’t pass emergency laws to combat Christian violence. Fanatics threaten European Christians if they abandon their faith but no Christian will attack them if they keep it. No one thinks that Christians threaten the lives of their fellow citizens anywhere in the west.

Cohen’s “argument” is fatally flawed in two ways:
1. He thinks the term “militant” can only mean “violent.” He is wrong.
2. He thinks the behavior of a subset of radical Muslims reflects on “religion.” He is wrong again.

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7 Responses to Nick Cohen Tries to Deny the Existence of Militant Atheists

  1. Crude says:

    Really, I think the most telling line is here:

    No one thinks that atheists threaten the lives of their fellow citizens anywhere in the west.

    He may as well have tacked an ‘anymore’ on the end of that, but what’s important is ‘in the west’. Because, in the East, atheists do exactly this. What’s one big difference between the east and west on this front?

    Militant atheists are currently (much to their chagrin) a tremendous minority in the west. Not so much in the east. And when they were larger in number in the west, they were a full-blown existential threat.

  2. Peter Olsen says:

    I’d like to reference to a time and place when atheists, as atheists, formed any sort of existential threat. On the other hand Christian history is awash in the blood of people murdered for the slightest differences in doctrine.

  3. Crude says:

    Peter,

    I’d like to reference to a time and place when atheists, as atheists, formed any sort of existential threat.

    A good part of the 20th century with its legacy continuing on to the present day.

    On the other hand Christian history is awash in the blood of people murdered for the slightest differences in doctrine.

    My turn:

    Provide evidence of your own claim. And before you do, I have some evidence of my own to share:

    The Encyclopedia of Wars surveyed 1,763 violent conflicts across history; only 123 (7 percent) were religious. A BBC-sponsored “God and War” audit, which evaluated major conflicts over 3,500 years and rated them on a 0-to-5 scale for religious motivation (Punic Wars = 0, Crusades = 5), found that more than 60 percent had no religious motivation. Less than 7 percent earned a rating greater than 3. There was little religious motivation for the internecine Russian and Chinese conflicts or the world wars responsible for history’s most lethal century of international bloodshed.

    When the Secular competes with the Religious for blood, gore, and murder, the Secular wins hands down.

  4. ccmnxc says:

    “On the other hand Christian history is awash in the blood of people murdered for the slightest differences in doctrine.”

    So perhaps you could provide a rough body count of people who were murdered by Christians for explicitly religious/doctrinal issues. I’ll give you some leeway: the parameters will basically be to try to get it within one order of magnitude. Fair demand?

    Also, at risk of looking completely ignorant, do the usual HTML tags (, , etc.) work in wordpress?

  5. ccmnxc says:

    Addendum: Peter Olson, I assume in my request that you are sufficiently differentiating between Christians killing for explicitly religious reasons as opposed to:
    a) using religion as justification even if it wasn’t the case that it was a motivating factor, and
    b) it was political, over land, etc.

    …cause those details are kinda important.

  6. J.P. says:

    Peter Olsen: in my country, militant atheists did threaten the lives and killed lots of believers and priests in the past (Spanish Civil War, 1936-39). And some years before that date also. Just check the Roman Church list of martyrs and the recent beatification ceremonies.

  7. Peter says:

    Central London in the present day is pretty safe, the atheists aren’t very militant.
    Imagine visiting Cambodia in the 1970s, France during the Revolution, Russia around 1917-1918. Your chances of getting killed by a mob of militant atheists could be close to 100%.

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