It's common to hear religious theists complain about "militant atheists," but just what is a militant atheist? What separates militant atheists from regular (pacifist?) atheists? It's not always easy to tell and the people most likely to call atheists "militant" seem to be the least likely to try to explain the label. So here is a guide to militant atheism derived from the sorts of situations where religious theists insist that atheists are being too militant and demand that atheists be quiet or otherwise behave more deferentially towards religion, religious beliefs, and religious institutions.
So you might be a militant atheist if...
You Tell People You're an AtheistAdmitting you're an atheist can upset some religious theists – especially Christians. This is not unique to atheism – look at the resistance gays experience when trying to be open about themselves. Such admissions shatter the illusion of conformity and homogeneity which privileged groups wrap themselves in. Open, unapologetic atheism challenges the assumption that everyone is some sort of religious theist and that some sort of religion or theism forms an unshakeable foundation of society. Public challenges to society's foundations are perceived as militant. So, if you tell people you're an atheist instead of staying in the closet, you're a militant atheist. Religious theists, however, are not militant if they regularly engage people (even strangers) about their religious ideology.
You Deny that Atheism Leads to ImmoralityThe biggest problem people have with atheism seems to be the assumption that morality requires theism and/or religion. A secular atheist is thus presumed to have no foundation for morality and no reason to act morally. No one can cite any evidence for this, they simply assume it and treat atheists accordingly. If you dare to tell people that atheism is not incompatible with morality, you will be challenging some of the most fundamental assumptions many religious theists have about themselves and their world. Challenging the assumption that religion and/or theism are necessary for morality and/or makes you more moral is seen as militant. Religious theists, in contrast, are not being militant when promoting lies about atheism leading to immorality.
You Compare Theism to Belief in Astrology, Psychics, or Bigfoot
Atheists tend to be materialists
, naturalists, and skeptics, so they tend to treat all supernatural and paranormal beliefs in a similarly skeptical manner. This infuriates some religious theists because they are accustomed to their religion and theism being privileged in so many ways. They think it's an "insult" for an atheist to suggest that belief in gods is no more justified than belief in Bigfoot, or that a religion is no more justified than astrology. You are therefore a militant atheist if you evaluate religious and theistic claims like you evaluate other supernatural or paranormal claims. Religious theists though are not
militant when they dismiss beliefs like astrology and psychic powers as silly but their religious beliefs as obviously reasonable.
You Object to Religious Privilege & Christian Privilege
In fact, atheists meet resistance whenever they make any
sort of challenge to any
type of religious or Christian privilege. These privileges have existed for so long and become so much a part of the fabric of believers' lives that they have come to regard these privileges as their right. Thus challenges to religious and Christian privileges
are perceived as attacks on basic civil rights. Attempts to achieve equality are perceived as attempts to make religious believers second-class citizens. Atheists are thus labeled militant if they seek to eliminate unjust privileges for religious beliefs, religious institutions, religious leaders, and religious ideologies. Religious theists are not
being militant when they fight to preserve privileges not just for religion, but for other classes as well: whites, men, heterosexuals, etc.
You Don't "Go Along to Get Along"If religious theists can't prevent atheists from making their existence known, they would at least prefer we simply go along with whatever theists want in order to better get along with them. Only militant atheists rock the boat and discomfit religious theists by arguing against religion, arguing against theism, objecting to the ways religion influences society, etc. Perhaps because religion and theism are so old and so established in society, only a militant would dare to challenge them and argue for something different. You're a militant atheist if you make waves and risk making religious theists around you uncomfortable. Religious theists, though, are not being militant for doing whatever the want no matter how it makes nonbelievers feel.
You Reject Faith as a Means for Acquiring KnowledgeFaith is a critical aspect of most religions and most forms of theism, at least in the West today. This means any sort of challenge to the value or reasonableness of faith is perceived as a direct challenge to religion and theism as well. Few religious theists will try to deny the power and value of science for producing knowledge, but many insist that there is a realm where science cannot intrude and faith remains a legitimate, reasonable means for acquiring knowledge. You will be labeled a militant atheist if you deny that faith can ever lead to any genuine knowledge, no matter what the subject. Religious theists, however, are not militant when they insist that science is impotent in some area.
You Argue that Religion is a Source of Political & Social ProblemsA person's religion and theism are often their most important beliefs, constituting fundamental aspects of their identity and understanding of the world. They are frequently regarded as unambiguous sources of goodness, morality, order, democracy, etc. They can't deny the existence of problems associated with religion, but they will rationalize it by arguing that it's not "true religion" — it's just people hijacking religion. You will be labeled a militant atheist if you deny that this separation is legitimate and argue that the problems associated with religion can be traced directly to any basic features of that religion. Religious theists, in contrast, are not being militant when they attribute every crime under the sun to atheism.
You Encourage Atheists to Organize, Work TogetherOnly militants organize and work together for common political or social goals (apparently), aso atheists who organize in any fashion are immediately treated as militant atheists. It's militant for atheists to work together to fight bigotry and discrimination against atheists and it's militant for atheists to work together on behalf of church/state separation or secularism. It is not, however, militant for religious theists to organize and work together to promote faith-based legislation, to expand privileges for religion, or to advance a common religious agenda backed by the state. Only atheists are militant for doing things like this.